HNN's Top Young Historians profiles fascinating and dynamic historians under 40 who are making their mark on the profession.
All profiled historians are nominated and undergo a review process before they are chosen. Each historian on this list has made outstanding contributions to the discipline in their area of research through their commitment and achievement to scholarship and teaching. They are also highly regarded outside academia for their expertise, and many are consulted by the popular media.
We are trying to represent all fields within history. We are currently looking for new nominations, and appreciate any suggestions; they can be submitted to Bonnie Goodman for consideration. Click here to send your nominations. (All nominations and suggestions will be given serious consideration.)
Professor of History, Brandeis University
A bonus for historians studying the twentieth century is the chance to meet your historical subjects. I was lucky enough to meet George F. Kennan, a man who featured in both of my books.
I met Kennan as he approached his 97th birthday in winter 2001. I had been thinking a lot about him for the previous five years, ever since I had run across a 1932 memorandum by Kennan while reading through State Department microfilms in a desolate corner of the Berkeley library. Kennan's memo must have arrived at State Department headquarters on a bad day for filing clerks. His astute analysis of the Soviets' all-out push for industrialization was misfiled among travelers' reports, an error that explained why this remarkable document had never been cited in the large scholarly output on Kennan.
Kennan's memo contained a striking phrase:"the romance of economic development," which, he had written, inspired Soviet youth"to ignore all other questions in favor of economic progress." In language revealing as much about the writer as his subject, Kennan praised that romance for saving Soviet youth from the" curses of egotism, romanticism, daydreaming, introspection and perplexity" that befell their western counterparts. I loved Kennan's elegant prose, and also the way his description fit western observers, not just Soviet youth. Some American observers explained away a famine by saying the USSR was"starving itself great"; others were so compelled by Soviet industrialization that they trotted out the old canard about breaking eggs to make an omelet.
As I began revising my dissertation into a book a few years later, I wrote Kennan, attaching a copy of his 1932 memo and asking if he remembered anything about the sources for his ideas. A speedy reply from his secretary implied that Kennan was unavailable to assist other scholars' work while he had so many pressing projects of his own. The following year, I resent my inquiry through a colleague of Kennan's who had offered to act as intermediary. Kennan's urgent letter (and two phone messages) came just as quickly as his earlier rebuff. He wrote me that he had no recollection of the document (then nearly 70 years old), and then requested whatever contextual material I could provide. I worked up the nerve to ask if I might deliver the documents in person - and a week later I rang the doorbell at his stately but slightly run-down Princeton home. His physical frailty limited our time to an hour, but his intellectual acuity was very much present as we spoke about his training in Russian history and his experiences in the USSR. Kennan recounted the lessons he learned at the University of Berlin in 1929-31; his professors stressed study of the Realien of geography, national character, and national interests rather than epiphenomena like governments and ideologies. This helped me understand Kennan's views of the USSR and of the world, and why he was, in his words,"an expatriate in his own time." The conversation deepened my fascination with Kennan, a familiar enough infatuation among diplomatic historians. I overcame my awe just long enough to ask his wife to photograph us in our conversation.
I would have a chance to meet some of my other historical subjects, especially as I wrote about Kennan's heirs, Soviet experts of the Cold War. These interviews were all fascinating. I learned about their scholarly inspirations, their political investigations, and their experiences visiting a country so different and distant from their own. I even learned about a number of romances and the scandals that often ensued - but none matched the opportunity to learn about the"romance of economic development" from the man who coined the phrase.
By David Engerman
About David Engerman
"he's so creative with his use of materials, like using music, video, photos in his lectures to get a deeper understanding of a time period than one can get from books alone. he looks at history as a set of paradoxes, very interesting way to think about it" - -- Anonymous Students
Assistant Professor of History, University of North Texas, 2009-
I have spent much of the holidays editing the memoirs and oral histories that will become a part of the forthcoming collection of material about the SNCC Arkansas Project. Given our space constraints, I have made suggestions about what material we might possibly be able to omit.
I have agonized over this process of editing. Although, it is necessary to shorten your piece-it need not be shortened in the way that I have suggested. If I have omitted something you think is vital, changed your meaning, or inadvertently altered your narrative style, please respond with a different suggestion about what should be excluded and included. The last thing I want to do is to impede your ability to tell your story in your own way..."
Being an historian sometimes means writing letters like this one. Those of us who work on twentieth century historical topics often have the privilege and the dilemma of writing the histories of individuals who are still living. Although the historian's task is always accompanied by the grave responsibility of striving to be fair to one's historical subjects, this duty takes on a different resonance when writing about historical moments that are very much still alive in the memories of the people who participated in them.
This past year, I have had the opportunity to work on one of the most important and one of the most difficult projects so far in my career. Along with John A. Kirk, I have had the privilege of compiling a book of materials about the activities of the 1960's civil rights group the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Arkansas. Although much has been written about the activities of this organization elsewhere in the South (particularly in Mississippi), their work in Arkansas has been understudied if not nearly forgotten by historians of the movement. In order to begin to fill this gap in the literature, John and I put together a collection of articles by historians, primary documents, oral histories, and short memoirs written by members and supporters of SNCC in Arkansas.
I had the unenviable task of whittling down the contributions we solicited from SNCC participants into a size that could fit into the 300 page book envisioned by our sympathetic editor at the University of Arkansas Press. Perhaps more than at any other time in my career I felt a heightened awareness of the seriousness of the historian's task. Collectively historians who document the civil rights struggle are striving to rescue worthy individuals from historical obscurity and challenge simplistic historical narratives of the past embraced by politicians and others to meet present day needs. This book is part of an attempt to wrest control of the legacy of the civil rights movement from those who would reduce that variegated grassroots struggle to a single, often misinterpreted speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963.
As important as this task was, I wondered if it was accompanied by a certain amount of hubris on my part. Who was I to strike out details and descriptions written by people who made the history that I was attempting to tell from the comfort of my living room? Who was I to say what should stay or what should go in the name of something as constructed and arbitrary as"space constraints"? In slashing passages and omitting specific memories, to what extent was I shaping this collection rather than allowing these history makers the opportunity to tell their own stories?
When I have these doubts and hesitations, I console myself with the idea that an inevitably imperfect retelling of the past is infinitely preferable to leaving these histories dormant and unknown. For me the process of historical interpretation is and must be a process of constant self-interrogation and continual reexamination of methods and motivations. For, as David Blight reminds us, our work has implications that go far beyond the so-called Ivory tower as we engage in the study"of contested truths, of moments, events, or even texts in history that thresh out rival versions of the past which are in turn put to battle in the present."
By Jennifer Jensen Wallach
About Jennifer Jensen Wallach
Visiting Associate Professor of History, Fordham University (2008-)
I study the ways people think about resources, capital, and how what we call The Economy functions within the larger economy of Earth. I call myself an environmental historian, but my work is related to geography, social ecology, and the political theory of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Most of my work concerns agrarian society in the United States because I have found that agriculture offers the ideal vantage from which to observe the intersection of ideas and practices, economies and landscapes. Students and friends sometimes ask me why I think about these things and when I started. If I had to nail down an early influence without which I might be doing something else with my time, I would blame everything on a childhood spent roaming around the Long Beach Harbor. My dad had a marine supply store in the Harbor, and he gave me more liberty in that marginal landscape than perhaps he should have. I dodged the trucks crossing Anaheim Street in order to climb into boxcars on the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad. I trespassed to peer into the weird churning of oil refineries. A netherworld stretched out behind the store into a forlorn industrial landscape--burning vapors from flame-tipped towers, makeshift slaughterhouses, giant piles of yellow sulfur, feral dogs, weedy lots piled with rusted chain link each the size of economy cars. There were also broken, rootless men who showed up looking for work after getting out of jail--once in the Navy, once a longshoreman, once a foreman in the tuna canneries. When Southern California boomed in the 1980s, the Harbor remained underdeveloped as a mirror image of the wealth it made possible for others, a kind of third world of unpaved streets and unsolved murders. The Harbor showed me the underside of"progress" before I knew anything about economic growth or capitalism. It gave me so much to think about because none of its pieces fit together in my mind. I started writing about agriculture after feeling puzzled by another forlorn industrial landscape, another location of furious capitalist activity and environmental sacrifice--the San Joaquin Valley of California--subject of my dissertation and first book.
I am still trying to understand what we mean when we talk about progress and what progress has to do with the way people live around the world. I noticed that English speakers, in particular, have vague and negative words for grow their own food. We call them subsistence farmers, people who practice slash and burn cultivation, use with primitive tools, and live in economic isolation. I became curious. The book I'm working on, Outliers and Savages is a history of the agrarian household, defined as any group of related people who live under the same roof, work together, and eat from the same pot. Feudal lords, nation-states, and multinational corporations have tried to extort from the household, manipulate it, tax it, or destroy it. I want to know when and where it thrived, how it has survived, and why we should care. The Southern Mountains of the United States between the 1790s and the 1930s forms the book's principle historical subject in an overall narrative that places the backwoods of western Pennsylvania and the hollows of West Virginia in a world context. By considering smallholders in Appalachia, Haiti, and Mexico, I hope to present the likeness between the distillers who resisted the Whiskey Tax in 1794 and the campesinos who protested NAFTA in 1994. In both cases agrarians complained that policies intended to coerce them into more encompassing market relations undermined their ability to endure as households.
By Steven Stoll
Capitalists have hated the agrarian household since the seventeenth century, calling its members savages, outliers, slackers and draggers, backward and degenerate, and wasteful of land and labor-at best curiosities, at worst forest- or mountain-dwelling insurgents without political allegiances or ties to centralized authority. The agrarian household so perplexed and infuriated its critics because it seemed to deny historical progress. It was not in a process of becoming something else. Rethinking our assumptions about development, and allowing subsistence cultures to produce for exchange on their own terms, would give Haiti a chance to recover the best part of its history and to stun the world again with the genius of its freedom. -- Steven Stoll in"Toward A Second Hatian Revolution," Harper's Magazine (April 2010)
About Steven Stoll
Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley, 2010-Present
I would've been more cooperative if I'd realized that the guy in the front of the bus had a gun. But bemused cluelessness had served me fairly well during other hairy moments in Mexico City, so when a skinny, nervous teenager strode up and told me to take off my seatbelt I just sat there."No hablo español" I muttered, hoping he'd leave me alone. He shook his head and kept going, working his way up the aisle and talking quickly to each passenger in turn. Clicking noises followed his progress like a chorus. Everyone else on the still-speeding Mexico City-Puebla bus took off their seatbelts. Weird. Don't look interested, I told myself. Maybe it's some sort of perverse anti-safety campaign? Then I noticed that the burly guy in the front of the bus was waving something small and black in the air. He shouted incomprehensibly, but everyone else must have understood because all at once they bent down and buried their faces in their hands. Okay, bad sign. The teenager began making his way back down the aisle, holding something (a bag?). I kept staring at my book, determined to stay in clueless character. He paused for a moment when he reached my seat and then hit me across the face, sending my glasses skittering across the floorboards."Take your [colorful Spanish adjective] seatbelt off and cover your eyes, you stupid [colorful Spanish noun]." Oh, I thought. That's what's happening.
In retrospect getting robbed that day was a pretty tame brush with danger, especially compared to some of my friends' stories. Whenever I've recounted it, it's always come out as (light) dark comedy. But the truth is that those guys scared the hell out of me and most everyone else on the bus. I vividly remember the sound of my heart beating in my ears; the older lady across from me whose hands shook as she removed her earrings, and the relief, tears, and outrage on board once the thieves jumped off.
That experience, along with a handful of other frightening but ultimately harmless situations on this and later research trips, left me with a valuable gift: a little taste of fear, helplessness, and vulnerability. I'd come to Mexico to study interethnic violence in the north of the country in the decades before the U.S.-Mexican War. Sometimes this violence unfolded in matched battles between groups of fighters. More often it involved armed, mounted men launching surprise attacks on isolated groups of families. Thousands of children, women, and men died in these attacks, and thousands more lost their daughters and sons, their parents, their siblings and neighbors, and some or all of their meager possessions. The grief, terror, desperation, and heartbreak these thousands of people experienced, what did I know about that? Virtually nothing. But that seemed just slightly better than absolutely nothing. I don't know if my own miniscule brushes with danger helped me write about these people with more sensitivity, empathy, or nuance. But they definitely made me want to.
By Brian DeLay
About Brian DeLay
Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, July, 2009-present.
LUMBEE INDIANS IN THE JIM CROW SOUTH has been living with me for over fifteen years, since I first wrote my undergraduate thesis on Henry Berry Lowrie, an important Recomstruction-era figure in Lumbee history. After that I took a big break from history to become a documentary film producer, but film only intensified my desires to use academic history as a storytelling medium that transcends the boundaries between the academy and the community. When I went back to get my PhD, I remained involved in documentary film, became a part-time theater producer, and began to think visually about historical storytelling, both in terms of narrative as well as argument. Oral tradition and artistic production, of course, has always been a tremendous part of Lumbee culture, so I could not ignore that, especially since I was writing about a relatively recent time period and many people who remember the people and events are still living. There were also plenty of compelling photographs, taken by both insiders and outsiders, that prompted fundamental questions about the documentary record. As I revised my dissertation into a book, I felt comfortable taking a few risks with voice and images to explicate questions of interest to academic historians but also to animate the narrative and give readers an insider look at the Lumbees.
I am extremely grateful to all my mentors, in filmmaking, in graduate school, at UNC Press, and at the First Peoples/New Directions publishing initiative for encouraging me on this path. But I have to give my greatest thanks to my family. Like my sister says,"the woman who taught me to read is a dangerous woman!" My mother, an English professor who taught everything from freshman composition to advanced grammar to world lit, taught me to read and remains my first and best writing teacher. My father, political radical in his own way (he would say"because I didn't know any better"), has always nurtured my iconoclastic tendencies while giving me a hefty dose of"respect your elders" training. Finally, my husband is a brilliant Lumbee musician and artist who lacks a formal education. He is not only a moral compass in my responsibilities to my community, but he gives me vital inspiration every day. He once said something which has become a kind of mantra for me in explaining Native attitudes towards history. A student interviewing him asked,"how did you learn Lumbee history?" He simply said,"I lived it."
The relevance of history to contemporary life is immediately obvious in the Lumbee case, since the categories of knowledge scholars have used to describe us have often been inadequate at best, and damaging at worst. For example, our 122-year struggle for federal recognition, and the political factionalism it has engendered, has been one of the layers of our identity but it is not the only facet of it. Some believe (and many scholars promote this idea) that Lumbee recognition is a struggle for identity, as if we don't know or don't understand our identities as an Indigenous People. This argument stems from a recognition of the several times our People have been subject to legislation which alters our tribal name. My book argues that this legislation, and the whole debate about the definition of"Indian," was motivated by the prerogatives of white supremacy and Indians' ambivalent relationship to it. But scholars (and more importantly, policy makers) have not looked to this explanation of the name changes, instead selectively revising our history to then justify our exclusion from the ranks of tribes who have government- to-government relationships with the United States. The Lumbee struggle is not for identity, but for sovereignty.
Another question about Lumbee history consistently involves our"origins." This is the question I get most often from the general public, and it also sums up the doubt expressed by anti-Indian interests in Congress and people who comment on websites and create Wikipedia entries on us. The argument goes that we're not real Indians and don't deserve federal recognition because we can't prove descent from a"historic" tribe, or that we don't look"Indian." While my book doesn't delve into this research extensively, it is plain that the Lumbees descend from a kin network of extended families, some of whom have had long-standing attachments to our current homeland in Robeson County, and some of whom migrated there in the 18th century. It is the relationship of people and place, and the development and maintenance of a coherent political and social organization, that makes us real Indians. Of course some of our ancestors are non-Indian; nearly every member of every tribe has non-Indian ancestors; it was a fact of colonization. And if you look at the so-called"historic" tribes (i.e. the ones you've heard of: Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, Navajos, Sioux, etc.), each one of them has a time in which they were called something else than what they are called now. To pretend that there is some kind of universal definition of a"historic" tribe against which Lumbees should be measured is to deny that Indian people can legitimately change and that colonization itself happened. It's a notion that hurts all of us as Indigenous people, and one that we can refute--to powerful effect on international Indigenous affairs--if we are all on the same epistemological page.
By Malinda Maynor Lowery
About Malinda Maynor Lowery
Assistant Professor, History and American Studies, Indiana University 2009-present.
I grew up in Macon, Georgia, a fall-line city carved out of Creek Indian country that became a major cotton depot. My high school was downtown, near a cluster of historic sites: the Cannonball House, so-named because of damage sustained during the Civil War; the 1916 Beaux Arts train station, with its reliquary of extra water foundations and bathrooms and waiting rooms; the home of Sidney Lanier, a poet, novelist, and critic who famously eulogized the Old South; the Douglass Theater which, throughout the Jim Crow era, featured entertainers including local greats like Little Richard and Otis Redding. Every day we passed a memorial of some kind, markers that begged us to consider the legacies of slavery, the Civil War, segregation, or some combination thereof. Substantial physical reminders were all around us, and they forced an ongoing dialog with our history. I doubt that any Maconite would argue that the past is past.
Towering literally over all these historic sites were the Ocmulgee mounds, remnants of a thousand-year-old Native city that had borne silent witness to a much longer scope of Southern history. The tallest mound was built atop a natural plateau, and seemed nearly twice as high as its fifty feet when viewed from the floodplain. When I was about eight years old, I went to summer day-camp there, and I remember trekking around the sweltering, miasmic bottomlands at the base the mounds, wondering about the lives of the chiefs who had lived atop them, including how they had managed without air conditioning. Growing up, this place seemed disjointed from the rest of my historical knowledge: I could connect the dots from the colony's eighteenth-century settlers to the living history museum at the Georgia Agorama, but Ocmulgee seemed an awe-inspiring outlier, a challenge to what I thought I knew about the place I grew up.
That challenge has continued to inspire me. Throughout the course of my education, I discovered, of course, that Ocmulgee is not an outlier. It was an early and particularly grand example of the Native chiefdoms that dominated the region prior to European colonization. The Creek or Muscogee Indians, whose ancestors built the site, carried its name with them to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma; their tribal government meets at Okmulgee in a contemporary building shaped like a mound. Indian Removal expelled the Creeks and many other Native peoples from their homelands, and so, too, did it largely erase them from the region's historical memory. When the cotton curtain descended, it obscured the history of an older South, a messier, less biologically determined one. But, as I wrote in my first book, these two Souths were never really separate, and Native people, like their neighbors, struggled with questions of identity and belonging, and the meaning and significance of race, slavery, and freedom. I'm grateful to all of my teachers, especially my hometown, for showing me the complexity and diversity of American history, for exposing its contested meanings and its enduring relevance to us all.
By Christina Snyder
About Christina Snyder
Assistant Professor of History, University of Virginia, 2007- present
In 2006 I was starting my first job as a lecturer at UC Berkeley when the technology office phoned up and asked if I would like to podcast my course"Introduction to United States History Since 1865." I didn't even have an iPod, but I said"yes" without thinking much about it, thus launching the most unexpected and rewarding aspect of my career as a historian. Six months later, my lectures were up on iTunes and had been downloaded nearly 300,000 times. My inbox was bursting with emails from enthusiastic history students around the world. Accustomed to the private sanctuary of my books and my study, I panicked. It felt as though I had lost some cherished measure of privacy, and I wanted the lectures taken down immediately.
But then I paused and began to reflect on my goals and values as a historian. I had spent years of advanced study gathering knowledge - was this now to be shared only with specialists in my field? I had always believed historians should seek a broader audience, and now I was living that vision. As a Ph.D. student I had benefited from the intellectual vitality and openness of a public university, and my lectures were one small way to further the Berkeley legacy.
Instead of taking the lectures down, I decided to create a website for podcasters and began corresponding regularly with my listeners. Since then, the sense of speaking to a larger audience has shaped and strengthened all of my scholarship. Podcasting helped me craft my first book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, so that it appealed to both academics and general readers. Engaging with the public has deepened my commitment to educational equity and convinced me that there need not be a firewall between professional and popular history. I have learned that even from the ivory tower, our profession can still foster and connect with the ongoing human search for meaning, story, and a shared past. Though I may be an accidental podcaster, I have become and hope to remain a deliberate historian.
By Jennifer Burns
Goddess of the Market focuses on Rand's contributions as a political philosopher, for it is here that she has exerted her greatest influence. Rand's Romantic Realism has not changed American literature, nor has Objectivism penetrated far into the philosophy profession. She does however, remain a veritable institution within the American right. Atlas Shrugged is still devoured by eager young conservatives, cited by political candidates, and promoted by corporate tycoons. Critics who dismiss Rand as a shallow thinker appealing only to adolescents miss her significance altogether. For over a half a century Rand has been the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right.
The story of Ayn Rand is also the story of libertarianism, conservatism, Objectivism, and the three schools of thought that intersected more prominently with her life. - Jennifer Burns in"Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right"
About Jennifer Burns
"I loved the material presented in this class, it gave me a clearer perspective of todays world. This is really a worthwhile and interesting class."...
"GREAT course! I learned so much from Professor Burns and she was one of the most effective and efficient lecturers I have had thus far. Her lectures are very easy to follow and she gives a great synopsis of historical events. LOVED this course."
"Listening to Prof. Burns lecture, it's obviously how passionate she is about the subject matter. She's extremely knowledgeable about the subject matter and lectures were neatly organized in an easy-to-follow manner. She did an excellent job of looking at all aspects of events that have (comparatively) occurred so recently so that we could view them in proper historical context."...
"She was an excellent lecturer and I could tell she cared about the students."...
"This was by far my favorite class at UVA."...
"I am a history major, and this was one of the best history classes I have taken here. Professor Burns is an excellent lecturer, the readings were fascinating, and the workload was challenging but manageable."...
"Burns is an AMAZING lecturer; very organized, very lively, very articulate. Overall, extremely effective."...
"Professor Jennifer Burns is wonderful. It would be a huge mistake not to tenure this brilliant, approachable, unbelievably articulate woman. Her classes were always fascinating, and she has an ability to tie everything together. I can't stress enough how much I admire her ability to articulate not only the history, but the circumstances combining that shaped the events we studied. SHE IS AN INCREDIBLE TEACHER. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE TENURE HER SO I CAN TAKE MORE OF HER CLASSES! I almost want to give her a round of applause after each class, and I am not exaggerating."...
"Fantastic and well-organized coverage of the material. Readings were well chosen, supplemented the lecture and added depth to the course. Very dynamic professor." -- Undergraduate Student Comments
"Dr. Burns was very willing to allow me to use a topic related to my dissertation for my papers in this class. This was extremely helpful for me. Thanks for your patience and help!"...
"I found Prof. Burns to be an excellent Professor, and am sure she will teach many great courses in the future, and be a real asset to the department." - Great class - got a lot out of it. -- Grad Student Comments
Senior University Lecturer in History, and Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge University
I was twenty-five years old in the spring of 1999, and just in the throes of my first intensive research trip to the United States. I was writing a dissertation on McGeorge Bundy, National Security Adviser to Kennedy and Johnson, and his role in the origins of America's war in Vietnam. This trip was to be an extended reconnaissance mission to scope out archives in Washington, New York, Boston/Cambridge, and Austin, and lay the groundwork for a full year of research in 1999-2000. I had also lined up several interviews with many of Bundy's former colleagues.
Unlike many students of the war, I had no personal connection to Vietnam. As a Canadian born after U.S. troops withdrew in the spring of 1973, the war was a chapter in history rather than an episode from my own life. My parents had attended a protest or two in Toronto, but they were not activists, and Vietnam had never really been a part of their lives. I became fascinated by Vietnam for purely intellectual reasons, especially after reading David Halberstam's classic The Best and the Brightest. So I was yet unacquainted with the raw emotional power the war still held over generations of Americans.
One of my interviewees was Robert S. McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense and probably the best-known Vietnam policymaker. After decades of silence on the subject since leaving the Pentagon in 1968, McNamara had only recently begun granting interviews on Vietnam. In 1995, he published his memoir of the war, In Retrospect, which attracted a good deal of praise but also a firestorm of criticism.
McNamara not only possessed a formidable intellect, he had also earned a reputation as a fearsome interviewee who would storm out of the room if he felt the questions-or the questioner-were political, moralistic, or just plain stupid. Despite In Retrospect-or probably because of it-McNamara was still extraordinarily sensitive about Vietnam. Indeed, I was surprised he had agreed to my interview request in the first place. Needless to say, I was extremely nervous.
We met in his large, book-lined office in Washington. To break the ice, I began with what I thought was a softball. I pulled out a document I'd photocopied a few weeks before at the LBJ Library in Austin, a 1965 memo to LBJ outlining Bundy and McNamara's reasons for advocating military escalation. I asked him to take me back to 1965 and explain the pressures they faced. To follow up, I had a series of tougher questions about why he and Bundy had not only supported escalation despite evidence-already mounting in early 1965-that it likely wouldn't work, but also why they had so vigorously marginalized and discredited the prescient dissenters within the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Brandishing the memo, I asked my question. McNamara looked at me blankly, and then down at the piece of paper in my hand. Narrowing his eyes, he fixed his gaze upon me again and blurted out,"Well, just read the damn thing! You're a smart guy, you can obviously read, so just read it for yourself!" I was stunned by the rawness of his anger. I didn't know how to respond, and his comments hovered over us in the awkward silence. But he hadn't asked me to leave, and so I meekly suggested that it was perhaps best if I moved on to the next question."Yes, I think you should," he replied tersely, and we spoke for another half-hour. He relaxed a bit, as did I. But I never did ask my tough questions about the suppression on internal dissent (though they ended up forming the analytical core of my dissertation). I did, however, receive an invaluable lesson in Vietnam's enduring resonance.
By Andrew Preston
About Andrew Preston
Reviews of The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam
Reviews of Nixon in the World American Foreign Relations, 1969-1977 Edited by Fredrik Logevall and Andrew Preston
Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Colorado, Denver, Fall, 2007-present
In less than a week, I was set to give my first-ever conference paper, before the annual meeting of the American Society for Environmental History. A very generous friend who was already out of graduate school and teaching had made room for me on a panel devoted to exploring the implications of Richard White's important 1994 essay,"'Are You an Environmentalist, or Do You Work for a Living?'" The conference organizers had slated the session for a room that sat at least a hundred, not because anyone wanted to hear a Ph.D. candidate from Wisconsin blather on about coal-mine explosions, but instead because my fellow panelists were fast making names for themselves. More important still, Richard White had kindly agreed to comment on the papers.
White's"Are You an Environmentalist" had grabbed me the first time I read it (it has yet to let me go). I found myself deeply persuaded by White's central claim: that environmental historians can learn a lot by taking seriously work and those who perform it. The piece taught me the best kind of truth--a simple truth of seemingly boundless explanatory power: Labor, White reminds us, has always encompassed many of the core practices through which human beings have arrived at a knowledge of nature.
I don't know what they put in the Koolaid that I imbibed in seminar at Wisconsin, but like most graduate students there and elsewhere, my way of paying homage to the profound influence White's essay had had upon me (and, for that matter, the impact that his whole corpus of scholarship had made upon me since I first encountered The Middle Ground as an undergraduate) was to lash out with that peculiar brand of Oedipal rage that combines the worst aspects of adolescent impudence and twenty-something earnestness. In the months leading up to the ASEH, I must have read"Are You an Environmentalist" at least six times, each time slicing and dicing the essay with my critical knives sharpened to a razor's edge. My near-compulsive re-reading had filled me with unwarranted confidence. I told myself that I had found every weakness, every contradiction, every leap of logic, every hole in White's argument.
I could not wait to tell the assembled lights of my discipline about all the things White had gotten wrong. I envisioned myself delivering a devastating critique; I imagined the verbal combat that would ensue as White, one of the greatest historians of his generation in my estimation (a conviction that I hold even more strongly today) devoted his comment to parrying my attack.
Those who have seen Richard White engage in debate will understand why this thought was not entirely comforting. At the first historical conference I had ever attended, in fact, I had watched White pretty much eviscerate two junior scholars when they tried a stunt very similar to the one I was plotting. I attempted with little success to maintain my confidence. I told myself that I was smarter than the pair I had seen White tear up. Besides, my critique was as persuasive and elegant as theirs had been tendentious and awkward.
Doubt, thank goodness, remained. I sent my advisor, Bill Cronon, a draft of the diatribe I had assembled. Bill gave me very clear and direct advice: Don't be an idiot. File the paper away and write a new one that focused instead on presenting my own research findings.
Part of me evidently had a death wish and welcomed the heady risk of committing career suicide at such an early stage. That part of me felt censored by Bill and frustrated at the ways in which professionalism seemed to constrain intellectual exchange within the academy.
But overwhelming the compulsions seeking to push me to the edge were cooler, more cautious impulses. And so I pulled back to deliver an altogether safer paper. Bill had averted my juvenile plan. In the process, he spared Richard White the trouble of deciding whether to give me the dressing-down that I deserved, or to look graciously away from my impertinence.
If one of my own students were to concoct a similar stunt, I would undoubtedly provide the same advice. For all this, though, I can't help feeling a little uncomfortable with the hard lessons this incident imparted-that our profession is inextricably hierarchical in nature, that some historians are simply smarter and more highly-skilled than others, that what I can do and how I can do it depends at least to some extent on how well I know and keep to my place.
With apologies to Borges, I had always imagined academe as a sort of paradise. This was an unusually outrageous delusion on my part; as an academic brat, tales of departmental infighting, administrative folly, and student futility were nightly topics of conversation at the family dinner table. Choosing to hold my fire against Richard White turned out to be a critical first step in my discovery that the historical discipline can offer no real place of grace, no true escape, from the world as it is--not a happy discovery, I know, but perhaps a necessary one.
By Thomas G. Andrews
I'm a Colorado native, but I never knew anything about Ludlow until I was in graduate school. When I first learned about the massacre, I was appalled that such killing had occurred and I was drawn to the opportunity it provided to bring together a much bigger set of stories: about the deep-seated dependence of westerners on fossil fuels, about the coal mines that generated so much conflict in southern Colorado, and about the men, women, and children who came from around the world to work in and around the mines.
Receiving the Bancroft is the greatest validation I could have ever imagined." -- Thomas Andrews on winning the Bancroft Prize for"Killing for Coal America's Deadliest Labor War"
About Thomas G. Andrews
Assistant Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley
Earlier this year, I found myself in San Francisco General Hospital after an athletic accident shattered my left acetabulum. An immobile week in hospital gave me plenty of time to mull my first surgical experience and to reflect on the choices that had brought me here: choices that -- by the happenstance that looks in retrospect like fate -- had carried me to a fast and risky stretch of sidewalk in Berkeley.
If truth be told, my doctors intimidated me. Here they were, a group of experts whose competencies complemented each other perfectly: from the nurses and radiologists to the anesthesiologist and the orthopedic surgeon who specialized in pelvic fractures. As my fears about surgery mellowed in the glow of their expertise, I wondered what I -- a putative knowledge professional myself -- had accomplished by comparison? Did my credentials -- a PhD in international history -- accredit me as an expert on a par with these men and women? Did I, by comparison with them, know anything that really mattered?
As I pondered, I came to the conclusion that historians may be somewhat anomalous among the ranks of the gowned and capped. In my own work at least, I am more a generalist than specialist, and I imagine that the same could be said about many of us. By comparison with the surgeon or the scientist, the historian knows a little about a lot of things; knowledge in breadth, not in depth, is our stock in trade. But this, I concluded, can serve a valuable purpose.
What I have tried to do in my own work, I suppose, is to think about how the pieces of the past might constitute larger frameworks of causation and meaning. In my book manuscript, for example, I ask how the acceleration of globalization contributed to both an apparent crisis of American power in the 1970s and to its surprising revival thereafter. This question has drawn me into a variety of specialist topics, ranging from monetary economics to human rights law. I could not claim real expertise in any of them -- not by the standards of the economist or the lawyer. What I have tried to do as a historian is to learn enough to be able to relate the particular to the general, to see the fragments as part of a larger whole.
This, I think, may be the real genius of our profession. The past, especially the recent past, is too vast to permit scholars to acquire a scientific understanding of it. What we do instead is to become adept at navigating its patterns, at distilling understanding from complexity. This may make historians somewhat anomalous in a knowledge economy in which specialization remains the order of the day. (For proof of this, spend a week in the hospital.)
Yet it may be that the historian's willingness to synthesize complexity and to think broadly distinguishes us in useful ways from our colleagues in medicine and the sciences. After all, conversation in the public square is too often denuded of context, complexity, and all sense of possible consequences. The historian's sensibility may have value even outside of the academy, as a corrective to the pervasive short-termism that marks our times and our politics. I certainly hope so, although I'll be sticking with the medical specialists for my health care!
By Daniel J. Sargent"In view of the indifference with which American policy makers engaged globalization in the 1970s, its consequences for the United States in the decades that followed would be serendipitous. As it had in the last third of the nineteenth century, globalization in the late twentieth century fostered a nurturing international environment for the United States. Thanks to expanding global capital markets, the U.S. in the 1980s would be able to draw on the savings of foreigners to sustain its deficits and defense expenditures. The emergence of human rights as an urgent issue reinvigorated America's ideological mission in the Cold War. And if the West experienced the birth pangs of globalization in the 1970s, the consequences for the Eastern Bloc (excepting China) in the 1980s would be catastrophic. Globalization played to American strengths. With their orientation towards limited government and entrepreneurial capitalism, their belief in the universal applicability of their culture and values, and their stubborn conviction in human freedom as history's meta-story, Americans were uniquely positioned to become the hub of an interdependent world-civilization. The Soviet Union, by contrast, could hardly have been worse equipped to compete in an integrating world. If the USSR had been a powerful adversary in an age of steel, industrial planning, and workers' solidarity, it could not easily adapt to a world of microprocessors, information capitalism, and Amnesty International. Indeed, Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts in the 1980s to drag the Soviet system out of isolation and towards participation in an interdependent world led ultimately to the system's collapse. The Cold War's endgame - and the United States' emergence as the world's sole superpower - thus need to be understood in terms of the changes that globalization wrought upon the international system in the late twentieth century." -- Daniel J. Sargent in"A Superpower Transformed: Globalization and the Crisis of American Foreign Policy in the 1970s" (Oxford University Press: Forthcoming).
About Daniel J. Sargent
"Professor Sargent is extremely helpful and knowledgeable about U.S. foreign policy.... He is fair and does not force his point of view on the students. He knows the subject very well so you can go to him for any question."...
"Intelligent, kind, helpful and very informative. Makes a concerted effort to meet the needs of his students, which makes the class fairly easy. Very accessible and easy to talk to in office hours. He's definitely an expert in international and global history. I highly recommed him to history majors.".... -- Anonymous Students
Assistant Professor of History and Women's Studies, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
My first act of research for To Serve God and Wal-Mart was shoveling fossilized chicken droppings out of a defunct coop on a goat farm in Northwest Arkansas. The farm's owners, friends of my favorite agrarian Jim Scott, evidently took my willingness to pick up a shovel as a character reference, and lost no time making me feel at home in Wal-Mart's backyard. Since we have no Freedom of Information Act for the state-supported institutions we somewhat inaccurately call private corporations, the research could only go so far by relying on formal archives. It was only through the generosity of my hosts in the Ozarks-the original Wal-Mart Country--that I was able to learn to explore how"Wal-Martism" might fill the conceptual hole in the middle of"post-Fordism." If the Detroit auto industry had set the pattern for the first half of the twentieth century-in spatial organization, labor arrangements, finance, family formation, ideology, immigration, art-then surely its successor was a likely site for understanding major developments of the post-war years.
When Wal-Mart beat out Exxon-Mobil to become the world's largest company in 2002, what we knew that the first service company to make it to the top of the Fortune 400 was what astute business journalists like Bob Ortega had been telling us since the early 1990s: Wal-Mart had remade retail by achieving such market dominance that it could dictate its terms to the suppliers rather than the other way around. At the fringes of this narrative were the voices of historic preservationists and organized labor, finally roused by the Arkansas company's disruptive penetration of Vermont, Chicago, and Southern California. The reigning questions about the new top multinational were often variations on"Wow--how did Wal-Mart do it?" or"Is Wal-Mart good for America?"
While my 2002 dissertation prospectus referenced this literature, though, it also included chapter proposals that ultimately allowed me to explore a question I found much more interesting, the one that Thomas Frank revived from the original Populist mobilization:"What's the matter with Kansas?" -understood now as"Why have Americans on the losing end of the deregulated, off-shored service economy enabled it politically for more than a generation?" To Serve God and Wal-Mart is therefore not so much a book about Wal-Mart as an account of the anointing of free enterprise, the unlikely legitimation of neoliberal economics through evangelical religion. It tells this story through the twinned biographies of the world's largest company and the ideological apparatus it nurtured. It argues that this specific experience of mass service work transformed economic common sense and infused it with evangelical values at precisely the moment that federal redistribution catapulted the Sun Belt to its position of decisive influence within the nation. That moment of waxing power for the old agricultural periphery coincided with American-led economic integration, so that the ethos of Christian free enterprise-the odd pairing of Jerry Falwell and Milton Friedman, so to speak-gave late twentieth-century globalization some of its most distinctive characteristics. Ultimately I join writers like Janet Jakobsen, Ann Pellegrini, Lisa Duggan, Tanya Erzen, and Linda Kintz in arguing that the Left's frustration with the" culture wars" misreads the necessary connection between conservative sexual mores and the post-1973 economy that Wal-Mart ultimately dominated.
That I got to learn about this complex relationship while living in the Ozarks, knee-deep in chicken droppings, was my good fortune.
By Bethany Moreton
About Bethany Moreton
"Dr. Moreton has the unique ability to present material in a highly intellectual way that everyone can grasp."...
"Moreton has the power to comfortably accomodate, yet critically challenge all students. Her lectures are my favorite; they are always well-prepared, brilliantly articulated, intellectually stimulating, and very exciting. She also facilitates powerful discussions among students; she asks the right questions."...
"I always leave Dr. Moreton's classes as a better writer than I was before. Her deep discussions into the core of the subject matter encourage and empower students to argue a thoroughly well-written paper. Dr. Moreton offers extensive (positive) criticism and help to improve any student's writing. Also, she challenges me on a greater intellectual level than any other professor."...
"Dr. Moreton's material for the class was the most challenging material I have come across in both of my fields of study. Dr. Moreton forced me to think of things that in the past I ran from and for that I am FOREVER grateful to Dr. Moreton. Dr. Moreton's intelligence, passion, patience, and high standards for student performance EMBOLDENED my ability to take on intellectual challenges that first seem impossible."...
"Dr. Moreton is one of the most inspirational instructors that I have had at the University. Her passion for her students and unlimited knowledge provided for an amazing classroom environment."...
"This class was one of the few at UGA that gave me not only new information or facts, but new concepts." - -- Anonymous Students
Associate Professor of History,
J.W. McConnell Family Foundation Chair in American Studies, Université de Montréal.
My grandfather on my mother's side, Félix-Paul Codaccioni, was an historian. He taught in high schools in France for many years and then, when he completed his monumental thèse d'état, a two-volume work on the working class of Lille, an industrial city in the north of France where he had settled with his family, he began teaching at the University. For my grandfather, as for many Corsicans starting with his own father, education was road out of the grinding poverty of the rural peasantry; educational achievement was probably the single most important value for him.
I grew up in the United States and only saw my grandfather every other year, when the family went to Corsica on vacation. (As a teacher, he was able to spend the summers in his ancestral home in a small village in the mountains there). No doubt misinterpreting my awkward shyness as intellectual profundity, he imagined I was interested in school and so he would, on occasion, try to mentor me. I have vivid memories of the two of us in the middle of the afternoon on the house's balcony, me sitting on an uncomfortable chair facing my grandfather, my eyes stinging from the blinding white sun, sweating and miserable, as he droned on and on about Hegel's dialectic-thèse, antithèse, synthèse… thèse, antithèse, synthèse-while I listened despondently to the other kids playing in the village, blissfully unaware of nineteenth-century German philosophy.
I wish I could say it was he who inspired me to become an historian, but I think the truth is probably more complicated. Other, more powerful and direct influences intervened in college and graduate school to shape my professional choices and intellectual interests. What is strangely true, however, is that I seem to have lived the life that he imagined for himself.
My grandfather always dreamed of moving to Canada. I have no idea why. Certainly he wasn't enamored of the cold. I think it must have been the scale that caught his imagination: of the forests and mountains and lakes and rivers, and the great Saint Laurent in particular, all of it so different from the smallness and cramped life of postwar Europe in general and of arid Corsica in particular. My grandmother wouldn't hear of moving to Canada, however, and so they never got further than the north of France.
I, on the other hand, not only became a university professor of history, but went on to get a job teaching in French in Québec: exactly the life my grandfather would have chosen had if he had been able to follow through on his dreams. It is a curious fate for me; my education was in English in big-named American universities, and like most Americans I never gave Canada the slightest though-until I got a job and moved there. Historians as much as anyone else lack perspicacity when the benefits of distance and hindsight are absent, so I won't even try to speculate about how it is that, without any conscious intent whatsoever, I fulfilled my grandfather's dream.
By François Furstenberg
Martha ultimately took it upon herself to free her husband's slaves early: some two years before her own death. But it was not humanitarian reasons that drove this early emancipation, the existing evidence suggests she disapproved of freeing slaves, nor was it from the expense or difficulty involved in supporting² the slaves. It was out of fear. It was found necessary, reported Martha¹s grandson, to free the slaves for prudential reasons. Hidden in this circumlocution was the fact that George;s deathbed emancipation had put Martha¹s life in jeopardy. As she and the slaves all recognized, the longer she lived, the longer their bondage extended."In the state in which they were left by the General," wrote Adams,"she did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their Hands, may of the [the slaves] would be told that it was [in] their interest to get rid of her." She therefore was advised to set them free at the close of the year.
Martha Washington, first First Lady, wife of the father of the nation, lived her last days among hundreds of enslaved people she called family, people she believed would try to kill her. -- François Furstenberg in"In the Name of the Father: Washington's Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation"
About François Furstenberg
Associate Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara and
Co-Director of Indigenous Studies Minor
This happened many times in 2006 and 2007:
It is 2 AM, and I'm suddenly wide awake. I've had less than an hour of sleep, but the adrenaline jolt has eliminated any chance of getting more. I know the cause of my unwelcome alertness: panic. The writing is too slow, the tenure deadline is too soon, my kids are growing up too fast, and my insomnia is worse than ever. I suppress the urge to howl in frustration, and instead get dressed and leave the house. I walk the half-mile to the office, convinced that the night is ruined-as is the following day, which will find me exhausted and unable to think or write. I cling to the idea that if I get down just one half-decent sentence tonight, surely it must be better than nothing.
I ended up staying in the office for twenty hours, writing more than I had managed in weeks. I couldn't count on this pattern, but it happened often enough for me to finish the book and become a professional historian. I found writing my first book-a book that I knew would be controversial-a dreadful and debilitating task, and I don't think I would have made it without those moments when expectations and self-criticism were temporarily suspended. Most of the thinking and conceptualizing happened while I was busy with other things. They still do. I sleep better these nights, but getting anything worthwhile on paper still requires mind tricks; insights only come when I'm preoccupied with things-running, hanging out with the kids, cleaning the house-that seemingly have nothing to do with the job.
This, of course, is commonplace. Anyone who has tried to write on a sustained basis knows the workings of the subconscious. And they know that for mind tricks to work, they must catch one by surprise; they must be-or at least feel-thoroughly accidental. One can't force them, or even be aware of them. One can only appreciate them in hindsight.
Like almost all my friends in academia, I wrote my first book slightly scared and enormously annoyed, thinking that there was little in the way of method to my madness. I'm glad that I didn't realize at the time that I did have a method, all along.
By Pekka Hämäläinen
The Comanches, then, were an imperial power with a difference: their aim was not to conquer and colonize, but to coexist, control, and exploit. Whereas more traditional imperial powers ruled by making things rigid and predictable, Comanches ruled by keeping them fluid and malleable. This informal, almost ambiguous nature of Comanches' politics not only makes their empire difficult to define; it sometimes makes it difficult to see. New Mexico and Texas existed side by side with Comanchería throughout the colonial era, and though often suffering under Comanche pressure, the twin colonies endured, allowing Spain to claim sweeping imperial command over the Southwest. Yet when examined closely, Spain's uncompromised imperial presence in the Southwest becomes a fiction that existed only in Spanish minds and on European maps, for Comanches controlled a large portion of those material things that could be controlled in New Mexico and Texas. The idea of land as a form of private, revenue-producing property was absent in Comanche culture, and livestock and slaves in a sense took the place of landed private property. This basic observation has enormous repercussions on how we should see the relationship between the Comanches and colonists. When Comanches subjected Texas and New Mexico to systematic raiding of horses, mules, and captives, draining wide sectors of those productive resources, they in effect turned the colonies into imperial possessions. That Spanish Texas and New Mexico remained unconquered by Comanches is not a historical fact; it is a matter of perspective. -- Pekka Hamalainen in"The Comanche Empire" pp. 4-5.
About Pekka Hämäläinen
Associate Professor and Verlin and Howard Kruse '52 Founders Professor and the Director of Programming, Scowcroft
Institute of International Affairs at the Bush School of Texas A&M University.
I did not set out to write my first book. At least, I did not set out to write the book that finally appeared a decade after I began graduate school. The overarching topic never changed. It remained from beginning to end a study of Anglo-American diplomatic competition for control of the vital aerospace marketplace after World War II.
The topic never changed. But the book itself changed wholly, completely, and unexpectedly. I like to think for the better.
It began, as did I in many ways, as a good example of Wisconsin new-left revisionism. Not only was a I trained by disciples of this powerful strain of diplomatic history, as an undergraduate by Walt LaFeber and in graduate school by Tom McCormick, but revisionism's ingrained bias towards economic considerations and concerted policymaking by elite interests fit well my own red-diaper upbringing. Seminars and books that concluded, to crudely paint with a broad brush, that moneyed interests helped dictate Washington's international priorities simply made intuitive sense following years of similar intergenerational invectives from the host of New York Jewish socialists who gathered around the family dinner table (even after we moved to Nebraska).
My dissertation proposal fit this model. Having arrived in Madison-and really, where else would a would-be leftist historian go for grad school?-determined to study what I termed the local impact of diplomacy, that is the measurable human, social, and economic costs and benefits of foreign policy upon communities, I quickly chose Anglo-American aviation diplomacy as my broad topic. Planes during the Cold War were built largely in single sites, thus ensuring that one could quickly discern the effects of plane sales, or their dearth, on the well-being of cities from Seattle to Farnborough. It had to be a topic politically-sexy enough to have garnered the attention of Prime Ministers and Presidents, thus ensuring that diplomacy and sales interacted and produced an extant documentary record. Finally, it had to be an Anglo-American study as well, because good diplomatic work of the era was invariably comparative and transnational, and having studied in England as and undergrad I was determined to get back as quick as possible.
I thus wrote what I thought to be a rather eloquent dissertation proposal befitting the best of what I understood to be the Wisconsin tradition. This would be a story of economic competition for markets, I posited. It would show British and American diplomats battling throughout the world to secure sales for their domestic producers, thereby ensuring prosperity at home and influence abroad. Policymakers would invariably ensure that trade followed the flag, I expected to show. And if their Special Relationship took a beating for the sake of national sales, well this was exactly the type of economic primacy trumping allied solidarity I expected to find once I hit the archives.
The dissertation proposal proved a beautifully constructed piece of tripe. I was not in England 48 hours, immersed in the documents for the second day of an expected year-long cruise through the archives, when I realized I had the story entirely wrong. This was not a tale of export promotion, the records revealed. It was instead one of export-constraint. The story of Anglo-American aviation diplomacy was not a tale of diplomats fighting to open markets for their own producers. It was instead a saga of policymakers vainly struggling to hold back the tide of eager salespeople, whose lust for exports paid little concern for the potential loss of strategically valuable aviation technologies to communist foes. It was a also, I ultimately discovered, a tale of divergent and contradictory British and American strategies for waging and winning the Cold War, one in which strategic concerns trumped economic considerations; though I first had to accept how wrong I'd originally been before I could see this story emerge.
In short, I had it wrong. I won't say the experience of watching my expectations dashed and then reborn destroyed my revisionist leanings in one fell swoop, because in truth these had already begun to both decline in zeal in favor of a (hopefully) more complex worldview colored by different and even contradictory theories of analysis. At the least, it taught a valuable lesson: history is not always what we expect, but more often what we discover. First, however, one has to be willing to look. And to change one's mind, no matter how the final product is received around the dinner table.
By Jeffrey A. Engel
At the start of the year, the globe's strategic map looked much like it had since the end of World War II. Communist leaders in China and the Soviet Union held power. Their American counterparts, skeptical of the sincerity of recent calls for change throughout the Communist world, prepared for a reinvigorated Cold War of unknown duration and ferocity. Europe prepared for another year divided along fault lines imposed by conquering armies nearly a half-century before.
A year later, communism would be dead in Eastern Europe and dying in the Soviet Union itself. China would be once more in the grip of hard-liners wary of reform, and once more on the precipice of isolation. Washington would be looking to capitalize on its Cold War victory. Europe would soon by rejoined. The future-our twenty-first century present-would be at hand. And no one had seen it coming. -- Jeffrey Engel in"The Fall of the Berlin Wall: The Revolutionary Legacy of 1989" (Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 1.
About Jeffrey A. Engel
Hugo K. Foster Associate Professor of African Studies, Department of History,
Harvard University, July 2005 to present.
Assistant Professor, Department of History, Harvard University, July 2001 to July 2005.
Area of Research: Modern Africa, including human rights and British colonial violence.
Education: Ph. D. History, Harvard University, June 2001.
Major Publications: Elkins is the author of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya (New York: Henry Holt, 2005). This book was simultaneously published in Britain and the Commonwealth by Jonathan Cape under the title Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya; Elkins is the co-editor of Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century: Projects, Practices, Legacies, with Susan Pedersen (New York: Routledge, 2005). Elikins is currently working on a book project entitled Twilight: The Decline and Fall of the British Empire that will re-examine the end British colonial rule during the years after World War Two. The research combines archival and oral data in order to integrate perspectives from the metropole and the colonies, and focuses primarily on the nature of British colonialism and the violence and human rights abuses that accompanied retreat.
Awards: Elkins is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including:
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, 2006;
Walter Channing Cabot Fellow, Harvard University, 2005-06;
Gelber Prizer for Non-Fiction, Finalist, 2006;
The Economist, Best History Book Selection for Imperial Reckoning, 2005;
The New York Times, Editors' Choice, Imperial Reckoning, 2005;
The Daily Telegraph, Editor's Choice, Paperback, Britain's Gulag, 2005;
Phi Beta Kappa, Honorary Member, Harvard University Chapter, June 2006;
Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Fellowship, 2006-07;
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Faculty Research Leave Fellowship, spring 2005;
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Bunting Fellow, 2003-04;
J. William Fulbright Fellowship for Kenya (IIE), 1998-1999;
Social Science Research Council, International Dissertation Research Fellowship, 1998-1999;
Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship, 1997-1998;
Krupp Foundation Fellowship in European Studies, 1997-1998;
Harvard University Derek Bok Award for Teaching Excellence, 1996-1997 and 2000-01;
Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, Intensive Swahili III, 1995;
Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, 1994-1995.
Elkins has appeared on a number of television news media shows including; ABC, Radio Australia; Charlie Rose Show, PBS; Tavis Smiley Show, PBS; Here and Now, NPR,"Imperial Reckoning," Talk of the Nation, NPR,"Pulitzer Winners Describe that Winning Feeling;" Morning Edition, NPR,"Kenya's Mau Maus Seek Restitution;" BBC World,"Imperial Reckoning;" Here and Now, NPR,"Imperial Reckoning;" BBC, Radio Four,"The Mau Mau Rebellion;" BBC, Five Live; All Things Considered, NPR,"Author Details Harsh British Rule in Kenya."
Elkins's research on detention camps and villagization during the Mau Mau Emergency was the subject of a one-hour film on the BBC,"Kenya: White Terror." Elkins was a feature of the documentary, as well as a consultant to the project. The documentary was filmed in Kenya and Britain, September/October 2002. It was aired in Britain on 17 November 2002 to an audience of some 1.5 million viewers. It has subsequently been aired on BBC Worldwide several times. It won the International Committee on the Red Cross Award at the Monte Carlos Film Festival in June 2003.
Founder and Co-director, Kenya Oral History Centre, Nairobi, Kenya. Directing a project aimed at the collection of several thousand life histories of Africans from various ethnic groups who lived through the colonial experience in Kenya. The Center is modeled on similar projects in South Africa and post-WWII Germany, though it is the first of its kind in Kenya. Nearly $100,000 of funding has been drawn primarily from the Kenya Government, Harvard University, Ford Foundation, and the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
Editorial Board Member, Princeton University Press Series,"Crimes Against Humanity," August 2005 to present.
It was September 2003 and I still remember the feeling of opening my office door for the first time at the Radcliffe Institute where I was beginning my fellowship year. I practically dropped to my knees and wept. The room was spacious with sun streaming in and had an enormous desk with a computer that was the latest in technology. But, those weren't the reason for my out-of-character moment of emotion. The office was, to take off from someone else's words, a room of my own. It was away from the teaching and administrative distractions of my department office, and away from the lovable chaos generated by my two young sons, then one and three, at home. When I shut my Radcliffe door, I was alone, joyfully alone with my ideas and my writing.
And, it was at Radcliffe that I immersed myself in routine. When I write I love routine. I would come at almost precisely the same time day in and day out and leave at the same time. After I put my children to bed, I did the same thing in the evening; on the weekends the same thing. I had a story to tell, and like some athletes, when I'm in my routine, or game, I feel as if I'm in the"zone." It's as if I can hear or think of nothing else; instead, I can almost see the words and story in my mind before they unfold on the computer screen. Routine also has other implications. I don't answer the phone (except for the emergency cell phone number which is given to my sons' schools), I occasionally answer email, I almost never accept lunch or coffee invitations, I eat the same thing for lunch at my desk (with Imperial Reckoning it was butternut squash soup from Hi-Rise Bakery with a hunk of bread and loads of butter), I wear virtually the same clothes every day, I get my mid-morning and late afternoon coffee at the same time - the list could go on and on. Some might call this compulsive. I like to think of myself as focused!
Of course, I had every reason to keep my eye on the ball during my time at Radcliffe. I was up for my first review at the end of the academic year, and I had to finish my manuscript. I had also agreed with my publisher to deliver the draft by May of 2004. In other words, the whole book had to be written from start to finish during my year of leave. But, I suspect, with or without these deadlines I would have written the book at the same pace. For me, once I sit down to write I can't stop. I become so utterly focused that it is simply better for everyone around me to let me finish rather than to drag it out. In the case of writing Imperial Reckoning, it meant making up a lot of time with my family once the book was finished. Fortunately, the writing projects I've taken on since then have been smaller - articles, book reviews, and short essays - so I'm cloistered less often in my own world. That said, whether the project is big or small, I'm ruthless with my routine, and, gratefully, I've adjusted to thinking and writing without a room of my own.
By Caroline Elkins
About Caroline Elkins
Assistant Professor, Department of History,
Co-Chair, Program in Asian and Asian American Studies,
Baruch College, City University of New York.
Although born in Los Angeles, I grew up in Auburn, a small town about forty-five minutes outside of Sacramento. At the time, Auburn's boosters played up its status as an old Gold Rush hub to lure tourists; as I grew older, however, I realized that the town also possessed what in those days was a largely unexplored Asian American past. I caught an occasional glimpse in the Shanghai Bar in Old Town, the tumbledown shacks that longtime residents still referred to as the"Chinese section," or a stack of the town's old high school yearbooks, where I discovered that until 1942, one-third of the student body of the now almost all-white school had been Japanese American.
Yet it took me many years to explore this past any further. Our high school textbooks didn't discuss Asian American history, nor did Yale offer any courses in the subject when I was a student there. During my undergrad years I tried to remedy what I felt was my general provinciality and weak educational background by taking courses on every area of the world except the US. In the process, I became particularly fascinated with modern China, studying everything from Chinese history to Chinese literature to the Chinese language itself. Desperate to actually visit China, I signed up with a program to teach English there after college, only to find myself placed at the last minute in a xenophobic town in Hubei Province. As the only white person and the only obvious foreigner in the city, I faced not only constant stares but actual harassment on a daily basis. People routinely came up to me and clapped in my face to see how I would react, children threw firecrackers and debris at me with the encouragement of adults, and even students from other departments in my college taunted me on campus. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, but at the same time, one of the most important. While I could never escape for a moment my status as an outsider, I had the opportunity to watch China in the midst of a wrenching industrial revolution.
My time in Hubei and a subsequent stint in Hong Kong made me think about issues such as race, class, environmental degradation, and economic development in ways I had never considered before. They also inspired to me to apply to graduate school to study U.S. history while further exploring the Chinese past.
The question I hear most often from students, friends, and family members is,"Why do you study that?" They're not referring to urban history or 20th century America, but to Asian American history. It's a question I've always struggled to answer satisfactorily, mostly because its racial subtext makes me self-conscious. I know, too, that historians often decide to study their own communities when they focus on fields such as gay and lesbian history, women's history, African American history, or similar subjects. I can't claim to be doing the same in my work, but I do think that my background is the reason I study Asian American history. And I believe that the importance of this field to the larger American story means that while I am not Asian American, Asian American history is my history too.
By Charlotte Brooks
Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California
About Charlotte Brooks
"One of the best professors at Baruch. I took her for History which isn't even my focus, but I learned the most in this class out of the whole semester. She keeps all the lessons interesting. Coming to class was a pleasure for me."...
"She is a great teacher!!! I learned a lot in her history class. I strongly recommend her..awesome!!!"...
"Love her!Amazing professor!!! extremly helpful and crystal clear. Makes lectures interesting."...
"Great professor, really cares about students succeeding in her class, very enthusiatic and knowledgeable about subject."...
"Excellent teacher. Really cares about students' learning the material and makes herself available for extra help."...
"You couldnt ask for a better professor. Great person,passionate, interesting lectures, cool sense of humor." -- Anonymous Students
Assistant Professor, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government.
When I read or hear other people's accounts of how they wrote their dissertation or their first book-the sojourns in dusty but marvelous out-of-the-way archives, the fateful chance meetings with ousted despots in abandoned mineshafts, the luggage mistakenly switched with that of the shady foreign operative-I can't help but think of the recurring Seinfeld joke about"Rochelle, Rochelle", the film-turned-Broadway musical about"a young girl's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk." In reality, at least in my experience, there's very little glamour or romance involved in getting a PhD in history. Yes, there is often a lot of travel involved, and anyone who spends an inordinate amount of time in airports and hotels is bound to have more than her share of misadventures. I am no exception. But the process of the PhD is in some ways nasty, brutish, and long-sometimes strange, yes, but not necessarily in a good way, and in any case rarely erotic. Still, I like to think I'm not a masochist, so it's reasonable to ask why I wound up walking that road. It wasn't at all obvious, and I can't claim to be following a calling I felt since I was a child. History was one of my worst subjects, my inability to memorize names and dates surpassed perhaps only by my inability to comprehend the most simple geometric axioms. I still recall the big day of the matriculation exam in history-as dictated by the high school curriculum in the frenetic Middle Eastern country where I spent most of my boyhood, we were tested on our knowledge of Second Temple-era Judea, and I bravely chose to answer the question about the differences in religious practices and beliefs between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. I wrote my response with some pride, pleased that I was actually able to remember all the priestly minutiae. It was only later that day that I realized in horror-though not with total surprise-that I had been absolutely correct about all the religious practices and beliefs, but had attributed those of the Pharisees to the Sadducees, and vice versa. I hoped against hope that the exam would be graded by an understanding soul who could appreciate that I had included all the relevant information, just the other way around, but no such luck was forthcoming.
In all the time that's passed since then I'm still not sure I've mastered the elusive art of memorization, and I've certainly forgotten most of what I knew about Judea in 70AD. It wasn't until over a decade later that I decided on an academic career (long story), and even after I embarked on the road to becoming a professional historian I was sorely tempted on a few occasions to opt for alternate paths: during one lull in graduate school I considered returning to my previous life as a journalist, and during another-this one more sustained, a probable side effect of the distractions of living in New York and then Paris-I seriously contemplated diving headlong into the world of music. What kept me going in the discipline is, I think, something that I first grasped in college, listening to a talk by wizened scholar of medieval France, and to which I have returned in such moments of doubt: that history should not, cannot, be treated as a"subject", something separate from other domains of life, to be learned in isolation. Eric Hobsbawm was on to something (though maybe not for the right reasons) when he demanded that history not be treated as"merely one damned thing after another." What I try to convey to students as they begin to delve into the past is that history, contrary to what they may have thought or heard, is not a body of knowledge to be absorbed, but"a way of thinking", as Marc Bloch put it, about the world they live in. That may sound banal to those of us professionalized in the discipline, but I wish I realized that twenty years ago. I think that's where I (and my teachers, for that matter) went wrong in high school. Armed with that insight, I might have enjoyed history much more even then, been somewhat more adept with names and dates (though probably still not with those geometric axioms) and maybe even remembered-correctly!-what it was exactly that those pesky Pharisees and Sadducees did differently from each other.
By Moshik Temkin
I think all this reflects an uncertainty in how they are remembered. Sacco and Vanzetti do not have a clear place in our civic life or historical record. Part of the reason for this has to do with the fact that we still don't know-and never will know-whether they"did it."
But in many ways, the Sacco-Vanzetti affair is still with us. Certainly the issues that animated it are very much alive. Americans today still do battle over the issue of immigration, and intolerance toward foreigners is still widespread, sometimes virulent, especially when times are hard. Europeans, Latin Americans, and other non-Americans are still concerned over, and in some cases outright hostile to, America's presence in the world, and the way Americans handle international politics. And then as now, Americans are still divided over what was called, in Sacco and Vanzetti's day,"foreign interference" in American affairs.
Whether it is the death penalty, or the health care system, or how to deal with terrorism suspects, or even who should be elected U.S. president, non-Americans have and will continue to have opinions, because the United States is so powerful and what it does domestically reverberates externally. Many Americans bristle at this but many others welcome this. It depends on whether they see the United States as an entity separated in principle from the rest of the world, or as a genuine part of the world-a world in which Americans have a stake in the lives of non-Americans, and vice versa.
This issue divided Americans when Sacco and Vanzetti were what one magazine called"the two most famous prisoners in the world," and it still divides Americans today. This, I believe, is the context in which the Sacco-Vanzetti affair took place. My book is not an attempt to end the discussion about Sacco and Vanzetti, or to provide a definitive account. My aim was to start a new conversation, one that would not be about guilt or innocence but rather about the Sacco-Vanzetti affair-its significance and place in history." -- -- Moshik Temkin in an interview with"Rorotoko" about his book"The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial"
About Moshik Temkin
Assistant Professor of History, Tulsa University.
I first became interested in history hearing stories from my grandfather, Oscar Weinstein, who passed away last year at the age of 99 and had an incredible memory. Intellectually, my perspective was first shaped by a course that I took at Dawson College in Montreal on the so-called anti-psychiatrists - R.D. Laing and Erich Fromm - whose idea that mental illness was a social construct and a product of the pathologies and intolerance of society I found to be compelling. At McGill University, I took a course on crime and punishment which introduced me to radical theories of criminology and examined the social roots and construction of deviance in Western society. Then I read Noam Chomsky, whose work on state crime and terrorism was (and remains) highly illuminating, and Alfred W. McCoy's on the CIA's support for the global narcotics trade, which my own research on the topic confirmed to be right on the mark.
My first book The Myth of the Addicted Army: Vietnam and the Modern War on Drugs draws on sociological theories about"moral panics" and the construction of deviance in examining the origins and growth of the modern drug war. I try and demonstrate how policy-makers and the media greatly exaggerated the scope and ravages of drug abuse in the army, creating a climate of hysteria over drugs which supplanted public concern about the war itself and resulted in the growth of repressive prohibition measures. The myth of the drug-addicted soldier took hold so widely in my view because it provided a convenient political scapegoat, which helped to deflect attention away from the carnage in Indochina, and to absolve of responsibility those responsible for perpetrating and expanding the war. The second half of the book analyzes the consequences of the War on Drugs, including its link to the growth of the carcerial state in the US and major human rights abuses internationally while at the same time failing to curb supply rates.
Building off this work, I am currently completing a book on American international police training programs entitled Modernizing Repression. Adopting a comparative analysis, I chronicle how police programs have served as an important mechanism for expanding American power from the conquest of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century through the 21st century occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and resulted in significant human rights violations. This book combines my interests in criminal justice, US foreign policy and covert operations and draws on many of the formative intellectual influences in my professional career and life.
By Jeremy Kuzmarov
About Jeremy Kuzmarov
Top Young Historians' profiles edited by Bonnie K. Goodman
1st profile in our relaunch commencing"Top Young Historians: The Next 100"
Assistant Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies, Yale University;
courtesy appointments in the Department of History and Yale Divinity School
I found myself in his basement after several overeager e-mails and one short walk from campus."There are the boxes," he said, apologizing for the appealing squalor."Use whatever you can find." He smiled, waved a little, and left me alone. This is the loneliness which launched 1,000 monographs, the isolation of papers disordered and waiting. Just for what they were waiting I knew, then: I would have said (as I walked to his house, as I poured through large, long histories, as I sat in undergraduate lectures on the Stamp Act and Mesopotamian agriculture) that the papers waited for our story-telling, for our discovery. On that grey day, I would have said simply: I am doing the work of finding out what has not been found, but needs to be heard.
Several gorging hours later, I had more then I could have hoped to have: not only meeting minutes, but also typescripts of speeches. For a student of African American religions, such transcriptions of ministerial expression are treasure nonpareil. In 1961, I heard a pastor bellow back at the South East Chicago Commission:"Those people over there have got to realize once and for all that Woodlawn is not their private colony." In 1965, I found the same man-president of The Woodlawn Organization, reverend in a growing Pentecostal parish-arguing,"This proposal is based on the long-standing American assertion that self-determining communities, with sufficient resources, can bring their members into the mainstream of American life." Later, in the middle of the summer of '66, he cajoled,"I don't think we ought to get mad. We ought to get smart." Finally, I heard this same man-the subject of my study, the target of my discovery-steam forward with his success,"The greatest danger to an organization is complacency. Let us stick together. If you stick together, you got to win. I'm sticking to Woodlawn." In his notes accompanying this speech, the annotator remarked,"on several occasions, there was loud applause and/or amens."
I think I lived on the pure positivist pleasure of that afternoon for exactly three days. For three days, I felt like the queen of all archiving, mistress of data, and doyenne of detection. I had found what I believed was a critical missing voice in the historiography. I had found him arguing, avidly, against King and his imported political strategies to combat de facto segregation. In one clearinghouse afternoon, I had pulled voices, power, and political consequences from disordered files. There was such a gorgeous cleanliness to my self-satisfaction.
Then, of course, the bubble burst. Running behind in my reading for a class, I flew through an assigned chapter from Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Silencing the Past, one which diagnosed Columbus Day and its peculiar formation. One sentence stopped me, cold:"The naming of the 'fact' is itself a narrative power disguised as innocence." Every historian realizes, at some point or another, that what they do is something may be more interpretive, more imaginative, and more manipulative than chatter of"objectivity" suggests. But when Trouillot named my glee an innocence-and my"discovery" an imperial format-I think I began, finally, to commit to history. Not as a romance with data, or a story to unfold, or a voice to ventriloquize, but as a practice of powerful criticism, one in which we unrelentingly seek the mess, especially when anything presents too easily, too neatly, too logically, to be true.
By Kathryn Lofton
What is most tugging to those questing for the religious Michael Jackson is not to be found in biography. Rather, it is, always and forever, in the deus of those songs. It is difficult to think of another singer who has produced more music that serves such ritual function, be it Halloween ("Thriller"), peace summits ("We Are The World"), or the midnight club surge ("Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"). This musician knew how to capitalize upon the liminal gap between fear and pleasure, between acrimony and unity, between exhaustion and electricity, between rape and desire, between genders, between races, and between ages. He performed on the rite de passage. Perhaps righteously, the reporters and detectives found in that wobble foul play. But in the dancing delight of our most sentimental rites-at the wedding, at the middle school dance, or in the child's bedroom-such talk of Michael's molesting grotesque seems sacrilegious. Or it seems to miss the point: the glory of this voice, and the beats he pulled with a snap, was in its denial of this world, of its codes and clarities. The way you make me feel, you really turn me on, he sang. You give me fever like I've never, ever known, and you knock me off my feet. And so it was. And so it ever will be... - Kathryn Lofton in"The Way You Make Me Feel", The University of Chicago Divinity School
About Kathryn Lofton
Top Young Historians' profiles edited by Bonnie K. Goodman