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Tag Archives: Department Events

Article Alumni Dinner

In May of 2003, I graduated from UMass Amherst with a degree in history. Since that time, I have often thought of Amherst and longed to return. For this reason, I jumped at the chance when asked to attend a history department student-alumni dinner. This April I returned to UMass after my nearly 16-year absence.

To provide a little background, I was born and raised in Central Wyoming and, at the age of 22, I set out on a journey to the unknown. I had never been past the Mississippi River when I packed all my things—and loaded up my young family—into a U-Haul truck and drove the 2,000 miles east to Amherst. I have so many fond memories of being in Western Massachusetts—it is a place where I grew intellectually and into adulthood. Amherst was a wonderful place for me to call “home” for a few years as part of my young life.

This April, after the passage of so much time, I was anxious, and a bit nervous, as I made my way up I-91 from Hartford to Amherst. Driving into town, I took a tour down memory lane. I went by the apartments in South Amherst that I lived in as a student. I went to the park where my young daughter would play. I drove through the Hampshire College campus, which my younger brother briefly attended. And I made my way to the campus where I’d spent most my time while living in Amherst. Parts of the campus were the same as they had been when I was a student. I made the trip up to the W.E.B. DuBois library stacks where I’d spent countless hours studying. It looked unchanged. Other parts of the campus were hardly recognizable. The campus has grown and expanded substantially in the past 15 years.

As for the most important part of my visit, I was privileged to meet current history students and discuss with them their plans, goals, and dreams. What an impressive group of young people! I was struck by their personal stories. Many had overcome substantial obstacles to get to, and excel, at UMass. I was impressed with their character and drive.

In addition to the students, I was privileged enough to get to visit with some of my favorite professors when returning. It was heartening to see that the thoughtful, dedicated, and engaged professors are still shaping the way the young UMass graduates will think about and approach the problems we face in today’s world and political climate. All of this reinforced for me the vital importance of keeping quality public education accessible in our country. It also reminded me of how fortunate I was to have had UMass shape me as a young adult.

To all those who have the opportunity to go back and visit our alma mater, I would strongly encourage them to do so. It was a remarkably rewarding experience. I will not let another 16 years pass before returning.

Ian Sandefer (’03) is a trial lawyer who provides personal injury and criminal defense representation throughout Wyoming. 

 

Article Annual Lecture

On October 11, we were delighted to welcome Martha G. Newman of the University of Texas at Austin for the 2018 UMass/Five College Program in History Distinguished Annual Lecture. Newman presented a lecture titled, “Assigned Female at Death: Joseph of Schönau’s Disruption of Medieval Gender Binaries,” in which she discussed a late twelfth-century account of a transgender monk. Joseph’’s brother monks read him as male during his lifetime, but assigned him female after his death. Discussing her groundbreaking article, published in Speculum in 2003, Newman discussed how the rapidly transforming field of transgender studies has shaped her understanding of Joseph’s narrative since then. The Cistercian monk Engelhard of Langheim, who included the account of Joseph among the collection of stories he sent to nuns, attempted to control the story’s gender fluidity, but was unable to do so. “Despite the author’s efforts to assert normative categories of gender, his story unsettled conventional binaries,” Newman explains. Newman’s work on Joseph recovers important transgender history and, as she says, “illuminates the possibility of non-binary genders within medieval monastic culture.”

To read more about the 2018 Annual Lecture, click here

Chelsea Miller, M.A. student, History Department

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One broad theme I noticed during this weekend’s conference was the translation of ideas from abstract forms to material consequences. From aesthetics and political imagination to social justice in the classroom, my attention was drawn to the question of how our ideas and imagination manifest as art, interpersonal interactions, and teaching materials. These can either uphold or resist power dynamics and oppression.

Chelsea Miller asking a question during the opening panel

Chelsea Miller asking a question during the opening panel

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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.” Read More

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.

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history job interview
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. Read More

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.