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    History 362 Distinguished Lecture Fall 2021

    Thursday, November 11 at 4:30 p.m. in Shanklin 107 (Kerr Lecture Hall):

    Annual HISTORY 362 Distinguished Lecture featuring Professor Kenda Mutongi, Professor of History at MIT, "MATATU: Oral History and Popular Transportation in Nairobi"

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    Book Talk by Ying Jia Tan

    Friday, November 5, 12:30 - 2:00 p.m.

    Ying Jia Tan is giving a virtual book talk at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. Click here to register.

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    History Department Open House for Prospective History Majors

    Thursday, October 14, 2021, 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. at the Labyrinth Tent, 28 Wyllis Ave

    Meet faculty and current history majors, and learn more about the History Major!

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    The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free

    Book Talk Featuring Writer, Historian, and Wesleyan Alumna: Paulina Bren

    Thursday, October 14, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. in Allbritton 311

    Sponsored by the History Department, the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program

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    Paulina Bren (BA ‘87) is an award-winning writer and historian who teaches at Vassar College. She attended Wesleyan University as an undergraduate majoring in the College of Letters, later receiving an M.A. in International Studies from the University of Washington, and a Ph.D. in History from New York University. She has held a host of research grants and fellowships, including residencies in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, and Atlanta.
  • Writing Empire: Late 19th Century Ottoman Configurations

    Meltem Toksoz, Visiting Associate Professor of History


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    April 27, 2021 l 4:30 P.M.

    Join Zoom Meeting:  https://wesleyan.zoom.us/j/93406886963

    In the tumultuous last quarter of the 19th century, many Ottomans produced universal history narratives for the reading public, as textbooks for the newly established universities, as column series in the prolific medium of the age, newspapers, and as print books.

    This was after all the century of reform in the empire, which meant the formation of the modern state, in the name of saving the empire. I situate Ottoman Turkish universal history writing in this age as a new genre for recasting empire in history in general, and for rescripting Ottoman history in world history in particular. The ways in which Ottoman Turkish universal history narratives situate the changing Ottoman Empire, in a world where 19th century Western historical discourse of ‘progress’ was already engrained in the idea that history was European, reveal an intellectual milieu far more complicated than the very problematic positionalities of ‘traditional’ versus ‘modern’. Indeed, the universal history oeuvre of Ahmed Midhat (1844-1912), a well-known literati of the age, circumvents the binary narratives of reformist versus Islamic, of constitutionalist versus Pan-Islamic despotic, of Turkish nationalist versus Ottoman imperial. His three different and voluminous universal histories published in the 1880s and 1890s have never been studied. Yet they point, I argue, to a particular construction of empire distinct from both its own past version and European colonial empire.

    Sponsored by the History Department

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    History Department Open House

    Meet faculty and students, and learn more about the precarious perch between visions of the past and hopes for the future. Read More
    TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2020
    4:15 PM
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    The Travelers Lab

    Don’t Miss the Opportunity to Participate in Faculty Research in a Collaborative Digital Humanities Lab…

    Data Generation, Analysis, and Vizualization in the Historical Analysis of Travel & Communications.

    Apply (& learn!) digital techniques of analysis and visualisation to the study of historical travel and communication in a collaborative lab with Gary Shaw (HIST) & Jesse Torgerson (COL).

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    Peruse our interests & current projects at the Travelers Lab website (travelerslab.wesleyan.edu).

    Students with interests and/or abilities in … history, texts, languages, data analysis, mapping, data visualization or any combination of those will find an application for their interests in our international, multi-campus collaborative historical data lab.

    Please email Prof. Shaw or Prof. Torgerson gshaw@wesleyan.edu / jtorgerson@wesleyan.edu

    How do I actually “join”?
    Join for Credit or apply to be a Research Assistant: Fa 2020 Associated Course: HISTORY 423 (for 0.5 or 1.0 credits).

    Participation in the lab and the course is open to all majors and all class years.  Admission by permission of instructor; enrollment requires academic advisor's approval.

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    What is “CLAC”? The Communist Experience in Russian

    We at Wesleyan are now entering the third year of offering “Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum” (or CLAC) courses. These are courses taught in languages other than English, all of which provide students and faculty across the campus with opportunities to deepen their engagement with their subjects through the use and further development of their language and intercultural skills. A list of all the CLAC courses we have offered so far, including those being offered this academic year, is on the Fries Center website.


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    Link to page:  http://wesandtheworld.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2020/08/31/what-is-clac-the-communist-experience-in-russian/?utm_source=&utm_medium=EMLET&utm_campaign=Wes+and+the+World+Newsletter+17(2210812

    One great example of a CLAC course was Prof. Victoria Smolkin’s course “The Communist Experience in the Soviet Union” (see here for the WesMaps listing). The student language background appropriate for this class was listed as “(preferably advanced) intermediate to native,” and the eight students enrolled in the class had a range of linguistic backgrounds, with some speaking Russian to varying degrees before coming to college, and others learning it entirely while at Wesleyan. Prof. Smolkin asked her students to comment on how the CLAC course differed from a language class and from a conventional history class. Here are some of the responses:

    It differed from a language class in that the emphasis was on speaking and getting one’s message across, instead of on having correct syntax or grammar. We were also able to discuss the material in its original language, which helped in understanding certain cultural nuances that we wouldn’t typically have time to go over in a conventional history class.

    I think it was also different in that we had a mixture of Russian language learners and native Russian speakers, so we could all learn from each other. I don’t think that so many Russian speakers [of different language levels] would typically find themselves in the same classroom, unless through a CLAC.

    The CLAC class has its focus on “using language” (with native speakers) and gave me opportunities to actively engage with the language. But the same time, it has been a challenge for me to keep up with the speed and contents in class as my Russian level is not high enough to jump into the discussions happening in a class all the time. So that bitter experience encourages me to study harder the language itself as well.

    As the CLAC class opened up a greater variety of ways to interact with Russian language and culture other than literature, I feel more motivated to take on my tasks to study harder the language.

    Literature is heavy and not the strongest academic interest of mine, though I enjoy reading literature. Therefore, I appreciated the CLAC class as an alternative opportunity to learn and interact with Russian language and culture.

    This class wasn’t focused on grammar; that fact made me spend more time outside of class brushing up on my grammar and practicing certain expressions so that I could better articulate myself in class.

    Asked about aspects of the class that really captured what it was like, students said:

    The class presentations by my classmates were helpful and reassured me of my understanding of the materials. I was scared when my turn came up, but my fluent presentation buddy always helped me to understand the class materials and reassured me that I was on the right track. I am thankful for their help and I was able to do the presentation on the complex historical materials with more confidence.

    I liked the podcast assignments every week: to listen to a podcast of our choice and write a diary on it. It trained us to get used to the language and actively and regularly engage with the language itself and the cultural learning we aimed to do in class. And we were able to explore the topic of ourselves, so it was easier for us to continue as well.

    One anecdote that I think captures the sentiments expressed above is one class during which we were discussing the meaning of the Russian word byt’. The word refers—more or less—to the static, humdrum rituals of everyday life. We had a long discussion about its meaning because it doesn’t translate perfectly into English. It was productive to try and untangle the meaning of the word in Russian along with other Russian learners and native speakers of Russian.

    As you can see, CLAC courses can expand the opportunities we have on campus as well as further motivate people to study languages. They are not exactly language classes, but complement our formal language instruction. Try one out!

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    More than Victims: Medicine, Terror, and Healing in the Atlantic Slave Trade

    A talk by Carolyn Roberts

    The transatlantic slave trade was the largest, forced oceanic migration in human history. This talk explores the little-known role of medicine in the violent trafficking of millions of enslaved Africans and its legacies today.


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    Carolyn Roberts is an historian of medicine at Yale University with a joint appointment in the departments of History/History of Science and Medicine and African American Studies. Professor Roberts’ research interests concern early modern medicine where she explores themes of race and slavery, natural history and botany, and African indigenous knowledge in the Atlantic world.

    February 26, 2020
    4:30 PM
    PAC 001

    Co-Sponsored by Academic Affairs, SiSP, CAAS & History

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    MELVYN P. LEFFLER is Emeritus Professor of American History at The University of Virginia

    This lecture on Reagan, Gorbachev, and the end of the Cold War will assess Reagan’s unique role in ending the forty-year conflict with the “Evil Empire.” Leffler’s assessment is a radical reinterpretation of Reagan’s contributions.

    THURSDAY, MARCH 26, 2020 | 4:30 P.M., PAC 001

    Sponsored by the History Department

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    MELVYN P. LEFFLER is Emeritus Professor of American History at The University of Virginia. He is the author of several books on the Cold War and on U.S. relations with Europe, including For the Soul of Mankind (2007), which won the George Louis Beer Prize from the American Historical Association, and A Preponderance of Power (1993), which won the Bancroft, Hoover, and Ferrell Prizes. In 2010, he and Odd Arne Westad co-edited the three volume Cambridge History of the Cold War. Along with Jeff Legro and Will Hitchcock, he is co-editor of Shaper Nations: Strategies for a Changing World (Harvard University Press, 2016). Most recently, he published Safeguarding Democratic Nationalism: U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-2015 (Princeton, 2017). He has served as president of the Society for the History of American Foreign Relations, Harmsworth Professor at Oxford University, and Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at The University of Virginia. He is now writing about the foreign policies of the George W. Bush administration.
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    White Collar, and Blue Collar Gig Workers: What is the future of American Labor?

    Steven Greenhouse '73

    Long time New York Journalist and author of Beaten Down, and Worked Up:  the Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.


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    Tuesday, October 29, 2019
    College of Letters Library
    Boger Hall, Third Floor

    Sponsored by the College of Letters and the History Department

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    Without the Banya We Would Perish: A History of the Russian Bathhouse

    Ethan Pollock is Associate Professor of History and Russian Studies at Brown University

    For over a thousand years the banya (or Russian bathhouse) has been a crucial institution to a wide variety of people: men and women, rich and poor, straight and gay, religious and atheist. The omnipresence of the banya makes it a lens through which to view many aspects of Russia history—hygiene, intimacy, sociability, the relationship of Russia to the West. The banya is full of contradictions. It can clean bodies and spread disease. It can purify and befoul. It can create community and provide a means of excluding others. Taken together, thousands of sources ranging from archival documents and municipal regulations to idioms, films, art, cartoons, memoirs, diaries, songs, novels, poems, and plays provide the basis for this unprecedented portrait of the institution of the banya and for a whole new way of seeing the history of Russia.


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    Ethan Pollock is Associate Professor of History and Russian Studies at Brown University. He is the author of Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars (Princeton, 2006.) His work on the Russian banya has been funded by the National Council for East European and Eurasian Research, a Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Fernand Braudel Fellowship from the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. His book, Without the Banya We Would Perish: A History of the Russian Bathhouse, is coming out with Oxford University Press in September 2019.

    Sponsored by the History Department, Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and Russian and East European Studies Program.

    Wednesday, October 30, 2019
    4:30 pm
    PAC 001

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    The Theory and Practice of History

    The 2019-20 seminar series will meet four times across the year, usually on Thursdays, and will feature an exciting international and interdisciplinary line up of scholars.

    For further information or a copy of the papers once they become available, contact Gary Shaw at gshaw@wesleyan.edu. Here are the dates and current topics. Seminars will be in Boger Hall.

    Starting time for all sessions is 4:30.

    • November 14: Stefka Eriksen, Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage, “The Archaeology and Allegory of the Settlement of Iceland: Reflections on the Theory and Method of Interdisciplinary Environmental History.”  Boger Hall 115
    • February 6:  Heather Keenleyside, University of Chicago: “The Literary History of the History of Ideas,”  Boger Hall 113
    • March 5: Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen, University of Oulu, How to Get it Wrong: Historiography, Normativity and the Holocaust Debate,”  Boger Hall 113
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    Current Series–2019-20

    The Theory and Practice of History at Wesleyan University provides information about a seminar series, talks, and other local endeavors connected to the theory and philosophy of history as well as issues of historiography and its history, including the methodology, style, and form of historical research and writing. Its aim is to stimulate reflection on these subjects within the university and the region and to help to channel and accelerate wider discussion of these topics.

    First, however, it is the home of the Wesleyan Seminar on the Theory and Practice of History, supported by Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities and the Department of History.

  • A Walk into Winter: The 1795 Dutch Embassy to Qing China

    Tonio Andrade is professor of history at Emory University. His core geographical area of expertise is China, but his research focuses on interconnections in the Early Modern Period (1500-1800) and on comparative history. He is author of The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History; Lost Colony: The Untold Story of Europe's First War with China and How Taiwan became Chinese. Honors include the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and Gutenberg e-Prize.


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    The historiography of Sino-European relations has been dominated by a narrative of conflict. Chinese and Europeans, the narrative suggests, were unable to interface diplomatically because they had opposing views on how states should interact. The Chinese believed that China’s emperor was superior to all other monarchs, with foreign delegates considered to be supplicants. The Europeans, on the other hand, believed that states should relate to one another on the basis of de jure equality, and that the natural state of geopolitics was a sort of Westphalian “anarchic” system, with diplomats and ambassadors representing their sovereigns to negotiate treaties and alliances. The result, the story goes, was conflict, epitomized in the bitter Sino-European wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This narrative, however, is based on the experience of the British, whose failed embassies to China overwhelmingly dominate the literature. My project, in contrast, focuses on a key non-British embassy to China: the Dutch mission of 1794–95. Using a global microhistorical approach, it investigates the mission from the various perspectives available in the rich (and largely untapped) sources: Dutch, French, English, Spanish, Chinese, Manchu, and Korean. It shows that this Dutch mission, which occurred just a year after the most notorious of the failed British missions, was smooth and successful, with the people on each side quite easily able to understand their counterparts. British failures are certainly an important part of the story of Sino-Western interaction, but they must be placed in a deeper context.

    Thursday, October 10, 4.30pm, CEAS Seminar Room (343 Washington Terrace)

    Post-Lecture colloquium on Friday, October 11, 10.30am, CEAS Seminar Room (343 Washington Terrace)

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    The Ethical Choices of Whales: Bowheads, Hunters, and Mutual Adaptations in the Bering Strait, 1848-1968

    Bathsheba Demuth, Assistant Professor of History at Brown University

    Bowhead whales have been known by three distinct groups of hunters along the Bering Strait over the past two centuries: indigenous Yupik and Inupiaq whalers, capitalist commercial whalers, and communist industrial whalers. This talk looks at how whales became known through the labor of their killing, examining the cosmologies each of these three kinds of whaling practitioners composed around the animals they hunted. How where whales, particularly bowheads, imagined and treated, and how did this change across economic systems?  What kind of emotional relationships were possible? And what kinds of relationships were considered ethical between humans and whales? Did whales make ethical judgments of their hunters? What does including whale behavior in our analysis of human-whale interactions provoke in our historical understanding, and how should we situate non-human actions in human narratives of the past?

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    Bathsheba Demuth, Assistant Professor of History at Brown University, is a fellow at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society and Assistant Director of HistoricalClimatology.com. Her work on the Environmental History of the Bering Straits and on whaling is a comparative history of indigenous, capitalist and communist whalers and their ethics. Her work was recently featured in The New Yorker magazine. Her book, Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait, was published in September 2019 with Norton.

    Tuesday, October 15, 2019
    PAC 001

    Sponsored by the History Department, Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and College of the Environment