Tag Archive for History Department

Jennifer Tucker Talks Gun Control in Boston Globe op-ed, on WNPR’s ‘Scramble’

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is the co-author of an op-ed in the Boston Globe titled, “What the Clean Air Act can teach us about reducing gun violence.” Tucker and co-author Matthew Miller of Northeastern University write, “The recent scandal over Volkswagen’s polluting engines vividly illustrates the contrast between the way Americans, and in particular elected officials, treat guns and the way we (and our elected officials) treat cars — both of which kill approximately 32,000 Americans every year.”

The Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, has averted tens of thousands of premature deaths though “a systematic and scientific approach to the impact of the actors of private actors (from auto owners to power station operators) on the health of their fellow citizens. The force of the law was then used to ensure that these externalities were borne by the companies contributing to the problem.”

Tucker and Miller argue the same approach should be applied to regulating firearms. At present, legislation now exempts guns from federal consumer-safety laws and provides immunity for gun manufacturers and dealers from liability lawsuits. And since 1996, the Centers for Disease Control has been effectively barred from funding research into the cause of firearm-related deaths.

Tucker also was a guest this week on WNPR’s “The Scramble” in a discussion about gun control, following the mass shooting at a community college in Oregon.

“Our nation’s lax attitude toward gun proliferation is partly the result of a Hollywood version of gun technology,” said Tucker. “There’s a 1953 movie ‘Shane,’ which has had a powerful influence. Shane is a gun fighter and in a conversation about gun control, he says ‘A gun is just a tool. It’s as good or bad as the man who uses it. We’ve heard this notion a lot, but that’s certainly not a notion… that we apply to other consumer products in America. We could take, for example, the recent scandal over Volkswagen’s polluting engines to illustrate this difference. So after Volkswagen’s recent admission that it used illegal devices to cheat on admission testing of diesel vehicles in the United States, the company faces billions of dollars of fines along with expensive recalls and class action lawsuits and criminal charges.”

Tucker describes the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 as having a major impact on public health, averting tens of thousands of premature deaths. “It succeeded because it took a scientific approach to the impacts of the activities of private actors on the health of fellow citizens. In contrast to that, while the impact of automobiles on the public’s health and safety is closely regulated, astonishingly, the firearms that are used to kill Americans are not subject to government oversight.”

Tucker is also associate professor of science in society, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, associate professor of environmental studies. She recently authored an op-ed on the history of gun control published on Inside Sources.

Tucker on the Wild West, Hollywood and Gun Control

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

At a time when gun deaths are spiking and Congress has failed to enact significant legislation to tackle the problem, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker writes an op-ed looking at how we got here. She contends that it is Hollywood’s version of history—not reality—that is behind the belief that guns have been a critical part of American culture over centuries. She writes:

The 1953 movie “Shane” exemplifies the narrative of a “good man with a gun.” Responding to a woman’s wish that guns be banished, Shane replies: “A gun is just a tool, Marian. It’s as good or bad as the man that uses it.”

This notion is central to the National Rifle Association’s worldview. But it is a classic and tragic example of what Oxford professor Margaret McMillan has called “bad history,” or picking only a small part of a complex story.

In reality, the 19th century Wild West was the setting for the passage of some of the nation’s first gun control laws, and it was widely understood that civilized people did not walk around carrying guns. It wasn’t until the 1980s when laws liberalizing concealed carry swept the country, and the most profound changes in gun law occurred in 2008 and 2010.

Tucker concludes:

Our “gun industrial complex” is not the inevitable outcome of two centuries of gun-possession; it is the result of changes in the law and cultural attitudes over the past couple of decades.

Today, 36 states have adopted “shall-issue” laws.

Texas allows unlicensed people to carry semi-automatic rifles in public. In May, the NRA fought the efforts of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin to restrict guns at parks, fairgrounds and recreational areas. And with a proliferation of guns in homes — which is associated with a twofold increase in the risk of homicide — 2013 saw 1,670 children die by gunshot and an additional 9,718 injured.

Guns might not kill people but guns get people killed.

Gun owners should familiarize themselves with the true history of the frontier. Regulation advocates should make more of the fact that history is on their side.

Tucker is also associate professor of science in society, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and associate professor in the environmental studies program.

4 Faculty Panelists Discuss European Crisis in Historical Perspective

As the Syrian war draws on and the ranks of displaced people grows ever larger, Europe arguably faces its largest refugee crisis since World War II. The movement of people across the Mediterranean and the Balkans has alternately revealed official incapacity, reactionary violence, and outpourings of voluntarism and support. In recent weeks, some commentators have objected to the characterization of those in flight as migrants, insisting that the term misrepresents their movement as voluntary as a way of denying them basic human rights.

On Sept. 17, four faculty panelists discussed “Refugee or Migrant? The European Crisis in Historical Perspective,” as part of the Department of History’s History Matters series. The faculty questioned “how can other instances of voluntary and involuntary migration shed light on the current crisis?”

The four scholars, Bruce Masters, Marguerite Nguyen, Laura Ann Twagira and Peter Rutland, put the European crisis in historical perspective by analyzing varied experiences of displacement, from the persistent plight of African asylum seekers in Europe to the Southeast Asian diaspora in the United States.

The four scholars, Bruce Masters, Marguerite Nguyen, Laura Ann Twagira and Peter Rutland, put the European crisis in historical perspective by analyzing varied experiences of displacement, from the persistent plight of African asylum seekers in Europe to the Southeast Asian diaspora in the United States.

Kleinberg’s Essay the Featured Reading Material for Modern Intellectual History Webinar

Ethan Kleinberg

Ethan Kleinberg

An essay by Ethan Kleinberg, professor of history, professor of letters, is the featured reading material for the H-France network’s fall 2015 webinar on “Modern Intellectual History.” H-France’s mission is to promote scholarly work and discussion on the history and culture of the Francophone world through digital form.

Kleinberg also is director of the Center for the Humanities and executive editor of History and Theory.

The H-France webinar will take place at 3 p.m. Sept. 18. Designed particularly for graduate students, H-France webinars are open to anyone. Participants are expected to read Kleinberg’s essay prior to the seminar and consider related questions.

Courant Explores History of Astronomy at Wesleyan Ahead of Centennial Celebration

cam_vvo_2013-0102225113Ahead of the centennial celebration of Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory, The Hartford Courant explored a bit of observatory history, including some recent discoveries of rare artifacts.

A team of Wesleyan professors and students, together with the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford, is preparing for an exhibit this spring, “Under Connecticut Skies: Exploring 100 Years of Astronomy at Van Vleck Observatory in Middletown, Connecticut.”

“We’ve been looking into every nook and cranny to see what we have here,” Associate Professor of History Paul Erickson told the Courant. One exciting find: a rare early mechanical model of the solar system, long believed to be lost, known as “Russell’s Stupendous and Magnificent Planetarium or Columbian Orrery.” Back in the 1830s, the device traveled the country in a wagon to be exhibited to big crowds.

According to the story:

Some of the other finds include an early 18th century French refractor telescope and a late 19th century mechanical calculating machine known as “the Millionaire.” The Swiss-made machine was employed in the principal research of the observatory, attempting to calculate stellar distances. “Astronomy involves a lot of number crunching, so this was a very useful tool before the computer,” Erickson said.

Of particular interest is the observatory guestbook, which records the visits of world-famous astronomers, such as Harlow Shapley, the first scientist to correctly estimate the size of the Milky Way, and Edwin Powell Hubble, for whom the Hubble Telescope is named. There is also a visit in the 1920s of a young Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Indian-born astrophysicist who went on to win the Nobel Prize.

Read more about a project to restore the Van Vleck Refractor telescope here. The project is set to wrap up this summer.

Johnston Reveals Truth About Bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki in Op-Ed

johnston550Seventy years later, it is widely believed that President Harry S. Truman made a decision to authorize the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The truth, writes William Johnston in the Hartford Courant, is that he never did, at least not explicitly.

Johnston, professor of history, professor of East Asian Studies, examines in an op-ed how history has been rewritten surrounding the bombings. In fact, Truman’s first explicit decision about atomic bombs was to later order that their further use be stopped without his “express authority.” But in summer 1946, Johnston explains, the need arose to write an alternative narrative, as the bomb’s horrific effects on the people of Japan were revealed, and critics started asking whether the atomic bombings had been necessary, or even truly effective in ending the war.

Johnston writes:

The historian’s job is to explain the past using the most complete evidence available. That evidence shows both that Truman’s most substantial atomic decision was to demand his express authority for future bombings and that the bombings’ role in ending the war was ambiguous.

We may not like it when history is fuzzy, but that’s how it is.

It is more important now than ever that we understand history’s ambiguities, especially when it comes to the history of World War II and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Our country today faces many national security threats, from terrorism to global warming. A healthy democracy requires a well-educated populace, and history plays a major role in that education. Science, technology engineering and math cannot replace it.

The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan is a good time to recall their history and meaning. We need to remember where we have been while keeping an eye on the future. It is hard for those who are blind to the past to have a clear vision for the future.

Johnston is also professor of Science in Society, and professor in the Environmental Studies Program.

NEH Supports Research, Writing Projects by Tucker, Curran

#THISISWHY
Two Wesleyan faculty received NEH Public Scholarships to encourage new research and support their upcoming publications. Only 36 writers in the country received the award.

The Public Scholar program, a major new initiative from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is designed to promote the publication of scholarly nonfiction books for a general audience. On July 29, the NEH awarded a total of $1.7 million to 36 writers including Wesleyan’s Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history, and Andrew Curran, the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities and professor of French.

Tucker received a grant worth $50,400 to support her book titled Caught on Camera: A History of Photographic Detection and Evasion.

Digital History Class Creates “A Spatial History of Wesleyan University”

Learn about the history of Wesleyan's campus in the new "Spatial History of Wesleyan University" website.

Learn about the history of Wesleyan’s campus in the new “Spatial History of Wesleyan University” website.

#THISISWHY

This semester, 18 students with an interest in communication and the history of Wesleyan University created a new website, “A Spatial History of Wesleyan University.”

The students, who were enrolled in the spring 2015 course, Digital History, conceived, designed, built, publicized, and launched this site. The class was taught by Amrys O. Williams, a visiting assistant professor of history, and was part of the university’s Digital and Computational Knowledge Initiative.

A Spatial History of Wesleyan University combines geographical and quantitative analysis with archival and oral history research to interpret the past in place. By studying the history of Wesleyan’s campus landscape and buildings alongside the university’s enrollment, tuition, and student body, website visitors can see the connections between the cultural life of the university and its physical environment.

The class brought together 18 students from across campus with varied skills and backgrounds who shared an interest in historical communication and making things.

The class brought together 18 students from across campus with varied skills and backgrounds who shared an interest in historical communication and making things.

The site has four main sections:

  • A historical narrative offers an overview of the major periods and episodes in the campus’s history, tracing student life, housing, and athletics, as well as the university’s changing educational mission and its relationship to other liberal arts schools in the area.
  • An interactive map allows readers to select and view different historical maps and aerial photographs of campus, learn more about individual buildings and see how the campus expanded over time.
  • A “By the Numbers” series of graphs trace data about enrollment, tuition and endowment over time, offering insights into the financial and demographic shifts that affected the shape and experience of campus.
  • Oral history video clips enrich these chronological, spatial, and quantitative stories with the voices of members of the Wesleyan community and their lived experiences of campus.

Jung ’15 Employs Oral History to Study WWII Memories

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Hyo Jeong (Tina) Jung ’15 interviewed more than 40 Korean and Japanese elders for her thesis, “Conversation of Empathy: Understanding Children’s Lives During World War II in Korea and Japan through Oral History.” (Photo by Laurie Kenney)

#THISISWHY

In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Hyo Jeong (Tina) Jung from the Class of 2015. She is a history major with concentrations in social movements and contemporary history, and an East Asian studies minor.

Female Voice in Politics Conference Inspires Future Leaders

On May 2, The Female Voice in Politics Conference brought notable and accomplished female politicians and leaders together at Daniel Family Commons in Usdan University Center to discuss the underrepresentation of women in U.S. politics and other issues facing women in the political arena today. Speakers included Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut; Connecticut State Sen. Toni Boucher; Dominique Thornton, former mayor of Middletown; Susan Bysiewicz, former Connecticut Secretary of State; Sidney Powell, attorney and author of Licensed to Lie; and Sarah Wiliarty, director of the Public Affairs Center, associate professor of government, tutor in the College of Social Sciences. The event was organized by Darcie Binder ’15 and Kevin Winnie ’16 and supported by the Government Department, Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, Public Affairs Center, American Studies Department, History Department, and Feminism, Gender and Sexuality Studies. (Photos by Hannah Norman ’16.)

eve_femalevoiceinpolitics_2015-0502142047

Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Representative of Connecticut’s 3rd Congressional District, speaks to attendees at The Female Voice in Politics Conference.

Grimmer-Solem’s Research Continues to Have Impact on the Ground in Germany

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.

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem’s research on a celebrated German general, known as an “anti-Nazi,” is continuing to have an impact on the ground in Germany today. Over the past year, Grimmer-Solem’s findings have ignited a public debate in the country over General Hans von Sponeck’s place in history—a debate which has now turned to the matter of a commemorative stone honoring him.

Since World War II, von Sponeck had been celebrated in Germany with an Air Force base, city streets and other monuments named after him. All this has changed since Grimmer-Solem’s research shed new light on the General’s reputation as a “good 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.

A personal connection involving his grandfather drew Grimmer-Solem to study von Sponeck. A detailed investigation of von Sponeck’s military career in the German Military Archives turned up evidence that the general’s record was far from spotless: The records showed close cooperation between the military unit von Sponeck commanded and the SS in committing numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity in the southern Ukraine and Crimea in 1941.

The research was covered in major German news outlets and sparked a national debate and parliamentary discussion about von Sponeck’s legacy. The latest impact has been on a Stolperstein (German for “stumbling stone”) commemorating von Sponeck. More than 48,000 of these granite cobbles are installed in locations around German cities, each with a brass plaque inscribed with the names and fates of victims of Nazism. According to Grimmer-Solem, while they began as an artist’s project, the Stolpersteine project has taken on a semi-official character in recent years as the stones are set in cooperation with German city governments and supported by many local commemorative and historical societies.

Since last year, the German city of Bremen has been grappling with the question of what to do with the stone honoring von Sponeck—a victim of the Nazis who was also a perpetrator. The stone was first set into the pavement in 2007, before Grimmer-Solem’s findings, published in the peer-reviewed military history journal of the German Armed Forces in December 2013, changed public perception of the General.

“Since then, any official commemoration of Sponeck in Germany has become controversial and has led to a debate about what to do about street names, monuments, and of course, the commemorative Stolperstein,” said Grimmer-Solem. “Sponeck’s Stolperstein is particularly problematic as it erases a line between the victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust,” a point he made in the conclusion of his article.

When Gunter Demnig, the Cologne-based artist behind the Stolpersteine project, learned of Grimmer-Solem’s findings, he demanded that the city of Bremen remove the Stolperstein immediately, or else he would no longer sanction the project in Bremen, the home of more than 600 stones. Removal of the commemorative stone was controversial, however, and Bremen project leaders insisted on a public discussion about the matter.

“As the project has gained popularity and sanction as a semi-official memorial, removing Stolpersteine is awkward new territory lacking precedent let alone any procedures,” Grimmer-Solem explained.

On March 3, the Bremen State Central Office for Political Education hosted a podium discussion titled “Grauzonen. Stolpersteine für Wehrmachtsgenerale” (“Gray Zones: Stumbling Stones for Members of the Wehrmacht.”) It was ultimately agreed that the Stolperstein should be officially removed.

“But, to everyone’s surprise, thieves had beaten them to it,” Grimmer-Solem said. At some point, unknown people had excavated and stolen Sponeck’s Stolperstein, and police are now investigating.

The debate is now extending to the legacy of the German military resistance to Hitler in contemporary Germany. As an editorial in the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung (TAZ) noted recently, the debate about von Sponeck has spread well beyond Bremen and now extends to reassessing such postwar German national icons as Claus von Stauffenberg, who is remembered for his failed assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944.

“Stauffenberg, too, has a Stolperstein… and he, like many of his military co-conspirators, was involved in war crimes. Sponeck was shot after the failure of the plot, though he did not belong to it—his evolution from perpetrator to victim corresponds exactly to the ambivalence of this group,” the newspaper wrote.

This increasingly critical view of the July 20 conspirators marks a substantial shift in Germany. In the early years of the Federal Republic, Germans found it difficult to honor “traitors” like Stauffenberg, but he took on an increasingly central place in the “democratic” identity of West Germany’s armed forces, and since the 1960s, in German perceptions of themselves as opponents and victims of the Nazi regime.

“It is a sign of the maturity of German democracy that it is now slowly coming to terms with the complex legacy of men like von Stauffenberg,” Grimmer-Solem said.

Read more about Grimmer-Solem’s research on von Sponeck here.

Tucker to Study Victorian Sustainability, River Pollution Prevention Reform as Visiting Fellow

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker is associate professor of history; associate professor of environmental studies; associate professor of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; associate professor of science in society and faculty fellow in the College of the Environment.

As a 2015 Humanities Research Centre Visiting Fellow, Associate Professor Jennifer Tucker will study Victorian sustainability, photography, law and river pollution prevention reform at Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Australia.

Her appointment will be May 15-July 15.

Tucker’s ongoing research, tentatively titled “Science Against Industry: Photographic Technologies and the Visual Politics of Pollution Reform,” traces the historical roots of the use of visual evidence in environmental science and pollution reform. Using nearly 300 visual representations (drawings, engravings photographs, and graphs) from archives and libraries, many of which have never previously been studied, she analyzes the scientific impact of new forms of visual representation in chemical climatology and examines the presentation and use of specific visual exhibits in Victorian courtroom debates over air and river pollution.

The research addresses current questions that lie at the heart of several fields and disciplines, including environmental history,