Winter 2020 – Archives
|Expand All||Collapse All|
Here at UNC, a major topic on everyone’s mind this semester has been Covid and its effects on academic life. Students have borne most of the brunt of transitioning to a virtual learning environment, but professors in the Department of History have also made significant adjustments. Associate Chair Professor Ben Waterhouse and Director of Undergraduate Studies Professor Brett Whalen spoke with us about strategies they have used to confront the novel demands and opportunities posed by the virtual environment. Waterhouse reaffirms what many in the department already know: though students in his classes have been “extraordinarily motivated, participatory, friendly, and collegial,” virtual learning is not anyone’s preference. Nevertheless, because faculty appreciate “the wide range of personal situations that students find themselves in,” they have largely responded to students’ unforeseen circumstances with flexibility, patience and compassion.
Whalen strikes an upbeat note in echoing the sentiments of his colleagues. He observes that the “sense of community and connection” that history faculty value so highly in the classroom takes longer to develop over Zoom. Notably, virtual learning has made it harder for some of the more reticent students in his classes to break through the initial shyness that most students feel in seminar courses. The lack of face to face class time has made it harder for him to “draw the more removed students into the conversation.” Nevertheless, Whalen has tried to make the best of the situation and to serve as a resource for colleagues as they navigate the rigors of adapting to remote learning. Outside of making tutorial videos on virtual teaching and teaching undergraduate seminars, Whalen has remained committed to his own scholarly work. As a result, last summer Whalen wrote and self-published a book on the Black Death. One cannot help but to draw comparisons!
Despite the disruption that Covid has caused on campus, much has gone according to plan. For example, the department’s “capstone” projects for honors students have been facilitated by the speed with which the university library system took advantage of its substantial online infrastructure to digitize many of its collections for undergraduate research. Teaching Assistant duties have also been constrained by the new rigors of online teaching, and professors have been careful not to overburden their TAs with extra uncompensated work. The Digital History Lab, which has been integral to the transition to virtual learning, has made its many resources available to teaching staff, laying all the early uncertainties about virtual teaching soundly to rest. Finally, as Waterhouse notes, the Department has afforded its teaching staff with the same degree of autonomy and discretion granted to them in past semesters. While much is (and will likely remain) uncertain, the UNC History Department is investing great energy into guaranteeing a world class learning and research experience for undergraduates enrolled in its courses.
The passing of Dr. Beverly Washington Jones on July 19, 2020 presents the History Department an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of its African American alumni and to reflect on the important work that remains in promoting diversity, racial justice and gender equity within the department and beyond. Jones, a 1980 graduate of our Ph.D program, was a historian of twentieth century African American history, with a focus on antiracist and antisexist activism. Her five books include Quest for Equality: The Life and Writings of Mary Eliza Church Terrell, 1863-1954 (Carlson Publishers, 1990) and Durham’s Hayti (Arcadia, 1999), which she coauthored with Andre D. Vann. In her study of the remarkable career of Terrell, an important civil rights activist and educator in the Latin Department at New York’s M Street School, Jones charts a transformation in Terrell’s activism against racial discrimination, from one based on dialogue and moral persuasion to an embrace of more militant direct action, such as protests and boycotts. Quest for Equality highlights what historians now call the intersectionality of racism and sexism in Terrell’s biography and outlook—putting both Terrell and Jones ahead of their time.
Though neither of her parents completed high school, Jones and her ten siblings all went to college. After earning her undergraduate and master’s degrees at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), Jones became the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in history at UNC Chapel Hill, where her dissertation committee included Jacquelyn Hall, Frank Klingberg and her adviser, Joel Williamson. The bulk of her career was spent at NCCU, where, in addition to advancing her pathbreaking scholarship, she occupied numerous administrative roles, including Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Dean of University College, Director of the Institute for the Study of Minority Issues, and director of the Saturday Academy, an academic enrichment program for third through fifth graders. In 2007, she became the university’s interim chancellor. In recognition of her accomplishments and the importance of her example for younger scholars and professionals, Dr. Jones was named one of the 25 Most Influential Black Women in Business by The Network Journal, New York tri-state area’s premier business magazine for African-American professionals.
Jones is remembered as an engaging and passionate student and scholar during her time at UNC. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall recalls that Dr. Jones took a seminar with her on oral history in the mid-1970s. This research focused on a strike by UNC food workers, and, as Hall recalls, Jones did some of the key interviews, which have been used and cited by historians ever since. Jones also conducted interviews with female tobacco workers in Durham, which formed the basis of an important 1984 article in the journal Feminist Studies.
As UNC reckons with its own complex history of struggling against racism while also sustaining it, the department celebrates the small role it played in fostering an environment conducive to Jones’s scholarship, while acknowledging the many obstacles that impeded, and that continue to stand in the way of, African American historians and scholars such as Jones. Her career epitomizes the department’s widely held goal of using the study of the past to advance justice and equity in the present. “Black history is much more than just reminiscing about the past,” Jones told the News & Observer in 1995. “It’s really an attempt to look at the dilemma facing African Americans and other minorities.”
Faculty in the UNC History Department have long produced timely and publicly oriented scholarship, and the tradition remains strong in 2020. Two recent publications aimed at general audiences explain historical links with both the pandemic and the current U.S. political climate. Professor Brett Whalen’s Remembering the Black Death: Lessons from the Medieval Plague for the Modern Plague (available here) takes readers back to the fourteenth century when the Black Death, much like COVID-19, changed the world almost overnight. Meanwhile, Professor Jim Leloudis examines the roots of recent politics in his co-authored work, Fragile Democracy: The Struggle over Race and Voting Rights in North Carolina (available here). Both professors completed their projects with an eye toward public hunger in 2020 for the context that history provides.
For Whalen, a specialist in Christian intellectual and cultural history from the eleventh to the thirteenth century, the worldwide shutdowns that happened in March coincided with the week he taught on the Black Death of the 14th century. Inspired by students’ keen interest, Whalen found himself discussing medieval pandemics more and more with family and friends. After speaking on a local FM radio station, the Aaron Keck show, he realized the magnitude of contemporary interest in the topic and set to work on a book that linked this vital past with the present. Relying mostly on old notes and electronically available resources while on lockdown in Durham, Whalen wrote quickly, self-publishing the book and putting it up for sale on Amazon within only a few months.
Leloudis, by contrast, began work on his book several years ago. A historian of the modern South, Leloudis was called as an expert witness in an NAACP case that challenged North Carolina House Bill (HB) 589. That law, which required citizens to produce government-issued photo identification in order to vote, was eventually struck down in 2016 after it was found to oppress minority voters with “near surgical precision.” Working with his long-time collaborator Bob Korstad of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, who was likewise involved in the case, Leloudis saw a need to situate this curtailing of voting rights in historical context. The duo began writing in earnest in 2017, and UNC Press released the book this fall.
Though the two projects address far different time periods significantly, they shared a common goal of making history more understandable for contemporary readers.
Whalen dispels many misconceptions about the supposed backwardness of medieval medicine and plague control. For example, he highlights some of the remarkable achievements made before and during the fourteenth century, including loose forms of quarantine and the use of herbal remedies to keep away pests that likely carried the disease. In addition, he underscores parallels between medieval and contemporary tendencies to cast doubt on established science, authorities, and institutions. Readers gain a greater appreciation for the heroic struggles, past and present, waged against plague and pandemic.
For their part, Leloudis and Korstad show that the evolution of voter rights in North Carolina from the end of the Civil War to the present was by no means linear or progressive. They take readers through several cycles of expansion followed by retrenchment of voting rights. Focusing on the Jim Crow era, the 1960s, and the 2010s, they pay particular attention to organized movements that limited voting rights, providing vital context for the HB 589 story of the 2010s. What united those campaigns was, in their words, “power and plunder”: the economic self-interest of wealthy white lawmakers in repressing minority voting.
To make their findings more publicly accessible across multiple media platforms, Leloudis and Korstad have developed a companion website through AdobeSpark, https://www.fragiledemocracy.com/. The sites’ digital exhibit synthesizes the book’s main arguments and explains many sources related to voter suppression with photos, illustrations, and videos that are freely accessible online.
Whether inspired by sudden and sweeping changes or enduring political issues, faculty in the department continue to produce timely and relevant studies such as those by Whalen and Leloudis. Look for more featured research in our spring edition!
In July, the department welcomed a new faculty member, Dirk Moses, the Frank Porter Graham Distinguished Professor of Global Human Rights History. Hailing most recently from Sydney, Australia, Professor Moses completed his graduate work in Scotland and the United States and previously taught at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. Not surprisingly given his international experience, Moses engages in globally minded scholarship and teaching. Since publishing his first book, Moses has edited and coedited ten anthologies while editing the Journal of Genocide Research since 2011.
Although Professor Moses trained in modern German history, his research has always maintained global scope. Shortly after completing his PhD at UC Berkeley, he organized an anthology on Australian settler colonialism and genocide, and then initiated multiple works on colonialism, genocide, and intellectual history. While publishing these international histories, Moses finished his first book, German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past (Cambridge University Press, 2007), which examined West German public intellectual debates about the legacy of democracy’s failure in 1933 and the Holocaust. His forthcoming book, slated for publication by Cambridge University press in January 2021, combines his interest in intellectual history and in mass violence. The Problems of Genocide: Permanent Security and the Language of Transgression shows how the concept of genocide has historically dominated popular attention and debate about mass violence against civilians, in effect detracting attention from systematic violence perpetuated by governments against civilians. International law, he argues, allows governments to cloak certain form of violence in the vocabulary of “security” while distinguishing more destabilizing violent acts as “genocide,” to the detriment of human rights.
Several months after arriving in Chapel Hill, Professor Moses sat down for an interview to discuss his work and his excitement about joining the UNC History Department. Extracts are reproduced below.
What attracted you to UNC?
A great attraction of UNC History is its renowned graduate program. It has produced generations of outstanding historians who, like their UNC mentors, have gone on to shape fields. Also attractive is the rich research culture at UNC and in its environs. This culture is enabled by the ecosystem of centers, institutes, and research clusters that invite outside speakers, organize workshops and conferences, and so forth. Writing prize-winning and field-defining books may be a solitary undertaking, but the creativity, inspiration, and doggedness necessary to conceptualize and finish large projects feeds off the intellectual energy of this environment. This is what makes UNC a world-class research institution.
Can you say a few words about teaching at UNC?
I’ve found attractive the extent of small group teaching in the department—many graduate and undergraduate students benefit from smaller seminars. This means students are more active in class preparation by reading texts for group discussion, and they receive more personalized attention than in the very large lecture classes I taught in my previous job. I’ve been impressed by students’ energetic engagement with the demanding readings and issues they raise in my current classes on humanitarianism and political systems and social security in twentieth century Europe and the United States.
Can you tell our readers about moving across the world in the midst of a pandemic?
I was fortunate in several respects. First, with Australian borders tightly shut—not even citizens are permitted to travel abroad—I had to secure an emergency visa just to leave the country as well as a travel exemption. Then, I had to ship all my things months in advance of the move. Second, because Australia was able to establish relative control over the spread of the virus, I was able to leave without much fear of contracting the disease. Third, the pleasant community in Chapel Hill and Carrboro as well as the staff and faculty in the department made the relocation relatively painless. I’m delighted to be here.
No items found
|History in Our World|
No items found
|Out of the Archives|
Quarantine measures, widespread shutdowns, and barriers to travel have made the past year unlike any in memory. For UNC History gradruate students, the coronavirus has created particular challenges. As four graduate students report, conducting dissertation research under these conditions presents unprecedented obstacles. Collectively, their stories demonstrate impressive determination and resilience.
Kevin Hoeper, Sarah Miles, and Steven Weber all traveled abroad for funded research terms in the summer of 2019. For the first few months in the archives, they worked without much disruption. Hoeper, living in Prague, split his time between the central national and military archives in the Czech capital and nearly thirty provincial archives spread throughout the country. Besides long days that involved multiple transfers between buses and trains, he encountered relatively few challenges gaining access to his materials. Miles and Weber, meanwhile, dove into various collections in and around Paris. In December 2019, massive strikes by French railway workers inhibited their work, as archive employees from around the many quarters and suburbs of the capital city struggled to get to work and the archives operated on limited, unpredictable schedules. When the railways returned to normal in January, Miles and Weber resumed their research in earnest. None expected the difficulties the spring would bring.
Across the Atlantic, Nathan Gil launched into his research in Quito, Ecuador, where he planned to live from January 2020 through Summer 2021. During the first few weeks of January, Gil scanned documents from the hacienda at the center of his environmental history project. Augmenting material he had previously gathered, he was well on his way to amassing a formidable assemblage of documents. Soon, however, his news feed overflowed with stories of a rapidly spreading, little-understood virus. The world was about to change.
Following her original plan, Miles left France for Montreal in February, evading the chaos on one continent only to face shutdowns in Canada. Hoeper and Weber cancelled return flights scheduled for late summer and scrambled to book seats on the last international flights out of Europe, ever mindful of the risk of exposure. With tracing programs just starting and reports of sick patients also planning return trips to the US, neither knew whether they might contract the illness. As a result, both quarantined for several weeks upon their return, Hoeper in an RV in his parents’ driveway and Weber in an Airbnb near family members. While financial assistance from UNC earmarked to mitigate the unexpected costs linked to COVID-19 partially offset these financial burdens, all three lost precious time in the archives and plan to go back when safe travel becomes possible.
Gil, by contrast, decided not to cancel his time abroad. While several of his colleagues left the region, Gil knew that he could quarantine and maintain steady progress on his project. Thus, he wrote persistent letters to UNC and government representatives assuring them of his ability to quarantine safely while continuing his work. Gil convinced these overseers of researchers’ safety and remains sorting through the hundreds of digitized documents he previously collected. When archives open again, Gil will be ready to add new material to his project.
Back in Chapel Hill, Hoeper, Miles, and Weber continue to move forward with their dissertations and professional careers. During his weeks isolated in the RV, Hoeper drafted a thesis chapter, which he recently presented at a (virtual) Central European history working group. He hopes to submit it to a journal in the coming months. All three continue to monitor grant sources as they look to finish the last portions of their archival research in the near future.
The determination these four graduate students displayed in the face of adversity, as well as the achievements of their colleagues throughout the department, reveal the determination that powers the UNC history department in its commitment to advancing historical scholarship. Each scholar emphasizes that without additional support from the university, they would not have been able to make the progress they did. In these difficult times, alumni and donor support is more important than ever for securing current and future students’ ability to conduct groundbreaking archival research.
|Graduate Student News|
As news emerged that a number of prominent history graduate programs across the country had suspended graduate admissions for the 2020-2021 academic year, the UNC History Department convened a virtual meeting on September 11, 2020 to discuss the future of the Department’s graduate program. The result was a drastic decision intended to make the program more sustainable and humane.
At stake was the question of balancing the department’s core mission of training the next generation of historians with ensuring the welfare of current doctoral students. Faculty at that September meeting discussed two issues: a longstanding annual decline in the department’s instructional budget and the new financial challenges presented by the COVID pandemic. Breaking into groups to brainstorm, the professors discussed how to allocate the department’s instructional budget, how to maintain excellence in graduate education, and how to do both with an eye on the future. After reconvening, it became clear that they had reached a near consensus: the incoming 2021 graduate admissions process would be cancelled. According to Professor Benjamin Waterhouse, associate chair of the department, the department took “a cold sobering look at the numbers, as well as the number of students we’ve committed to fund,” and made a decision that represented the best possible way to support current graduate students.
The decision to cancel admissions for the year also came on the heels of another decision the department had recently made as a result of the pandemic: to extend guaranteed graduate funding from five to seven years. By extending funding for two years for all currently enrolled students, the department hopes to provide additional time to students who face pandemic-related travel restrictions that prevent them from conducting research around the country and the world. Echoing Waterhouse, Professor Lisa Lindsay, chair of the department, highlights the need “to engage in some creative thinking and introspection” about how the department and its graduate program will operate in the future. Professors Lindsay and Waterhouse believe that the year off will allow the department to regroup financially and organizationally while allowing for whatever restructuring may be needed to make the program more competitive for graduate students.
The History Department will resume the graduate admissions process in the winter of 2021 for a cohort to enroll in the fall of 2020. Potential applicants who had either expressed interest in applying or had already submitted applications received emails announcing the decision had their application fees refunded, and were encouraged to reapply when graduate admissions reopen. Students who had deferred their 2020 admission will still be permitted to join the program in 2021.
UNC’s History Department is not alone making this type of decision. In skipping the admissions process this year, it joins Brown, Columbia, Cornell, New York University, Rice University, the University of Pittsburgh, and other nationally ranked PhD programs in history.
While many faculty members regret that the department will not receive the fresh intellectual perspectives that new students bring, all agree that the Department of 2022 will be on better ground to receive them. Despite the obvious disruption that will accompany the lack of new students, Lindsay and Waterhouse anticipate that graduate school life will go on as normally as can be expected during a global pandemic. While graduate history seminars may be reduced in the semesters to follow, the role of Teaching Assistants, Graders, and Teaching Fellows will likely go unchanged, the intellectual community at UNC will remain strong, and the commitment to pedagogical excellence will remain firm. By restructuring its instructional budget, moreover, the department hopes to create a leaner and more competitive program that can maintain its leading position among top history programs worldwide.
Gratitude, resilience, and pride are three words that come to my mind when considering my stint as acting Director of Graduate Studies this fall. This past semester, one of our most challenging, History graduate students collectively spent roughly 23,000 hours teaching UNC undergraduates. They coordinated working groups and speaker series. They ran the department’s Digital History Lab and have worked for Southern Oral History Project, the Ancient World Mapping Project, and the History Task Force. During the summer, Daniel Velásquez co-organized our tenth annual UNC-Kings College London graduate student workshop – and the first online iteration of the event. Nicole Harry, Sarah Miles, Emma Rothberg, Christian Walk offered wise counsel as members of the Graduate Studies Committee. Walk along with Patricia Dawson, Ben Fortun, and Laura Woods made vital contributions to the department’s newly formed Working Group on Equity and Inclusion. As we head into the new year, there is, of course, much collective work to be done we reckon with the legacies of white male supremacy in our department and university. There is also much to be done in the area of providing more funding for graduate students, whose financial struggles have only been amplified by the Covid-19 crisis. In these efforts, I am confident that graduate students will unite with faculty in tackling these and other challenges that lie ahead.
In addition to making vital contributions to our teaching mission and to the life of the department, our graduate students have shown remarkable grit in pursuit their degrees. They continue to excel, too, as just a few examples demonstrate. Rachel Cochran received a Fulbright-Hays fellowship to conduct research in Uzbekistan and India. Jose Moreno published a book chapter in Cambio cultural en territorios de frontera. Programas, procesos y apropiaciones Siglos XVII-XX, and Mark Reeves did the same in another edited volume, The League Against Imperialism: Lives and Afterlives. Mira Markham has a forthcoming article in Contemporary European History, one of the premier journals in the field. The awards and accomplishments continued well after graduation, of course. Robert Colby (2019) received the highly prestigious Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians, for his dissertation, “The Continuance of an Unholy Traffic: Slave Trading in the Civil War South.” A seemingly endless stream a book covers, each linked to information about works published by recent UNC History PhDs, can be found here.
In addition to publishing academic literature, UNC History graduate students contribute to the public good in other ways, too. Alexandra Odom recently received a Graduate School Impact Award for her work on “I’m Smart, Too”, an unflinching look at the history of racial discrimination and academic tracking in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district. (Odom’s work on this project got its start thanks to the department’s summer internship program.) Lucas Kelly and recent UNC PhD graduate Garrett W. Wright published an article about the history of stolen Indigenous lands and UNC’s founding in Scalawag Magazine. Patricia Dawson and Jessica Locklear helped to organize the recent pedagogical workshop, “Decolonizing the Classroom: Strategizing with Indigenous Allies,” along with other members of First Nations Graduate Circle. Marlon Londoño was a key to contributor to two episodes of Time Ghost History – one on the Ecuadorian-Peruvian War of 1941, the other about desert warfare tactics. Donald Santacaterina received a Maynard Adams Fellowship in Public Humanities from the Carolina Public Humanities Center for 2020-21. Kylie Broderick co-designed and co-taught a course on the Middle East for K-12 teachers hosted by the National Humanities Center. Recent PhD graduate Bret Devereaux published a piece about university finances and the Covid-19 crisis in The Atlantic magazine. All of this, by the way, is just the tip of the iceberg. As with so much teaching and mentoring outside the classroom, much of the work done by our graduate students often goes unnoticed. That work, however, is vital to success of our university, our society, and our democracy.
Undergraduates frequently praise introductory history courses as a formative part of their Tar Heel experience. Whether learning about colonial America, global history, the history of Islam, or the ancient world, history courses allow us to understand both our past and our present. For many students, undergraduate courses become a springboard for a deeper love of history and a challenge to the old date-and-name style that many learned in middle and high school. Regardless of why they take history courses, whether they major in history or something else, or which time periods pique their interest most, UNC’s undergraduates thrive in history courses. Even as instruction moved online in the spring of 2020, they made clear that the COVID pandemic is no match for the stellar learning environment the History Department offers.
We spoke with three of the 191 students currently enrolled in Professor Eren Tasar’s course, “The World Since 1945” to gauge their views on studying history even amid virtual learning. While they miss the classroom, they reported that remote instruction can be just as informative, engaging, and fun as ever, despite the obvious drawbacks. Nash Philbeck, a junior biology major and first-year transfer student from Tennessee, said that history is a way for him and others to “understand our past in as many ways as possible.” Though he aims to enter UNC’s competitive undergraduate business program, Nash claims that history courses at UNC have so far been illuminating, even though he admits that he was not a “big fan of history” before. He found studying the career of postcolonial Congo’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, particularly illuminating because he came to appreciate how the consequences of colonialism still dominate the world today. Nash believes that UNC’s courses have opened up a new interest for him and he plans to enroll in more history courses, even though his major does not require them.
Another undergraduate, Malcolm Carlton, is considering adding a history minor to his political science major. Malcolm, a junior who hopes to attend law school, is currently enrolled in three history courses—a feat by any measure! Though he admits that virtual learning has made it harder to “communicate with professors with recorded lectures,” he remains undeterred and plans to take a European history course next term. Like Nash, Malcolm believes that studying history is important to understanding the world of today. Through his history courses, Malcolm has learned to identify “how conflicts in the world, especially in the Middle East, started without relying on news outlets.” As a result, he feels that studying history offers a level of objectivity that other disciplines lack. Though his favorite course thus far has been on the history of South Africa, taught by Professor Lauren Jarvis, his true interests lie in the history of 19th and 20th century Europe. He’ll have no problem finding engaging courses on those topics!
Finally, Sean Maxwell, a sophomore history major, also places immense value on studying history. Like many budding historians, Sean spends much of his free time reading. He is eager to finish his “gen eds” so that he can “get into more history,” especially on topics related to the military and the American Civil War. Like his classmates in Tasar’s undergraduate course, Sean sees “little point in making mistakes that someone else made for you 200 years ago” and argues that history allows people to “take a broader view of things” while offering a lens into how views and actions “develop over time.” This, he relates, is what separates history from other disciplines. While expressing some reservations about virtual learning, Sean still loves the environment his history course engenders, specifically when a professor’s “engagement” and interest in a subject make the class more stimulating. The interest and engagement evinced by these students in Tasar’s course demonstrate that history, though confined to the past, is still very much alive.
Needless to say, as History continues to wrestle with the implications of COVID-19, many of the department’s initiatives for supporting undergraduate research and travel remain temporarily suspended. Nevertheless, on 22 October, History celebrated the second annual University Research Week faculty lecture on research in progress when Professor Katie Turk gave behind-the-scenes look into her new book project, “A Dangerous Sisterhood: The Lost History of the National Organization for Women.” In this well attended remote lecture, organized by Meghan Prabhu, the History department undergraduate liaison for the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR), Professor Turk shared her experience of digging into the NOW archives to recover a sense of organization’s “big tent” early history, before later developments like the ERA began to divide NOW’s supporters.