Tag Archive for History Department

Pinch Consults on Recent Hindi Feature Film

William "Vijay" Pinch (Photo credit: Thomas A. Pinch)

William “Vijay” Pinch (Photo by Thomas A. Pinch)

Professor of History William “Vijay” Pinch, a scholar of South Asian History, recently consulted on Laal Kaptaan, a Hindi feature film directed by Navdeep Singh. The film was released in India in October 2019 and can be viewed on Amazon Prime in the US.

Director Singh referred to one of Pinch’s books, Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires (Cambridge University Press, 2006), in imagining the period and the drama’s lead character, a warrior ascetic in the late 18th century.  Pinch was then contacted to read and comment on the script, and to answer questions during the filming.

In November 2020, Pinch and Singh will jointly present at a film/history symposium held in conjunction with a film festival in Windsor, Canada. Read more about Pinch’s presentation here.

Read more about the film in the Firstpost article “Laal Kaptaan’s textured portrayal of warrior ascetics brings a new, much-needed focus to an obscure history,” and see an interview with the director on Scroll.in.

Smolkin Receives Honorable Mention for Prestigious Book Prize

Victoria Smolkin

Victoria Smolkin

Associate Professor of History Victoria Smolkin’s book, A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism (Princeton University Press), was awarded an honorable mention for the 2019 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize.

Established in 1983, the Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize is sponsored by the Association for Slavic Studies, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) and the Stanford University Center for Russian and East European Studies. It is awarded annually for the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences published in English in the United States in the previous calendar year. The prize carries a cash award and is presented at the association’s annual convention.

Smolkin is a scholar of Communism, the Cold War, and atheism and religion in Russia and the former Soviet Union. A Sacred Space Is Never Empty explores the meaning of atheism for religious life, Communist ideology, and Soviet politics. Read more about the book and see photos from her book talk here.

Tucker in The Conversation: From Their Balloons, the First Aeronauts Transformed Our View of the World

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” On the release date of the new film The Aeronauts, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker writes about how the first hot-air balloon trips in the 19th century transformed our views of the world and opened up a new “laboratory for discovery” for scientists interested in studying the atmosphere and meteorology.

From their balloons, the first aeronauts transformed our view of the world

A lithograph from Gaston Tissandier’s balloon travels depicts falling stars. Archive.org

A lithograph from Gaston Tissandier’s balloon travels depicts falling stars. Archive.org

Near the beginning of the new film “The Aeronauts,” a giant gas-filled balloon called the “Mammoth” departs from London’s Vauxhall Gardens and ascends into the clouds, revealing a bird’s eye view of London.

To some moviegoers, these breathtaking views might seem like nothing special: Modern air travel has made many of us take for granted what we can see from the sky. But during the 19th century, the vast “ocean of air” above our heads was a mystery.

These first balloon trips changed all that.

Greenhouse ’73, P’08 Lectures on the Past and Future of American Labor

Greenhouse lectures in the COL library

Steven Greenhouse ’73, P’08 discussed his book, Beaten Down, Worked Up, in the College of Letters Library. (Photo by Simon Duan ’23)

Steven Greenhouse ’73, P’08, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, spoke in the College of Letters Library  on October 29 to a group that included Professor of History Ron Schatz’s class on American Labor History on Oct. 29, in the College Of Letters Library. His topic was “White Collar, Blue Collar and Gig Workers: What is the Future of American Labor?” The lecture was sponsored by the History Department and the College of Letters.

Greenhouse is a former New York Times labor reporter, and a review by Zephyr Teachout of Greenhouse’s book appeared in the paper on Oct. 3. Teachout called Greenhouse’s book an “engrossing, character-driven, panoramic new book on the past and present of worker organizing.” Teachout wrote: “There’s an enormous upheaval in the American workplace right now, and those who tell you they know how the next decade will pan out—for good or ill—don’t know their history. That’s one of the main lessons of Beaten Down, Worked Up … ”

Speaking to those gathered in the COL library, Greenhouse provided some of that history, drawing parallels between a piecework laborer in New York City’s garment district in the late 1800s to 20-something freelance workers putting in long hours hunched over their computers at home in today’s gig economy. He notes that some Uber drivers used to make more money per hour until upper management halved their pay rate, making it nearly impossible to support one’s family, even working 60 hours a week. He observed that Kickstarter, supposedly a labor-friendly organization, fired three out of eight people who were on a unionization committee. He further noted that Amazon now employs often inexperienced independent contractors as delivery drivers who have been involved in a number of serious auto accidents.

Tucker Authors 2 Chapters, Writes Paper

Photo of Jennifer Tucker

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is the author of recently published work in a journal and in edited volumes. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history, is the author of two chapters in recently published texts. Additionally, a paper she wrote on early responses to chemical pollution was published in the journal International Labor and Working-Class History. With academic affiliations in feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, environmental studies, and Science in Society, Tucker’s work highlights her wide-ranging scholarly interests. She is also the co-editor of A Right to Bear Arms?: The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment published by the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

Tucker’s chapter, “James Forbes (1749–1819): A View of the Ocean, Between the Tropics (1765–1800),” appears in Britain in the World: Highlights from the Yale Center for British Art (Yale University Press, 2019). In this chapter, Tucker explores not only the qualities of Forbes’s watercolor (which appeared in volume nine of his 13-folio set), but also the appeal that the ocean’s inhabitants had for the British in the late-18th century. Noting that Britain was a naval power, Tucker reminds her readers that drawing would have been a way that passengers could while away their time aboard a ship. It was also an opportunity to categorize the variety of animals living in the ocean, and Tucker points out that Forbes’s work explores the ecological aspects of the interactions between species. “Although not a trained natural­ist, Forbes’s artworks express the wider fascination of the time in both the sheer abundance of oceanic life and the specificity of individual physical descriptions and nomenclature,” she writes.

In another book, Anton Pannekoek (1873–1960): Ways of Viewing Science and Society (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019), Tucker’s chapter, “Popularizing the Cosmos: Pedagogies of Science and Society in Anton Pannekoek’s Life and Work,” explores Pannekoek’s efforts to encourage both public and political engagement with astronomy, presenting it as a field that offered opportunities to visualize grand-scale societal progress. “Anton Pannekoek straddled both science and social criticism,” wrote Tucker. “[A]s a scientist, he was concerned with how we can learn about galaxies beyond our capacity to observe; as a socialist, he wondered how we can imagine and bring into being a better future society.”

In Tucker’s paper, “Dangerous Exposures: Work and Waste in the Victorian Chemical Trade,” published in the spring issue of International Labor and Working-Class History (95), she examines the towns in Britain where the first chemical factories were located in the 1800s in light of the early responses to pollution and its effect on society. Using archival sources, Tucker explores the use of visual imagery in making the connection between workers in the industry, waste disposal, and community health concerns. She writes: “[A]s the figure of the alkali worker entered public discourses in the mid-1890s in the writings and images of middle class reformers, it was waste—material, as well as human—that caught the eyes of reformers by the 1890s. As imagined in powerful words and images, the chemical worker’s body was transformed into an appendage of the industrial apparatus whereby their mental and physical health ‘wasted away’ with the chemical residue.”

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. Marketplace Tech: “Twitter Bans Political Ads, But Is That All Good?”

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, is interviewed about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement that the platform would no longer run political ads. Fowler says implementing this ban is likely to be more complicated than it sounds, and she is skeptical that it will help to reduce the impact of disinformation and improve political discourse. Fowler was also interviewed on Marketplace Morning Report and quoted in Quartz on the ban.

2. NPR’s Throughline: “Zombies”

On Halloween, NPR’s Throughline podcast interviewed Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister as part of a deep dive into the history of zombies. Now a global phenomenon in pop culture, the idea of zombies originated in Haiti, back when it was a French colony called Saint-Domingue and many enslaved Africans were worked to death on plantations. The Haitian people ultimately rose up in revolution and defeated their colonizers. But after the revolution, many Haitians were forced back onto plantations when the French demanded reparations in exchange for recognizing their independence. “I think that the figure of the zombie is a reminder that slavery happened to people, that they freed themselves from it, that it still happens in a kind of an afterlife, and it echoes in social practices,” said McAlister. An abbreviated version of the story also aired on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

3. Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live: “Acknowledging Middletown’s Ties to Slavery”

Grimmer-Solem Authors Learning Empire

Learning EmpireErik Grimmer-Solem, professor of history and German studies, is the author of a new book, Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919published by Cambridge University Press.

The book “reconstructs the complex entanglements of a small but highly influential group of German scholars who worked and travelled extensively in North and South America, Japan, China, Southeast Asia, Ottoman Turkey, and Russia,” during the period of German imperialism, before the First World War, Grimmer-Solem said. “These experiences, enabled by new transcontinental railways, intercontinental steamship lines, and global telegraph networks, shaped a German liberal imperialist ideology that they helped popularize around 1900 and that influenced German naval and colonial policy.”

The book also looks at how the rise of the German far right was closely tied to this attempt at reconciling globalization with nationhood and empire. From that perspective, Grimmer-Solem said, “the development of Nazism can be seen as a metastasis of liberal imperialism, mutated as it was by war, de-globalization, and unilateral decolonization.” Learning Empire invites reflection upon modern-day challenges; as Grimmer-Solem suggests, the resurgence of the far right today “is linked to parallel processes that highlight the risks and instabilities created by global trade, travel, and communications.”

Grimmer-Solem is also the author of The Rise of Historical Economics and Social Reform in Germany, 1864-1894 (Oxford University Press, 2003), along with more than 30 other publications.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. CT Post: “Former Wesleyan Provost is First Woman President at Hobart and William Smith Colleges”

Joyce Jacobsen, formerly Wesleyan’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs and the Andrews Professor of Economics, was inaugurated Oct. 18 as the first woman president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. At the ceremony, the chairman of the HWS Board of Trustees said: “Dr. Jacobsen enters the presidency of Hobart and William Smith at a time of increasing complexity in higher education both here on campus and nationally. It is my belief, and the unanimous belief of the Board of Trustees, that there is no one better to help us navigate this future than Dr. Joyce Jacobsen.” Read more coverage of the inauguration in Finger Lake Times.

2. Wilson Center Blog: “Victoria Smolkin: A History of Soviet Atheism”

In this Q&A, Associate Professor of History Victoria Smolkin discusses her book, A Sacred Space is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism. She explains how religion in the former Soviet states has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union, and offers a preview of her second book project. Smolkin was a Title VIII Research Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in 2014–15.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The Washington Post: “How the NRA Highjacked History”

In this op-ed, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker writes about the history of the legal debate over the Second Amendment, and explains how the court’s understanding of that history may shape the nation’s response to the current gun violence epidemic. Her op-ed was reported on in The Trace.

2. The Hill: “A Tragic Misperception About Climate Change”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus, is co-author of this op-ed that argues “The U.S. contributes to global warming not only through its own emissions of greenhouse gases but also by the effect of its behavior on the actions of other countries.” The U.S. must first “get its own house in order,” then take steps to encourage other countries to take similar action to reduce carbon emissions, he writes.

3. Process: a blog for American history: “The Politics of Statehood in Hawai’i and the Urgency of Non-Statist Decolonization”

In this essay, written on the 60th anniversary of the United States claiming the Hawaiian islands as the 50th state of the union, Professor of American Studies J. Kēhaulani Kauanui reflects on the dispute over Maunakea, a sacred mountain that is currently under threat by those who want to construct a major observatory at its summit. She writes that the dispute “can be seen as a microcosm of the history of Hawai‘i’s (U.S.) statehood and earlier American encroachment.”

A Right to Bear Arms? Coedited by Tucker Explores History of Gun Debate

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is coeditor of a new book, A Right to Bear Arms?: The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment, published Aug. 20 by the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

This collection of essays offers a glimpse into how and why historical arguments have been marshaled on both sides of today’s debate over the Second Amendment. It includes writings by leading historians on firearms and the common law (including Saul Cornell, Kevin Sweeney, Joyce Malcolm, Priya Satia, Patrick Charles, Lois Schwoerer, Randolph Roth, and others) and—for the first time in one place—by the lawyers who have served as leading historical consultants in litigation for both sides (Mark Anthony Frassetto, counsel for Everytown for Gun Safety, and Stephen Halbrook, legal counsel for the National Rifle Association).

Taken together, these essays offer both general readers and specialists a valuable study of how history itself has become a contested site within the wider national legal debate about firearms. It fills a major gap in public historical writing about firearms and the law, a field characterized by strong polarities and in which scholarly exchanges among people with different perspectives on the history of firearms are relatively rare.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The New York Times Magazine: I’m 20. I Have 32 Half Siblings. This Is My Family Portrait.

Eli Baden-Lasar ’22 always knew he was conceived using a sperm donor, but he didn’t discover he had half siblings until he was 19. He went out searching for them and found more than 30 young men and women around the country. In this photo essay, he writes about the experience of meeting his half siblings. Photo portraits he took of each of them are featured along with their quotes about meeting blood relatives they hadn’t previously known existed.

2. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): Geologist Embarks on 60-Day Voyage to Study Past Climates

Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell is featured in this blog post. She has studied paleoceanography for more than 30 years and recently sailed to the Subantarctic Ocean just north of the Antarctic Circle to drill for and study ocean sediment samples on the JOIDES Resolution research vessel. She talks about dodging icebergs, and how she hopes the data she helped collect will be useful for climate modelers working to figure out how fast the ice will melt in the future.

Members of the Class of 2019 Inducted into Phi Beta Kappa

PBK

On May 25, members of the Class of 2019 were inducted into Wesleyan’s Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest national scholastic honor society. The Wesleyan Gamma Chapter was organized in 1845 and is the ninth-oldest chapter in the country.

To be elected, a student must first have been nominated by the department of his or her major. The student also must have demonstrated curricular breadth by having met the General Education Expectations and must have achieved a GPA of 93 and above.

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest surviving Greek letter society in America, founded in December 1776 by five students who attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The emblem contains the three Greek letters “Phi-Beta-Kappa,” which are the initials of the Greek motto, Philosophia Biou Kybernetes. This essentially means “the love of wisdom is the guide of life.”

The spring 2019 inductees are:

Caroline Adams
Yulia Alexandr
Erin Angell
William Bellamy
Cara Bendich
Zachary Bennett
Chiara Bercu
Sophie Brett-Chin
Nicholas Byers
David Cabanero
Talia Cohen
John Cote