History students visit ECSU Arboretum, meet textbook author

Students in Prof. Balcerski’s Environmental History class had a busy week. As part of their assigned reading of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, they went on a field trip to the ECSU Arboretum, a 20-acre natural area extending from the northwest corner of campus. In the words of Thoreau, they “went to the woods…to live deliberately.” After exploring the grounds, they read chapters from the book and then discussed their findings in the context of their natural surroundings.


During the next class meeting, students met Dr. Daegan Miller, author of the acclaimed history, This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent (University of Chicago Press, 2018). Dr. Miller discussed his experience reading Thoreau and answered questions during a lively Q&A session. Following the class, Dr. Miller signed copies of his book, which was assigned as reading during the semester. He shared advice on such topics as ethical living, environmentalism, and graduate school. Thanks to Dr. Stacey Close, Vice President for Equity and Diversity, and the History Department for sponsoring Dr. Miller’s visit to Eastern.

The class will continue its study of environmental history through field trips of the power plant and sustainable energy facilities. The students will also help to organize events as part of the Campus Sustainability Month that takes place each October.


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

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