Digital History Lab now operational

It’s taken a few years, but Eastern’s History department is proud to finally have our very own Digital History Lab. What’s a Digital History Lab, you ask? It’s a room with computers and specialized software reserved for History faculty and majors, it’s located in Webb 408, and it will be the centerpiece for the department’s efforts to incorporate more digital tools into our curriculum. We already offered the first section of HIS 386: Introduction to Digital History last fall, and will make it a regularly-scheduled course starting in Fall 2019. In the meantime, you can look forward to an increasing number of fancy maps and visualizations in your courses. So stay tuned.

Eastern students visit Amistad Center in Hartford

On Sunday, 12 November 2017, students from Dr. Balcerski’s HIS 322: African-American History from 1877 visited the Amistad Center for Arts and Culture in Hartford.  The Amistad Center, which is housed in Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Arts, offers a multi-disciplinary collection of fine art, photography, historical artifacts, memorabilia, and rare books that document the African American experience (to learn more, check out http://www.amistadcenter.org/)

 

The Amistad Center visitors—Dr. Balcerski, Aylin Dilone, Ryan Bridges, Maggie Conroy, Nora MacKay, and Alexis Buck—explore the “30 for 30: Art, Agency, Legacy” exhibit, including the recently acquired portrait of singer Marian Anderson.

During their visit, students learned about the African-American experience, from the colonial era to the present, that formed the “30 for 30: Art, Agency, Legacy.”  Students examined the legacies of African-American artists and collectors, including the special exhibitions, “From the Collection: Lewis Watts” and “Art from Archive: Work by Lewis Watts and Pablo Delano.”  A lively discussion ensued on the importance of museum spaces in primary school education.

 In addition, Dr. Balcerski and students browsed the Amistad Center Library and Museum Gift Shop and obtained rare items pertaining to African-American history and culture in Connecticut to add to the Eastern Library.  All students left with a greater appreciation of the valuable contribution of African Americans to the vibrant world of the arts in the region.

Congratulations to Phi Alpha Theta Presenters

Over the winter break two senior history majors attended the 2018 Biennial Convention for Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society, in the beautiful city of New Orleans. Both students, Alexa Potter and Adam Murphy, presented individual research projects. The students had the opportunity to share their respective projects on panels with fellow historians from across the country, gaining valuable feedback to improve their research. Alexa had this to say about the conference, “Presenting at a convention of this size was very valuable as an undergrad. I gained insight in the art of coherently presenting research in a way that captures the audience as well as challenges them. The Q&A portion provided very useful feedback on my paper along with future ideas to explore.”

Alexa presented a paper coming from her honors thesis titled “There Must be Something in the Water: The Industrial Pollution of the Naugatuck River, 1850-1930.” Adam, presented his paper which originated from his senior seminar, “A Professor’s Experience in Indonesia: Examining the Partnership Between University of Kentucky and Bogor Agricultural College 1957-1966.” He adds, “I received such valuable information from attending presentations of other historians. I attended presentations on a variety of topics including U.S-Congo diplomatic relations and Vietnam war protest music. Additionally, I attended a “how to” panel about growing successful student journals.”

In addition to attending academic panels, the students found time to appreciate local history of New Orleans, like the French Quarter, as well as trying local foods like the variety of seafood and ‘po’boys’. Alexa mentions, “The location of the convention in New Orleans provided a beautiful and historical backdrop to the four days of presentations.” Adam adds, “This experience has shown me the importance of recognizing student research and allowing them to partake in experiences like these. I would like to thank Eastern CT State University for the continued effort to make this a priority. I would encourage any student to take advantage of opportunities big and small to present their research.” Similarly, Alexa says, “I am honored to be a part of Phi Alpha Theta, and additionally, thankful to my advisors and Eastern for allowing me this opportunity.”

Adam Murphy and Alexa Potter, Phi Alpha Theta scholar-students

MLK vs. Malcom X

To start 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., turned his direction to the ongoing voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama.  Meanwhile, in New York, Malcolm X preached a message of black nationalism and empowerment to his growing cadre of followers.  On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated, just two days before a scheduled meeting with MLK to explore collaborative possibilities between them.

But what If February 21, 1965, had gone differently?  What if instead the two men had met again?

Students in Dr. Balcerski’s HIS 322: African American History from 1877 took up the challenge and debated amongst themselves from the point of view of these famous black leaders.  The debate questions were as follows:

  1. It’s February 23, 1965, and some say that the Civil Rights movement has achieved all that it can.  Why should we follow your movement going forward?  What will you achieve in the next 5 years for African Americans?
  2. What does your opponent get wrong about non-violence and/or the use of force in the struggle for Civil Rights?  Be specific.
  3. Fifty or so years from now, say the year 2017, what will be the plight of African Americans?  What can we expect politically, socially, and culturally as the result of your movement?

As with the first class debate, the students divided into two larger groups—either MLK or Malcolm X—and each side worked in smaller groups to prepare key points of supporting evidence.  From these smaller teams, three spokespersons were chosen to participate in the debate, with each person permitted one minute for a statement and thirty seconds for rebuttal.  Professor Balcerski scored the debate.  Each side offered compelling answers, so much that Professor Balcerski judged the debate to be a tie.

Following the debate, the class further discussed the points made and offered their thoughts on potential areas in which the two sides could have worked together.  Perhaps, as both the students in HIS 322 and scholars of the Civil Rights Movement have suggested, creative conflict among African American leaders has been a positive force in the progress of the African-American odyssey in the United States.

New England Historical Association Conference at Eastern

On Saturday, October, 2017, Eastern Connecticut State University hosted the 99th meeting of the New England Historical Association (NEHA) at the Student Center.

The NEHA conference at Eastern brought together undergraduates, graduate students, independent scholars, and faculty of all levels, from assistant professor to emeritus, in a collegial and welcoming environment.  The topics ranged temporally from colonial New England to the Falklands War and geographically from the history of Southeast Asia to the Balkans.  Several roundtables addressed best practices in historical research and teaching the history survey.

Eastern History faculty, alumni, and students were well-represented on the program (link: http://www.newenglandhistorians.org/conferences/2017-fall.  In the early morning panels (8:30-10:00am), Miles Wilkerson ’15 presented “The Moral Treatment: On the Institutionalization of People with Disabilities in the Anglophone Atlantic, 1660-1860,” while Dr. Barbara Tucker moderated a lively discussion for the panel “Liberty for Whom? Perspectives on Slavery and the American Civil War” and Dr. Jamel Ostwald commented on the session “Remembering Wars and Warriors.”

Dr. Tucker welcomes the audience to Session 3: “Liberty for Whom? Perspectives on Slavery and the American Civil War.”

Dr. Tucker welcomes the audience to Session 3: “Liberty for Whom? Perspectives on Slavery and the American Civil War.”

At the same time, Adam Murphy ’18 presented “A Professor’s Experience in Indonesia: Examining the Partnership Between University of Kentucky and Bogor Agricultural College, 1957-1966,” for which Dr. Joan Meznar chaired and commented on the overall panel, “The Influence of the West on the World, for Good and Ill.”

Adam Murphy presents at the NEHA conference on research conducted as part of History coursework at Eastern.

Adam Murphy presents at the NEHA conference on research conducted as part of History coursework at Eastern.

At the book exhibit, Eastern faculty were equally present in force, as the publications of Drs. Tucker, Ostwald, Kirchmann, Davis, and Carenen featured prominently.  In the second morning session, Eastern alumnus Jim Loughead ’04 of Mansfield Public Schools was a discussant at a Teaching Social Studies roundtable moderated by NEHA President Troy Paddock.

Eastern Faculty and Alumni presenters gather at the NEHA book exhibit. From right to left: Miles Wilkerson ’15, Dr. Anna Kirchmann, Dr. Jamel Ostwald, Dr. Joan Meznar, Dean Carmen Cid, Dr. Scott Moore, Dr. Caitlin Carenen, and Dr. Thomas Balcerski.

Eastern Faculty and Alumni presenters gather at the NEHA book exhibit. From right to left: Miles Wilkerson ’15, Dr. Anna Kirchmann, Dr. Jamel Ostwald, Dr. Joan Meznar, Dean Carmen Cid, Dr. Scott Moore, Dr. Caitlin Carenen, and Dr. Thomas Balcerski.

Over lunch, Dean Cid welcomed the participants.  She was very pleased to see Eastern join the list of host organizations that includes the region’s leading colleges and universities (link: http://www.newenglandhistorians.org/conferences/past-conferences).

At the lunch, NEHA President Troy Paddock presented the organization’s annual award for best book to the prize-winning historian Nathaniel Philbrick (http://www.nathanielphilbrick.com).

In the afternoon panel (1:45-3:15pm), Eastern faculty were particularly active.  Dr. Scott Moore presented “The Reluctant Warrior: War and Memory in Habsburg Austria,” along with Dr. Carenen’s “’Grants for Guerillas’: Americans and International Terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s,” in a fascinating panel on “Perceptions of War and Terror from Habsburg Austria to the United States in the Twentieth Century.”

Dr. Balcerski moderated a panel, “Far from Home: Adventure, Labor and Tragedy on the Seas and Across the Ice,” that featured the research of Dr. Tucker, “Ship’s Boys: Child Labor on the High Seas, 1800-1860.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Anna Kirchmann presented ““Don’t Tear Me Down: Urban Renewal in a New England Mill Town” on a panel dealing with “Development and Redevelopment in New England.”  Finally, Dr. Bradley Davis participated in a discussion on “The State of the Historical Survey.”

Dr. Anna Kirchmann presents her research on urban renewal in Willimantic, Connecticut.

Dr. Anna Kirchmann presents her research on urban renewal in Willimantic, Connecticut.

The NEHA meeting at Eastern was one for the history books.  According to Martin Menke, Executive Secretary of NEHA, approximately 115 people attended the twenty sessions of the conference, which places the fall 2017 conference on the high-end of historical attendance and scope of panels.

The leadership of NEHA were very appreciative of Eastern’s facilities and arrangements.  Erik Jensen, NEHA vice president, said, “I heard many compliments from our members and attendees on the quality of the ECSU facilities and the helpfulness of the student assistants. It was a pleasure to bring NEHA to Eastern.”

The students and faculty of the Eastern History Department truly stood out for the quality of their participation, whether presenting research or asking questions from the audience.  The NEHA conference was a banner day for History at Eastern.

Did Louis XIV Love Battles Too Much?

After presenting a paper at a conference hosted by the French Defense Department’s Historical section (Service historique de la Défense) in 2015, Dr. Ostwald just published the expanded book chapter:

Ostwald, Jamel. “Louis XIV aimait-il trop la bataille?” In Les dernières guerres de Louis XIV: 1688-1715, edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, translated by Jean-Pascale Esparceil, 99–120. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
https://www.mollat.com/livres/2115030/jean-philippe-cenat-les-dernieres-guerres-de-louis-xiv-1688-1715.

Book cover: The Last Wars of Louis XIV, 1688-1715

Book cover: The Last Wars of Louis XIV, 1688-1715

His chapter, “Did Louis XIV love battle too much?”, discusses the conflicting views about battle held by France’s Sun King – a ‘risk-averse’ monarch who frequently avoided field battle, yet who loved his fortresses so much that he was willing to risk a much larger battlefield defeat in order to preserve them. This paradox of a cautious battle-seeker complicates the broader Western tendency to draw a clear distinction between those who seek, and those who avoid, the risks of battle in the open field.