History Faculty Receive Endowed Professorships

William Johnston arrived at Wesleyan in 1988 after receiving his BA from Elmira College and his MA and PhD from Harvard University. His research focuses on Japanese history and the history of disease and public health. Johnston is the author of two books, Geisha, Harlot, Strangler, Star: A Woman, Sex, and Morality in Modern Japan (Columbia University Press, 2005) and The Modern Epidemic: A History of Tuberculosis in Japan (Council on East Asian Studies Publications, Harvard University, 1995). He is currently working on a new book that will examine the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he is completing a photography book with renowned Japanese artist Eiko Otake.

Ethan Kleinberg joined the Department of History and the College of Letters in 2001 after completing his BA at University of California, Berkeley; a Fulbright scholarship in France; and his MA and PhD at University of California, Los Angeles. His research interests include European intellectual history, critical theory, educational structures, and the philosophy of history. Kleinberg has published three books, most recently Haunting History: For a Deconstructive Approach to the Past (Stanford University Press, 2017). In 2018, he was Professeur Invité at Université Bordeaux Montaigne, and in Summer 2020 he will be the Reinhart Koselleck Guest Professor at Bielefeld University’s Zentrum für Theorien in der historischen Forschung.



Faculty Works and Achievements:

  • Kleinberg to Study Anarchy in History as Visiting Professor in Germany

    Professor of History and Letters Ethan Kleinberg is the recipient of the Reinhart Koselleck Visiting Professorship at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, a high honor accorded to world-renowned historians whose work is “of outstanding significance” for theoretical reflection and further development.

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    Kleinberg will spend the summer term of 2019 at Bielefeld with the intention of beginning work on a project titled “Temporal Anarchy in History.”

    Candidates for the professorship do not apply for the honor; the Centre for Theories in Historical Research at Bielefeld selects recipients based on the example set by Reinhart Koselleck, one of the most renowned historians of the 20th century. Koselleck’s “pioneering ideas and work on conceptual history, historical theory, and political iconography stimulated historical science as well as other humanities and cultural studies,” according to the center. “He is thus the perfect example of how historical research can reflect on and react to its own ‘theoretical needs.’” Kleinberg’s work at the intersection of history of ideas, historical theory, and the social negotiation of time strongly resonates with the faculty at Bielefeld: “His presence will facilitate a deeper understanding of the various ways in which theory permeates historical practice, and how this practice influences and is influenced by the social conditions of our times.”

    The Koselleck Visiting Professor stays for two months, with full involvement in the academic life of the university. Kleinberg will offer a seminar for students, present a workshop for doctoral candidates, and give a public lecture.

    Kleinberg says he is greatly looking forward to contributing to the Centre for Theories in Historical Research in its mission to make theory of history a core aspect of every history department and, especially, to working with the faculty and graduate students. He is also eager to solidify and expand the partnership between Wesleyan and Bielefeld.

    Kleinberg is editor-in-chief of History and Theory and an authority on the intellectual history of Europe in the 20th century, the history of philosophy, and the philosophy and theory of history.

  • Why a centuries-old religious dispute over Ukraine’s Orthodox Church matters today

    A new Orthodox Church was recently established in Ukraine.

    Shortly after, Bartholomew I, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the spiritual head of global Orthodox Christianity, granted independence to the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine and transferred its jurisdiction from the church of Moscow to the church of Constantinople, located in Istanbul.

    This competition between the churches of Constantinople and Moscow for dominance in the Orthodox Christian world is not new – it goes back more than 500 years. But the birth of the new Orthodox Church in Ukraine opens a new chapter in this history.

    So what is Ukraine’s new church, and how will it change the global political and religious landscape?

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    Constantinople vs. Moscow

    The Patriarchate of Constantinople is considered the most important of the world’s 15 independent Eastern Orthodox churches. Although Eastern Christianity is less hierarchical than its Western Catholic counterpart, the Patriarch of Constantinople nevertheless has great authority over the Orthodox world.

    This authority stems from Constantinople’s claim to primacy, which is rooted in its early history.

    In the fourth century A.D., Emperor Constantine made two decisions that changed the world: he made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire, and he moved the capital of the Roman empire from Rome to the then-modest city of Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople after the emperor.

    With the fall of Rome in the fifth century A.D., Constantinople became the uncontested center of the Roman empire, making Byzantium the center of Christian power.

    In the centuries that followed, the Patriarch of Constantinople challenged the universal authority of the Pope in Rome on both theological and political grounds. In 1054, this contest between Patriarch and Pope culminated in the “Great Schism,” which split the Christian world into the Catholic “West” and Orthodox “East” – a division that has shaped politics and religion to this day.

    Constantinople retained its position as the imperial center of Christianity for a millennium, until the city fell to the Ottomans in 1453 A.D. Importantly, even after the fall of the Byzantine empire as a political order and the change of the city’s name from Constantinople to Istanbul, the church retained its original name. It is the last remnant of Byzantium in the modern world.

    With Constantinople’s fall, Orthodox Christianity became a minority faith under Islamic rule. Moscow’s Orthodox Church became the most powerful Eastern Christian church on sovereign territory. This allowed it to position itself as the heir of the Christian empire.

    From Kiev to Moscow

    Moscow was not a new church. Its origins dated to 988 A.D., when Christianity was adopted as the religion of Kievan Rus’ – the medieval state that encompassed much of what is now Ukraine, Belarus, and the European parts of Russia.

    Kiev was the first political center of the Rus’ state, and the church of Kievan Rus’ was subservient to Constantinople. In the late 1230s, when Kiev was besieged by the Mongols, Constantinople authorized the transfer of the church north. In the 13th century, the church moved to Moscow, which had become the regional center of political power.

    Until the 16th century, Moscow remained under the religious authority of Constantinople for 300 years. But once Moscow felt powerful enough to assert its authority over Constantinople, it leveraged its position as the largest and wealthiest Orthodox church to establish its own patriarchate, the highest religious body within Orthodox Christianity.

    Moscow vs. Kiev

    Ukrainian Orthodoxy was under the jurisdiction of the Russian church for over 300 years, until 2019.

    The reasons for this were pragmatic.

    Ukraine’s position as a borderland between Western and Eastern Christianity placed Ukrainian Christians between the authority of Moscow, Rome, and Constantinople.

    After Kiev’s fall to the Mongols in the 13th century, Ukraine was caught between two powerful neighbors with opposing religious identities: to the East, Orthodox Russia, and to the West, Catholic Poland-Lithuania.

    In the 1600s, Ukraine found itself under pressure from Catholic neighbors intent on converting Orthodox Ukrainians to Catholicism. For Constantinople, this made the value of protection from a powerful Orthodox neighbor apparent, and it turned to Moscow for help. In 1686, Constantinople placed Ukrainian Orthodoxy under Moscow’s authority.

    The Orthodox Church of Ukraine

    Since Constantinople had authorized Moscow’s original claim to Ukraine in 1686, today’s Ukraine needed Constantinople to break the ties that bound Ukrainian Orthodoxy to Moscow.

    But why does Ukraine want to break these ties now?

    Throughout Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia since 2014, the Ukrainian state has grown more vocal in its support for an independent Ukrainian church. Ukraine’s leaders cast Ukrainian Orthodoxy’s break from Moscow as the final step of Ukraine’s journey to political independence.

    Until 2019, Ukraine – a country of almost 45 million people, around 30 million of whom identify as Orthodox Christians – had three separate Orthodox Churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

    All three vied for the position of national church of Ukraine on different grounds.

    Although the three churches had no doctrinal differences, only the church under the Moscow Patriarchate was recognized as legitimate in the greater Orthodox world. The other two churches were independent, but considered illegitimate, or “schismatic,” by both Constantinople and Moscow.

    Even with state patronage then, Ukrainian Orthodoxy needed religious support if it was to get an independent church that was also theologically legitimate.

    The church of Constantinople provided the solution to this problem.

    Given this complex religious landscape, Constantinople did two things to establish a new Ukrainian church independent of Moscow. First, on Oct. 11, 2018, it revoked the 1686 decision to grant Moscow jurisdiction over Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Then, on Dec. 15, Constantinople recognized Ukraine’s two “schismatic” churches as legitimate after which they united and held a council to adopt a common charted and elect a leader.

    Finally, on Jan. 5, at a ceremony in Istanbul, the Patriarch of Constantinople gave the new Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine, Epiphanius I, the tomos of autocephaly – a church document proclaiming the church’s independence from Moscow.

    Alongside Ukraine’s religious leaders, the ceremony was also attended by Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko.

    Why old religious disputes matter

    My work on the history of religion and politics shows that old religious disputes continue to shape modern politics.

    For Ukraine, the realignment of Ukrainian Orthodoxy from Moscow to Constantinople takes Ukraine out of the “Russian World,” an ideology that Russia uses to make claims beyond its political borders.

    The Russian Orthodox Church, meanwhile, has broken ties with Constantinople, and does not recognize the legitimacy of Ukraine’s new Orthodox Church. It continues to claim jurisdiction over Orthodoxy in Ukraine.

    Orthodox churches beyond Ukraine are now forced to choose between Moscow and Constantinople. The conflict over Ukraine has moved to the global stage.


  • History Promotion Announcement

    Dear Colleagues,

    It is with great pleasure that we announce the promotions of eight faculty members, effective July 1, 2019.

    The following faculty were conferred tenure by the Board of Trustees at its most recent meeting:

    * Jeffers Lennox, Associate Professor of History

    Please join us in congratulating them on their significant accomplishments.

    Best wishes, Michael S. Roth, President

    Joyce Jacobsen, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost

    Read More

    Jeffers Lennox, Associate Professor of History

    Professor Lennox’s research explores the cultural, military, and economic interactions between the British, French, and Indigenous populations in northeastern North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. His recent book, Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690–1763 (University of Toronto Press, 2017) uses archival evidence and historical cartography to make the case that certain territories generally understood as colonies, such as Acadia and Nova Scotia, were often simply “imperial fictions” in which the French and British declared a sovereignty that did not necessarily exist. In 2018 he received the Canadian Historical Association’s Clio Award for Atlantic History, and he was shortlisted for the John A. Macdonald Prize. He teaches courses on Early North America; Liberty and Loyalism; Homelands and First Nations; and Imaginary Empires.

  • Tucker in The Conversation: In ‘Mary Poppins Returns,’ an Ode to the Gas Lamp

    Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker explores our ongoing romance with the gas lamp in connection with the new Mary Poppins film. Tucker is also associate professor and chair, feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; associate professor, science in society; and associate professor, environmental studies.

    In ‘Mary Poppins Returns,’ an ode to the gas lamp

    Mary Poppins Returns” transports audiences back to 1930s London.

    The beloved nanny at the center of the original 1964 hit film will return, this time played by Emily Blunt.

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    But Mary’s original companion, Bert, a chimney sweep played by Dick Van Dyke, has been replaced by Jack, a lamplighter played by Lin-Manuel Miranda [’02].

    Some fans of the original might be disappointed to see Bert cede screen time to Jack. But as a historian of Victorian science, I was delighted to see a bygone industrial technology – the gas lamp – take center stage.

    ‘Artificial suns’

    First installed in the 18th century, the earliest public street lamps used fish oil and wicks.

    The reflector lamp, invented in Paris in 1760, became a popular update to existing oil lamps. Using several wicks and silver-plated copper reflectors, these lamps could cast light down and sideways, strengthening the glow.

    These lamps were hailed as artificial suns – a new technology that could turn night into day.

    But it still wasn’t good enough. Compared to today’s lighting, they barely emitted a flicker. “Standing directly underneath one,” a contemporary griped, “one might as well be in the dark.”

    As the historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch explains in his book “Disenchanted Night,” gas ushered in a new era of street lighting technology. The first gas pipes were made from the barrels of old musket guns, and the lamp casings were coated in lime-oxide, which glow white-hot in a gas flame.

    The result was a lamp that burned much brighter than its predecessors.

    London’s Monthly Magazine reported: “One branch of the lamps illuminated with gas affords a greater intensity of light than 20 common lamps lighted with oil. The light is beautifully white and brilliant.”

    The Victorian periodical The Westminster Review wrote that the introduction of gas lamps would do more to eliminate immorality and criminality on the streets than any number of church sermons.

    The first gas lighting systems were installed in 1802 in a foundry in Birmingham, England’s 18th-century version of America’s Silicon Valley. As part of King George III’s birthday celebration, London’s Pall Mall became the first place lit by a gaslight in 1807.

    Over the following decades, thousands of gas lamps went up across London and in cities around the world.

    The professional lamplighter

    More lamps, however, created a need for more labor. Every evening, each lamp needed to be manually sparked; each morning, the flame needed to be manually quenched.

    Teams of lamplighters would meander through the city streets, using long poles to spark the gas. Gas lamps could be temperamental, so lamplighters also needed to clean and mend the lantern glass, which could crack and attracted dust and soot.

    A team of British lamplighters pose with their poles c. 1930. (Chris Sugg, CC BY-SA)

    The lamplighter soon entered popular culture. Charles Dickens’ first comedy, “The Lamplighter,” debuted in 1838.

    The Scottish writer R.L. Stevenson popularized the Scottish term for lamplighters – “leerie” – in his 1885 poem, “The Lamplighter”:

    My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky;
    It’s time to take the window to see the Leerie going by; 
    For every night at teatime and before you take your seat
    With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street. 

    In 19th-century England, lamplighters had a far better reputation than “Dusty Bobs,” the term used for chimney sweeps like Bert.

    Chimney sweeping was a desperately poor trade. Because the job often involved children clambering up and down sooty chimneys, Victorian labor reformers viewed it with horror.

    Lamplighters, in contrast, were paid better and were praised for their work illuminating darkened streets and allowing people to feel safer.

    A 1930 cartoon from the periodical Punch features a bicycle-riding lamplighter. (Chris Sugg)

    The romance of the gas lamp

    By the 1870s, gas lamps were being forced to compete with a newer form of street lighting: electricity. The electrical arc lamp first lit streets in London in 1878; more than 4,000 were in use by 1881. The United States quickly adopted arc lighting, and by 1890 over 130,000 were in operation.

    It took decades, however, for electricity to finally usurp gas in most British cities. Electricity was expensive, and many city dwellers thought the light emitted was too bright.

    In response to the challenge of electricity, inventors such as the engineer William Sugg pushed for improvements to the gas lamps to increase their reliability and power. In 1881, Robert Louis Stevenson published an essay titled “A Plea For Gas Lamps,” in which he lamented the “ugly blinding glare” of electric light.

    The cover of ‘Daylight by Night,’ a 1931 publication put together by the British Commercial Gas Association, depicts the soft glow of London’s gas-lit streets. (The British Commercial Gas Association.)

    The British Commercial Gas Association produced a book, “Daylight by Night,” which used photographs and watercolor illustrations to show the magical quality of a city at nightfall lit by gas.

    Sugg, Stevenson, the gas companies and others were able to temporarily delay the march of electricity: Historical journals such as Municipal Engineering indicate that into the 1930s, there were still over 100,000 gas lamps in London, ranging from the powerful lamps in the main thoroughfares to small low-pressure lamps in the outlying suburbs.

    Around 1,500 gas lamps remain in London, the majority of which are in world-famous London streets such as Whitehall and Regent Street, near Kensington and Buckingham Palace. These lamps have withstood electricity, the Blitz and urban renewal, and their survival is a testament to the care of generations of lamplighters, as well as the adoration of a nostalgic public.

    Meanwhile, the bicycle-riding lamplighter carrying his pole and ladder has become an iconic symbol of Ye Olde England, along with hansom cabs, Big Ben and the bells of St. Paul’s. “Mary Poppins Returns” production designer John Myhre has worked all of these symbols into the film to give it the distinct feel of 1930s London, although the lamps featured in the film more closely mimic those of the 1880s.

    Today, a team of specialists light and maintain the gas lamps that remain in London.

    No longer do they go from lamp to lamp by bicycle.

    Instead, they zip around the city on motorized scooters.

    Jennifer Tucker, Associate Professor of History and Science in Society, Wesleyan University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

  • Modern British History

    Professor Tucker's Modern British History class visit to Wesleyan's Special Collections with Susan K. Kent, A&S Professor of Distinction, Department of History, University of Colorado at Boulder, (author of Our Core Text), and Suzy Taraba, Director of Special Collections and Archives.  Students presented on their final projects, (introductions to a book of their chioce in British History).

Smolkin Discusses Her New Book on the History of Soviet Atheism at Brother’s Accompanying Art Exhibit

  • A Sacred Space Is Never Empty A History of Soviet Atheism

    On Nov. 11, Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history and Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies, joined forces with her brother, artist Vlad Smolkin, to share their work with the public at a new and revamped Main Street Gallery Art Opening/Books & Bagels Talk at Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Conn. Read More

    Smolkin is the author of a new book, A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism, published by Princeton University Press in 2018. A scholar of Communism, the Cold War, and atheism and religion in Russia and the former Soviet Union, Smolkin’s expertise also covers religious politics and secularism and the Soviet space program.

    In A Sacred Space Is Never Empty, Smolkin explores the meaning of atheism for religious life, for Communist ideology, and for Soviet politics. When the Bolsheviks set out to build a new world in the wake of the Russian Revolution, they expected religion to die off. Soviet power used a variety of tools—from education to propaganda to terror—to turn its vision of a Communist world without religion into reality. Yet even with its monopoly on ideology and power, the Soviet Communist Party never succeeded in creating an atheist society.

    The book presents the first history of Soviet atheism from the 1917 revolution to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews with those who were on the front lines of Communist ideological campaigns, Smolkin argues that to understand the Soviet experiment, we must make sense of Soviet atheism. Smolkin shows how atheism was reimagined as an alternative cosmology with its own set of positive beliefs, practices, and spiritual commitments. Through its engagements with religion, the Soviet leadership realized that removing religion from the “sacred spaces” of Soviet life was not enough. Then, in the final years of the Soviet experiment, Mikhail Gorbachev—in a stunning and unexpected reversal—abandoned atheism and reintroduced religion into Soviet public life.

    Victoria Smolkin discusses her new book at the art exhibition.

    During the event, Victoria discussed her new book while Vlad debuted his art exhibition, Light Beams. The Smolkins were born in the Soviet Union and moved to the United States and at a young age; through their experiences, each sibling found a distinct way to explore, highlight, and celebrate their heritage.

    Like Victoria’s book, Vlad’s art also showcases the themes of religion and outer space. His exhibition envisions how Judaism might exist on other planets. In his work, he looks at how the Western Wall might be transferred to Mars, and how the cultivation of flowers on Mars might be the last vestige of Jewish humanity.

    Light Beams by Vlad Smolkin can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday during December and the first three weeks of January 2019.

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