Tag Archive for History Department

Erickson Co-Authors Book on Rationality during the Cold War

Paul Erikson

Book by Paul Erickson.

Paul Erickson, assistant professor of history, is the co-author of How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality,” published by the University of Chicago Press in 2013.

In the United States at the height of the Cold War, roughly between the end of World War II and the early 1980s, a new project of redefining rationality commanded the attention of sharp minds, powerful politicians, wealthy foundations, and top military brass. Its home was the human sciences—psychology, sociology, political science and economics, among others—and its participants enlisted in an intellectual campaign to figure out what rationality should mean and how it could be deployed.

How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind brings to life the people—Herbert Simon, Oskar Morgenstern, Herman Kahn, Anatol Rapoport, Thomas Schelling, and many others—and places, including the RAND Corporation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the Cowles Commission for Research and Economics, and the Council on Foreign Relations, that played a key role in putting forth a “Cold War rationality.” Decision makers harnessed this picture of rationality—optimizing, formal, algorithmic, and mechanical—in their quest to understand phenomena as diverse as economic transactions, biological evolution, political elections, international relations, and military strategy. Erickson and the other authors chronicle and illuminate what it meant to be rational in the age of nuclear brinkmanship.

Order the book online here.

Teter Co-Edits Book on Jewish-Christian Relations in Art

New book, co-edited by Magda Teter.

New book, co-edited by Magda Teter.

Magda Teter, the Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, professor of history, professor of medieval studies, is the co-editor of a book titled, Jewish-Christian Relations in History, Memory, and Art: European contet for the paintings in the Sandomierz Cathedral, published in Polish by Wydawnictwo Diecezjalne, Sandomierz in 2013.

A large painting known as Infanticidium on the western wall of the Cathedral church in Sandomierz, Poland depicting scenes of Jews killing Christian children, has been frequently viewed as an example of Polish anti-Semitism and a troubling symbol of Jewish-Catholic relations. The painting became a site of memory (lieu de mémoire), crystalizing in one object the memory of Jewish-Christian relations in Poland, and a source of protests and tensions between the Catholic church and the Jewish community. The richly illustrated book, edited by Teter and Urszula Stępień, presents the Sandomierz paintings in their broader European and local artistic, historical and historiographic context.

The controversial Sandomierz painting belongs to a broader series of sixteen paintings known as “Martyrologium Romanum.” The first two essays address the question of Jewish-Christian relations. Teter discusses the history of these relations and the role historians have played, and continue to play, in shaping the understanding and perception of these relations. Teter also points to visual influences of European iconography of the so-called “ritual murder” on the Sandomierz paintings, especially the iconography of Simon of Trent.

Grimmer-Solem’s Scholarship on Nazi Officer Discussed in German News

Erik Grimmer-Solem

Erik Grimmer-Solem

The historical scholarship of Erik Grimmer-Solem, associate professor of history, was discussed at length by Klaus Wiegrefe in a Dec. 21 issue of Germany’s largest-circulation news weekly, Der SpiegelAs reported by the magazine, Grimmer-Solem uncovered evidence that a general currently honored as an anti-Nazi by the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) was involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the German invasion of the Ukraine in 1941.

In an article published in the military history journal Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Grimmer-Solem revealed the close cooperation between units of the Wehrmacht commanded by General Hans von Sponeck and the SS in atrocities committed against Jews in the southern Ukraine and Crimea between June and December 1941. Currently, a German Air Force base in Germersheim and streets in Bremen and Germersheim have been named in honor of General von Sponeck. Memorials to him have likewise been erected in these and other cities in Germany.

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.

Twagira Awarded Young Scholar Book Prize

Laura Ann Twagira, assistant professor of history, received the 2013 ICOHTEC Young Scholar Book Prize from the International Committee for the History of Technology. The ICOHTEC is interested in the history of technology, focusing on technological development as well as its relationship to science, society, economy, culture and the environment.

Twagira was honored for her Rutgers University dissertation on the study of women’s development of food technology in early 20th century colonial west Africa, Women and Gender at the Office du Niger (Mali).

“Twagira’s dissertation successfully characterizes and contextualizes the technological gestalt of a mundane and routine, but absolutely necessary task: putting acceptable food on the family table. She sets this daily chore, for which historically women in Niger/Mali were responsible, not only into what she calls the ‘foodscape’ of the natural environment, but also into the context of efforts at colonial development that mainly targeted men’s activities,” said Rachel Maines, chairwoman of the ICOHTEC.

“Twagira makes us sharply aware that cookware, containers, heating equipment, and agricultural hand implements, plus the tacit knowledge of how to make successful products using these tools, is no less a technological system than is farming with a tractor or the manufacture of semiconductors. Twagira’s work is exemplary in its framing of women as decisionmakers and significant actors under a colonial regime that recognized economic and technological development only in male-dominated forms of work.”

The award will be bestowed in Manchester, United Kingdom in July.

At Wesleyan, Twagria teaches “The Environment and Society in Africa” and “Gender and Authority in African Societies.”

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.”

Assisted by Fellowship, Wright Reveals Black Agendas in GOP

Leah Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history, received a grant worth $31,500 from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The award is supporting her her current book project.

Leah Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history, received a grant from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The award is supporting her current book project.

On a chilly January morning in 1978, Jesse Jackson delivered a rousing keynote address to a large group of political leaders. Energized from a recent meeting with President Jimmy Carter at the White House, the civil rights activist dazzled his audience with nearly an hour of political “gospel rock.” At the end of Jackson’s fiery speech, his audience launched a five-minute standing ovation. Oddly, his audience was a group of white Republicans.

Why would a liberal civil rights activist – with ties to the Democratic Party – engage a political party that had a reputation for turning its back on the black interests? Jackson wasn’t alone. Throughout the modern postwar period, a number of black Americans worked with and within the GOP to influence the direction of the party. And in the past two decades, America has witnessed a surprising number of high-profile black Republicans including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Steele, Clarence Thomas, J.C. Watts and Herman Cain.

“The extensive literature on the histories of civil rights and American politics suggests, in no uncertain terms, that African Americans have no business being conservative,” says Leah Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history.

As a recent recipient of a Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty, Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history, is working to revise a historical blind spot by demonstrating that black Americans have worked consistently with Republicans to pursue an agenda of racial uplift.

The Career Enhancement Fellowships for Junior Faculty Program, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, supports junior faculty who have a demonstrated commitment to eradicating racial disparities,

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.

5 Questions With … Rick Elphick on Missionaries and the Racial Politics of South Africa

This semester, Rick Elphick is teaching a sophomore history tutorial on "The Emergence of Modern Europe" and "The History of Southern Africa."

This semester, Rick Elphick is teaching a sophomore history tutorial on “The Emergence of Modern Europe” and “The History of Southern Africa.”

In this edition of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of Richard “Rick” Elphick, professor of history and co-chair of the College of Social Studies. 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.

Q: What do you think is the main message, or the main achievement, of your new book?

A: For decades, historians of South Africa have struggled to trace how a white minority, starting in the 1650s, established a system of stark inequality among the races in the region. My book attempts to reconfigure the history of South Africa by interweaving the pressures toward inequality, which are now fairly well understood, with an account of the pressures toward racial equality. These pressures, I argue, were rooted chiefly in the proclamation of the equality of all persons before God, a message brought to South Africa by Christian missionaries. My story begins with the first missionary in 1737, and ends in 1960.

Q: Do you give the missionaries credit for the eventual overthrow of white rule and apartheid in the 1990s?

A: Not really. I do give credit to the mission schools, where black leaders, almost all of them devout Christians, acquired a belief in racial equality that inspired their resistance to oppression. I also emphasize how Christian doctrine ate away at the conscience of some white South Africans. But, as for the missionaries themselves, many appear in my book as deeply conflicted between their theoretical ideals and their fear of confronting the white power structure. And many showed a lack of confidence in blacks that bordered on racism.

Q: You also say that missionaries helped create the apartheid ideology?

A: Many writers have tried to find a link between religion and the doctrine of radical racial separation known as apartheid. In my view, however, they have looked in the wrong places. I trace the origins of the doctrine to missionary leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church.

Smolkin-Rothrock Delivers Lecture on Soviet Atheism

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, tutor in the College of Social Studies, delivered the Sherman Emerging Scholar Lecture titled “A Sacred Space: The Spiritual Life of Soviet Atheism” Oct. 18 at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Paul Townsend, chairman of the History Department at N.C. Wilmington, said Smolkin-Rothrock was chosen because her work “explored the connections between art, culture and history.”

A native of Ukraine, Smolkin-Rothrock studied at Sarah Lawrence College and received her master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. She has published articles on “scientific atheism” and the Soviet space program.

 More information on her talk appeared in the Oct. 15 StarNews. Read more about Smolkin-Rothrock in this December 2010 Wesleyan Connection article.

Tucker to Serve as Interim Director of Allbritton Center

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.

Jennifer Tucker will serve as interim director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, beginning immediately through the end of the fall 2013 semester. Tucker has accepted this position in order to enable the faculty and the university to formulate a vision for the Allbritton Center that will engage the curriculum and faculty scholarship, and enhance the intellectual life of the university. Her work this year will provide a framework for strategic planning and guide the search for a new director.

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

Tucker received her M.A. in history and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge, and her Ph.D. in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University. Her research interests at Wesleyan include the history of science and technology, Victorian visual culture, photographic truth and evidence, early science film history and spectatorship, gender and science, and the links between art and the popularization of science in the British Empire.

She is the author of Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science (Johns Hopkins University, 2006), editor of a special theme issue of History and Theory on “Photography and Historical Interpretation” (Dec. 2009), and author of more than 15 articles and book chapters on topics including scientific ballooning, visual history and the archive, photographic evidence in Victorian law, and the relationship between gender and genre in 19th Century European scientific illustration. Her research and teaching have been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Social Science Research Council, Marshall Scholarship Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, and National Science Foundation, among others.

Her current project, “The Art and Visual Politics of the Tichborne Claimant Affair,” excavates hundreds of photographs, engravings, and other visual materials that circulated around the time of the high-profile trial in order to show how the physical movement of photographs and other visual materials through time and space shaped the public meaning of the case from the beginning. She is the image editor for History and Technology journal and a member of the Radical History Review editorial collective.

“Please join me in thanking Jennifer for accepting this position; and please join her in conversation as she begins to work with departments and programs and other colleagues to begin the transformation of the Allbritton Center into the leading regional center for the study of public life,” said Rob Rosenthal, provost and vice president for academic affairs, the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology.

Read a “5 Questions With . . .” piece on Tucker in this past Wesleyan Connection article.