Choosing Challenging Bookends: The UMass GHA Conference & Jeanne Theoharis on Rosa Parks’ Story

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Left to right: Marwa Amer, Dr. Jeanne Theoharis, Erica Fagen, Jacob Orcutt, Katherine Garland, and Karen Sause

By Katherine Garland, M.A. Student, Department of History

Lately I have been thinking a lot about bookends. No, I do not mean the kind that keep my copies of Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom from falling off of my bookshelf. I mean bookends on the ends of historical stories. When my advisor and I meet to discuss books about early American religious history, we often end up talking about beginnings and ends. When comparing books on similar subjects, we note how historians play with the time period, starting and ending their stories in different decades in order to emphasize different ideas. Those bookend dates are not arbitrary; they deeply influence the text’s meaning.

When I tell the story of the UMass Graduate History Association’s 10th Annual conference, “History in the Making: Pivotal Moments in Public Understanding,” I will need to think hard about where to place my bookends. For me, the conference did not start and end on March 29, 2014 — the actual date of the event — it started months before that, perhaps last April when I accepted the position of GHA secretary, or perhaps in the fall when planning began in earnest. My story contains months of fundraising, organizing panels, communicating with conference participants, and planning meals. And that was all before the actual conference. On the conference day, we set up food, attended informative and thought-provoking panels, and enjoyed Dr. Jeanne Theoharis’ keynote speech, “Hidden in Plain Sight?: Rosa Parks and the Black Power Movement.” Continue reading

Science (and Math!) for the People

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By Emily T.H. Redman, Assistant Professor, Department of History

This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing a year-long project come to fruition: the Science for the People (SftP) conference here at UMass Amherst. The conference, aimed to bring together participants from the 1970s radical activism group — alongside academic historians, scientists, and young scholars — explored the early origins of SftP and its lasting legacy, with a healthy dose of looking toward future reform, advocacy, and activism. I was, by the start of the conference, quite eager to see how it would unfold, which speakers would make an impression, and the overall zeitgeist of the event.

As a historian of science, I am interested in the ways in which science interacts with the larger culture. Science, of course, is inextricably part of that culture, but one that shares an interesting position — many find it inaccessible, imagine it to exist within impenetrable ivory towers (or worse, lock-and-keyed federal laboratories), and be driven by moneyed or powered interests that remain concealed. Science represents a stark duality of both fear and promise. Just as we look toward science and technology to solve our problems — ranging from cancer cures to prosthetic limbs to cleaning our oceans to just about everything — we also have a long history of deeply mistrusting science. At best, science is the pinnacle of human achievement; at worst it’s our Frankenstein, set into motion by our collective hubris, sure to rear its monstrous head and wreak havoc on any comfortable intimacy we might have had with scientific inquiry and practice. Continue reading

A Guide to Interviewing for that Perfect Job

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Anne Lanning, Tony Rapucci, and Jessie MacLeod during the Job Interview Panel. Courtesy of Marla Miller.

By Deborah Kallman, M.A. Student, Department of History

On Monday April 7, 2014, the History Department’s Graduate Program hosted a panel on interviewing techniques. The panel, moderated by Graduate Program Director Marla Miller, was comprised of Anne Lanning, Tony Rapucci, and Jessie MacLeod. Lanning is Vice President for Museum Affairs at Historic Deerfield. Rapucci is a Ph.D. student and K-12 educator. MacLeod is an alumna and an Assistant Curator at Mt. Vernon. During this engaging discussion, the panelists shared their experiences as both the interviewer and the job seeker.

Lanning began the discussion by reminding the audience that, when applying for a job, half of the battle is getting out of the pile of applications and into the interview. All panelists stressed the importance of both the cover letter and the C.V. While it seems like stating the obvious, both the letter and C.V. must be free from grammatical and spelling errors and letters should be tailored to the specific job for which you are applying. Letters should emphasize your strengths, though MacLeod cautioned the group that there is a fine line between a competent tone and a cocky one. As employers, the panelists all look for enthusiasm and passion, but Rapucci advised the group not to use the word “passion” in a cover letters as this term is overused. The trick, panelists agreed, was to convey your genuine enthusiasm for the work and ability to contribute to the employer’s mission; don’t emphasize how the job would be great for you, but rather how you can help the institution reach its goals. Continue reading

Adam Hochschild: Engaging the Audience through Characters

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By Matthew Herrera, M.A. Student, Department of History

Last Tuesday — March 25th — 2014 UMass Writer-in-Residence Adam Hochschild paid a visit to Stephen Platt’s Graduate Writing History Seminar. During this session, students were able to interact with the prolific writer, asking him numerous questions ranging from his writing style, dealing with writer’s block, and advice for developing a thick skin when it comes to reviewers. Adam Hochschild is a writer of journalism and history. He is also a Lecturer at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He has contributed to numerous magazines, newspapers, and published many well-known works, such as King Leopold’s Ghost, Bury the Chains, and most recently, To End All Wars.

During our seminar we discussed many things, such as technique; his book, To End All Wars; and advice regarding the publication process. However, one of the most important lessons we learned from Hochschild’s visit was his approach of writing history for popular audiences. Hochschild informed us that his job as a writer was to captivate the reader in a subject in which he or she has no interest. To accomplish this, Hochschild presents the material through the eyes of characters and their relationships. In his article “Practicing History without a License,” Hochschild states academic historians often produce works that are obscure and “dry as dust.” One way of avoiding this, he recommends, is by writing history though the utilization of characters. Not only does this approach engage the reader, but it also allows the author to tell the story through the experiences of characters. Additionally, using characters that are connected together will only engage the reader even further. Using films, novels, and plays as examples, Hochschild pointed out most stories involve characters that are connected and encounter each other.

Also discussed was technique and writing style. Hochschild believes in order reach wider audiences, historians need to make use of the classic tools writers have been using for hundreds of years, such as narrative devices of plot and scene setting. Writing that makes use of these techniques appeals to audiences outside of academia, and using these in works that expand the field can only have a positive influence. As Hochschild states in his article, “there is no reason why most history can’t be written in a way that offers thought provoking analysis and, at the same time, reaches well beyond an audience of fellow scholars.”

While pointing out various techniques and ways in which characters can help drive a written history, Hochschild did stress diligence. He warned that one must remain disciplined to not overwhelm the reader with too many characters. Introducing too many could not only lead to a work becoming tedious, but also confuse the reader, causing him or her to lose interest. Furthermore, it could become harder for the author to keep up with everything as the characters start to blend together. After all, every one of us has encountered a book, film, or television show that had so much going on, our interest faded or we were left Lost and confused.

In a field that is looking to expand further into the public consciousness, following the advice Hochschild bestowed upon our history class can be extremely beneficial. There are definitely times that research and analysis-driven works are most appropriate, yet finding a medium that appeals to both academics and popular audiences can only be beneficial. While it seems the “gap” between the two audiences is closing, producing historical works driven by characters, plot, and scene settings can only hasten the process and benefit the field by helping it grow.

Further Reading:

Hochschild, Adam. “Practicing History Without a License.” Historically Speaking XI, no. 4 (March/April 2008): 2-21.

Hochschild, Adam. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. New York: Mariner Books, 2011.

I Love the Smell of Ontology in the Morning: A First-Year Graduate Student’s Experience at a Major Conference

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By Sean Smeland, M.A. Student, Department of History

As Professor Marla Miller observed in her recent announcement, conference season is here, and with the successful completion of our own GHA 2014 Graduate Conference this past weekend, I thought this would be a good time to share my own recent experience as a first-year graduate student attending a major history conference for the first time. I hope that first-year students and other first-time conference-goers, in particular, will find this tale helpful, and to that end I will feature some key practical lessons at the end.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, the world’s largest annual conference for the history of science — the History of Science Society Annual Meeting — took place in Boston. Thousands of historians and scholars in related fields converged upon the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel and Boston Convention Center for four days of scholarship, discussion, networking, and sleep deprivation. Being so close, the meeting presented a fortuitous opportunity to get a broad and up-to-date look at the field of history of science and meet scholars from other institutions. As a relative newcomer to the field, I sallied forth to see what all the fuss was about. Continue reading

Gender in Leadership

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This is the fifth post in a series of entries from the UMass community celebrating Women’s History Month.

By Emily Pipes, M.A. Student, Department of History

We Can Do It
“We Can Do It!” Courtesy of: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:We_Can_Do_It!.jpg

Women’s History Month provides historians with the opportunity to evaluate female roles within the capacity of their specific historical fields of study. As a gender and modern U.S. historian, this means analyzing the role of women in American society today and historicizing how women have come to occupy certain positions within American culture while being less present in others. It is imperative to acknowledge the strides women have made over the course of history and the vital role of women in shaping our nation; however, we must also recognize the glaring inequalities, double standards, and stereotypes that women face, and we must understand how they stand in the way of gender equity in this country.

The women’s rights activism of the 1960s and 1970s, inspired largely by second-wave feminism, gave way to a great deal of progress toward advancing female presence in the workforce and narrowing the gender wage gap. My current research endeavors surround the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which passed Congress in 1972. This amendment sought to guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of sex. The ERA failed to receive the necessary number of state ratifications in 1982 and was ultimately not passed into law. It was around this time, the 1980s and 1990s, that progress for women in the workforce seemed to decelerate, and, from 2000 up to the present, progress seems to have plateaued. Continue reading

Writing Women in the Digital Age

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This is the fourth post in a series of entries from the UMass community celebrating Women’s History Month.

By Erica Fagen, Ph.D. Student, Department of History

Last week I had the great opportunity to facilitate a workshop entitled “Wikipedia 101 for Women’s History” at the annual National Council for Public History conference in Monterey, California. The main question of this session was the following: how is women’s history written on Wikipedia? The age of Web 2.0 provides an array of platforms to share, post, and tweet information on a variety of topics. What is unique about Wikipedia, and how can we as historians influence what people read? With only 13 percent to 15 percent of the English-language Wikipedia editors being women, there are evidently great strides to be made on how women and minority groups are represented on this massive encyclopaedic site.

My own experience with editing Wikipedia goes back to my first public history class in Fall 2007 at Concordia University. As an undergraduate student who recently took a survey course on medieval history, I chose to edit the entry on “Catherine of Siena,” a well-known Italian saint. I decided to pick a famous woman in history, as I realized then that women are underrepresented on Wikipedia. Over the past six-and-a-half years, I’ve noticed the entry go through several changes, including further textual analysis, additional images and an expanded bibliography. This exercise helped me better prepare for the workshop on NCPH. Continue reading

Whom Do Special History Month Celebrations Ignore?

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This is the third post in a series of entries from the UMass community celebrating Women’s History Month.

By Amy Breimaier, Ph.D. Student, Department of History

The young woman, Sarah Ward Noyes (1792-1818), who is the subject of this post, is not the typical focus of most Women’s History Month celebrations. The reason for this is simple — she was neither famous, nor did she challenge the status quo — the two frequent prerequisites to receiving recognition during these honorary history months. Yet, I would like to suggest that while many of the women traditionally recognized by Women’s History Month celebrations are inspirational, an exclusive focus upon them obscures our understanding of how most people navigated societal expectations — not by challenging them, but by learning to conform to them.

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On Friday evening, October 7, 1808, sixteen-year-old Sarah Ward Noyes and her friends attended a ball at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Clark in Andover, Massachusetts. While there, one of the young gentlemen expressed attention in Sarah, leaving her with feelings of “doubt, fear, [and] distrust,” which “robbed [her] of much pleasure [she] should otherwise have taken [that] evening.” Feeling particularly “dull and low spirited” that following Monday, Sarah desired to confide in her classmates regarding her feelings about the young man and the ball, yet resisted doing so because she believed them to be “too nearly interested,” and feared their gossip and the fact that they might “know too much” already. Continue reading

Addressing Gender in Old West Theme Parks

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This is the second post in a series of entries from the UMass community celebrating Women’s History Month.

Saloon Girls
Statues of popular saloon girls at Knott’s Berry Farm

By Amanda Tewes, Ph.D. Student, Department of History

One of the benefits of month-long observances like Women’s History Month is that it reminds historians to sit down and think about how gender plays into their work. I am not a gender historian by training, though I have long been interested in gendered spaces.

My current research is pulling me towards the cultural history of Old West theme parks in California, a topic rich with implications for identity, popular culture, and nostalgia in the Golden State. And while I have closely examined the identity politics involved with the creation and maintenance of these sites, I have largely—and rather unintentionally—ignored the meaning of gender in these parks. How could I have missed this? Continue reading

The Untold History Beneath “12 Years”

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By Manisha Sinha, Professor of Afro-American Studies, Adjunct Professor of History

Recently Manisha Sinha wrote an article for the New York Daily News on the Hollywood film version of Solomon Northup’s 12 Years a Slave. Due to the continued popularity of the film after its Oscar night success, Sinha’s argument seems all the more poignant. Read her take on the story, the film, and their lessons.

Relevant Links:

12 Years a Slave

David Ruggles Center

The Counterrevolution of Slavery, by Manisha Sinha

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