History Department

HISTORY FACULTY WORKS AND ACHIEVEMENTS:

NEH Supports Research, Writing Projects by Tucker, Curran

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Two Wesleyan faculty received NEH Public Scholarships to encourage new research and support their upcoming publications. Only 36 writers in the country received the award.

The Public Scholar program, a major new initiative from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is designed to promote the publication of scholarly nonfiction books for a general audience. On July 29, the NEH awarded a total of $1.7 million to 36 writers including Wesleyan’s Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history, and Andrew Curran, the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities and professor of French.

Tucker received a grant worth $50,400 to support her book titled Caught on Camera: A History of Photographic Detection and Evasion. Tucker also is associate professor of environmental studies; associate professor of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; and associate professor of science in society.

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

Tucker’s Caught on Camera will show how humanities can shed light on a topic of current debate: the nature and significance of new facial recognition systems, a topic that places recent controversies over the expansion of biometrics into the longer cultural history of resemblance and photographic portraiture. Tucker will chart the historical transformation of photographic detection and surveillance from the early 19th century to the present, spanning photography’s early uses in the capture of facial likenesses, when photography was first introduced as a tool of empowerment and surveillance, to its 20th century expansion via the biometrics industry, to police and corporate use of facial recognition technologies today.

“The project will make a contribution to scholarly literature but will be written in a lively, accessible way,” Tucker said. “It will bring together recent work on criminal photography and facial recognition technologies across a wide range of different fields including communications, history of science and technology, law and police work, cultural history, history of art, and the history and theory of photography.”

Tucker estimates the book will take 12 months to research and write. She envisions writing seven chapters that will contextualize the landmark legal and policy developments in the development of surveillance photography, from the birth of photography in 1839 to the rise of criminal photography, to the experimentation with automated facial recognition systems during the 1960s, and the creation of current-day private and state-owned facial recognition technology systems.

The NEH Public Scholar program represents a long-term commitment at NEH to encourage scholarship in the humanities for general audiences. The program is open to both independent scholars and individuals affiliated with scholarly institutions. It offers a stipend of $4,200 per month for a period of six to 12 months. Applicants must have previously published a book or monograph with a university or commercial press, or articles and essays that reach a wide readership.

“At the Endowment we take very seriously the idea, expressed in our founding legislation, that the humanities belong to all the people of the United States,” said NEH Chairman William Adams. “In announcing the new Public Scholar program we hope to challenge humanities scholars to think creatively about how specialized research can benefit a wider public.”

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.

For more information and to see the list of all grant recipients, see this Washington Post article.

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.

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem’s research on a celebrated German general, known as an “anti-Nazi,” is continuing to have an impact on the ground in Germany today. Over the past year, Grimmer-Solem’s findings have ignited a public debate in the country over General Hans von Sponeck’s place in history—a debate which has now turned to the matter of a commemorative stone honoring him.

Since World War II, von Sponeck had been celebrated in Germany with an Air Force base, city streets and other monuments named after him. All this has changed since Grimmer-Solem’s research shed new light on the General’s reputation as a “good general” who was court-martialed and imprisoned for refusing to follow Hitler’s orders during a major Soviet counteroffensive on the Crimean Peninsula in 1941 by withdrawing his troops from Kerch, likely saving the lives of thousands of soldiers.

A personal connection involving his grandfather drew Grimmer-Solem to study von Sponeck. A detailed investigation of von Sponeck’s military career in the German Military Archives turned up evidence that the general’s record was far from spotless: The records showed close cooperation between the military unit von Sponeck commanded and the SS in committing numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity in the southern Ukraine and Crimea in 1941.

The research was covered in major German news outlets and sparked a national debate and parliamentary discussion about von Sponeck’s legacy. The latest impact has been on a Stolperstein (German for “stumbling stone”) commemorating von Sponeck. More than 48,000 of these granite cobbles are installed in locations around German cities, each with a brass plaque inscribed with the names and fates of victims of Nazism. According to Grimmer-Solem, while they began as an artist’s project, the Stolpersteine project has taken on a semi-official character in recent years as the stones are set in cooperation with German city governments and supported by many local commemorative and historical societies.

Since last year, the German city of Bremen has been grappling with the question of what to do with the stone honoring von Sponeck—a victim of the Nazis who was also a perpetrator. The stone was first set into the pavement in 2007, before Grimmer-Solem’s findings, published in the peer-reviewed military history journal of the German Armed Forces in December 2013, changed public perception of the General.

“Since then, any official commemoration of Sponeck in Germany has become controversial and has led to a debate about what to do about street names, monuments, and of course, the commemorative Stolperstein,” said Grimmer-Solem. “Sponeck’s Stolperstein is particularly problematic as it erases a line between the victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust,” a point he made in the conclusion of his article.

When Gunter Demnig, the Cologne-based artist behind the Stolpersteine project, learned of Grimmer-Solem’s findings, he demanded that the city of Bremen remove the Stolperstein immediately, or else he would no longer sanction the project in Bremen, the home of more than 600 stones. Removal of the commemorative stone was controversial, however, and Bremen project leaders insisted on a public discussion about the matter.

“As the project has gained popularity and sanction as a semi-official memorial, removing Stolpersteine is awkward new territory lacking precedent let alone any procedures,” Grimmer-Solem explained.

On March 3, the Bremen State Central Office for Political Education hosted a podium discussion titled “Grauzonen. Stolpersteine für Wehrmachtsgenerale” (“Gray Zones: Stumbling Stones for Members of the Wehrmacht.”) It was ultimately agreed that the Stolperstein should be officially removed.

“But, to everyone’s surprise, thieves had beaten them to it,” Grimmer-Solem said. At some point, unknown people had excavated and stolen Sponeck’s Stolperstein, and police are now investigating.

The debate is now extending to the legacy of the German military resistance to Hitler in contemporary Germany. As an editorial in the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung (TAZ) noted recently, the debate about von Sponeck has spread well beyond Bremen and now extends to reassessing such postwar German national icons as Claus von Stauffenberg, who is remembered for his failed assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944.

“Stauffenberg, too, has a Stolperstein… and he, like many of his military co-conspirators, was involved in war crimes. Sponeck was shot after the failure of the plot, though he did not belong to it—his evolution from perpetrator to victim corresponds exactly to the ambivalence of this group,” the newspaper wrote.

This increasingly critical view of the July 20 conspirators marks a substantial shift in Germany. In the early years of the Federal Republic, Germans found it difficult to honor “traitors” like Stauffenberg, but he took on an increasingly central place in the “democratic” identity of West Germany’s armed forces, and since the 1960s, in German perceptions of themselves as opponents and victims of the Nazi regime.

“It is a sign of the maturity of German democracy that it is now slowly coming to terms with the complex legacy of men like von Stauffenberg,” Grimmer-Solem said.

Read more about Grimmer-Solem’s research on von Sponeck here.

Associate Manager of Media & Public Relations at Wesleyan University 

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Smolkin-Rothrock Receives Honorable Mention for Distinguished Article Prize

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

An article by Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock received honorable mention for the Distinguished Article Prize from the Association for the Study of Eastern Christian History and Culture. Smolkin-Rothrock is assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies and tutor in the College of Social Studies.

Her article, titled “The Ticket to the Soviet Soul: Science, Religion and the Spiritual Crisis of Late Soviet Atheism,” appeared in Volume 73, Issue 2 of The Russian Review and was selected from among 22 entries. The honor comes with a $200 award.

Smolkin-Rothrock’s article examines the confrontation of Soviet scientific atheism with religion as it played out on the pages and in the editorial rooms of the country’s primary atheist periodical, Nauka i religiia (Science and Religion). It follows a story that begins in the 1960s, when the journal tried to change its title to Mir cheloveka (The World of Man) to reorient itself from the battle against religion towards the battle for Soviet (and therefore atheist) spiritual life. Smolkin-Rothrock argues that while the Khrushchev era is the point of origin for much of late Soviet policy on religion and atheism, it is only with the Brezhnev era that we see understandings of religion move beyond ideological stereotypes. New conceptions of religion, however, forced atheists to consider Communist ideology in unexpected ways, and led to revealing discussions the Soviet state’s role in providing spiritual fullness. The story of Nauka i religiia is a microcosm of Soviet ideology in that it reveals the boundaries and contradictions of the material and the spiritual in the Soviet project.

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History Faculty Participate in American Historical Association Meeting

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Four faculty from the History Department participated in the American Historical Association Meeting in New York City Jan. 2-5. The topic was “History and Other Disciplines.”

Professor of History Ethan Kleinberg presented “Just the Facts: The Fantasy of a Historical Science.” Kleinberg also is the director of the Center for the Humanities, professor of letters and executive editor of History and Theory.

Assistant Professor of History Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock spoke on “From a Society Free of Religion to Freedom of Conscience: How Toleration Emerged from within Totalitarianism.” She also is assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies and tutor in the College of Social Studies.

Professor of History Magda Teter spoke on roundtable panel on “Jewish History/General History: Rethinking the Divide.” Teter also is the Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, professor of medieval studies and chair of the History Department.

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker was a commentator on a panel titled “The Photographic Event,” which reexamined the question of an “event” by looking at various visual technologies and texts, whether sketches, paintings or films. Tucker also is associate professor of environmental studies, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, associate professor of science in society and a faculty fellow in the College of the Environment.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.