The best part of writing a book is penning the acknowledgments. Maybe that’s because it happens in the final stages of preparing a manuscript. If it’s time for the acknowledgements, you know it won’t be long until you see your work print. But compiling an index comes near the end too, and no one finds that task particularly gratifying.
The acknowledgements section—usually a few pages at the front of the book—is where historians recognize they could not have done it alone. As Jon Gjerde wrote, “The premise that it takes a village to raise a child is no less true in writing a book.” Librarians and archivists marshal the sources on which we depend, institutional and individual donors fund our time and travels, colleagues critique and encourage us, and students inspire us.
Advisers loom large in acknowledgements, especially for those of us who still get to call ourselves “young” scholars. These mentors usually guided our work as graduate students, inducting us into a professional community and supporting us through inevitable periods of frustration. They took our ideas seriously, seriously enough to question and challenge. They pushed us to refine our thinking, articulate our positions better, and provide stronger evidence. Russell Kazal noted the “phenomenal” support and “boundless generosity” that he received from his team of advisers, but he identified one as “perhaps my toughest critic.” Continue reading ‘Historians Give Thanks’
Peter Staudenmaier is assistant professor of modern German history at Marquette University
Since Fall semester 2013, a group of History Department faculty have been working together to create a new course for Marquette’s Honors program, a course that we expect to become a regular part of the department’s offerings in the following years. The new Honors course will be loosely coordinated with an existing course on ethics in the Philosophy department, and a central feature will be examining the historical development of moral frameworks and ethical debates across a variety of cultures and eras.
Creating a course like this from scratch presented a series of intriguing challenges and offered an opportunity to re-define some of the directions history teaching might take in a university like ours. Those of us involved from the early stages of the process – Laura Matthew, Lezlie Knox, Kristen Foster, and myself – worked with suggestions from our department chair, Jim Marten, and had wide latitude in shaping the initial contours of the course. One of our first decisions was to change the provisional title: rather than “The West and the World,” we chose to name the course “The World and the West” as a way to signal a reversal in traditional Eurocentric historical perspectives. Continue reading ‘“The World and the West”: Developing a New Honors Program Course’
Christmas encourages a certain amount of historical reflection. Family gatherings are warmed by nostalgia for past holidays and bittersweet memories of absent relatives, journalists trot out tired but popular human interest stories (virtually all newspapers, it seems, print the old “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” editorial), and churches embrace tradition in their selection of carols and staging of Christmas pageants.
As we approach Christmas 2013, I pulled up a few examples of Christmases past from a website that I created over a decade ago (with the help of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and about twenty graduate students), the Children in Urban America Project. The fully searchable site contains a number of illustrations and over 5000 documents chronicling the history of children in Milwaukee from about 1850 through 2000. Although the documents include memoirs and autobiographies as well as government reports and magazine articles, a majority of them were culled from the Milwaukee Sentinel, one of Milwaukee’s oldest newspapers (it merged with the Journal in the 1990s to form the Journal Sentinel). Continue reading ‘Ghosts of Christmases Past: Milwaukee Celebrates the Holiday’
I was in Mr. Tucker’s 7th grade math class at Andrew Carnegie Intermediate when the principal’s voice crackled over the school PA. “The president has been shot,” he told us. “If you pray, pray now for him and for our country.” Bill Webster the principal was from Massachusetts and knew JFK. His office (which I visited occasionally when in trouble) had only one small picture in it: Kennedy’s presidential photo. When class let out, we learned that the president had died…and this school of over a thousand 7th and 8th graders went silent. We were all shocked to see our teachers crying or dabbing their eyes…even the coaches. Webster came on the PA again during our subdued lunch period–crying and sobbing as he told us the sad news–and that he had called the busses to pick us up and take us home. I found my mother puffy-eyed and grabbing Kleenex when I got home. That afternoon I delivered the Sacramento Bee to my 65 customers with its screaming headline: PRESIDENT KENNEDY IS DEAD.
It’s hard to describe to those who were not alive at the time or who were in diapers just how big a wound this left in our hearts. We loved JFK and his family–his youth, his optimism, that wonderful smile–and the possibility of change. “Let’s get this country moving again” he said when running for president in 1960. His accomplishments were few compared to some (he had no Hundred Days like FDR) and his actions on Vietnam reflected the Cold War ideology of nearly everyone in the establishment. He wasn’t going to “lose” Southeast Asia as Truman had allegedly “lost” China. On Civil Rights, he may have saved Dr. King from being “accidentally” killed in a Georgia prison, but he lived in too much fear of mossback Southern Democrats and Republicans in congress to take the kind of action he should have. His brother Bobby was far too cooperative with the likes of J. Edgar Hoover. But Kennedy inspired many in my generation–yes even after we have heard of his sexual failings delivered regularly by the Puritan Pornographers of the right. We missed him and his brother Bobby…they reminded us of the promise of our youth. This country could be a better, more just, and generous place. I still believe that.
Heather Marie Stur, associate professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi, is a Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam, where she is spending the 2013-14 academic year as a visiting professor in the international relations department at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. She received a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an M.A. in history from Marquette.
The 50th anniversary of the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem came and went quietly here in Vietnam. On November 1, 1963, a group of South Vietnamese generals launched a coup against Diem, the president of the Republic of Vietnam, or South Vietnam as it is more commonly known in the U.S. Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were assassinated the following day. The U.S. government had backed Diem since his installation as president of South Vietnam in 1956, considering him a solid anticommunist alternative to Ho Chi Minh, president of the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the northern half of the country. But relations between John F. Kennedy’s administration and Diem had soured by 1963, and although historians continue to debate the role the U.S. played in the coup, most agree that American advisers and the CIA knew it was going to happen, even if they did not expect assassinations to be involved. About 16 months after Diem’s death, U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, starting a conflict that is known here as the “American War.”
Continue reading ’50th Anniversary of Diem’s Assassination’
By Heather Marie Stur
Observing the responses here in Vietnam to the death of General Vo Nguyen Giap, who passed away on October 4 at the age of 102, has offered a fascinating glimpse into Vietnamese culture and the meaning of the revolutionary generation to Vietnam’s national identity. During the three days of national mourning, the normally crowded and chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City were quieter. In Hanoi, where Giap lived, lines of tearful citizens waited through the night to pay their respects in front of his house. State-run television stations went dark, and entertainment events were cancelled. These expressions illustrate that the general occupies a central place in Vietnamese identity and in the memory of the country’s struggle for independence. Even though political infighting within the Politburo had gradually pushed Giap out of power beginning in the 1970s, he is being remembered as one of the most important figures in modern Vietnamese history. To the Vietnamese I’ve talked with, what matters is what General Giap represents, not the more complicated political realities.
Continue reading ‘On the Passing of Vietnam’s Founding Generation’
James Marten is professor and Chair of the history department at Marquette University.
I first blogged about James “Corporal” Tanner about a year-and-a-half ago. I was maybe half way through a book manuscript about his long and eventful life. As an eighteen-year-old he had lost both feet at Second Manassas, but the native New Yorker recovered to become a nationally famous lecturer, Republican operative, and advocate for veterans’ pensions. I’ve since finished the book, which will be published by the University of Georgia press next spring under the title, America’s Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace.
That blog led to one of the more serendipitous phone calls I’ve ever received. Late this summer a very nice young woman named Sabrina Ramoth called my office. She was from New Jersey and had found among her recently deceased grandmother’s effects a letter from Tanner to a man named James Jaycox, along with a typescript of a 1916 article about Tanner’s experiences in military hospitals written for the American Red Cross Magazine. She had no idea why they were there; although she did have an ancestor who fought in the Civil War, there was no known connection between her family and Tanner. A google search led to my blog about Tanner (it’s the fifth or sixth on the list when you enter “Corporal James Tanner”—who knew?), and she called in hopes that I could help solve this little mystery. I couldn’t, unfortunately, but despite the baby I could hear fussing half-heartedly in the background, she talked to me for fifteen or twenty minutes. Sabrina eventually sent me scans of the typed, two-page letter (see the excerpts below), and I added two paragraphs to the last chapter of the book just before the final version went to press. Continue reading ‘“It will sound rather strange to you…”: A Phone Call, a Letter, and the Corporal’