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. 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

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

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.

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.

How I Spent My Summer, By Dr. Bradley Davis

Because we academics don’t actually have three months off in the summer, we have a report of Dr. Davis’ labors during summer “break.”

This summer, Dr. Davis spent several weeks reading materials in the Vietnamese imperial archives, a collection that has only recently become accessible in Hanoi. Over seven weeks, he read the administrative records of the Nguyễn Dynasty, which ruled the entire country of Vietnam from 1802 to 1862, and continued to independently rule the northern and central sections of the country until French colonial rule in the 1880s. Focusing on the period from 1820 to 1847, Dr. Davis compiled materials on ethnic Chinese labor, territorial disputes between Vietnam and other countries, and the legal status of elephants. Together with historians from the Vietnam National University, the Institute of Hán-Nôm Studies, and the École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Dr. Davis has formed an Imperial Archives Research Group, which will develop reference materials for researchers interested in these documents.

While in Hanoi, Dr. Davis also gave a talk (in Vietnamese) on his recent book, Imperial Bandits, to the Institute for Cultural Studies. Two podcast series, from Northern Illinois University and the Australian National University, have published episodes featuring Dr. Davis discussing the book (links below). He also published a chapter in an edited volume – “Between Nation and Ethnos: Genealogies of Dân Tộc in Vietnamese Contexts,” in Regna Darnell and Frederic W. Gleach ed. Histories of Anthropology Annual: Volume 11 – Historicizing Theories, Identities, and Nations. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017.

He is also really looking forward to the fall!

Bradley Camp Davis, “Imperial Bandits: Outlaws and Rebels in the China-Vietnam Borderlands” (U of Washington Press, 2017)


More undergraduate research

Eastern History majors have multiple venues in which to show off their research chops. Just a few weeks after the CSU Making History conference, more History majors presented their papers and posters at Eastern’s annual CREATE conference.

What Goes Up Must Come Down? Sarah Brihan presents on the artistic undermining of the Berlin Wall

What Goes Up Must Come Down? Sarah Brihan presents on the artistic undermining of the Berlin Wall

Isabella Rossi presents her period dress as part of her paper, “The Elite Opulence of the Gilded Age: Creation of an 1876 Style Evening Gown.”

Isabella Rossi presents her period dress as part of her paper, “The Elite Opulence of the Gilded Age: Creation of an 1876 Style Evening Gown.”

Joseph White presents his paper, “The Foul Blot of Everlasting Shame: Why 18th Century American Patriots Told the Story of Benedict Arnold.”

Joseph White presents his paper, “The Foul Blot of Everlasting Shame: Why 18th Century American Patriots Told the Story of Benedict Arnold.”

Rosie Welles presents her paper, “‘The Mythic Rapist’: Destructive Sexual Dehumanization of Black Men in the New South.”

Rosie Welles presents her paper, “‘The Mythic Rapist’: Destructive Sexual Dehumanization of Black Men in the New South.”

Patrick Thompson explains his poster session, “Love is Love: The Rise and Fall of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Patrick Thomson explains his poster session, “Love is Love: The Rise and Fall of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Jaky Ray presents her poster session, “Samson Occom.”

Jaky Ray presents her poster session, “Samson Occom.”

Prof. Thomas Balcerski with student Rosie Wells; Prof. Scott Moore with student Joseph White.

Prof. Thomas Balcerski with student Rosie Wells; Prof. Scott Moore with student Joseph White.

Eastern Historians report on the AHA


Three members of the Eastern History Department attended the recent annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) in Denver over January 5-8, 2017. Professor Thomas Balcerski chaired and commented on a panel, Professor Caitlin Carenen presented a paper as part of a panel, and Dr. Anna Kirchmann participated in a panel honoring her recently published books.


On Thursday, January 5, Prof. Balcerski presided over the panel, “A Question of Intent: Alcoholic Insanity, Violence, and the Law in 19th-Century America.” The panel was sponsored by the Alcohol and Drugs History Society, an affiliate society of the AHA, and the Coordinating Council for Women in History. A theme of the panel was the efforts of professionals in defining the meaning of such existential categories as murder and suicide. Read more about all the ADHS panels at their web site: https://pointsadhsblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/adhs-at-aha-2017

The City of Denver played host to the 131st annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

The City of Denver played host to the 131st annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

On Friday, January 6, Prof. Carenen presented a paper as part of a panel entitled “For God and Country: Linking Faith Communities in the United States during World War I.” The panel was co-sponsored by the American Society of Church History. As a whole, the four papers looked at the influence of religion and different ethnic groups on patriotic wartime efforts in the United States during World War I. Carenen’s paper, entitled, “’We Jews Have Sold our Birthright’: The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Struggle over Sectarian Relief Efforts in World War I,” discussed Jewish fundraising during the war for exclusively Jewish victims of the war. American Jews wanted to help Jews who were suffering in World War I and so they raised over seven million dollars in the U.S. to do so. But it wasn’t that simple. Many Jews wondered if they should accept money from non-Jews to help only Jews. Others wondered if it was wise to be an exclusively Jewish relief organization at a time when uber-Patriotism condemned “hyphenated” groups. Still others worried about abandoning a long history of self-help if they accepted Gentile money. Despite the fact that in the end, the relief organization did accept non-Jewish money, the discussion revealed the uncertain place American Jews felt they occupied in the United States during World War I. Read more about the American Society of Church History at their web site: https://www.churchhistory.org.

On Saturday, January 7, Prof. Kirchmann participated in a special panel organized by the Polish  American Historical Association, an affiliate of the AHA, titled “Author Meets Critics Session for The Polish Hearst: Ameryka-Echo and the Public Role of the Immigrant Press by Anna Jaroszyńska-Kirchmann.”  In the panel, three noted historians from the fields of social history, and specifically the history of immigration and communication, commented on Prof. Kirchmann’s latest book.  In response, Prof. Kirchmann addressed her critics and broadly discissed her methods, evidence, and argument.  Read more about Prof. Kirchmann’s book at the University of Illinois Press web site: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/72fpc9dk9780252039096.html and about the Polish American Historical Association at their web site: http://www.polishamericanstudies.org/index.html.


Congratulations to Dr. Bradley Davis for his book now out from the University of Washington press:DAVIMP

Dr. Davis will be giving a talk on his book this April 12, at 3 PM in Science 301.

Book description:

The Black Flags raided their way from southern China into northern Vietnam, competing during the second half of the nineteenth century against other armed migrants and uplands communities for the control of commerce, specifically opium, and natural resources, such as copper. At the edges of three empires (the Qing empire in China, the Vietnamese empire governed by the Nguyen dynasty, and, eventually, French Colonial Vietnam), the Black Flags and their rivals sustained networks of power and dominance through the framework of political regimes. This lively history demonstrates the plasticity of borderlines, the limits of imposed boundaries, and the flexible division between apolitical banditry and political rebellion in the borderlands of China and Vietnam.

Imperial Bandits contributes to the ongoing reassessment of borderland areas as frontiers for state expansion, showing that, as a setting for many forms of human activity, borderlands continue to exist well after the establishment of formal boundaries.

Modern Echoes

Modern Echoes