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Thousands Attend Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series on Revolutionary Visions, Past and Present

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Made possible through the generosity of alumnus Kenneth R. Feinberg ’67 and associates, the Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series is one of the History Department’s signature offerings. The series explores contemporary social and policy issues in historical perspective. Each iteration hones in on a topic of pressing interest to faculty, students, and community members, using sustained and critical historical analysis to deepen our collective understandings.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the mass movements of 1968, last year’s series explored the theme “Another World Is Possible: Revolutionary Visions, Past and Present.” Sigrid Schmalzer, who co-chaired the series with Kevin Young and Jess Johnson, explained, “From climate change to white supremacism to the threat of nuclear war, the future of our society feels increasingly uncertain. But history is filled with precarious situations and uphill battles, and social movements around the world have faced those challenges and dared to envision new worlds based on equity and justice. We focused on this theme so that we might learn from how such movements imagined the future—and how they have worked to create it.”

In order to foster critical conversation on the history of mass social movements and their visions for political transformation, many of the events brought together historians and movement leaders or featured presenters whose work straddles both worlds. The series kicked off in September with a conversation on the reemergence of the black radical imagination, putting organizers Mary Hooks (Southerners on New Ground) and Kali Akuno (Cooperation Jackson) in conversation with historians Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Princeton) and Toussaint Losier (UMass Amherst). The following week featured a panel with Carlos Henríquez Consalvi and Rosa Rivera, two participants in the Salvadoran Revolution who now lead community-based public memory projects in El Salvador.

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Later that month, Rev Dr. William J. Barber II delivered the keynote address and inaugural James Baldwin Lecture, established by Allen J. Davis ’68.  In an event that drew some 1300 people to the Fine Arts Center, Barber, who is co-chair of the national Poor People’s Campaign and a MacArthur Genius Award winner, discussed the history of Reconstruction that followed Emancipation and the “second” Reconstruction of the 1960s. He then made the case for a “third” Reconstruction in the twenty-first century, entailing “a profoundly moral awakening of justice-loving people united in a fusion coalition powerful enough to reclaim the possibility of democracy.”

Throughout the fall, events continued to demonstrate the significance of historical inquiry for understanding current political movements. In “Imagining Community, Living in Community,” panelists found connections between the Socialist-Zionist kibbutzim of the early twentieth century and 1970s back-to-the-land communities in Vermont, and between Sojourner Truth’s 1840s abolitionist society in Florence, MA, and a current anti-racist intentional community in New York state. A panel titled “Dreams and Nightmares” juxtaposed leftist and rightist movements from around the world (including Nazi Germany, Maoist China, the Salvadoran revolution, and Modi-era India) to ask tough questions about why fundamentally oppressive visions have appeared liberatory to some people, and how movements for liberation have often resulted in maintaining or creating new forms of oppression.  

Another panel showcased the ways in which historians are collaborating with activists to explore how historical perspectives can be harnessed in movements for social change, and what historians can learn from today’s activists; Smith College historian Jennifer Guglielmo together with incoming UMass Amherst faculty member Diana Sierra Becerra spoke alongside Linda Burnham (National Domestic Workers Alliance), and Monique Tú Nguyen (Matahari Women Workers’ Center), about (among other things) the powerful ways in which digital timelines of visionary domestic worker organizing to build feminist economies are being used to support domestic workers as they learn about, and engage, the long history of their struggle.  Other events included a lecture on the history of science fiction and social change; a zine-making workshop for high school students on sparking historical creativity; an event exploring Venezuela’s communes in historical perspective; and a dialogue between two historians on the ways enslaved and formerly enslaved African American women conceived and experienced freedom.

“As a 2018 UMass Amherst alum, the Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series was one of my main connections back to campus last year. The richly contextual histories presented on subjects ranging from Salvadoran revolutionaries, to domestic worker organizing, to the experiences of enslaved African American women, brought new insights and understandings to the underpinnings of this current political moment. Coupled with more participatory events, I was elated that this series brought politically relevant histories and the critical questions of our time to community members and students throughout the Pioneer Valley.”

Most of the fall semester events were panels and lectures. In the spring term, the focus shifted to hands-on workshops. For example, participants aged 8 to 80 explored Mesoamérica Resiste, a narrative poster depicting 500 years of colonialism and resistance, created in part through a nine-year oral history project. The series capstone in Holyoke turned the tables, featuring community members as workshop facilitators.

To facilitate engagement on our campus, 34 UMass and Five College departments and programs co-sponsored the series. Taught by co-chair Kevin Young, the Department of History’s official Feinberg course, “New Approaches to History: Revolutionary Visions, Past and Present,” provided an opportunity for students to deepen their learning while earning General Education credit in history. The course examined when and how revolutionaries have improved society, where they have failed, and why some radical projects have been emancipatory and others oppressive. “I really enjoyed the fact that this course surveyed a lot of different revolutionary movements,” noted an undergraduate enrolled in the class. “Most History majors don’t get exposure to revolutionary movements outside their particular region or theme of interest. This unique course was really valuable in that aspect.” Twenty-two additional UMass and Five College courses — including ten history department classes — were officially affiliated with the series, and numerous others incorporated class field trips to Feinberg Series events into their course syllabi.

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Building on the successful 2016 series on mass incarceration and taking up the charge of the UMass Amherst Campus Strategic Plan, the series prioritized community engagement and outreach. We are proud that upwards of 20 community organizations collaborated with the history department as official co-sponsors of the series!

Alongside members of the history department, community members were involved at every stage: as part of the team that envisioned the series and helped us choose specific event themes; as tablers at events; as panelists on stage alongside nationally and internationally renowned scholars; as the designers and artists who created the series mailer and posters; and as active partners in promoting local engagement with the series. Multiple community groups even organized buses of local K-12 students, community members, and retirement community residents to the various events.

“Since moving to Massachusetts, the Feinberg Series has been one of the most incredible, engaging, and stimulating events in the area — and, frankly — that I have stumbled upon anywhere. Being able to learn from such dynamic thinkers on the most important issues that we face today was an incredible opportunity that has not only deepened my understanding of the world we live in, but also contributed to my work as a coordinator and researcher on a local and international level. The Feinberg Series is truly the nexus for leading intellectual discussions and debate that are crucial for our time. As it came to an end, I was saddened to learn that the theme changes every year, and I hope to be able to attend similar events this coming year and beyond.”

To facilitate attendance by diverse audiences, the series hosted events not only at UMass but also in community venues, offered family-friendly accommodations, conducted several events in Spanish with simultaneous English interpretation, and provided transportation to and from UMass. Audio of the events (soundcloud.com/umass-history) has extended the series into podcast feeds across the U.S. and world. Through a collaboration with the regional library system’s initiative, All Hamptons Read, more than 450 local residents read Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge and attended the associated Feinberg Series event that placed the author, historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar, in dialogue with UMass historian Barbara Krauthamer.

The series also reached into K-12 classrooms through our annual History Institute, in which 45 local K-12 educators attended Feinberg events and worked together to incorporate the material into their curricula. Participating teachers received professional development points or graduate credit and built lesson plans for students based on the events; all reported that they applied insights from the series in their schools and classrooms. We were grateful to partner with Safire DeJong (the Collaborative for Educational Services) and historian and former teacher Ousmane Power-Greene (Clark University and David Ruggles Center for History & Education) in developing this offering.

As a testament to the series’ success, each event brought together between 200 and 450 students, faculty, and community members. Astoundingly, more than 1,300 people attended the keynote lecture by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. In total, an estimated 4,000 people participated in series events. An additional 1,450 people (and counting) listened to the series podcast, and countless more viewed the Facebook livestream, making it one of the most well-attended academic series ever offered by the UMass Amherst.

“This series sparked my interest in history. I left each event with more books I want to read and with historical insights that changed the way I understand the world.”

Beyond the numbers, feedback from participants underscored the impact the series made on their lives and on UMass-community relations. Community members who had not often come to campus for events attended this series regularly, and have since begun attending other university events. “This series sparked my interest in history. I left each event with more books I want to read and with historical insights that changed the way I understand the world,” remarked a local educator who attended all but two events. Participants made new connections, leading to exciting collaborations and projects, including a local history teacher who is proposing a new high school class based on what she learned in the series. Many community members reached out to us to share how the histories presented in the events transformed their understanding of the world. Several went so far as to say that the series changed their life. The history department is honored to have offered such a meaningful series of opportunities for people throughout Western Massachusetts to gather in critical conversation and community collaboration.

Jess Johnson, Sigrid Schmalzer, and Kevin Young, Co-chairs of the 2018 Feinberg Series

We invite you to tune in. Audio of select Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series events is available at www.soundcloud.com/umass-history.

The history department’s Internship & Career Development Office continues to thrive, offering vital support to history majors by helping them connect their study of history to meaningful work and lifelong learning in the world. Students take advantage of internship and career advising services, workshops, alumni engagement, and a career development practicum offered each semester. Last year, the internship and career development advisor, Mark Roblee ’19PhD, took five history majors to the Mount Ida campus for a three-day “job shadow” over spring break. Making good use of Mt. Ida’s proximity to Boston, students met with history alumni at a variety of work sites, including the Honorable David A. Lowy ’83 at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Jennifer Jordan ’91 at the educational nonprofit, City Year. With support from the Richard W. Bauer Scholarship, summer internship placements this year included the National Archives (Rebecca Simons), the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum (Kathrine Esten), the Council of American-Islamic Relations (Ali Hussein Kafel), Martha’s Vineyard Magazine (William Sennott ’19), the Program on Extremism at George Washington University (Eric Ross), and the UMass Museum of Contemporary Art (Andrea Whalen). New career development workshops included Discrimination and Social Justice in the Workplace, with the department’s lecturer in law and social justice, Jennifer L. Nye), and the UMass Office of Equity and Inclusion’s director of diversity special projects, Emmanuel Adero. Once again students had the chance to mingle with history alumni from a variety of fields at our annual Spring History Alumni Networking Dinner. Traveling from Washington D.C. to UMass each week, alumnus Robert L. LaRussa ’76 engaged history majors in a seminar on international trade designed to help students learn what it takes to navigate a career in Washington. In general, our program focuses on basic skills such as strategic resume writing, networking, and interviewing but also teaches students to articulate the important skills they acquire as history majors that employers value: critical thinking, research, writing, information processing, presentation, and empathy. To learn more about how this support impacts students, we encourage you to visit the “Internship and Career Development” page on the history department website to view video testimony by Kady McGann. This year Heather Brinn will be the Internship Coordinator as Mark steps into his new role as Alumni Relations Coordinator. If you are interested in sharing your career story as a UMass history major out in the world or would like to engage a history intern, please write to mroblee@history.umass.edu.

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 A Fruitful Year for the Graduate History Association

The Graduate History Association has had an exciting and productive year of community building and professional development. GHA members actively participated in regular meetings, frequent off-campus outings, the mentor program, and a TA strategies lunch. Through a series of roundtable discussions initiated by history graduate students and sponsored by the history department, GHA members and department staff and faculty discussed important questions of race, labor, capital, and the role of historians in ongoing struggles around these issues. Speakers included Diana Sierra Becerra, Iyko Day, Brittany Frederick, John Higginson, Jess Johnson, Perri Meldon ’19MA, Traci Parker, and Sigrid Schmalzer,

A successful Graduate History Association Conference, The Routes of History: Knowing Pasts, Envisioning Futures, welcomed presenters from various disciplines and universities across and outside the United States. Among the 35 presenters at the conference were UMass history graduate students Amy Breimaier, James During, Ragini Jha, Shay Olmstead, and Kendall Taivalkoski ’19MA. A keynote address by James Young, distinguished professor emeritus, about the process of memorial art particularly drew a crowd. Also well-attended, a workshop led by Maria Salgado-Cartagena, people’s historian of the Puerto Rican diaspora in Holyoke, provided tools for using community histories to empower youth activism.

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For some, Herter Hall is an eyesore. Our department’s little-loved home is a concrete monolith, one of several scattered across the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass), the flagship campus of the state of Massachusetts. Like many Brutalist buildings, Herter Hall’s concrete form seems unyielding, resistant to the very landscape it is situated in and to the individuals that make the building their academic home. We are supposed to accommodate to Herter Hall, rather than the other way around. This is a common critique of Brutalist buildings, and one that I hear my colleagues and classmates intone with frequency. Yet too often in (sometimes heated) conversations about Brutalism, we deny ourselves agency to influence and shape our built environment—especially if that built environment is concrete. But when Herter Hall was papered with recruitment flyers for a white nationalist hate group earlier this semester, a group of graduate students and faculty in the History department and the Languages, Literature, and Classics (LLC) department co-opted Herter’s concrete shell to articulate a response. Our own act of resistance aimed to transform Herter from an anonymous academic building to one that conveyed a  united front against acts of hate.

When the Coletti Brothers of Boston designed Herter Hall in 1969, they added one of a growing number of Brutalist buildings cropping up across campus. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the UMass administration hoped to shift our campus’s identity from a small state agricultural college to one of the nation’s leading research universities. Brutalism was the integral visual keystone to this process, reflecting the university’s commitment to providing modern, state-of-the-art academic facilities. Beyond simply increasing physical space to a growing university, this commitment invoked a much broader ideal of public investment in education. As a modern architectural style, Brutalism hoped to explore concrete’s “fundamental properties,” what UMass professors Marla Miller and Max Page refer to as “the search for the ‘rough poetry’ of materials in their raw state.”

While many would think Herter is “rough,” few would associate it with “poetry.” But Herter’s more poetic sensibilities resonate in the simplicity of its engineering, its interior functions laid bare upon the exterior. The building’s stairwells and classrooms protrude from the west façade, while repeating rows of windows on Herter’s east side make obvious the building’s interior functions of offices and seminar rooms. In other words, Herter Hall clearly expresses itself in a way that most observers can understand.

That Herter can be so easily “read” by those passing by or waiting to catch a bus from Haigis Mall proved fundamental in articulating a response to instances of racism and hatred. Earlier in the semester a white nationalist hate group peppered Herter Hall with recruitment posters, one of a growing number of racist and hateful acts occurring across campus. This incident deeply disturbed many of us who call Herter Hall our academic home. UMass was just the latest in a string of universities targeted by this specific group, and this racist incident was just one of many targeting people of color on UMass’s campus this fall. As soon as the posters appeared, their perpetrators disappeared into anonymity. Such an act of hatred is frustratingly nebulous; our counterparts two floors below us in LLC and those of us in the History department hoped to formulate a response as concrete as Herter Hall. Our small coalition in Herter joined a growing number of cross-campus efforts to address racism including statements from UMass chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and History department chair Brian Ogilvie, the “Hate Has No Home At UMass” campaign, and coordinated efforts from the Graduate Student Senate and Employee Organization. For our History and LLC coalition in Herter, we settled on utilizing Herter’s Brutalist form as our own canvas to reflect a unified front against hate at UMass.

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LLC, located on the fourth and fifth floors, and History, located on the sixth and seventh floors, each selected phrases grounded in our own academic fields of study. LLC chose “Zivilcourage,” a German phrase historically connected to anti-fascist movements that roughly translates to “courage to stand up for one’s beliefs.” Conversations within the History department resulted in the selection of “Solidarity” and “Resistance,” two words that carry immense historical weight for a number of social movements that hoped to achieve greater equity in the world around them. We painted each letter of these phrases on large sheets of paper to hang within individual office and seminar room windows, thus utilizing Herter’s rows of windows that face out onto Haigis Mall like blank crossword puzzle lines to be filled in.

As Herter’s original Brutalist design intended to reflect its interior properties, so too have we projected our values as academics committed to rejecting racism and hatred from UMass onto the exterior of Herter Hall. Likewise, our simple mapping of words and phrases transformed Herter from a monolithic concrete block to a pliable canvas. Our own act of resistance refutes the idea that Brutalism is an architectural style unyielding to human intervention. Rather, we have agency to shape our built environment to better reflect our values as an academic department and a society. It feels as if it is no accident such a response came from within Herter Hall. Brutalism itself remains visually and historically associated with the ideals of a strong public sphere, one increasingly under attack. These ideals, while perhaps obscured behind poor maintenance and dirty concrete, still shine through in acts of resistance, however small, that help unite us in solidarity against acts of hatred.

Article Course Highlight

On December 1, 2018, students in History 253H: Asian/Pacific/American History presented their oral history projects at the UMass Center in Springfield. The activity was the culmination of a semester’s honors course on learning about the history of Asian Americans, as well as the concepts and methods of civic engagement. For the oral history project, students interviewed members of the Bhutanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Cambodian American communities in Western Massachusetts, to preserve and honor the lives of members of these underserved Asian American communities.

A new addition to this semester’s project was the videotaping of interviews. Interviewees, their families, and members of the communities were able to view these 20-minute videos at the event. In addition to other community members, the chair and officers of the Asian American Commission of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Councilor Jesse Lederman of the city of Springfield attended the presentation and expressed their support. This course was made possible through the generous financial support of the history department, Commonwealth Honors College, the UMass Civic Engagement and Service Learning Program, and the Asian American Commission of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The videos are uploaded to the Special Collection and Archives Division of the Du Bois Library and are available to the public.

 

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