Associate Professor of History, Rhodes College, 2007-present
I think I can trace much of my current interest in the urban history of Paris to one precise moment.
I arrived in the city for the first time as a graduate student just beginning my dissertation research. The Eurostar brought me from London to Gare du Nord, and I immediately went underground to the Metro. So I didn't really see the city itself until I climbed the steps from the Metro station in my new neighborhood. When I did, I looked around, almost stunned (and somewhat naive), and thought,"Hey, this looks just like Paris!" The buildings and streets around me all looked just liked the classic images I had seen in movies and photographs. Some part of me had expected that the reality wouldn't live up to the image, but now I saw it with my own eyes.
That sense of wonder lasted a long time -- it still does in many ways. But as my knowledge of the city has deepened over the last decade, my feelings about it have become much more complex.
I walked all over the city on that first stay and in the many visits that have followed, and gained an intimate, ground-level feel for the urban space. Each day was the discovery of another little corner. Now I have my favorite restaurants, parks, and shops, even my favorite streets. I still love to go to Paris because it allows me to live a different kind of life: beautiful walks, wonderful food, a different sense of time and place.
But sometimes Paris pushes me away too. At its worst, Paris can feel big, noisy, dirty, and crowded. Enduring the summer heat in an eighteenth century building can be oppressive. And while my French is very good, there are always nuances in the language that escape me. Language slips sometimes make for a lonely feeling because it means that there is some part of my world that eludes me, a missing connection between me and my neighbors.
And there are still parts of the city where I always get disoriented. In fact, when I stepped into the street on that first trip, I immediately got lost looking for my apartment. With no knowledge of the city at that point, my fascination quickly turned to worry.
But I was found by the Parisians themselves. I asked two women pushing strollers for directions to the cafe where I was to meet my landlord. They said they thought it was further down the street, and I headed off to find it. But a few seconds later, one of them came chasing after me."Monsieur! Monsieur!" she called out. The cafe was actually the other way, they realized, and they had gone out of their way to help me.
From then on, I've always found a welcome in Paris every time I visit. Even in those moments when Paris pushes me away, it also pulls me back. And I only want to work harder to know it better.
By Jeffrey H. Jackson
About Jeffrey H. Jackson
To summarize my appreciation for Professor Jackson pithily, I would say this: when I walked into his History 101 class in the spring of my freshman year, I had already decided to study history; and by the time I left his course, I had the wherewithal to study it well. His pedagogical and methodological standards, his demanding expectations, and his determination to make his students more thoughtful and more articulate enriched my time at Rhodes immeasurably.
During my sophomore year, Professor Jackson approached me about doing a Directed Inquiry centered on a mutual interest of ours: urban history. The fact that he regarded me as capable and committed enough to handle the course was flattering enough, but what struck me most—and, indeed, what motivated me to make the most of the opportunity—was the spirit of mutual investigation that guided the semester's work. His willingness to trust me as a partner in thinking through the large, complicated, and important issues we explored empowered me as a researcher, writer, and thinker. The course was a formative experience in the life of a young student.
Out of that Directed Inquiry grew a research paper that allowed me to apply my budding skills in a direct and meaningful way. My study of the removal of New Orleans' Canal St. Streetcar line in 1964 put into consequential practice the approaches Professor Jackson had emboldened me to critique and discuss. In sifting through primary documents, interviewing community activists, and contextualizing the remarkable story of the streetcar, I gained the authentic and applicable experience of an historian. Throughout my writing, Professor Jackson challenged me, supported me, and pulled more out of my pen than I could have thought possible at the project's outset.
During my junior and senior years, Professor Jackson served as the primary advisor for my honor’s thesis. The project was the culmination of everything he and I had studied and everything he had prepared me for, and I have his dedication to thank for its success. The countless hours he and I spent together discussing primary and secondary materials, improving drafts of various chapters, and focusing the text's arguments crystallized my academic experience at Rhodes.
Simply put, Professor Jackson was a deeply committed instructor, mentor, critic, and advocate—and what greater can be said of any teacher? My ambition was embraced, my talent supported, and my work validated. Professor Jackson challenged and enabled me to be the best scholar I could, and his confidence and care have earned him my continuing admiration. --
Robert Edgecombe, Former Student, Rhodes College
Associate Professor, Department of History and Director,
Center for Asian American Studies. University of Texas at Austin
Like many other historians, my intellectual projects emerge from the ebb and flow of my daily life. My childhood was spent shuttling between my maternal grandparents' home in the one-road town of Altheimer, Arkansas and the various Chinese cities where my father found employment-including Hsinchu and Tainan in Taiwan and two different stints in Hong Kong. I grew up intensely aware of American racial dynamics that located Chinese between white and black (and by the 1970s, literally at the outskirts of the white side of the tracks) but also of the protection and privilege attached to being American in developing nations and economies overseas. Living among fellow ethnic Chinese desperate for an opportunity to migrate to the fabled Gold Mountain of the United States, my family was anomalous in having returned from more prosperous shores. Unlike most other American-born Chinese-who spend their formative years primarily in the United States-my main points of reference are of the multi-directional movements and fluid processes of adaptation that are possible for mobile agents with the languages and skills to function successfully in different societies. In contrast to beleaguered immigrants who arrive and are expected to disappear into America's famous melting pot, such transnational migrants--a useful scholarly concept that I encountered in the 1990s and applied to my life in hindsight-do not blend in or remain in one place.
In graduate school, when I first decided to study back-and forth mobility like that of my family, I did not realize that I was entering an intellectually and institutionally liminal space. The field of history has been defined in great part by geographically bounded countries and regions and the peoples, cultures, and hierarchies attached to them. Many histories serve to articulate and legitimate the structures of power--and inequality-within certain societies and places. My intellectual interests intersect but do not overlap with these more conventional histories in significant ways, particularly because migrants are often perceived as dire threats or disappear altogether from narratives intended to define national borders and the people who belong within. As a historian studying Chinese migrants who are constantly on the move, rather than sinking roots and becoming loyal citizens, I felt like something of an academic platypus--not really a modern Chinese mammal nor a twentieth-century North American duck. As my dissertation neared completion, it also was not clear for what jobs I could convincingly apply.
Since the mid 1990s, the rise of Asian American Studies under the umbrella of Ethnic Studies has provided more of an institutional home within the academy for projects such as mine. Even so, Asian American Studies remains largely preoccupied with claiming America for Asians, who for much of their history in the United States have been legally restricted from entry and citizenship by naturalization. My colleagues in Asian American Studies have produced paradigmatic, award-winning scholarship that situates the relatively tiny population of Asians at the center of national frameworks because they played such key ideological roles in framing the racial boundaries of belonging in the United States.
My projects run counter to such agendas by exploring the daily realities of migrants whose messy lives regularly transgress borders in accruing ongoing relationships and ties to multiple locations. They do not fit tidily into national narratives which demand that people identify clearly with one place and with one state. Despite the unease that such nonassimilation arouses, migrants pursue chiefly economic--rather than political goals--in seeking better lives particularly for their children when not attainable for themselves. In impoverished regions, dissatisfaction with limited choices can nurture strikingly aspirational mindsets that separate families and impel bodies through space in pursuit of distant, and sometimes imaginary, opportunities. Migrants are often seen as problems-as a kind of invasion, threats to national security, or an indigestible biomass infecting American society-but are deeply human in their highly pragmatic and often quixotic quests for greater prosperity and stability. Their contrasting priorities and lack of settlement set migrants at odds with nation-states, as demonstrated so vividly in the heated and seemingly irreconcilable debates concerning illegal immigration here.
I regard migration as a profound manifestation of global inequalities through which American attempts to secure its borders project its considerable authority into the farthest and most impoverished corners of the globe. What began for me as a social history of my family's experiences of coming (but not staying) in America has become a broader project that attempts to provide an alternative narrative and human faces for some of the most marginalized of historical subjects. They too have stories that must be told, even when these undermine America's claims to greatness as a"nation of immigrants."
By Madeline Y. Hsu
About Madeline Y. Hsu
Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Rolla
Why am I a combat historian? Many people have asked me that question. To be honest with you, I ask myself that question all the time. There are, after all, many more pleasant topics for an American historian to address than delving into the terrible realities of modern war. Sometimes it can be difficult to spend your days immersed in studying the horrible waste, bloodshed and tragedy of war and then somehow let all of that go when the day is done. Chuck Johnson, my mentor at the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, used to say of combat studies:"If it doesn't break your heart, you shouldn't be doing this." Well, it breaks my heart and, yes, that's precisely why I do it. In fact, I am quite passionate about it. That passion began when I first studied World War II as a boy, and it has only grown throughout my professional career.
More than anything else, I am fascinated by ordinary Americans in extraordinary circumstances, and no circumstance is more extraordinary than combat. Everyday Americans are the ones who have fought America's wars. They come from all regions, all creeds, and all races, if not exactly both genders. Studying them is a wonderful vehicle into understanding the American past. I suppose I also cling to the hope that, by understanding war, we can eventually prevent it or at least curtail it significantly.
Regardless of what war we're talking about, nothing more can ever be asked of an American than to risk his life in combat. I believe it is important that we understand, as realistically as possible, what that combat experience entailed, without resorting to flowery euphemisms or political slogans. For those who have fought our wars, the least we can do is remember what they did and understand something about what the experience was really like for them. We should know, for instance, that American combat soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge existed in sub-zero temperatures, dealing with frostbite and the threat of hypothermia. We should know that, at Peleliu, Marines often fought their Japanese enemies at handshake distance, to the death, in one hundred degree heat. We should know that, in Vietnam, an infantry soldier on an average patrol carried seventy pounds of gear, in grinding heat, all while watching out for booby traps or a Viet Cong ambush.
The focus of my teaching and research is to make these realities come to life for the larger analytical purpose of bettering our understanding of American history. Actually, that brings me to the most compelling reason why I study combat. As a modern historian, I've had the precious opportunity to meet and know my sources, from geriatric World War II veterans to college-age soldiers in the Iraq War. My goal is to make sure to collect and tell their stories before they are lost in the mists of time. I encourage them to write down their memories. I conduct personal interviews with them.
Much of my work, of course, is done in such research treasure troves as the National Archives, the United States Army Military History Institute and the World War II Museum in New Orleans, to name only some of my archival haunts. But nothing is more rewarding than melding the after action reports, orders, unit diaries and other official sources I find in these archives with the personal recollections of the soldiers themselves. My books are the product of this mixture of the official and the informal.
Over the years, I've logged a lot of miles in pursuit of my research, archival or otherwise. This has included a wide range of moving experiences--conducting battlefield tours from Normandy to Germany, with many of the veterans who fought in these places; studying the Bastogne area minutely, with the help of an amazingly knowledgeable local expert who lived through the war and lost his home to shellfire; attending more veterans reunions and visiting more military bases than I could ever count; giving an untold number of lectures, gathering many thousands of stories. I've even conducted group after action combat interviews with Iraq War infantry soldiers. What stands out to me about all this is the people I've met and, in some cases, befriended, from guys who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, to Vietnam vets who fought in the anonymity of faraway jungles, to volunteers who repeatedly left their families behind to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. They did these remarkable things yet they are just ordinary Americans with homes, families, jobs, mortgages and personal problems like everyone else. That's what is truly fascinating about them. I'm simply their storyteller. That's why I do what I do.
By John C. McManus
Another combat airman, writing five decades after the war in a veterans' publication, perhaps expressed best the experiences of American combat airmen in World War II -- and, in so doing, the kind of people these men were:"All air combat crewmen in World War II were the same. We all groaned when the curtain in our briefing room was pulled aside, and the long red ribbon stretching from our bases . . . to the target . . . was revealed. We all grabbed our mikes and our masks and our Mae Wests and heaved ourselves into the throbbing, shaking aluminum tubes of death, which smelled of high-octane gas, cordite, and urine. We all prayed a bit when the flak . . . whomped around us. We all cursed a lot when the fighters slashed in, wings aglow with our death candles. We all grieved for our buddies who didn't make it."
Truly, no greater and more appropriate epitaph to the American combat airman in World War II could ever be written. -- John C. Manus in"Deadly Sky: The American Combat Airman in World War II"
In December 1944, when the Germans launched their last-ditch offensive now known as the Battle of the Bulge, they badly needed to capture the Belgian city of Bastogne as a communications center, supply depot, and springboard for their drive to Antwerp. The city's defense by the 101st Airborne is often cited as the battle's most desperate and dramatic episode, but these heroics never could have happened if not for the unsung efforts of a ragtag, battered collection of American soldiers who absorbed the brunt of the German offensive first along the Ardennes frontier east of Bastogne.
Alamo in the Ardennes tells the powerful, poignant, yet little-known story of the bloody delaying action fought by the 28th Infantry Division, elements of the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions, and other, smaller units. Outnumbered at times by as much as ten to one, outgunned by Hitler's dreaded panzers, and with no hope of reinforcement, they bore the full fury of the Nazi onslaught for five days, making the Germans pay for every icy inch of ground they gained. -- John C. Manus,"Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible"
About John C. McManus