Getting With the Times: Expanding the History Department’s Presence on Social Media

By Natalie Russell, History Department Social Media Intern

When I began my internship in late January, the history department was on two social media platforms; it had a strong following on its Facebook page and its blog Historians@Work. I can imagine that there are much more pressing matters for any history department than wondering how many “Likes” its latest Tweet received or which filter to use on its newest Instagblog3ram post. And who exactly could blame us for feeling this way? Twitter, and Instagram in particular, are usually reserved for brand development, news updates, and recreational posting—links to catch up on graduate student’s research work or to broaden horizons in one’s historical knowledge are not typically thought of as being the most successful posts on ether medium.

Our history department, however, sought to challenge that sentiment. We not only wanted to test the waters of an academic presence on traditionally informal sites, but we also wanted to combat the accrescent movement of millennials abandoning their liberal arts studies, especially their history degrees, in pursuit of seemingly more “useful” studies. We worked to prove to students that there remains a need for historians in the modern world, and we must make that case at their level. And thus began my odyssey—accompanied by the department’s other social media intern, Caty Frehe—to make a name for MUHistory202 on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

At the start of the semester, the two of us sat down and devised a plan to revitalize the department’s social media presence. We agreed that posting content more regularly was the first step to attract a larger audience. But we also wanted the posts to capture the personality and achievements of members of the history department, to be meaningful blog1and useful, and, above all, to engage a general audience. With these goals in mind, we brainstormed an array of subjects for daily posts that could not be exhausted within a few months and would not relate only to ourselves and our interests. After much discersion, Caty and I decided that one way to create an active following was to post content according to themed “hashtags”; we ended up creating five: #MeetUsMonday, #TakeOverTuesday, #WhyHistoryWednesday, #ThisDayInHistoryThursday, and #FunFactFriday.

Monday and Wednesday posts are intended to showcase the faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students studying history, hear their thoughts on why they chose the subject, and learn what role they see history play in their lives and the world around them. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday posts, however, are intended to find the moments in history that are unique and unexpected, to spark readers’ interest and make them think, blog2“Huh, I didn’t know that!” The purpose of these posts are twofold: Monday and Wednesday posts are intended to reinforce the validity of a history degree to students hesitant to commit to history as a major, while Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday’s posts are created with students studying other subjects in mind—these “factoids” may inspire them to take a history course as an elective and explore their interests in the subject.

So far, the reception has been positive and our following has grown dramatically. During the first month of our “campaign,” the number of Facebook “likes” grew from 624 to 650, the number of Instagram followers soared from less than twenty to 100, and the number of people following our Twitter feed swelled from twelve to forty-three.

Future plans include interviewing Marquette history students who are currently involved in internships associated with history, such as the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Milwaukee County Historical Society, Old World Wisconsin, and the like. We also hope to compile a larger blogpost for the department’s Historians@Work Blog, which will consist of the interviews we have done with students and faculty for our “Meet us Monday” posts. Ideally, these two future endeavors will impact potential students at Marquette, and show how versatile and appealing studying history truly is!

Caty and I are so excited to share our pure passion for history with our followers, and we hope that our enthusiasm is contagious. We have much more planned for the rest of the semester, and we cannot wait to see what this project does for the best department on campus.

Join the Movement! Follow us on:

Twitter: @MUHistory202

Instagram: MUHistory202

“Like” us on Facebook! Marquette History Department​

Natalie Russell is a History and French major at Marquette University and a social media intern in the history department. In addition to working with the Office of Disability Services and the Office of Residence Life, she is president of the Marquette chapter of StepUp!, whose purpose is to raise awareness about the Rwandan genocide and especially its impact on female survivors.

Native American History & the Explanatory Potential of Settler Colonialism

By Bryan Rindfleisch.

In this blog post, which originally appeared on “The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History,” one of our newest faculty members reflects on recent currents in colonial historiography and how he applies them to his course on Native American history here at Marquette.  It begins:

junto

“One of the trending themes in Native American history is “Settler Colonialism.” From Patrick Wolfe’s foundational essay, to recent works by historians and literary scholars—Bethel Saler, Jodi Byrd, Gregory Smithers, David Preston, and Lisa Ford, for instance—this theoretical model has attracted significant attention within the field.[1]

In fact, I’ve deployed this concept as the framework for my upper-division class, “A History of Native America, 1491–Present,” at Marquette. But over the past several weeks it has become evident that settler colonialism is a bit of a minefield. . . .”

Read the entire piece at https://earlyamericanists.com/2016/02/10/native-american-history-the-explanatory-potential-of-settler-colonialism/.

Bryan Rindfleisch inn assistant professor of history at Marquette University.  He is currently transforming his dissertation, “’Possessed of the most Extensive Trade, Connexions, and Influence’: The Atlantic Intimacies of an Eighteenth-Century Indian Trader,” into a book manuscript.

 

 

The World’s Fastest Human: Ralph Metcalfe and Marquette University

By James Marten

Ralph_Metcalfe_edges_Jesse_Owens_in_100_meters_1934

Ralph Metcalfe edges Jesse Owens at the 1934 AAU Championship at Marquette Stadium. Raynor Library Special Collections.

It was June 30, 1934, and a sprinter named Ralph Metcalfe would make history at Marquette Stadium, where the national American Athletic Union championships were being run. Not only would the Marquette student athlete become the first person since the 1890s to win two AAU events three years in a row (in his case the 100 and 200 meter races), on this mid-summer day he would also nip the soon-to-be legend Jesse Owens in the 100. His time of 10.4 seconds nearly tied the world record, a feat he would manage three times during the next year, leading “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” to label him “World’s Fastest Human.”

Metcalfe’s fame—he had already won a silver and a bronze at the 1932 Olympics—would be eclipsed by Owens, a track and field hero at Ohio State who would go on to international fame by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Adolf Hitler’s Berlin. Metcalfe also ran in the games, winning a silver in the 100 (just behind Owens) and a gold as a member of the 400-meter relay (with Owens).

As Owens carved out immortality as one of the world’s greatest athletes, Metcalfe earned his degree, coached track at Xavier University, served in the military during World War II, and became director of Chicago’s Department of Civil Rights. He began more than two decades in politics when he won election to the Chicago City Council in 1955; in 1970 he successfully ran for Congress, where he helped organize the Congressional Black Caucus. He died suddenly in 1978, and is remembered in Chicago as the namesake of the Federal Building.

His memory also survives at Marquette, most notably in a lecture series that bears his name. Each year three or four “prominent faculty, scholars and professionals of diverse backgrounds” (according to Marquette’s website) visit campus as holders of the Ralph H. Metcalfe, Sr., Chair, delivering public lectures, speaking to classes, and meeting with graduate and undergraduate students. The history department has sponsored a number of Metcalfe Chairs over the years; most recently, in February 2014, Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, gave a lecture titled, “Guilty Until Statistically Proven Innocent: How Data Destroyed the Promise of Civil Rights.”  Two years earlier, Richard Blackett, Andrew Jackson Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, presented “Taking Leave: Fugitive Slaves and the Politics of Freedom, 1850-1860,” as part of the department’s “Freedom Project,” commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

Owens’s feats on the track and in Berlin are featured in the movie “Race,” opening on Friday, February 19 (http://www.focusfeatures.com/race).  Despite their close association during their years as track stars and their life-long friendship, Metcalfe is not a major chMetcalfe1aracter; a relatively unknown actor named Dondre Octave will play Metcalfe in the movie.  The trailer features a couple of scenes that include Metcalfe: the climatic 100 meter race and the young men’s appearance on the medal stand.

But Ralph Metcalfe’s legacy transcends his reputation as one of Marquette’s most accomplished athletes. As a politician, a civil rights advocate, and a representative of and inspiration to his city, his community, and his university, Metcalfe’s work and name live on.

metcalfe2

James Marten is professor and chair of the department of history.

The February 16 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel featured a long story (http://www.jsonline.com/greensheet/ralph-metcalfe-beats-jesse-owens-at-marquette–in-1934-b99669717z1-369048961.html) about of Metcalfe and Owens as well as a photo gallery (http://www.jsonline.com/multimedia/photos/the-rivalry-of-ralph-metcalfe-and-jesse-owens-b99671742z1-369049991.html).

 

Benedict Anderson: An Appreciation

By Timothy G. McMahon

Late in 2015 saw the passing of Benedict Anderson, Aaron L. Binenkorb Professor Emeritus of International Studies, Government & Asian Studies at Cornell University. His book Imagined Communities (first published in 1983) is a staple in discussions of nations and nationalism, subjects that are at the heart of much of my research, and I have been wrestling with his ideas for more than two decades now and inviting my students to join that struggle too. Indeed, just before Anderson’s death, my graduate readings course debated and wrote papers on the method and implications of his adaptations of Walter Benjamin’s ideas.

Had Andandersonerson (1936-2015) never written IC, however, it is likely that I would have encountered him (or at least his father) at some point in my research into Irish actors in the British Empire. The elder Anderson, you see, was an Anglo-Irishman whose career took him to China, where he worked for the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service, which had been overseen by another Irishman, Sir Robert Hart, from the 1860s through the first decade of the twentieth century. Hart’s voluminous papers are vital source material for scholars of nineteenth-century China, but (as I hope to show in the near future), they are also important records of Irish engagement with the world beyond the United Kingdom. Hart famously recruited European agents to oversee his Chinese staff—the majority of whom came from Ireland and Britain—and among the many traits he required of his subordinates was a facility with Mandarin and a respect for indigenous customs. Facility with languages beyond English seems to have passed through the generations in the Anderson family, as an appreciative piece in the New Republic noted over the weekend. Benedict alone could read Dutch, German, Spanish Russian, and French and was fully conversant in Indonesian, Javanese, Tagalog, and Thai, though he claimed in the 2006 edition of IC that English and Indonesian were the only two languages in which he felt truly at home.

That comment came near the end of the Afterword that Anderson included in the 2006 edition, which might seem at first blush a self-serving 22-page homage to how widely known IC had become since it first appeared. But I choose to read these pages, and particularly its concluding sentence, as a call to the rest of us to pick up the baton where Anderson left it. What is, after all, the intent of scholarship? It is to seek out new knowledge, both for its own sake and for the sake of informing wider audiences, whether in the classroom or the public sphere beyond the university. Too often these days we hear universities and faculties portrayed as out of touch with the “real world” and in need of a reminder of their duty to their students—a charge that I find laughable when not offensive given the work I know colleagues put into their careers. It is difficult to envision someone more engaged in the real world than Anderson, whose wider career looked deeply at southeast Asia and especially at Indonesia, deeply enough in fact that he was banned from Indonesia for several decades after his work had exposed some of the worst atrocities of the Suharto regime.

In no way am I suggesting that all of us—or even a high percentage of us—would ever have that kind of impact, but in his recognition that translations of IC had subtly changed its meaning for different audiences (“IC is not my book anymore,” he once wrote), Anderson offers the most generous piece of advice to scholars and students that one possibly can.1 It is that what we are all really involved in is a prolonged conversation, a game of telephone, in which our ideas become part of a stream of others’ ideas that, over time, helps us to perceive our world with greater clarity and, hopefully, to act accordingly. That is a vision I can imagine with a smile.

  1. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, 2006 rev. ed.), p. 229.

 

Tim McMahon is associate professor of history and Vice President of the American Conference of Irish Studies. He is the author of Grand Opportunity: The Gaelic Revival and Irish Society, 1893-1910 (Syracuse, 2008) and editor of the memoir Pádraig Ó Fathaigh’s War of Independence: Recollections of a Galway Gaelic Leaguer (Cork, 2000). He is currently writing a monograph tentatively entitled Éire Imperator: Ireland’s Imperial Ambivalence.

Nazis and the Environment

By Peter Staudenmaier

Sometimes a seemingly obscure historical topic attains unexpected publicity. My current research project centers on the role of environmental ideals in Nazi Germany; I have been gathering archival sources on the subject since graduate school. Earlier this year I was fortunate to receive a generous research grant from the Holocaust Educational Foundation for a proposal titled “Nature and Genocide: Ecological Dimensions of the Nazi Racial Project.” Thanks to this support, I had the opportunity to spend several very productive months in archives in Munich and Berlin assembling an increasingly rich and compelling body of evidence.

Upon my return to the US, I was surprised and encouraged to find a sudden upswing in scholarly interest in this same subject. A headline in the New York Times Book Review from early September read: “Hitler’s Ecological Fantasies.” Beneath it was a thoughtful review by a senior Holocaust scholar of Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s recent book Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (Penguin, 2015–see Michael Marrus, “Hitler’s Ecological Fantasies,” New York Times Book Review, September 6, 2015, p. 9). In his multifaceted re-interpretation of the Holocaust, Snyder argues that Hitler saw the elimination of European Jews as a kind of ecological necessity.

This conjunction of environmental ideas and extermination policies undoubtedly appears outlandish to some readers, but it is not a historical novelty. Debates on the topic have produced a gradually growing scholarly literature over the past two decades. In the words of Enzo Traverso’s study The Origins of Nazi Violence:

 “Mysticism founded on nature, antihumanist irrationality, and the redemptive myth of a return to the land (through conquest) led to a policy of genocide represented as a disinfection, a purification – in short, an ‘ecological’ measure. The Jews, who embodied an abstract (exterritorial, anational) form of humanity, were to be wiped out in the name of the preservation of nature.” (Enzo Traverso, The Origins of Nazi Violence [New Press, 2003], p. 144)

 Recent developments promise to push these debates forward. Among historians of Nazism and the Holocaust, Snyder’s controversial book has brought renewed attention to the ostensibly ecological aspects of Hitler’s rule. Among environmental historians, meanwhile, the potentially authoritarian strands in early green politics have begun to receive more intensive scrutiny. These are challenging and contentious questions, not least because of the potential for misunderstanding. Nostalgists for Nazism are all too eager to publicize purportedly redeeming aspects of the regime, while anti-environmentalists gladly seize on any suggestion of a link between ecology and Hitler.

My own research aims to bring the complex historiography of the Holocaust into productive dialogue with the insights of environmental history in order to illuminate an ambiguous and troubling question. From the role of Nazi “advocates for the landscape” in shaping SS plans for conquered territories in the East, to the organic plantation at the Dachau concentration camp that served as an SS training facility, there is much about this history that remains to be examined, carefully and critically, in an effort to understand an especially perplexing part of the past.

A topic like this calls for interdisciplinary perspectives, and in this respect I have once again been fortunate in receiving substantial support from other scholars and other institutions. Last year I was able to conduct crucial research during a short-term fellowship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and this summer I had the chance to take part in an excellent faculty seminar at the University of Chicago on “Nature in German Thought” sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service. Other participants in the seminar came from literary and philosophical fields, which greatly enriched our discussions.

As I move forward with my research, I hope to include the findings not just in academic work but in publications for a broader readership. I also plan to incorporate some of the material into my teaching, both in my course on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust and in the new course on environmental history that we expect to introduce at Marquette next year. I am very grateful for the support I have received from many quarters as the research has developed, and I look forward to bringing this long-running proje62543ct to fruition in the years to come.

Peter Staudenmaier is an assistant professor of history at Marquette and author of Between Occultism and Nazism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race in the Fascist Era (2014).

Politics and Christmas during the Civil War

 

By James Marten

A recent episode of the profane and hilarious (and also surprisingly respectful of history) television show “Drunk HistorNast 1y” featured Thomas Nast, the crusading Harper’s Weekly cartoonist. Historians know him for his efforts to bring down the corrupt “Boss Tweed” and his Tammany Hall machine in the early 1870, his cartoons attacking the Ku Klux Klan and the Democratic Party, and for any number of other political and reform-minded campaigns (some of his cartoons attacked the Catholic Church!).

Most Americans probably don’t recognize Nast’s name. But they are familiar with his most lasting creation: a drawing of Santa Claus made in 1881 that quickly became the most widely accepted version of the “jolly old elf.” It has appeared on countless postcards and posters since then; indeed, it is almost inseparable from the secularization—and, inevitably, the commercialization—of the holiday season.

But it was hardly the first time that Nast had portrayed Santa Claus for readers of Harper’s Weekly.

Almost two decades earlier, a year-and-a-half after the beginning of the Civil War, he had sketched his first version of Santa. Titled “Santa Claus in Camp,” it appeared in the January 3, 1863, issue. The Christmas season had not been a happy one in the North. Just two weeks earlier, the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg had cost the Union nearly 1300 dead and 9600 wounded soldiers. Just after Christmas, nearly 1800 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured at the ill-fated Battle of Chickasaw Bayou near Vicksburg, while Confederate raiders had threated Union positions in Kentucky and elsewhere. Just two days before the issue came out, the Union army barely won the Battle of Stone’s Creek in Tennessee, but 25,000 Confederate and Union soldiers became casualties—a third of the total number of men fighting. And to top it all off, the Republican Party, who controlled the Congress and the Presidency, was plagued with infighting, votes of no-confidence, and cabinet resignations.

Thomas Nast oNast 2ffered a pro-Union, optimistic antidote to the gloomy, bloody holiday. In addition to scenes of home front Christmases inside, the cover illustration showed Santa Claus receiving a hero’s welcome in a Union army camp. In addition to playing various games and cooking a sumptuous Christmas feast, the surprisingly chipper soldiers—“what,” they seem to be saying, “me worry?”—open the presents brought by Santa Claus, including socks and pipes; drummer boys play with a jack-in-the-box.

More importantly, unlike subsequent representations of Santa Claus, in which he is decidedly apolitical, this particular St. Nick is a determined ally of the Union. His costume features stars and stripes, and he’s entertaining the soldiers with a toy that is apparently an effigy of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. It seems to be a kind of jumping jack toy; pull the string on top and the legs and arms move as though he’s leaping and twirling. However, in this image, Santa is acting out a line from a popular bit of war-time doggerel set to a tune we now know as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “We’ll hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree!”

The war started to go better for the Union in 1863, of course, although hundreds of thousands more American men wNast 3ould be killed and maimed in the hard fighting that lasted until spring 1865. By then, Santa was doing what he did best—giving presents to children safely at home, far from war. (Although he would make similarly patriotic appearances in later wars; see the online exhibit at the World War II Museum here).

It’s unsettling for us to see just how easily a childhood fantasy can, in effect, be “weaponized” on behalf of a political ideal. But that’s what we historians do: complicate the ways in which we can see even the simplest—seemingly simple, at least—aspects of our culture.

Despite that, the History Department offers a fairly simple wish for the season: Happy Holidays!
For more on Thomas Nast and Santa Claus during the Civil War, see http://www.civilwarprofiles.com/thomas-nast-and-santa-claus-in-the-civil-war/.
You can watch the Nast “Drunk History” segment here: http://www.cc.com/video-clips/1pqsyg/drunk-history-thomas-nast-takes-on-tammany-hall.

 

James Marten is professor and chair of the history department. Among his books are The Children’s Civil War (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1998) and Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2011).

Politics and the Humanities: A Sometimes Dubious Relationship

Lezlie Knox points us to historians’ reactions to presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s recent statement comparing the Crusades and the current events in Syria.

Last spring I wrote a brief post sharing some links of medievalists responding to problematic comparisons of the Crusades to the current situation in Syria. Given Carly Fiorina’s recent boast at a New Hampshire townhall that her undergraduate training in medieval philosophy and history at Stanford prepared her to challenge the Islamic State/ISIS, it’s worth reading these wonderful ripostes.

David Perry, historian of the Crusades and an active blogger, wrote an op-ed in The Guardian. Just yesterday, Bruce Holsinger, medieval literary scholar and historical novelist, published a piece in the New York Times. Both essays are worth reading for their analysis of ahistorical invocations of the Middle Ages and its implications. Moreover, I particularly want to draw attention to the closing of Holsinger’s piece. He points out the Fiorina’s remarks are particularly distressing because she crusaders&moslemshas been a defender of the value of the Humanities.

The most valuable course she took at Stanford, she told the graduates, wasn’t economics or politics, but a seminar called “Christian, Islamic and Jewish Political Philosophies of the Middle Ages.”

Each week, she explained, students had to distill what they’d read into a mere two pages: “The rigor of the distillation process, the exercise of refinement, that’s where the real learning happened. It was an incredible, heady skill to master. Through the years, I’ve used it again and again — the mental exercise of synthesis and distillation and getting to the very heart of things.”

Rarely has the value of humanistic education been defended so eloquently. Whatever your politics, I tell my students, take heart. When your annoying Uncle Fred asks why you’re majoring in philosophy instead of commerce, tell him you know of a Fortune 500 C.E.O. who majored in medieval studies — not only majored in it, but also credits it with shaping her into the successful public figure she became.

We also can look forward to scholars of Ancient Greece taking on Marco Rubio’s assertion that studying Greek Philosophy is useless….

Lezlie Knox is associate professor of history, Director of Graduate Studies, and the author of Creating Clare of Assisi: Female Franciscan Identities in Later Medieval Italy (Brill, 2008).


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