History Department

HISTORY FACULTY WORKS AND ACHIEVEMENTS:

Teter’s Book Receives Honorable Mention for Jewish Studies Award

sinnersontrial

A book by Magda Teter, the Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, received honorable mention for the 2014 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award. The Schnitzer Book Award was established in 2007 to recognize and promote outstanding scholarship in the field of Jewish Studies and to honor scholars whose work embodies the best in the field: innovative research, excellent writing and sophisticated methodology.

Teter’s book, Sinners on Trial: Jews and Sacrilege after the Reformation, published by Harvard University Press in 2011, was honored in the Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History category.

In recognizing her book, the Prize Committee wrote:

“In this beautifully written and richly documented work, Magda Teter traces and convincingly demonstrates the interdependence of economic, religious and political motives that animated Polish anti-Semitism in the early modern period. This book also identifies and elucidates significant factors in the history of their formations in East Central Europe, and in the history of the host-desecration charge in early modern Europe.”

Magda Teter

Magda Teter

In post-Reformation Poland—the largest state in Europe and home to the largest Jewish population in the world—the Catholic Church suffered profound anxiety about its power after the Protestant threat.

In the book, Teter reveals how criminal law became a key tool in the manipulation of the meaning of the sacred and in the effort to legitimize Church authority. The mishandling of sacred symbols was transformed from a sin that could be absolved into a crime that resulted in harsh sentences of mutilation, hanging, decapitation, and, principally, burning at the stake. Recounting dramatic stories of torture, trial, and punishment, this is the first book to consider the sacrilege accusations of the early modern period within the broader context of politics and common crime.

To celebrate the honorable mention, Teter is invited to attend the Jordan Schnitzer Book Award Reception Dec. 14 in Maryland.

Teter also is chair and professor of history, professor of medieval studies. She speaks more about the book and her research in this past News @ Wesleyan article.

Publications Smolkin-Rothrock on Russia’s National Unity Day

Writing in Open Democracy, Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies, offers a historical explanation of Russia’s National Unity Day. Observed November 4, this holiday–based in what many consider “ancient history”–remains a point of confusion for the Russian public, writes Smolkin-Rothrock. Yet, “even if the holiday holds little significance for many Russians, it matters a great deal to Vladamir Putin and it should matter to those concerned with understanding his ideology.”

Interview, Paper by Smolkin-Rothrock, Fusso Focuses on Russian Atheist

Wesleyan faculty Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock and Susanne Fusso are the co-authors of “The Confession of an Atheist Who Became a Scholar of Religion,” published in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, Volume 15, Number 3, Summer 2014. The paper is based on an interview Smolkin-Rothrock completed on Russian atheist Nikolai Semenovich Gordienko.

Smolkin-Rothrock is assistant professor of history; assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies; Faculty Fellow Center for the Humanities; and tutor in the College of Social Studies. Fusso is professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies.

Among the most prominent professors of “scientific atheism” in the Soviet Union, Gordienko also was the author of the Foundations of Scientific Atheism textbook and a consultant to the political elite on religious questions. Over the course of his life, he was connected with every institution that managed Soviet spiritual life in both its religious and atheist variants. Read the paper’s abstract online here.

Twagira’s Paper on Cosmopolitan Workers Published in Gender & History

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Laura Ann Twagira, assistant professor of history, is the author of an article titled, “‘Robot Farmers’ and Cosmopolitan Workers: Technological Masculinity and Agricultural Development in the French Soudan (Mali), 1945–68,” published in the November issue of Gender & History, Volume 26, Issue 3, pages 459-477.

In 1956, Administrator Ancian, a French government official, suggested in a confidential report that one of the most ambitious agricultural schemes in French West Africa, the Office du Niger, had been misguided in its planning to produce only a ‘robot farmer’. The robot metaphor was drawn from the intense association between the project and technology. However, it was a critical analogy suggesting alienation. By using the word ‘robot’, Ancian implied that, rather than developing the project with the economic and social needs of the individual farmer in mind, the colonial Office du Niger was designed so that indistinguishable labourers would follow the dictates of a strictly regulated agricultural calendar. In effect, farmers were meant simply to become part of a larger agricultural machine, albeit a machine of French design. Read the full article, online here.

Schwarcz Addresses Moral Dilemma, Ethics in China in Colors of Veracity

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Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, professor of history, is the author of a new book titled Colors of Veracity: A Quest for Truth in China, and Beyond, published by the University of Hawai’i Press in November 2014.

In Colors of Veracity, Schwarcz condenses four decades of teaching and scholarship about China to raise fundamental questions about the nature of truth and history. In vivid prose, she addresses contemporary moral dilemmas with a highly personal sense of ethics and aesthetics.

Drawing on classical sources in Hebrew and Chinese (as well as several Greek and Japanese texts), Schwarcz brings deep and varied cultural references to bear on the question of truth and falsehood in human consciousness. The book redefines both the Jewish understanding of emet (a notion of truth that encompasses authenticity) and the Chinese commitment to zhen (a vision of the real that comprises the innermost sincerity of the seeker’s heart-mind). Works of art, from contemporary calligraphy and installations to fake Chinese characters and a Jewish menorah from Roman times, shed light light on the historian’s task of giving voice to the dread-filled past.

Following in the footsteps of literary scholar Geoffrey Hartman, Schwarcz expands on the “Philomela Project,” which calls on historians to find new ways of conveying truth, especially when political authorities are bent on enforcing amnesia of past traumatic events.

Schwarcz, who was born and raised in Cluj, Romania, was one of the first exchange scholars to study in China in 1979 and has returned to Beijing many times since then.

For more information on the book or to order, visit the University of Hawai’i Press website.

Schwarcz will be speaking about her book at 4:15 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Wasch Center. The event is open to the public.

Robot Farmers’ and Cosmopolitan Workers: Technological Masculinity and Agricultural Development in the French Soudan (Mali), 1945–68

Laura Ann Twagira

Article first published online: 13 OCT 2014

DOI: 10.1111/1468-0424.12084

Gender & History

Gender & History

Special Issue: ‘Gender, Imperialism and Global Exchanges’, Gender & History 26, 3 (2014)

Volume 26, Issue 3, pages 459–477, November 2014

Johnston on Ebola’s Impact

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than one thousand people this summer, and captured the world’s attention. But Bill Johnston, professor of history, professor of East Asian Studies, professor of science in society, tells Voice of America that its impact pales in comparison to other diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis.

“Approximately 207 million cases with 627,000 deaths from malaria itself in 2012, tuberculosis, they counted 8.6 million new cases,” he said.

Watch the video report here.

Grimmer-Solem’s Research Leads Germany to Order Base Re-Named

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Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General's legacy.

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In response to research by Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem, the German air forces have decided to rename a base currently named after a celebrated general known as an “anti-Nazi” in the years following World War II. The base is currently called after Gen. Hans von Sponeck, who was court-martialed and imprisoned for refusing to follow Hitler’s orders during a major Soviet counteroffensive on the Crimean Peninsula in 1941. See Full Story here.

Grimmer-Solem’s Research Sheds New Light on Celebrated German General

      Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General's legacy.

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. His research has made national news in Germany, where the government is now responding to revelations about the General’s legacy.

Grimmer-Solem holding a photo of his grandfather, Dr. Odd Solem, and his father, Eivind Solem, taken in 1939, one year before the German invasion of Norway. Odd Solem, part of the Norwegian resistance movement, was arrested by the Gestapo and met General Hans von Sponeck in prison in 1942.

Grimmer-Solem holding a photo of his grandfather, Dr. Odd Solem, and his father, Eivind Solem, taken in 1939, one year before the German invasion of Norway. Odd Solem, part of the Norwegian resistance movement, was arrested by the Gestapo and met General Hans von Sponeck in prison in 1942.

Growing up, Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem heard many family stories of his grandfather, a member of the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II. Little did he know then that he would go on to uncover new truths about a celebrated German general, and ignite a public debate over the general’s place in history.

History and Theory.

History and Theory.

The National Library of Sweden has announced that the Wesleyan-published (in affiliation with Wiley-Blackwell Publishing) History and Theory: Studies in the Philosophy of History is its 10th most popular foreign e-journal.

History and Theory publishes articles, review essays and summaries of books in the areas of critical philosophy of history, speculative philosophy of history, historiography, history of historiography, historical methodology, critical theory, time and culture, and history and related disciplines. The electronic form to all who subscribe to the print edition.

The editors include Ethan Kleinberg, Julia Perkins, Philip Pomper and Gary Shaw.

Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching

The Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching was inaugurated in 1993 as an institutional recognition of outstanding faculty members. One to three Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching are presented each year. The standards and criteria for the annual prizes are excellence in teaching, as exemplified by commitment to the classroom and student accomplishment, intellectual demands placed on students, lucidity, and passion.

Since 1993 seven members of the History Department faculty have been awarded the Binswanger Prize.  Of that number, five are offering courses in 2014-2015.  They are: Richard Elphick, Nathanael Greene, Eric Grimmer-Solem, Cecilia Miller, and Ann Wightman.

Symposium in Poland Encourages Jewish-Christian Dialogue

Historians will tell you that the past can often have a direct and profound effect on the present age. 

Pictured, from left: Marcin Przeciszewski, director of the Catholic Information Agency; Bishop Mieczysław Cisło, head of the Committee for the Dialogue with Judaism at the Episcopate of the Catholic Church in Poland; Magda Teter; Monica Adamczyk-Garbowska, professor of Jewish literature of the Maria Skłodowska-Curie University in Lublin; Michael Schudrich, chief Rabbi of Poland; Jan Grosfeld, professor of the Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw..

Pictured, from left: Marcin Przeciszewski, director of the Catholic Information Agency; Bishop Mieczysław Cisło, head of the Committee for the Dialogue with Judaism at the Episcopate of the Catholic Church in Poland; Magda Teter; Monica Adamczyk-Garbowska, professor of Jewish literature of the Maria Skłodowska-Curie University in Lublin; Michael Schudrich, chief Rabbi of Poland; Jan Grosfeld, professor of the Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw.

Take Magda Teter, for example. A scholarly probe into post-Reformation Europe recently led the professor of history and director of Jewish Studies at Wesleyan to an event that may have changed the course of Jewish and Christian relations in Poland.

Erickson Co-Authors Book on Rationality during the Cold War

Paul Erickson, assistant professor of history, is the co-author of How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality,” published by the University of Chicago Press in 2013.

Paul Erikson

In the United States at the height of the Cold War, roughly between the end of World War II and the early 1980s, a new project of redefining rationality commanded the attention of sharp minds, powerful politicians, wealthy foundations, and top military brass. Its home was the human sciences—psychology, sociology, political science and economics, among others—and its participants enlisted in an intellectual campaign to figure out what rationality should mean and how it could be deployed.

How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind brings to life the people—Herbert Simon, Oskar Morgenstern, Herman Kahn, Anatol Rapoport, Thomas Schelling, and many others—and places, including the RAND Corporation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the Cowles Commission for Research and Economics, and the Council on Foreign Relations, that played a key role in putting forth a “Cold War rationality.” Decision makers harnessed this picture of rationality—optimizing, formal, algorithmic, and mechanical—in their quest to understand phenomena as diverse as economic transactions, biological evolution, political elections, international relations, and military strategy. Erickson and the other authors chronicle and illuminate what it meant to be rational in the age of nuclear brinkmanship.

Teter Co-Edits Book on Jewish-Christian Relations in Art

Magda Teter, the Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, professor of history, professor of medieval studies, is the co-editor of a book titled, Jewish-Christian Relations in History, Memory, and Art: European contet for the paintings in the Sandomierz Cathedral, published in Polish by Wydawnictwo Diecezjalne, Sandomierz in 2013.

New book, co-edited by Magda Teter.

A large painting known as Infanticidium on the western wall of the Cathedral church in Sandomierz, Poland depicting scenes of Jews killing Christian children, has been frequently viewed as an example of Polish anti-Semitism and a troubling symbol of Jewish-Catholic relations. The painting became a site of memory (lieu de mémoire), crystalizing in one object the memory of Jewish-Christian relations in Poland, and a source of protests and tensions between the Catholic church and the Jewish community. The richly illustrated book, edited by Teter and Urszula Stępień, presents the Sandomierz paintings in their broader European and local artistic, historical and historiographic context.

The controversial Sandomierz painting belongs to a broader series of sixteen paintings known as “Martyrologium Romanum.” The first two essays address the question of Jewish-Christian relations. Teter discusses the history of these relations and the role historians have played, and continue to play, in shaping the understanding and perception of these relations. Teter also points to visual influences of European iconography of the so-called “ritual murder” on the Sandomierz paintings, especially the iconography of Simon of Trent.

Colors of Veracity: A Quest for Truth in China, and Beyond, by History Professor Vera Schwarcz

Intellectual history:

Vera Schwarcz

In Colors of Veracity, Vera Schwarcz condenses four decades of teaching and scholarship about China to raise fundamental questions about the nature of truth and history. In clear and vivid prose, she addresses contemporary moral dilemmas with a highly personal sense of ethics and aesthetics.

Drawing on classical sources in Hebrew and Chinese (as well as several Greek and Japanese texts), Schwarcz brings deep and varied cultural references to bear on the question of truth and falsehood in human consciousness. An attentiveness to connotations and nuance is apparent throughout her work, which redefines both the Jewish understanding of emet (a notion of truth that encompasses authenticity) and the Chinese commitment to zhen (a vision of the real that comprises the innermost sincerity of the seeker’s heart-mind). Works of art, from contemporary calligraphy and installations to fake Chinese characters and a Jewish menorah from Roman times, shed light light on the historian’s task of giving voice to the dread-filled past. Following in the footsteps of literary scholar Geoffrey Hartman, Schwarcz expands on the “Philomela Project, which calls on historians to find new ways of conveying truth, especially when political authorities are bent on enforcing amnesia of past traumatic events.

Truth matters, even if it cannot be mapped in its totality. Veracity is shown again and again to be neither black nor white. Schwarcz’ accomplishment is a subtle depiction of “fractured luminosity,” which inspires and sustains the moral conviction of those who pursue truth against all odds.

Vera Schwarcz was born and raised in Cluj, Romania. She was one of the first exchange scholars to study in China in 1979 and has returned to Beijing many times since then. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Schwarcz has made the quest for remembrance a central theme in all her works. She holds the Freeman Chair in East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University.

University of Hawai‘i Press   [ISBN: 978-0-8248-XXXX-X/barcode here]   Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96822-1888

In this video, Ethan Kleinberg, director of the Center for the Humanities, professor of letter, professor of history, talks with Hayden White, professor of comparative literature at Stanford University, about history, theory and the humanities. White is the former director of the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan. Watch this video and many more on the Video @ Wesleyan website.

Ron Schatz, professor of history, tutor in the College of Social Studies, wrote an article on Middletown that was recently published in Past & Present, a prestigious English historical journal.

The article, “The Barons of Middletown and the Decline of the North-Eastern Anglo-Protestant Elite,” appeared in the March 2013 issue. Schatz uses the story of the transformation of the leadership of the city since the early 20th century as a microcosm of the United States during the past century. Wesleyan is mentioned several times in the 36-page article, including when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Middletown in 1936.

“Although quite liberal today, Wesleyan University was not friendly territory for liberal politicians back then. A chemistry professor chaired Middletown’s Republican Party Committee, the university’s president James McConaughy sat on the Connecticut State Republican Party’s central committee, and the bulk of the students favoured the Grand Old Party. According to a straw poll taken by the college paper three days before Roosevelt’s visit, Wesleyan students favoured [Alf] Landon over FDR by nearly three to one,” Schatz wrote in the article.

“The research required a great deal of work but was a lot fun too,” Schatz said.

Read the full article online here.

The Public Affairs Center: PAC Research Networks

I am happy to announce the recipient of the 2013-2014 PAC Research Network Award, the African Studies PAC Research Network. This group builds on existing strengths in African Studies at Wesleyan. They will receive $2000 to hold salons for Wesleyan faculty to share their research and also to bring in outside speakers. The group brings together senior and junior scholars from six different departments with faculty both within and outside the PAC. Please join me in congratulating them!  African Studies Faculty : Professor Richard Elphick, History, and Assistant Professor Laura Ann Twagira, History.