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