This week's Top Young Historian is... Tevi D. Troy
Deputy Secretary, U.S Department of Health and Human Services.
I still remember reading how in the 1980s the newest issues of the New Republic would go straight from the printer to the West Wing of the White House. I was fascinated by how intellectuals moved their ideas from the academic world to the political. In graduate school, I first tried to do a study of books that made a difference in shaping political leadership decisions. I examined how books like Michael Harrington's The Other America or Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind influenced elected leaders. What I found was that it is very hard to prove that a president actually read an important book, let alone assimilated its ideas. What I could prove, however, was which books were recommended to presidents and who recommended them. This led to the discovery that in every administration since President Kennedy at least one person has been charged (or charged himself) with the role of keeping the president and his senior staff informed of intellectual developments in the wider culture.
For my doctoral dissertation, I decided to investigate the important role of intellectuals inside and outside the White House. This work became my first book Intellectuals and the American Presidency. After completing my dissertation, I found that my interest in ideas in politics opened doors into the political world. Over the last decade, I have worked in a series of policy-development roles. I have worked on Capitol Hill, for several executive agencies, and at the White House. My prior doctoral research gave me a real insight into how future historians would view the documents I was preparing and submitting. It made me aware of my responsibility to future historians as I drafted critical documents.
My academic interests and public service came full circle at the White House. As part of my job in the administration, I was able to sit in on a number of meetings that the president held with small groups of prominent historians to discuss world history, current events, and long-term trends. Right before one of these meetings, Karl Rove brought the historians into his office and we started discussing the role of intellectuals and the presidency. Rove looked over at me and said:"Wait a minute, this guy wrote the book on the subject." At that moment, I thought back and I realized I could have never planned anything like this when I was in grad school.
By Tevi D. Troy
This situation makes presidents, for all their power, extremely vulnerable. As a result, they understandably seek some magic elixir that can help shape their image among the voting public, the scribbling classes, and the history books. If they cannot confer a positive image on a president, they can certainly help sully a president's image. Lyndon Johnson, for example, was one of the most powerful presidents of modern times, both in his understanding of the power of the office and his willingness to use that power. Yet he stood powerless against the campaign waged against him by intellectuals, most of whom probably belonged to his own party. And Johnson recognized his impotence on this front. As the Nation put it at the time,"Johnson was not oblivious to the fact that widespread antagonism among thoughtful citizens can be unhealthy for any President." As Johnson and later Nixon learned, this unhealthiness can prove politically fatal.
As a result of these pressures, presidents look to intellectuals to help define their presidency. Presidents do this by paying attention at some level to what intellectuals are doing and by addressing intellectuals and intellectual developments in some fashion. The approach they take can vary, especially between Democrats and Republicans, but they must address the issue. If presidents are the lions of American politics, intellectuals are the mice. While the lions can smite the mice, the mice have the potential to remove -- or insert -- the thorn in the lion's paw.
-- Tevi D. Troy in"Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, or Technicians"
About Tevi D. Troy
In key leadership roles in the executive and legislative branches, Tevi has contributed much on the issues of health information technology, public health and childhood obesity, food and drug safety, welfare, and family and community services. His strong domestic policy skills, academic background, history of accomplishments, and enthusiasm all combine to make him a tremendous addition to the HHS leadership team. I am delighted to welcome Tevi to the Department and look forward to working closely with him." -- Statement by Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, On the Swearing In of Tevi Troy as HHS Deputy Secretary, August 7, 2007
Associate Professor, Department of History, Carnegie Mellon University
Three days before HNN informed me of this recognition, an e-mail query arrived from a scholar writing about failure and depression - the emotional kind. Did I have any thoughts on connections between them?
The truth is, such thoughts clouded much of the decade between earning my Ph.D. in 1995 and publishing Born Losers in 2005. Anyone who can count will see that gaping hole in my résumé, and anyone who knows me even distantly will vouch that I was barely seen or heard from for years. In the time span I took writing just one volume, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote all of Lord of the Rings.
Historians remember each other as much by topic as by name."Whatever happened to that failure guy?" Everybody loved my topic; it had gotten me grants and a good job. Early on, colleagues ribbed me,"If you fail to finish your book, you'll really have succeeded, right?" When they stopped kidding me entirely, it was no joke anymore.
The life crises of my thirties were no worse than anybody else's. My 15-year relationship ended, a close friend died young, the puppy I got while writing my dissertation died old. A bewhiskered faculty mentor spun horror stories of promising historians who were denied tenure and now taught 6/6. To paraphrase my dad's old suppertime rant: somewhere there were starving adjuncts who would just love to have my job.
I found a groovy Jungian shrink who burned incense during sessions - a barefoot hippie chick who helped me a lot, and I went on meds. The book just went on. The longer it took, the worse I felt, the better it had to be. I read somewhere that Niall Ferguson was born on April 18, 1964 - same day and year as I was.
Having created the monster that ate up my thirties, I managed to kill it a few months before turning forty. When my tenure case went through, my college Dean winked about"a last-minute reprieve from the Governor." People started kidding me again.
My favorite review of Born Losers opened with a blunt acknowledgement that"delays in [the book's] appearance fanned fears that Sandage, like many of his book's characters, might himself fail in his undertaking." I did fail, of course, just as anyone who tries to explain the past must fail. I took too long to understand that failure was no excuse for not finishing.
After discussing my depression in an NPR interview about the book, I got a lot of unexpected mail from people with their own failure stories. Evidently, it helped to know that Born Losers was not the work of some ivory professor impressed by his own success.
The foregoing should raise questions about naming me to any"top" list, but I am grateful to be called"young" and happier still to feel that way again. Replying to last week's query about depression and failure, I thumbed Born Losers and was shocked to discover that I omitted that angle entirely. Go figure.
By Scott Sandage
About Scott A. Sandage
Dartmouth College, Assistant Professor of History.
Area of Research: American cultural and intellectual history, 19th-century Anglo-American liberalism
Education: Ph.D., History, Yale University, 1998.
Major Publications: Butler is the author of Critical Americans: Victorian Intellectuals and Transatlantic Liberal Reform, (University of North Carolina Press, 2007) which examines a group of liberal intellectuals who sought to remake public life in the second half of the nineteenth century.
She is the author of numerours book chapters including"Liberal Victorians and Foreign Policy in the Age of Empire," in Steven Mintz, editor, The Problem of Evil: Race, Slavery, and the Ambiguities of Reform. (University of Massachusetts Press, 2007)."Reconstructions in Intellectual and Cultural Life," in Thomas Brown, ed., Reconstructions: New Perspectives on the Postbellum United States. (Oxford University Press, 2006);"Investigating the 'Great American Mystery': Theory and Style in Henry Adams' Political Reform Moment," in William Decker and Earl Harbert, eds., Henry Adams and the Need to Know, (University Press of Virginia, 2005). Butler has also written articles and reviews for a number of scholarly journals.
Butler's current project tentatively titled"The Political Education of Victorian Women: Gender and Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Britain and America" focuses on the thought of a group of British and American suffragists, male and female, who held expansive views about the connections between education and democratic citizenship.
Awards: Butler is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Reiss Family Faculty Research Grant, Rockefeller Center, Dartmouth, 2006-7;
Junior Faculty Fellowship, Dartmouth College, 2006-7;
Research Scholar, Rockefeller Center for the Social Sciences, Dartmouth, 2005-6;
Intramural Research Grant Program, Michigan State University, 2001;
Faculty Research Development Grant, James Madison College, M.S.U., 2001;
American Antiquarian Society, Katherine J. Petersen Fellowship, 1998;
Massachusetts Historical Society Fellowship, 1998;
Mrs. Giles Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities, Yale University, 1997-8;
John D. Rockefeller, 3rd, Fellowship, Program on Non-Profit Organizations, Yale, 1995;
John F. Enders Fellowship, spring 1995 (for primary research in British archives);
Beinecke Library Summer Fellowship, 1995;
Mellon Predissertation Research Grant, summer 1994;
Yale University Graduate Fellowship, 1991-93.
Formerly Assistant Professor in Humanities, James Madison College, Michigan State, 1998-2003, Visiting Assistant Professor of History, Reed College, 1997-98, and was a Graduate Instructor and Newhouse Writing Fellow, Yale University, 1995-97.
It is a truth universally acknowledged (or at least it should be) that the longer you live with a project, the more relevant it becomes. This truth was certainly borne out by the project that became my first book.
I chose to study a group of nineteenth-century liberal critics. These men were ensconced in northeastern universities and media outlets; cosmopolitan enough to be comfortable on both sides of the Atlantic; and sharply critical of the venality of American politics and the shallowness of American culture. Denounced as effeminate cultural elites by their contemporaries (as well as by many historians), they were, in short, the original coastal-dwelling, Europe-loving men.
I had stumbled onto the topic serendipitously, running into several volumes of their correspondence and writings at a used book sale. Not really even knowing who these figures were, I found myself riveted by their broad-ranging and earnest (if still incomplete) efforts to reconcile their ideal of democratic public life with the often less inspiring reality they saw around them. I could spend years reading this stuff, I thought. And so I did.
From the moment I began my research in the mid-1990s, I heard echoes in our own political and cultural debates: over campaign finance reform, the media's proper role in political discussion, and the seriousness of Oprah Winfrey's book club. Had I published the book according to my (and my publisher's) original time frame, however, I would have entirely missed out on what would become the most disturbingly salient echo.
In 2004, as I began a final draft of the book, what had always seemed like a compelling but safely distant episode took on new meaning and urgency. This was the liberals' dissent from America's (initially) popular wars of 1846 and 1898 and their insistence on the necessity and even patriotic duty of such wartime dissent. As entertainer/artists like Bill Maher or the Dixie Chicks ran afoul of America's remarkably enduring patriotic speech codes, James Russell Lowell's couplet kept rhyming in my head:
I loved her old renown, her stainless fame
What better proof than that I loathed her shame.
Of course, I couldn't have foreseen any of this back when I first began the project. And I certainly don't want to be seen here as advocating a disregard for deadlines. My experience simply suggests the importance of choosing a topic that engages your interest for the long haul. What echoes in the future will take care of itself.
By Leslie Butler
About Leslie Butler
Assistant Professor, Department of History and Art History, and Director of Research Projects at the Center for
History and New Media, George Mason University
Area of Research: Scholar of Victorian European and American intellectual history as well as the history of science who also explores—and tries to influence through theory, software, websites, and his blog—the impact of computing on the humanities.
Education: Ph.D. in History, Yale University, 1999
Major Publications: Cohen is the author of Equations from God: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Faith. (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and co-author of Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).
He has also published articles and book chapters on the history of mathematics and religion, the teaching of history, and the future of history in a digital age in journals such as the Journal of American History, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Rethinking History, and include:"Reasoning and Belief in Victorian Mathematics," in Martin Daunton, ed., The Organisation of Knowledge in Victorian Britain (Oxford University Press/The British Academy, 2005);"By the Book: Assessing the Place of Textbooks in U.S. Survey Courses," Journal of American History 91 (March 2005), among others.
Cohen is currently working on a book project tentatively entitled Digital Scholarship: Theory & Practice.
Awards: Cohen is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
George Mason University Faculty Fellowship, 2007-8;
American Council of Learned Societies Digital Innovation Fellowship, 2006-7 (inaugural recipient);
George Washington Egleston Prize, awarded for"Symbols of Heaven, Symbols of Man: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Religion," 1999;
Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, awarded by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, 1996-1997 Whiting Dissertation Fellowship winner, 1996;
Pew Charitable Trusts Fellowship, 1996;
Mellon Dissertation Research Fellowship, 1996;
John F. Enders Grant, 1995-1996;
Yale University Fellowship, 1992-1997;
Harvard University Fellowship, 1990-1992;
Zotero 2.0 (zotero.org), funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, $890,000, Lead Primary Investigator, 2006-2008;
Zotero 1.0 (zotero.org), funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, $250,000, Co-Primary Investigator, 2006-2007;
Echo 2 (echo.gmu.edu), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, $700,000, Co-Director, 2004-2008;
Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (hurricanearchive.org), funded by the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, $250,000, Co-Director, 2006-2008;
Preserving the Record of the Dot-Com Era, funded by the Library of Congress's National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, $143,000 (part of a larger grant to the University of Maryland), Director, 2006-2008;
Scholarly software for the National Endowment for the Humanities’ EDSITEment project, funded by NEH, $150,000, Co-Director, 2005-2007;
September 11 Digital Archive (911digitalarchive.org), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, $750,000, Co-Director, 2002-2004;
Echo: Exploring and Collecting History Online (echo.gmu.edu), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, $720,000, Co-Director, 2001-2004.
At the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University Cohen has co-directed, among other projects, the"September 11 Digital Archive" and"Echo," and has developed software for scholars, teachers, and students, including the popular Zotero research tool.
He writes a blog; Dan Cohen's Digital Humanities Blog: http://www.dancohen.org/
To spruce up a nondescript apartment tower that rises a few blocks from my home in Silver Spring, Maryland, the landlords hired a metalworker who spent several days channeling Frank Gehry to create an ambitious but rather impractical porous, upside-down archway in front of the building's entrance. The new facade has become widely known, or at least widely known in my household, as the"Giant Hammock." I know this because I live with two discerning architectural critics: my three-year-old twins, Eve and Arlo.
Eve and Arlo have many other shrewd insights, which they do not hesitate to share with anyone who will listen, as well as many who care not to. After witnessing me say several times that I was"going to work," followed by a short trip across the room to my computer, they became quite sure that I do not actually work.
Perhaps they are right. Although I happen to think I work very hard on several fronts at once (writing, teaching, creating scholarly websites and software), given the relative freedom of my schedule compared to others (farmers, bakers, Paris Hilton paparazzi), I try to remind myself often that we academics are extraordinarily lucky.
And with good fortune comes responsibility. Combined with my kids' insight that their daddy doesn't work--"he types"--this sense of responsibility has led me to give away as much as I can. A couple of years ago I decided to start blogging much of what I know, and have since"typed" close to a book's worth of content on my website. With the exception of my latest book, all of my publications are also freely available online, as are my digital research tools. It's not all altruism, of course; that which is openly accessible on the Web also spreads the word more widely and rapidly about you and what you care about.
When I do leave the house and go to the university, I return to questions from Eve and Arlo not about"my work" (already established: Daddy doesn't work), but about whether I"spoke to Roy" (Rosenzweig, my friend and collaborator at the Center for History and New Media) or"told stories to my students."
My kids may not fully comprehend what I do, but they sense that I tell stories not unlike the ones in their picture books, and I try to keep the simplicity of that notion in mind. Because I often write about highly technical topics--the complexity of the twenty-first century digital realm or the nuances of nineteenth-century mathematics--I always put extra effort into my"typing" to avoid jargon or esoteric terms and to make sure that the sum is greater than the parts. If I'm lucky, I'm able to communicate the larger human expression behind a sequence of equations or lines of code.
Recently I was walking in downtown Silver Spring with Eve and Arlo. Arlo turned to Eve and said,"Look, Eve, it's the Giant Hammock." Eve looked carefully at the combination of abstract metal pieces and thought for a moment. She then turned to Arlo and responded,"No, Arlo, I think that's a sculpture."
By Daniel J. Cohen
About Daniel J. Cohen
"Dr. Cohen did an excellent job of organizing a tremendous amount of material into themes that made the history relevant and easy to understand."
"Dr. Cohen is an exceptional professor who is incredibly bright and knowledgeable. He presented material from a broad range of disciplines. I LOVED the course."
"Prof. Cohen was very good at explaining complicated and/or unfamiliar terms and scientific concepts and kind to those of use who were slow to understand them."
"An outstanding speaker who encourages participation from all his students, and selects very interesting topics to discuss."
"He was always available out of the classroom in order to help me with my paper. You can tell he really loves his students and takes pride in his position." -- Anonymous students