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Spring 2010 edition

Lean, Green  and Electronic

This experimental issue of Past and Present, for the first time published electronically, responds to current circumstances in which budget constraints, ecological concerns and desire for rapidity and efficiency of communication together for abandoning the History Department's long tradition of a snailmailed newsletter to inform alumni and friends of current goings-on among faculty and students.  We will see if you like it.  We hope that this format enables us to keep in better touch with you, and that it encourages you to get back to us with your own news.

From the Chair

The 2009-10 academicyear was an exceptionally busy one for the department.  We conducted two searches, one in European history and the other in US history.  We are very pleased to announce that Kris Pangburn will join us again next year in the Europe slot, and that Gretchen Boger will bring her expertise in twentieth century America to rounding out our departmental curriculum.  We are fortunate to bring these young, gifted teachers as instructors and as role models for our students.

In terms of the curriculum, the department has in the past year implemented a new senior exit sequence, a linked seminar and essay block.  Everyone is naturally quite anxious to see if this new sequence leads to even better quality senior essays. The department has also been focused on developing larger-scale assessment plans.   John Williams and Jane Murphy have been working, in particular, to refine a list of rubrics that will enable the department to assess the quality of senior essays. 

Lest you think that all I do is “chair-related,” please let me tell you about some of the very exciting things in my teaching and scholarly life.  I continue to work, albeit slowly, on my monograph, which focuses on same-sex sexuality in France from the Renaissance through the age of the French Revolution.  As an offshoot of that endeavor, I received a grant to go to Montreal this spring to work in the National Archives and the National Library of Quebec. I have taught and will teach several courses outside of the country in 2010.  This summer, Dennis McEnnerney (CC Philosophy) and I offered our course on Quebec in that province.  Following that experience, Gale Murray (CC Art History) and I taught a course on nineteenth-century art history and cultural history in Paris.  Finally, at the end of the fall term, Jane Murphy and I will offer a new course, Imagining Jordan, in the Mideast.  Can you believe my good fortune? 

In late spring, I was preoccupied with writing the commencement speech to deliver at the graduation ceremony of the Department of History at the University of Texas, my undergraduate alma mater.  Never having given such a talk in my career, I was very nervous about bringing together my experience as an undergraduate in Austin, my thoughts on history as a discipline, and my views on the benefits of a liberal education.  I was supposed to be both funny and profound….  All of this in twelve minutes.  YIKES!  How do you think it went?--Tip Ragan

[Click here to read Tip's UTAustin talk.]

The student view...

Who are our majors these days?  This conversation Past to Present editor Carol Neel introduces junior Anne Hoyt, pictured here with her Red Sox cap.

Anne Hoyt

What class do  you have this block [Block 7 of 2009-10], Anne? 

The Old South.  It’s a discussion based class with Bryan in which we see a lot of films, including Roots.  We’ve been comparing current views of slavery with the historical reality, and correcting Roots’ portrayal with more recent scholarship.  We talk about how the culture of the South was built by Anglo and African hands alike, and how that experience was distinctive in the American context.  This course is different form many History courses in its tight geographical focus.

Why are you a History major?

I really love history and it is important to understanding everything.

Are History majors a type? Do they have a lot in common?

Well, no.  They are a motley bunch, from all over, with lots of different political views.

How does your major relate to your long-term plans?

I am interested in various branches of public service, but I just might teach history.

What do you think about the new major exit requirements for an integrated senior seminar and research project? 

I like the idea.  I don’t really want to write a thesis!  I am looking forward to theory (HY 399) in Block 8 with Anne Hyde.

Anne, I know you went to boarding school.  How was that formative?

Well, I came here used to dorm life and ready, readier for real academic work than a lot of people.

Do you think the location of CC shapes it?  As a New Englander yourself? 

The College doesn’t really fit in regional culture—except for skiing.  But the academic program is regional in its emphasis on Southwest Studies.

What are your other academic interests?

I’m an Education minor and have been a student aide at Steele Elementary and Palmer High School.  Little kids are a lot better!  I enjoyed helping with first grade and kindergarten art.

And other than academics?

Running—last year I did cross-country.  I play guitar and take a class at the Fire Department as Fire Explorer (pre-training for fire academy).  I’m a huge Red Sox fan and am going to Ireland, to Galway, next year.  I doodle too much.  I used to care a lot more about politics but have decided it is too messy.  I’m a social democrat but conservative on some social issues like abortion, but can’t see making it illegal unless we fix the foster care situation. 

Anne is from Wilton CT.  Her dad, Dick, is a CC alum, an economics major.  We wish her well as she and many of our juniors set off on abroad experiences.


On the Faculty Front

Here departmental faculty tell their own stories in the third person--about their teaching and professional lives outside the college.  They also share occasional observations about life, and life as a historian.  Contributions are arranged in completely random order

Kris Pangburn

Kris is enjoying his experience as a visitor at CC and is looking forward to spending another year here.  Aside from prepping for his classes, he’s working on an article that examines the Protestant underpinnings of the early German liberal movement.  This summer he hopes to head to Germany for a few weeks to visit friends and do a little research.  And he’s trying to learn Spanish, but without much success. 

David Torres-Rouff

David Torres-Rouff is thrilled to have joined the History Department on a full-time basis. The Los Angeles native, who attended the same Junior High School (Walter Reed) as decorated colleague Doug Monroy--and likewise learned of the perils of “fuzzy thinking” at the feet of Paul Mertens--has spent parts of the past four years teaching in the department. He came to us from California, with an undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and with a PhD from UC Santa Barbara. David’s research has focused on social relations in nineteenth-century cities, and he’s currently completing a book called Making Los Angeles: Race, Space, and Municipal Power, 1824-1894 for Yale University Press. Torres-Rouff’s teaching interests cover a range of topics in the American past, including race, ethnicity and immigration, borderlands, and the history of public policy. Last spring he offered a course on gender in America from colonial times to 1920 as part of a new two-course sequence exploring the connections between gender and sexuality in US history. He also developed a two-course sequence addressing US urban history, and taught one of those courses as part of the Newberry short-term seminars in Chicago last spring. During quieter moments, David enjoys visiting with his nieces in Florida, cooking, gardening, and marveling at his colleagues’ snazzily renovated kitchens. Although only at the beginning of his career, Torres-Rouff looks forward to inspiring generations of CC students to take an interest in the ways that the past shapes the present and future.

John Williams

John was excited to take a class to China with Hong Jiang of the German, Russian and East Asian languages department this spring. Entitled "History, Literature and Culture of the Yangzi River Delta," the course ran for seven weeks from bases in Nanjing and Shanghai, and concluded with a trip to Beijing. Along the way, students climbed famous Mt. Huang, attended the World's Fair in Shanghai, and explored the history of Nanjing, capital to the Ming dynasty in the fourteenth century, Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in the nineteenth, and Nationalist government in the twentieth. Before that, John presented his research on twentieth century peasant militias at a conference in Colorado Springs focusing on constructions of the heroic. In the fall he will collaborate with Carol Neel on a First-Year Experience course on the cultures of the book in historical Europe and Asia. He continues to work on his book manuscript on cheating in China's traditional civil service examinations.

Anne Hyde

Anne is very happy to be sprung from leadership of the Hulbert Center and to melt back into the peaceful obscurity of the History Department. She loves being back in the chaos of Palmer Hall and having lots of time with her History people. She missed everybody!  She has been working on a new Colorado History course and taught the first iteration of it this summer for teachers, courtesy of an NEH grant with Annie Robb Levinsky, CC History grad and now director of the Historic Denver Foundation. She will also teach it next year in Block 8.  She finished a book project and sent it off to the University of Nebraska Press, so Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860 will be out late this year.

Dennis Showalter

Dennis was on sabbatical last semester, finishing his book on the World War II Battle of Kursk, hoping to begin one on the age of mass war, and helping out unofficially with senior essays. In June he was part of a tour of American battlefields from D-Day to Berchtesgaden. Hitler’s Panzers was published in December; a special magazine issue on “Patton in His Own Words” will be on newsstands in early spring. Dennis turned 68 in February, but plans to be around awhile yet, and is always pleased to see or hear from anyone who remembers.

Doug Monroy

It is so hard to close the book when one is writing.  Doug wants to take his new book, The Borders Within: Encounters between Mexico and the US, and do some re-writing.  There was certainly research that went into this book but he also included observations from his travels on both sides of the border and from his life in California, and even Colorado.  He wrote about his conversations with Mexican immigrant cab drivers in LA and roofers in Colorado, about his visits to a community of garbage dump pickers and a squatter colony in and around Tijuana, and even about a Honduran ex-gangbanger whom he chatted with in a tattoo removal clinic near downtown Los Angeles.  These are all dramatic stories of a Mexico and Central America in crisis and the nervous American response. 

Last November Doug journeyed with his then-94 year old father to Hermosillo to visit relatives he had never met.  Right in the middle of the state of Sonora and due south of Tucson, Hermosillo is a relatively prosperous and burgeoning city of 700,000.  Now he would like to include in his book a part about Mexico that is not in crisis, where the narcotraficantes seem to have little influence, where people don’t want to go to the US, where political life centers around the old, corrupt PRI, and life is for many, as they say, normal.  He watched boxing with his cousins on their plasma TV; toured around in their Ford Expedition or Toyota Camry; he chatted with his second cousin about their similarly-aged children and her life as an elementary school teacher; and his dad’s cousin and he joked about how she served beans with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  He laments that his book does not tell his American readers about this part of life in Mexico. 

Jane Murphy

Blocks 7 & 8 had Jane and her students taking a virtual tour of the Mediterranean from antiquity to the present, and more preparation for real travel next fall as CC starts its own semester abroad program in the Mediterranean. Tip and Jane will be teaching in Jordan in block 4, meeting students who will have spent the start of the year in Rabat, Morocco; another track will have students starting in Greece and then traveling to Morocco. Let us know if you’ll be traveling yourself. We’d love to meet up with alumni on this grand adventure.

Susan Ashley

Susan is still in the dean's office (year number five).  It's always strenuous, and at times satisfying.  She had the chance to teach the History of Paris in late May, early June with Tip Ragan in Paris--for the second time.   Jaimie Stevenson, paraprof in the dean's office, came along as assistant.  In block 1 of last year Re Evitt (English) and Susan taught the first block of Renaissance Culture, a First-Year Experience course.  Having the chance to think about texts and engage in lively discussions got her back in touch with the basics.

Peter Blasenheim

Peter came back to CC from a productive and extremely enjoyable sabbatical in Brazil.  He spent most of his time in Juiz de Fora, site of the recently expanded Brazilian student exchange program which now will be overseen by the ACM people in Chicago.  This means the program will accept and receive up to 25 students rather than just two or three and these students will be coming from the University of Brasília as well as Juiz de Fora. They will be going to various ACM schools, not just CC.  Peter helped inaugurate the exchange program in 2001 so, predictably, he has played a role in its expansion.   The sabbatical gave him the chance to check on its progress.  While in Brazil, he also worked with four historians and three archivists in Juiz de Fora and Rio who have helped him further a writing project on the history of the region of Minas Gerais to be published in Brazil; and he hung out with his colleague and friend Bia Dominguês, who taught at CC in ’99, and with whom he is co-editing a book of essays on his favorite historian, Richard Morse. He spent time in Rio and Belo Horizonte and also managed to sneak in a flight to Santiago de Chile and a bus ride over the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina, where he met up with four of his students who were studying there in the  Butler program at the University of Cuyo.  Much of Peter's winter 2009-10 was taken up with (successful) job searches for two openings in the Spanish Department, which he is co-chairing with Owen Cramer in Classics and Mario Montaño in Spanish.  The sabbatical was great, but he is thrilled to be back in the classroom where he thinks he really belongs. 

Carol Neel

Carol taught the usual Western Civ, medieval, and theory of history courses during the past year--and had a bumper crop (four !) of Classics-History-Politics majors. In March she finally held in hand her new book, co-authored with alum Ambrose (Gregory) Criste, '98. That collaboration, published as Anselm of Havelberg: Anticimenon, is a translation and commentary on the work of a twelfth-century apocalyptic theologian, theorist of history, and ecumenist.  It was deeply satisfying for her to work with one of our own alums on a project meaningful to both of them for reasons reaching beyond the immediate scholarly considerations.  This book is the first in a series on the religious order on which Carol works and to which our former Greg now belongs, the Premonstratensians or Norbertines, and the second volume, not authored but edited by Carol, is currently in press.  So, in a variety of ways, she feels her projects are flourishing.  Meanwhile her big girls have both gradated from Wesleyan and her little twins are in the third grade, but her puppy is still eating stuffed animals and there will always be first-year students, so there remains plenty to do.

In other news. . .

During David Torres-Rouff's research leave during the 2010-11 academic year, our American History curriculum and departmental intellectual life will be enriched by the contributions of Gretchen Boger, a new colleague trained at Yale and Princeton. Gretchen's research is on Methodist missioners of the early twentieth century and how their cross-cultural encounters, especially in India, transformed their views of peoples of color and of their own faith, Gretchen has two small girls, Edith and Alice, and a husband, Tom, who is finishing his ordination program at Princeton Divinity School. We look forward to their presence in the Department and the College.