Tag Archive for history

Nussdorfer’s Book Topic of Library Event in Rome

A book by Laurie Nussdorfer, professor of history and letters, will be discussed Dec. 16 in Rome. Her book, Brokers of Public Trust: Notaries in Early Modern Rome (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), examines the emergence of the modern notarial profession — free market scribes responsible for producing original legal documents and their copies.

Nussdorfer chronicles the training of professional notaries and the construction of public archives, explaining why notarial documents exist, who made them, and how they came to be regarded as authoritative evidence. In doing so, she describes a profession of crucial importance to the people and government of the time, as well as to scholars who turn to notarial documents as invaluable and irreplaceable historical sources.

The event is sponsored by the Biblioteca di storia moderna e contemporanea, and the speakers will be Professor Mario Ascheri, historian of law, and Professor Renata Ago, historian of seventeenth-century Rome. The director of the library Simonetta Buttò and the director of the American Academy in Rome Christopher Celenza will also give brief remarks.

Professor Irene Fosi is coordinator the event.

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock to Teach Soviet History, Secularism and Modernity Courses

Victoria-Smolkin-Rothrock is a new faculty member in the History Department, College of Social Studies and Russian and Eastern European Studies.

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, comes to Wesleyan this spring as an assistant professor of history, an assistant professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies. She’ll also be a core member of the College of Social Studies.

Her research investigates state efforts to manage spiritual life, as well as the significance and functions of private rituals in modern society.

“There were many things that attracted me to Wesleyan, but the students, and the intellectual community more broadly, are at the top of the list,” she says. “When I visited Wesleyan, the students made a profound impression: they struck me as deeply engaged in and curious about their own work, and, equally important, interested in the work of their peers.

Schwarcz Participates in U.S. Speakers Program in China

Vera Schwartz is pictured on the website chinaculture.org.

Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, professor of history, was selected by the United States’ Department of State to serve in the Speakers Program Oct. 20-24.

She lectured at several universities in Chongqing and Beijing—on the subject of the 150th anniversary of the destruction of the old summer palace of Yuan Ming Yuan, in 1860.

Having been selected by the State Department as a member of the very first group of American exchange scholars to live and study in China in 1979, Schwarcz has been returning regularly to China for the past three decades. This was the second time she served in an official capacity.

On Oct. 22, she was interviewed by China Daily in a lengthy conversation that took place at the United States in Beijing. This interview was posted on eight news organization websites and has gathered considerable attention in the wake of discussions about globalization of China studies in the 21st century.

Her interview was posted on chinaculture.org, China Daily, ifeng.com, among others.

Swinehart on Philbrick’s ‘The Last Stand’

Writing for The New Republic, Kirk Swinehart, assistant professor of history, reviews The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the new book by best-selling author Nathaniel Philbrick. Swinehart says the book attempts to look beyond the myths surrounding this iconic battle, and reveals that both General Custer and Sitting Bull desperately hoped conflict could be avoided and were searching for face-saving alternatives to a battle. Swinhart says, “according to Philbrick, ‘the tragedy of both their lives is that they were not given the opportunity to explore those alternatives.’ In this otherwise fine book, historical perspective goes wanting. Custer and Sitting Bull make unlikely peaceniks indeed.”

Shaw Appointed Interim Dean of the Social Sciences, Interdisciplinary Programs

Gary Shaw

Gary Shaw, professor of history, professor of medieval studies, was appointed Interim Dean of the Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs for the 2010-2011 academic year, beginning this July.

In his 20 years at Wesleyan, Shaw has served as chair of the History Department, vice-chair of the advisory committee, chair of EPC, and has been a member of FCRR and the faculty merit appeals committee. He is the associate editor of History and Theory. His numerous awards include an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, an American Philosophical Society Research Grant and Wesleyan’s Carole A. Baker ’81 Memorial Prize.

Shaw’s current project studies the “piepowder people” in the late Middle Ages, focusing on historical agency, mobility, and the circulation of culture. He is the author of Necessary Conjunctions: The Social Self in the Middle Ages (2005), The Creation of a Community: The City of Wells in the Middle Ages (1993), and is editor, with Philip Pomper, of The Return of Science: Evolution, History, and Theory (2002).

5 Questions with . . . Laurie Nussdorfer

Laurie Nussdorfer is a professor of history, letters and medieval studies at Wesleyan. She says popes who reigned as rulers and bishops of Rome between 1550 and 1650 helped preserve notarial records.

For this issue, we queried Laurie Nussdorfer, professor of history, letters and medieval studies and author of Brokers of Public Trust: Notaries in Early Modern Rome (published by The Johns Hopkins University Press in 2009). She supplied her answers in writing, of course.

Q:  How did the idea for the book begin?

A: Daniel Rosenberg ’88 wrote a senior honors thesis in the History Department about the historiography of literacy (how historians had interpreted and investigated the ability of people to read in the past). I was one of the readers of this fascinating thesis, and it occurred to me that one could ask similar questions about how people had learned to use writing, even if they couldn’t write themselves, in the past. I work on the city and people of Rome in the period between 1500 and 1700 so naturally

Pomper to Retire in 2010 after Nearly a Half Century at Wesleyan

Philip Pomper will retire in 2010 but plans to continue his research on Russia.

Philip Pomper will retire in 2010 but plans to continue his research on Russia.

Professor of History Philip Pomper is making history of his own as he plans to retire from Wesleyan after 46 years in May 2010.

Pomper came to Wesleyan after graduating from the University of Chicago with a doctoral degree. He had enjoyed the seminar style classes at Chicago and looked forward to teaching seminars at Wesleyan.

“I always dreamed of joining the faculty of a small liberal arts institution,” Pomper says.

Not only did Pomper have an idea for the type of institution he was drawn to, he was compelled to be a professor even in high school.

“After the usual fantasies about an athletic career I think I always wanted to be a college professor,” Pomper says. “My high school buddies used to call me ‘Professor.’ In my teens I encountered Enlightenment ideals and believed that if anything could save us from self-destruction it would have to take the form of the deep self-examination of our species and a progressive historical process. Growing up during World War II and the Holocaust probably made me precociously serious about such things.”

Pomper originally wanted to study French revolutionary history, but his interest in Russia was sparked in the summer of 1957 as he and some friends explored another continent.

“Two friends and I hitchhiked, bicycled, and motored through Europe,” he recalls. “In August we were sleeping in cow pastures in the English Lake District near

Courtney Fullilove: Historian Specializing in 19th-Century United States

Courtney Fullilove, assistant professor of history, will teach  a course on the history of drugs and medicines, and "Confidence and Panic in 19th Century U.S. Economic Life" during the spring 2010 semester. (Photo by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Courtney Fullilove, assistant professor of history, will teach a course on the history of drugs and medicines, and "Confidence and Panic in 19th Century U.S. Economic Life" during the spring 2010 semester. (Photo by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Courtney Fullilove has joined the History Department as assistant professor. She specializes in research related to the study the development of technical knowledge in the fields of agriculture, medicine, and manufacturing in the 18th and 19th century United States.

A graduate of Columbia University’s Ph.D program in history, Fullilove was attracted to Wesleyan for many reasons, among them its historical significance and liberal arts idealism. She says that being a part of a place where “everyone is creative and engaged” is satisfying to her.

“I’m a historian, so I like to think about the fact that Wesleyan was founded as a tiny bastion of Methodism in the 1830s, ” she says. “There’s a way in which Wesleyan retains the best qualities of small 19th century religious and Utopian communities: it has purpose, and people believe in being here.”

In terms of her work, Fullilove has broad interests that focus on one specific purpose: “people’s access to the things they need to live: food, medicine, clothes, shelter.”

“Since human necessities often entail a lot of know-how in addition to material resources,” she says. “I’m interested in how the know-how has been organized over time, and who has had control of it. Much of my recent work has involved the U.S. Patent Office in some way, but patents are just one legal mechanism to secure ownership of knowledge, which is my real interest.”

Fullilove researches how “farmers made seeds and plows, and how local healers made tinctures and poultices.” She uncovers “the ways local knowledge was codified, represented, or effaced in institutions of commerce and law.”

Swinehart Explains How Indigenous People Took Part in British Service

Kirk Swinehart, assistant professor of history, led a talk titled "Mourning War: A Story of Love and Greed in British America," Dec. 7 in Russell House.

Kirk Swinehart, assistant professor of history, led a talk titled "Mourning War: A Story of Love and Greed in British America," Dec. 7 in Russell House.

Swinehart discussed the biracial dynasty of Sir William Johnson, an Irish immigrant and adopted Mohawk who emerged as one of the 18th century's most colorful and divisive political figures. Johnson served as the superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern colonies.

Swinehart discussed the biracial dynasty of Sir William Johnson, an Irish immigrant and adopted Mohawk who emerged as one of the 18th century's most colorful and divisive political figures. Johnson served as the superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern colonies.

Students listen to Swinehart's presentation.

Students listen to Swinehart's presentation.

In his lecture, Swinehart suggested how the remarkable story of Johnson's ill-fated clan contains a larger story about elusive forces that would bring indigenous peoples into British service well into the 20th century.

In his lecture, Swinehart suggested how the remarkable story of Johnson's ill-fated clan contains a larger story about elusive forces that would bring indigenous peoples into British service well into the 20th century. (Photos by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Leah Wright: New History, African American Studies Assistant Professor

Leah Wright, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of African American studies, is an expert on United States history, African American studies and American politics. (Photo by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Leah Wright, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of African American studies, is an expert on United States history, African American studies and American politics. (Photo by Stefan Weinberger '10)

Leah Wright, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of African American studies joined Wesleyan’s staff this summer.

Wright says she loves being part of an interdisciplinary community and “was impressed by the intellectual curiosity and academic excellence of the students at Wesleyan.” Multiple factors attracted her to the university.

“I was also excited about the faculty—there is equal attention paid to teaching and research, and as a result, Wesleyan faculty excel at both. Joining Wesleyan was a major opportunity to join a vibrant and welcoming intellectual community.”

She graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College in 2003 with a bachelor’s in history. Wright went on to obtain a Master’s and a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University. This summer she defended her doctoral dissertation titled “The Loneliness of the Black Conservative: Black Republicans and the Grand Old Party, 1964-1980.” Wright is currently negotiating with publishers to convert her manuscript into a published book.

Wright’s book proposal abstract reads: “Traditionally, the scholarship on civil rights has assumed that the movement existed solely within the boundaries of liberalism; however, this project argues that black Republicans also attempted to promote a genuine agenda of racial equality, civil rights, and black uplift through the conservative movement and the Republican apparatus. Despite the seeming contradiction of African Americans working for civil rights in a party that appeared increasingly hostile to that very idea, many black Republicans did see themselves as part of the movement. In many ways this story is a comparative project about the vision for black equality and advancement.”

Her research interests include United States history, African American studies and American politics. Her extensive research on Black conservatives in the U.S.—specifically Black Republicans—combines all of her interests. Additionally, she has studied women in the Black Power movement and Marcus Garvey, the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association

Wright is the author and co-author of several articles, including “Conscience of a Black Conservative: The 1964 Election and the Rise of the National Negro Republican Assembly,” in Federal History.

Wright was awarded with a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Dissertation Writing Fellowship for 2008 – 2009. Notably, she has received three presidential libraries grants (i.e. the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library Research Grant, the Gerald Ford Presidential Library Research Grant and the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library O’Donnell Research Grant). Wright received multiple Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Development/Enhancement Grants throughout her scholarship. She was a Andrew W. Mellon Fellow from 2001 to 2003 and is the first Mellon Fellow to join the Wesleyan faculty, according to Krishna Wilson, who is the coordinator of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship at Wesleyan.

This semester, Wright is teaching 20th Century Black Conservatism and The Long Civil Rights Movement in America. In spring 2010, she will be teaching Modern African-American History and U.S. Political History Since 1945.

For her civil rights course, Wright enjoyed working with Valerie Gillispie, Assistant University Archivist, to expose students to the resources within Wesleyan’s archives.

“The Civil Rights Archive at Wesleyan is a wonderful resource,” Wright says.

“Val Gillispie took us through a guided tour of archival resources that allowed the students to better understand Wesleyan’s significant connection to the broader Civil Rights Movement. It was an exciting opportunity for students to ‘get their hands dirty’—and search through interesting, and relevant archival resources—which is a critical component for any historian.”

Wright is a native of Hartford and enjoys traveling, reading, and watching college basketball (her brother plays for Providence College).

Listen to Leah Wright’s recent appearance on WNPR’s Where We Live.

Erickson Receives Young Scholars’ Prize in History of Science and Technology

Paul Erickson. (Photo by Corrina Kerr)

Paul Erickson was honored for his contribution to the History of Science in Western Civilization. (Photo by Corrina Kerr)

Paul Erickson, assistant professor of history and assistant professor of Science in Society, has been awarded the 2009 Prize for Young Scholars from the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science, Division of History of Science and Technology (DHST). He received the award at an August ceremony in Budapest, Hungary.

The award was bestowed in recognition for Erickson’s significant scholarly contribution to the History of Science in Western Civilization. The prize is awarded every four years at meetings of the Union Congress to recent PhDs in the history of science and technology for outstanding dissertation projects on topics in the western tradition. Erickson’s dissertation, “The Politics of Game Theory: Mathematics, Rationality, and Cold War Culture” impressed the award committee with its “innovative approach” and manner of making “mathematics and Cold War culture accessible for a critical discussion.”

In citing his dissertation, the prize committee stated “Erickson did a brilliant job in discussing a topic with a mathematical image in a real historical way.” The citation also heralded Erickson’s ability to explain the “incompatible applications of game theory in the military and evolutionary realm.” Notably, Erickson was selected for the Young Scholars award by unanimous vote of the prize committee.

Erickson's award.

Erickson's award.

Game theory, which models strategic interactions between rational individuals, was developed in the 1920s and `30s by the Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann and the Austrian economist Oskar Morgenstern. The theory’s original inspiration was parlor games like chess and poker, but in the wake of World War II, military-funded mathematicians found applications of the theory to problems of tactical decision-making and logistics. Subsequently, game theory has become a central modeling technique throughout the social and biological sciences, from economics and psychology to evolutionary biology, according to Erickson.

“Game theory is also a theory of how human beings should behave rationally, perhaps; how they do behave; how they might behave and so forth,” Erickson says.

”My work can be read on two levels. On one hand, it tells the history of game theory as a branch of mathematics. On the other, it presents a history of rationality in 20th century America by focusing on links between game theory and broader currents in American culture and politics,” he says.

Erickson explored the ways in which rationality became a seriously contested concept in the nation during the Cold War—especially from a political and cultural standpoint.

Erickson completed his PhD in the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and has been at Wesleyan University since summer, 2008. He specializes in the science of the Atomic Age, the history of ecology, biology and technology, game theory’s wider applications in science and social science, the study of populations and science in public policy, among other research specialties and interests.

Photos from the Union Congress are available here.