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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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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.

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Left to right: Public history students Mirjam Pultar, Trent Masiki, Emily Hunter, and Emily Pipes.

On Wednesday, graduate students from Jon Olsen’s Introduction to Public History course proudly presented their findings from semester-long projects to a lively crowd of faculty, students, and community partners. The student groups worked on diverse projects with three institutions in Western Massachusetts: the Amherst Historical Commission, the Hadley Museum, and the Springfield Museums. Read on to learn more about these projects and see our Public History Program at work! Read More

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Courtesy of Shuko Tamao

By Felicia Jamison, Ph.D. student, Department of History

On Wednesday evening, the UMass Amherst History Department hosted a talk by Professor Ned Blackhawk of Yale University as part of the 2013-14 Annual Lecture. Blackhawk, a specialist in Native American history, discussed the limited historiography of indigenous peoples in America. The field of Native American Indian Studies has grown substantially since its origin in the late twentieth century, however, there is still much to uncover about the complex and violent history of these indigenous peoples.

In recent years there has been an increase in the scholarship of Western and borderland histories. In his groundbreaking historical narrative Violence Over the Land, Blackhawk recounts the violent history of early seventeenth-century America and its lasting effects on the indigenous peoples of the Great Basin region. It is commendable that scholars are filling in the numerous gaps of American historiography; however, each new work on the subject broaches more questions that have yet to be answered. How does a nation make peace with its violent past? How can said past be incorporated into the traditional national narrative? Is it possible to change the engrained legacy of marginalized peoples as innately inferior? Read More