Tag Archive for history

Teter’s Book Receives Honorable Mention for Jewish Studies Award

A book by Magda Teter, the Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, received honorable mention for the 2014 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award. The Schnitzer Book Award was established in 2007 to recognize and promote outstanding scholarship in the field of Jewish Studies and to honor scholars whose work embodies the best in the field: innovative research, excellent writing and sophisticated methodology.

Teter’s book, Sinners on Trial: Jews and Sacrilege after the Reformation, published by Harvard University Press in 2011, was honored in the Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History category.

In recognizing her book, the Prize Committee wrote:

“In this beautifully written and richly documented work, Magda Teter traces and convincingly demonstrates the interdependence of economic, religious and political motives that animated Polish anti-Semitism in the early modern period. This book also identifies and elucidates significant factors in the history of their formations in East Central Europe, and in the history of the host-desecration charge in early modern Europe.”

Magda Teter

Magda Teter

In post-Reformation Poland—the largest state in Europe and home to the largest Jewish population in the world—the Catholic Church suffered profound anxiety about its power after the Protestant threat.

In the book, Teter reveals how criminal law became a key tool in the manipulation of the meaning of the sacred and in the effort to legitimize Church authority. The mishandling of sacred symbols was transformed from a sin that could be absolved into a crime that resulted in harsh sentences of mutilation, hanging, decapitation, and, principally, burning at the stake. Recounting dramatic stories of torture, trial, and punishment, this is the first book to consider the sacrilege accusations of the early modern period within the broader context of politics and common crime.

To celebrate the honorable mention, Teter is invited to attend the Jordan Schnitzer Book Award Reception Dec. 14 in Maryland.

Teter also is chair and professor of history, professor of medieval studies. She speaks more about the book and her research in this past News @ Wesleyan article.

Grimmer-Solem’s Research Sheds New Light on Celebrated German General

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General's legacy.

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General’s legacy.

Growing up, Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem heard many family stories of his grandfather, a member of the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II. Little did he know then that he would go on to uncover new truths about a celebrated German general, and ignite a public debate over the general’s place in history.
Grimmer-Solem holding a photo of his grandfather, Dr. Odd Solem, and his father, Eivind Solem, taken in 1939, one year before the German invasion of Norway. Odd Solem, part of the Norwegian resistance movement, was arrested by the Gestapo and met General Hans von Sponeck in prison in 1942.

Grimmer-Solem holding a photo of his grandfather, Dr. Odd Solem, and his father, Eivind Solem, taken in 1939, one year before the German invasion of Norway. Odd Solem, part of the Norwegian resistance movement, was arrested by the Gestapo and met General Hans von Sponeck in prison in 1942.

Grimmer-Solem’s grandfather, Dr. Odd Solem, was arrested by the Gestapo along with two other Norwegians during the German occupation of Norway in the summer of 1940. He was sentenced to death by a German military tribunal, but had his sentence reduced to a prison term in Germersheim. There, he met and befriended General Hans von Sponeck, a German general who was court-martialed and imprisoned for refusing to follow Hitler’s orders during a major Soviet counteroffensive on the Crimean Peninsula in 1941 by withdrawing his troops from Kerch, likely saving the lives of thousands of soldiers. Von Sponeck was ultimately executed on the orders of Heinrich Himmler following the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944, while Solem and the other prisoners narrowly escaped an SS execution squad and survived the war.

In the decades since the war, von Sponeck has been celebrated in Germany for his moral courage, with an Air Force base, city streets and other monuments named after him. Along with the tales of von Sponeck’s kindness toward Grimmer-Solem’s grandfather, the general’s unusual reputation as a heroic “anti-Nazi” sparked Grimmer-Solem’s interest. Since he regularly teaches a course on Nazi Germany and knows the literature on the role of the Wehrmacht (Germany’s unified armed forces from 1935-45) in war crimes in the Soviet Union, he began to have questions about von Sponeck’s career when it became clear that the general had commanded units of the German 11th Army during Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, in the summer and fall of 1941. War crimes and crimes against humanity are well documented within the area of operation of the 11th Army. Grimmer-Solem undertook a detailed investigation of von Sponeck’s military career in the German Military Archives in March 2013

Book by Williams ’60 Studies History and Forensic Analysis

Robert C. Williams '60

Robert C. Williams ’60

In his new book, The Forensic Historian: Using Science to Reexamine the Past (M. E. Sharpe), Robert Williams ’60 demonstrates how seemingly cold cases from history have been solved or had new light shed on them by scientists and historians using new forensic evidence. He provides examples ranging in time from Oetzi the Iceman—who died 5,300 years ago in the Swiss Alps from an arrow wound, yet is known to have had brown eyes Lyme disease, type-O blood, an intolerance to lactose, cavities, and tattoos—to the process of identifying Osama Bin Laden’s body in 2011.

Book by Robert C. Williams '60

Book by Robert C. Williams ’60

“Since World War II, forensic pathology and anthropology have slowly given way to genetics and DNA ‘fingerprinting,’ along with computer hardware and software, as scientific evidence that can stand up in court,” Williams comments in his introduction. “This book highlights that transition through specific case studies showing how modern forensic historians and scientists do their work and what kinds of evidence they must obtain.”

Samples of Beethoven’s hair and bones were found to have abnormally high levels of lead, suggesting he may have died from lead poisoning. The Shroud of Turin was carbon-dated back to the 14th century, not the 1st. The Titanic was found to have been assembled using low-quality rivets that almost certainly played a part in its sinking in 1912. These high-profile cases continue to hold the public’s fascination, and Williams provides a concise synopsis of the methods used to reach conclusions for each. Be forewarned, however, that what you hear in the news relating to cases like these will not always convey the hard science correctly.

“The media cannot wait patiently until forensic historians and scientists finish their plodding work,” writes Williams. “Thus the media often rush to create a virtual reality that encourages forensic historians to publicize their findings prematurely, often without peer review.”

Williams retired in the spring of 2003 as Vail Professor of History at Davidson College, where he served for 13 years as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty. He is the author of the best-selling Historian’s Toolbox and of numerous articles and books on Russian history, including Ruling Russian Eurasia: Khans, Clans, and Tsars; Russian Art and American Money, 1900–1940 (nominated by Harvard University Press for the Pulitzer Prize); Klaus Fuchs: Atom Spy; and Russia Imagined: Art, Culture, and National Identity, 1840–1995.

 

Elphick’s Book Finalist for Prestigious African Scholarship Award

Rick Elphick

Rick Elphick

A book written by Rick Elphick, professor of history, tutor in the College of Social Studies, received “honorable mention” for the Herskovits Prize, the most prestigious award for scholarship on Africa. This annual award is named in honor of Melville J. Herskovits, one of the African Studies Association’s founders.

Elphick is the author of The Equality of Believers: Protestant Missionaries and the Racial Politics of South Africa, published by the University of Virginia Press in September 2012. The Equality of Believers reconfigures the narrative of race in South Africa by exploring the pivotal role played by these missionaries and their teachings in shaping that nation’s history. Providing historical context reaching back to 1652, Elphick concentrates on the era of industrialization, segregation, and the beginnings of apartheid in the first half of the 20th century. The most ambitious work yet from this renowned historian, Elphick’s book reveals the deep religious roots of racial ideas and initiatives that have so profoundly shaped the history of South Africa.

“My work, which was many years in the making, was substantially supported by Wesleyan at various stages, and I’m grateful to the numerous deans and chairs who looked on my grant applications with a benign eye,” Elphick said.

Learn more about Elphick’s book in this past Wesleyan Connection article.

Schatz’s “Barons of Middletown” Published in Historical Journal

Ron Schatz, professor of history, tutor in the College of Social Studies, wrote an article on Middletown that was recently published in Past & Present, a prestigious English historical journal.

The article, “The Barons of Middletown and the Decline of the North-Eastern Anglo-Protestant Elite,” appeared in the March 2013 issue. Schatz uses the story of the transformation of the leadership of the city since the early 20th century as a microcosm of the United States during the past century. Wesleyan is mentioned several times in the 36-page article, including when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Middletown in 1936.

“Although quite liberal today, Wesleyan University was not friendly territory for liberal politicians back then. A chemistry professor chaired Middletown’s Republican Party Committee, the university’s president James McConaughy sat on the Connecticut State Republican Party’s central committee, and the bulk of the students favoured the Grand Old Party. According to a straw poll taken by the college paper three days before Roosevelt’s visit, Wesleyan students favoured [Alf] Landon over FDR by nearly three to one,” Schatz wrote in the article.

“The research required a great deal of work but was a lot fun too,” Schatz said.

Read the full article online here.

Igler ’88 Writes History of Pacific World Travels During 1770s–1840s

David Igler '88

David Igler ’88

David Igler ’88 has written the new history book, The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush (Oxford University Press), the first book to combine American, oceanic, and world history in a vivid portrayal of travels in the Pacific world. He researched hundreds of documented voyages to explore the commercial, cultural, and ecological upheavals following Captain Cook’s exploits, and concentrated on the eastern Pacific in the decades between the 1770s and the 1840s.

Book by David Igler '88

Book by David Igler ’88

Igler starts with the expansion of trade as seen via the travels of William Shaler, captain of the American Brig Lelia Byrd. Soon he reveals a world where voyagers, traders, hunters, and native peoples met one another in episodes often marked by violence and tragedy. Some of his accounts tell how indigenous communities struggled against introduced diseases that cut through the heart of their communities; how the ordeal of Russian Timofei Tarakanov typified the common practice of taking hostages and prisoners; how Mary Brewster witnessed first-hand the bloody “great hunt” that decimated otters, seals, and whales; and how James Dwight Dana rivaled Charles Darwin in his pursuit of knowledge on a global scale.

In an article about Igler’s book on Verso, the blog of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, Matt Stevens writes: “Igler has made excellent use of the rare books and manuscripts at The Huntington, but he came to appreciate all the material that tends to fall outside the definition of ‘special collections’—that is, published journals and other reference materials that occupy the general stacks.

“ ‘Whenever I was jotting down notes at The Huntington,’ says Igler, ‘I would often stop and look up a source. Sure enough, the book was here, and I would go grab it. So being on site was instrumental to my ability to complete my book.’ ”

Igler is associate professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. His books include Industrial Cowboys: Miller & Lux and the Transformation of the Far West, 1850–1920 and The Human Tradition in California.

Daynard ’79 Writes First Novel, Set During the American Revolution

Jodi Daynard ’79

Jodi Daynard ’79 recently published her first novel, The Midwife’s Revolt (Opossum Press), a work of historical fiction set during the founding days of America. The novel centers on midwife Lizzie Boylston from her grieving days of widowhood after Bunker Hill, to her deepening friendship with Abigail Adams, and finally to her dangerous work as a spy for the Cause. Daynard takes the reader into the real lives of colonial women patriots and explores human connections in a violent time.

Novel by Jodi Daynard ’79

According to Publishers Weekly, the book is “a charming, unexpected, and decidedly different take on the Revolutionary War.”

Daynard also is the author of The Place Within: Portraits of the American Landscape by 20 Contemporary Writers. Her essays have been nominated for several prizes and mentioned in Best American Essays. She has taught writing at Harvard University, M.I.T., and in the MFA program at Emerson College, and served for seven years as fiction editor at Boston Review.

Author website

Read an excerpt from The Midwife’s Revolt

Tucker to Study Modern Visual Evidence as Fulbright Fellow in England

Jennifer Tucker is chair and associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, associate professor of history, associate professor of science in society.

Jennifer Tucker is chair and associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, associate professor of history, associate professor of science in society. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Associate Professor Jennifer Tucker has been selected for a Fulbright-U.S. Scholar Award, through which she will spend eight months at the University of York in England.

Tucker is a historian of British science, technology and medicine, specializing in the study of the connections among British science, photography and the visual arts from 1850 to 1920. At the University of York, she will complete work on her second book, tentatively titled, Facing Facts: The Tichborne Cause Célèbre and the Rise of Modern Visual Evidence. She also plans to begin preliminary research toward her next book project, which will trace the social history of Victorian scientific and popular visual depictions of the ocean life before and after the HMS Challenger expedition (1872-1876), which laid foundations for the modern science of oceanography.

The Fulbright Scholar Program, the U.S. government’s flagship program in international educational exchange, was established in 1946. It aims to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” According to its website, it has provided more than 300,000 participants with an “opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.” Read more about the program here.

“I’m thrilled,” said Tucker. “The Fulbright is a research award in the History of Art Department at York, and the timing could not be better.  I am glad for this chance to complete my current book project and begin a new one in dialogue with several specialists whose interests dovetail so closely with mine.”

Kleinberg’s Article in American Historical Association Publication

An article by Ethan Kleinberg, director of the Center for the Humanities, professor of history, professor of letters, is featured in the 50th anniversary issue of Perspectives on History, the monthly publication of the American Historical Association. The article, titled “Academic Journals in the Digital Era”  is part of a forum on “The Future of the Discipline” edited by Lynn Hunt. View the full list of contributors online.

Battle for the Future: Smolkin-Rothrock on the Spiritual Life of Soviet Atheism

(Story contributed by Jim H. Smith)

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Its official name was the Century 21 Exhibition, but it was better known as the Seattle World Fair, and it seemed to be an unambiguous statement about America’s aspirations for its future. Boasting a futuristic monorail and an iconic Space Needle whose elevators were piloted by female attendants wearing excessive blue eye shadow and costumes out of a Hollywood sci-fi feature, it came to hold totemic significance for a nation whose philosophical differences with the Soviet Union were being sorted out against the majestic backdrop of outer space.

One of the first visitors to the 1962 fair was Soviet cosmonaut German Titov, the second Soviet man in space after Yuri Gagarin, the youngest spaceman (a record that stands to this day), and the first to orbit the Earth repeatedly. In his homeland Titov was nothing less than a demi-God.

During a news conference in Seattle, Titov was asked whether his adventures in the cosmos had altered his worldview. “Up to our first orbital flight by Yuri Gagarin no God helped build our rocket,” said the cosmonaut, who perceived the subtext of the question. “The rocket was made by our people. I don’t believe in God. I believe in man, his strength, his possibilities and his reason.”

It was, says Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, a statement that bespoke the essence of the Soviet Union’s long, strange struggle to supplant traditional religions throughout the empire with “scientific atheism.” If it provoked an outcry across America, well, that was Titov’s intent.

During the 1960s, as Smolkin-Rothrock notes, Titov and his fellow cosmonauts “were the public face of Communism on the world stage, and their triumphs and charisma put forward a confident image of a Communist state that could solve all problems and answer all questions, material and spiritual.”

On Oct. 18, Smolkin-Rothrock delivered this year’s prestigious Sherman Emerging Scholar Lecture at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Her address, which began with the Titov story, offered an analysis of Communism’s little-known efforts to manage the collective spiritual life of the Soviet people.

Schwarcz to Promote Solidarity, Goodwill with Volunteers for Israel

Professor Vera Schwarcz will spend her holiday vacation working with Volunteers for Israel.

Professor Vera Schwarcz will spend her holiday vacation working with Volunteers for Israel.

After visiting Israel several times to lecture about Chinese and Jewish history, Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, professor of history, decided to do something different during her next trip abroad.

“I wanted to let go of the ‘specialness’ of my training and skills and do something more basic, something more grounded and more urgently needed at the moment,” she says.

On Dec. 16, Schwarcz will begin a two week service trip with “Volunteers for Israel,” a 30-year-old program that promotes solidarity and goodwill among Israelis, American Jews, and other friends of Israel. Since 1982, more than 30,000 American civilians have joined Volunteers for Israel and signed on as short-term volunteers doing noncombatant civilian work with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on bases throughout Israel.

Schwarcz and her fellow volunteers may pack medical supplies, refurbish electronic equipment, repair machinery, and perform logistic assignments wherever they are needed.

Watching Israeli civilians cower in bomb shelters during ‘Pillar of Defense’ convinced Schwarcz that she must help with her own two hands.

“This a moment in time, when I can help Israel without a Ph.D. in Chinese history,” she says. ” What is needed are good will and the desire to rebuild the one and only democracy in the Middle East.”

5 Questions with . . . William “Vijay” Pinch on Maritime History

William "Vijay" Pinch, professor of history, adjusts the topsail of the Joseph Conrad, during an NEH-funded summertime institute in June. Pinch participated in the five-week institute, in part, to refine and improve his maritime world history course. (Photo by Heather Agostini)

William “Vijay” Pinch, professor of history, adjusts the topsail of the Joseph Conrad, during an NEH-funded summertime institute in June. Pinch participated in the five-week institute, in part, to refine and improve his maritime world history course. (Photo by Heather Agostini)

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of William “Vijay” Pinch, professor of history. Pinch spent five weeks this summer interacting with maritime scholars and working in the archives and library at Mystic Seaport. 

Q: What were you studying at Mystic Seaport this summer?

A: From June 25 to to July 27, I was privileged to be a student in a “summer institute” at Mystic Seaport, focused on “The American Maritime People.”  The institute is usually pitched to graduate students, but every few years it is offered to college and university faculty with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  This was one of those NEH-funded summers.  The faculty who teach at the institute represent some of the top scholars in maritime history, especially in the context of the Atlantic and (mostly) North American world.  What was especially interesting to me, as someone who was not originally trained in maritime history (or North American history for that matter), was to see how the field of maritime history has broadened, so that it now encompasses everything under the rubric of the human interaction with and perception of the sea over time.  This appealed to my wider world-historical instincts. Similarly, it was instructive to see the ways in which the maritime experience mediated New England’s interaction with other parts of the Americas and the wider world.  We also examined marine environmental history, fisheries history, the history of oceanography, naval history, and the recent maritime past and maritime present–including the geo-strategic challenges on the horizon (especially in the Pacific and Indian Oceans), the rise of container shipping, bulk cargo supertankers, and the mega-cruise ship phenomenon.

Q: How does this inform, or how is it informed by, your other areas of interest?

A: My initial interest in the summer institute at Mystic stemmed from a desire to refine and improve my maritime world history course.  I’ve offered the course in varying incarnations over the past seven years or so, and each time I struggle with what to include and how to organize it.  So the five-week course was excellent for stimulating new thinking along these lines.  I’d like for students to be able to take better advantage of all that Mystic and the wider region have to offer. What makes the summer institute special is the combination of traditional classroom learning with more hands-on “public history” kinds of activities.