Thoughts on Moving, Change, and Asking “Why”

Carla Hay, our British historian and the senior member of Marquette’s department, found time during the move to Sensenbrenner Hall to reflect on the last time the history department changed buildings, from Grandmora Hall (located on the south side of Wisconsin at 13th street, where Cudahy Hall now sits) to Coughlin Hall, built in 1977. Although most members of the department came after the move, we have all been entertained with stories of the decrepit former home of history and the other humanities department.

We are now engaged in a great move, but not for the first time in the memory of at least some members of the History Department.  I don’t recall that the move from Grandmora to Coughlin was as personally challenging (traumatic) as the move from Coughlin to Sensenbrenner—but maybe that reflects the changes in my own acquisitiveness since the late 1970s, when the move to Coughlin occurred—I now have lots more to

Grandmora Hall.

Grandmora Hall.

move.   While some colleagues nostalgically remember Grandmora, my memory is of a dilapidated building with serious infrastructure issues (heating being foremost), [editor’s note: I have also heard stories of rats and the absence of telephones in individual offices.] so I welcomed the move to the new home of the Humanities where, unlike Grandmora, which had no interior halls connecting the four humanities (history, English, theology, and philosophy) there would be shared space and, supposedly an opportunity for community, although that proved less robust than hoped.

It was with great anticipation that the first weekend feasible I moved my decorative items to the brand new Coughlin Hall to personalize my new office.  I painted an old table and chair burnt orange to match the new color scheme of Coughlin and also bordered a print of Queen Elizabeth I in burnt orange.  I spent a Saturday afternoon hanging prints of British figures and scenes, inexpensively (cheaply) framed to decorate my new office and left that afternoon tired, but satisfied at the aesthetic effect of my labor.  When I returned the next Monday. I found most of my handiwork on the floor, many picture frames and glass shattered–just the first indication of a ventilation problem in Coughlin that caused vibrations so serious that offices had to be vacated over the years. I re-hung my pictures and once I got to relocate to an office overlooking the Quadrangle I came to really like History’s location in Coughlin Hall.

I wonder how our move from the Quad to the eastern fringes of the campus will affect the department’s engagement with students and colleagues in other departments, especially the humanities with whom we no longer share a building.  But as the transition from Grandmora to Coughlin represented a quantum improvement in the physical environment in which the History Department functioned, so also the move to Sensenbrenner provides exciting opportunities to engage our students and colleagues.   As a study space, Sensenbrenner provides an opportunity to engage students in a social way not possible, before. And the building also should prove a magnet for programming with other units of the University. So exciting times lie ahead.

On an even more personal note, as I packed my office, I came across a number of items—each of which required a decision whether to keep or toss. The most unexpected find was a promo pack of (four or six) cigarettes with an expiration date of 1989– these were frequently passed out on Wisconsin Avenue as “freebies” to hook students.  The hardest things to throw in the recycling bin were my journals and books—any books—because I truly love books.  A graduate student took my copies of the Journal of British Studies and Albion, but the American Historical  Review was dumpstered along with the Journal of Modern History.

Despite the trauma it inspires, de-accessioning (an interesting term) can be an opportunity to reflect on a life lived.  In my case, on the countless committees and professional associations—seemingly important and time consuming (big time) at the time but on so many different issues (gender equity issues in athletics, the MU women’s studies program, shared governance at MU) the process seemed to be two-steps forward and  one-step (or maybe three) back—and that can be depressing.  At the time I believed these efforts would have more consequence than in fact has proved to be the case.

So the move has been an opportunity, interspersed with trashing and packing, to reflect on my professional, and since they are intertwined, my personal life.  I do have a few regrets: I wish I could have pursued my interest in administration and regret I didn’t publish more, even though publications are also often ephemeral.  My greatest satisfaction:  having lived my entire life in an academic environment.  My mother and I lived with my grandmother during WWII while my father was in the service.  I apparently so frequently asked the question “Why?” that my grandmother contemplated throttling me if I asked “Why” one more time.  I still think “Why?” is the most important question. And I am so grateful that I have spent my life in an environment that encourages us to ask it.

*Courtesy Raynor Memorial Libraries digital collections.

Movin’ on Up—To the East Side (of Campus)

By James Marten, Professor and Department Chair

Although we’re not moving to a “deluxe apartment in the sky”—if you get that reference, you may be a baby boomer*–we are, indeed, settling into nicer and more comfortable accommodations in the completely refurbished Sensenbrenner Hall, the “old law school,” on the East edge of campus at 11th and Wisconsin.  If you were ever in the old law school—forget what you think it looks like.  The 1924 building was gutted; there are a few original features—stained glass windows, original tile on the stairs—but it’s mainly a nice mix of metal, wood, and glass throughout.  Many faculty offices have eleven-foot ceilings, and light bounces through the offices and hallways.  And our administrative assistant, Jolene Kreisler, has windows in her office for the first time!

Sensenbrenner Hall in 1923.

Sensenbrenner Hall in 1923.

The 1960s and 1970s additions to Sensenbrenner were torn down and replaced by a sleek, smaller addition containing elevators, stairs, restrooms, and wide hallways. The entire east side of the new building is glass, so we have a great view of downtown. The Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences occupy the first two levels; the main history office is on the third level, with faculty offices on the third and fourth levels. TAs occupy a mezzanine above the fourth level with, get this, a skylight that also provides light in a lounge area on the fourth level. We’ll provide pictures of the space after we get settled and hang some pictures, but feel free to stop by for tour.

Click here for more information about the project and an artist’s rendition of the new and improved Sensenbrenner.

But in addition to the big move, it’s also accurate to say that the theme for the History Department in 2013-2014 is movement—upward, forward, and, sadly, away.  Here are some highlights.

Two of our colleagues, Alison Clark Efford and Michael Wert, were promoted to associate professor with tenure.


Five colleagues published books (click on the title to go to the publisher’s website):

Michael Donoghue, Borderland on the Isthmus: Race, Culture, and the Struggle for the Canal Zone

John Krugler, Creating Old World Wisconsin: The Struggle to Build an Outdoor History Museum of Ethnic Architecture

James Marten, America’s Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace

Peter Staudenmaier, Between Occultism and Nazism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race in the Fascist Era

Michael Wert, Meiji Restoration Losers: Memory and Tokugawa Supporters in Modern Japan


Altogether, members of the history department gave thirty-seven papers or lectures in seven countries and at least eleven states and were awarded grants to pursue research in Rome (Lezlie Knox, with an National Endowment for the Humanities Grant), Germany (Peter Staudenmaier), Washington, DC (also Peter), Chicago (Laura Matthew, with an NEH grant), and Philadelphia (Alison Efford).

Honors poured down on the department:

Daniel Meissner became the twelfth member of the History Department since 1965 to receive the Award for Teaching Excellence. Current members of the department who have also earned the award are John Krugler, Phil Naylor, Julius Ruff, and Steve Avella. Click here to read a transcript of Dan’s remarks at the Pere Marquette Banquet, where the awards were announced.

Lezlie Knox and Michael Donoghue were both finalists for the Excellence in Faculty Advising award from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Laura Matthew received the year-long Way-Klingler Sabbatical Award, while Peter Staudenmaier received the Way-Klingler Young Scholar Award, which pays for a semester-sabbatical and provides research funding.  Laura’s book, Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala, received two major books awards: the Howard Cline Memorial Prize from the Conference on Latin American History and the Murdo MacLeod Prize from the Latin American and Caribbean Section of Southern Historical Association

Of course, as in most years, the journeys we historians undertake also included departures: three doctoral students completed their degrees: Jeffrey Ramsey (whose dissertation was directed by Thomas Jablonsky) and McKayla Sutton and Timothy Lay (whose dissertations were both directed by Tim McMahon).

Finally, we say goodbye to two junior colleagues: Andrew Kahrl is leaving after his fifth year at Marquette to take a joint appointment with the history department and the Carter G. Woodson Center at the University of Virginia, while Sarah Bond, who just finished her second year at MU, will join the classics faculty at the University of Iowa.  We wish them well and appreciate their work at MU during their time here.

Look for more news of the department and for pictures of our new digs in the annual newsletter, which should be sent out via email by mid-summer.

*Of course, this is a lyric from the theme song of the 1970s sit-com The Jeffersons.  Listen to the entire song here.

Can a Vietnamese Catholic Be a Communist?

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.


Vietnamese Roman Catholic nuns in a commemorative procession

In the fall of 1969, a reporter for the Saigon-based magazine Đối Diện, a monthly Catholic publication, interviewed Father Nguyễn Ngọc Lan about his position on the Vietnam War and prospects for peace. Father Lan was a known peace advocate, which had led some to label him communist-leaning. When the reporter asked him about the accuracy of the label, he replied that if desiring peace and caring for the poor made him a communist, so be it. The way Fr. Lan saw it, if a peace settlement led the warring halves of Vietnam to be united under a communist government, that would be better than to remain at war while a corrupt non-communist government continued to hold power in Saigon. What should we choose, the priest asked, if given the choice between war and peace? Continue reading ‘Can a Vietnamese Catholic Be a Communist?’

Let’s Put on a Show (re-published)

Recently Jim Marten was asked to write a blog for the “Higher Ed Beta” section of the on-line journal Inside Higher Education.  He recalls his own experiences in the relatively early days of “digital humanities”–before they were called such–as director of the Children in Urban American Project.  See link below:’s-put-show#sthash.iYvEME9d.bOmO5xYc.dpbs

A Few Thoughts on Baseball and History

Monday is Major League Baseball’s official opening day. The great Joe DiMaggio once said, “You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid.  You think something wonderful is going to happen.” I suppose that level of excitement comes easily when you’re one of baseball’s all-time greats.  But Americans’ enthusiasm for the game has been so great that from time to time sports advocates and beer companies have tried to have it declared a holiday!

6208596They’ve never succeeded, but that they have tried suggests the deep relationship that many Americans have with the game of baseball. Pundits (some of them historians) love to wax eloquent about its timeless nature; great-great-great grandfathers watched substantially the same game as we watch now.  But observers also frequently reflect on the ways in which baseball has mirrored the massive economic, racial, and political shifts in American history. The iconic 1989 film Field of Dreams captures the first, elegiac, approach to baseball; the more recent 42 explores the pioneering integration of baseball by Jackie Robinson more in line with the game’s second, more dynamic place in history.

This blog, however, will ignore both approaches.  Based on internet research and supposition, it will simply suggest a particular, and particularly superficial, way in which the “National game” intersects with history: the names of major and minor league teams.  Some of those connections are obvious, some less so.  And if it helps to make my point, I’ll freely draw from teams in other sports! Team names with at least a whiff of historic sensibility seem to fall into a few obvious categories: 1. those named after locally important industries or resources; 2. those named after community institutions and customs; 3. those inspired by actual historic events and personalities.  Here are a few: Continue reading ‘A Few Thoughts on Baseball and History’

A Young Scholar in Paris

Matthew Douglas is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Marquette University and the recipient of the Cyril E. Smith Fellowship for the 2013-2014 academic year

Moving to Europe and walking into an archive left me with a sense of both excitement and fear.    For a young historian, the confines of the archival wall contain the great stories, anecdotes, theses and dissertations.  Entering the newly built Archives départementales, was no different.  In August of 2013, I received the generous Cyril E. Smith Fellowship.  This financial support flew me to France to conduct research in the local departmental archives in Nîmes, Montpellier, and in the Archives Nationales in Paris.  My research focuses on the religious upheavals in France that began in the sixteenth century and lasted until the late eighteenth century.  These disturbances began when French Protestants, or Huguenots, were socially accepted with the ascension of Henri IV, and his famous Edict of Nantes.  The city of Nîmes became my case study, as it boasted a robust Protestant population when Louis XIV abolished the religious toleration for Huguenots with the Edict of Fontainebleau a century later.

The focus of my research concerns the criminal records associated with the court located in Nîmes.  My most dramatic cases concern the Nîmois who joined in the Camisard Revolt centered in the neighboring Cevennes region in 1702.  Many socially prominent citizens met their ends at the hands of the executioner for fighting for Protestantism.   More commonly, the courts meted out less dramatic penalties to Huguenot adherents.  Hundreds were sent to live out their lives in service to Louis XIV in his galleys.  Many others paid high fines, and quickly emigrated.   Other times, the judges absolved their Protestant neighbors, such as on the Christmas Day immediately after the Revocation.  Regardless of particular circumstance, Huguenots took to hiding in various places around Nîmes and continued to practice their faith clandestinely.               Continue reading ‘A Young Scholar in Paris’

Historians Give Thanks

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 9.19.27 PMThe 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’


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