History Students meet with alum and local author Richard Lenzi

On Wednesday, September 25, 2019, the History Department had the distinct pleasure of hosting alumnus Richard Lenzi, author of an acclaimed book on Italian anarchists in New London, published recently with SUNY Press.  

Richard Lenzi, author of Facing Toward the Dawn: The Italian Anarchists of New London (Albany: SUNY Press, 2019) was raised in New Britain. He graduated high school in 1970, and became active in political movements developing an interest in labor and radical history, and systematically accumulating research on Connecticut radicalism. Lenzi worked in metalworking industries since 1971, at Pratt and Whitney for 35 years, last as a jet engine mechanic. He was a union activist for most of the time, at least on the shop floor level. Lenzi graduated with a history degree from Eastern, followed by a master’s from Trinity College. He is an independent scholar. In his book, Lenzi explores the anarchist movement in an Italian neighborhood around Fort Trumbull in New London. His microhistory of an ethnic radical group in Connecticut ties it to a larger context of migration, transnationalism, anti-fascism and labor radicalism in the United States and in Europe.

Lenzi first presented his book at the Ethnicity/Migration seminar directed to Eastern faculty, and then met with History students. He talked both about his research and about the process of doing historical research while employed full time in a different occupation. The meeting with students was the first one this academic year in a series “What Can History Majors Do with a History Degree?”

Dr. Davis to talk about elephants at Yale

This Friday, Dr. Bradley Davis will present at the Yale Program in Agrarian Studies on the topic, “Marks of the beast: Animals and Ethne in the Vietnamese agrarian empire.”  This is part of a new book project, an environmental history of imperial Vietnam that considers various attempts to control life (flora, fauna, human) before French colonial rule. Through chapters on buffalo, elephants, uplands plants, and non-Vietnamese imperial subjects, Dr. Davis’s book will follow the slow uphill crawl of the state from the early nineteenth century to the present, connecting contemporary development discourse in Southeast Asia to stalled political ambitions from the more distant past.

Dr. Davis is on sabbatical this semester, and this is the sort of thing that professors do when they go on sabbatical: start new projects, engage with scholars at other institutions, and present their developing work as they prepare new publications. 

You can find more information about Dr. Davis’s talk through the website for the Program in Agrarian Studies.

Dr. Kamola’s book released by Edinburgh University Press

In keeping with the theme of history faculty publishing books with British presses, this week brings news of Dr. Stefan Kamola’s first book, Making Mongol History: Rashid al-Din and the Jami` al-Tawarikh.  In it, Kamola examines the life and work of the most powerful statesman working for the Mongol rulers of the Middle East in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century.  Rashid al-Din is famous as the author of the most important history of the Mongol world, but he also wrote works in genres as diverse as theology and medicine, and he was a major patron of charitable and intellectual institutions such as hospitals, mosques, and book-making studios.  Dr. Kamola has integrated all these aspects of Rashid al-Din’s career to show how they helped create a new model of sovereignty in a land that had been violently upset by the early Mongol conquests.

Making Mongol History begins with an overview of administrative history and historiography in the Middle East in the decades after the Mongol conquest. Later chapters lay out the results of the most comprehensive study to date of the manuscripts of Rashid al-Din’s historical writing. Kamola teases apart subtle changes that Rashid al-Din made to his work in the last decade of his life and compares these to what his fellow courtiers were writing about him at the time.  The result is a closer understanding of the personal and sectarian politics at the Mongol court, which helped shape the history of the period.  This book also lays out in greater detail than ever before the degree to which Rashid al-Din appropriated the work of other writers as his own, fueling the bitter rivalries that led to his downfall and execution in the summer of 1318.

You can read a blog post that Dr. Kamola wrote for Edinburgh University Press, and stay tuned for an announcement of his book talk on October 25.

Dr. Balcerski’s book released by Oxford University Press

Dr. Thomas Balcerski’s new book, Bosom Friends: the Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King, was released this summer by Oxford University Press.  The friendship of the bachelor politicians James Buchanan (1791-1868) of Pennsylvania and William Rufus King (1786-1853) of Alabama has excited much speculation through the years.  Doctor Balcerski explores the lives of these two politicians and discovers one of the most significant collaborations in American political history. He traces the parallels in the men’s personal and professional lives before elected office, including their failed romantic courtships and the stories they told about them. Unlikely companions from the start, they lived together as congressional messmates in a Washington, DC, boardinghouse and became close confidantes. Around the nation’s capital, the men were mocked for their effeminacy and perhaps their sexuality.  Over time, their intimate friendship blossomed into a significant cross-sectional political partnership.

Dr. Balcerski closely narrates each man’s rise to national prominence, as William Rufus King was elected vice-president in 1852 and James Buchanan the nation’s fifteenth president in 1856, despite the political gossip that circulated about them.  While exploring a same-sex relationship that powerfully shaped national events in the antebellum era, Bosom Friends demonstrates that intimate male friendships among politicians were—and continue to be—an important part of success in American politics.

Read an excerpt from the book on Medium and an article Dr. Balcerski wrote about it for the Smithsonian, and view photos on OUP’s blog

Doug Craig, Eastern alum, history teacher, super sleuth

Earlier this summer, we reported on Doug Craig, an Eastern History major who was named Griswold Teacher of the Year in May.  Since then, the Hartford Courant has published a feature article on Doug, describing how he engages his students with the past by turning it into a detective story, or putting them in the hot seat facing crucial decisions that helped shape the course of history.  Our department is proud to have been one stop on Doug’s journey to express his twin loves of the past and of teaching.


Photo credit: Janice Steinhagen / Courant Community

Doctor Balcerski in the news

Assistant Professor of History Tom Balcerski (shown above, on the left) has been in the news recently.  Dr. Balcerski’s first book, Bosom Friends: the Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King, will be released by Oxford University Press later this summer.  It explores the lives and relationship between this President and Vice President pair, challenging our modern assumptions about historical same-sex relationships and their place in early American public life.  With Pete Buttigieg (above, on the right), the openly gay mayor of South Bend Indiana, running to be the next president, Dr. Balcerski’s book strikes a timely chord.  As such, he has given interviews for both Time Magazine and NBC News, discussing the historical significance of Mayor Buttigieg’s candidacy.  In Faulkner’s words, “the past isn’t over.  It isn’t even past.”


Image credits: ECSU; Oxford University Press; City of South Bend

Quanece Williams (’16) is going to Law School at Cornell

Quanece Williams, an Eastern alum, a double major in History and Political Science, and a Barnard Scholar, has just shared some great news with us: she had received a scholarship to and will attend Cornell’s J.D./LL.M. International and Comparative Law program starting this Fall.


We are very proud of Quanece and wish her all the success at Cornell!

Michael Theriault on his time as a history major at Eastern

The following thoughts were written by Michael Theriault, 2019 graduating history major and Eastern senior class president.

Entering Eastern as a history major was one of the best decisions I have made in my undergraduate career. Many of the courses I enrolled in really made me stop and realize why I entered this field in the first place. The faculty went out of their way to treat all of their cohort like family and really wanted their students to succeed.

As president of the senior class I was able to give a speech at this past commencement. In it, I reminisced on the university’s many resources that helped us succeed in our academic journey. I could not help but think about the history department and how much of an effort they put in to make everyone feel proud to be in that field.

This past semester I was honored to receive the Victoria Soto Award at the Phi Alpha Theta induction ceremony. Obtaining this had me remember why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place and the tremendous sacrifices we will all make for our students. My goal is to end up as a history teacher and give students the opportunity I was fortunate enough to have.

The senior class committee and I presented Dr. Nunez with a scholarship in with the intention of passing our journey on to a new eastern student. As I said in my speech, we shouldn’t be sad that our time at eastern is over, but instead be glad that it made us into the people we are today.


On May 24, 2019, Douglas Craig was named Teacher of the Year in the Griswold School District.

Douglas Craig earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Eastern Connecticut State University and a master’s degree in history from Trinity College. He is currently a social studies teacher at Griswold High School, where he has worked since 2007. He teaches Advanced Placement history, he is chairman of the committee working on the district’s accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and he is a reader for the AP U.S. history exam. Doug was nominated for the honor by the parents of his students.

Congratulations, Doug!

P.S. Please note that in the photo below Doug is wearing an Eastern t-shirt!