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A Message from the Chair

In this awful, disorienting year, my colleagues have worked tirelessly – nights and weekends and without much in the way of breaks – to ensure that our students could continue to make progress in their programs of study.  We tried out new pedagogical techniques, sought to make sense of the world with our students, shared tips about zoom’s idiosyncrasies, gave lectures from bathrooms or basements while wrangling small children, and got advice from graduate instructors who’d wowed on zoom last spring. Our faculty and graduate students earned prizes for their teaching: both Paul Ramirez and Daniel Immerwahr won College prizes for teaching, Jayson Porter won an Outstanding Graduate Student Teacher Award, and Michael Allen was awarded the university’s Charles Deering McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence. 

In addition to teaching and scholarly work, my colleagues have been contributing to the public conversations on subjects ranging from Latino Republicans to Korean “comfort women.” Leslie Harris appeared on the PBS Newshour talking about universities and reparations. Doug Kiel’s research and testimony proved pivotal in the Oneida Nation’s victory in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Brett Gadsden’s research on Biden was featured in Evan Osnos’ August profile in the New Yorker.  And that was the start of this year’s Harris Hall New Yorker appearances: Gerry Cadava and Daniel Immerwahr wrote articles and Amy Stanley figured in Jeannie Suk Gerson’s piece on a controversy about the “comfort women.”  Kate Masur’s new book, Until Justice Be Done, earned rave reviews in the Washington Post and The New York Times. Amy Stanley’s new book, Stranger in the Shogun’s City, won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN prize in biography. Gerry Cadava published five op-eds in the Times and was a guest on Trevor Noah’s Daily Show. A highlight of this year’s public history work came close to home: a zoom teach-in about the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol – organized by Caitlin Fitz – with contributions by Lina Britto, Kate Masur, Lauren Stokes, and Helen Tilley. We moved all our regular programming – the lectures, workshops and roundtables that normally take place in the Leopold Room – on-line in a “Historians at Home” series of events, coordinated by Robin Bates, Haydon Cherry, Elzbieta Foeller-Pituch and Gil Engelstein. 

Now, when it seems the end of the pandemic is finally in sight, I want to thank everyone who has helped to keep up a semblance of normality in Harris Hall. Our marvelous staff – Jasmine Bomer, Annerys Cano, Susan Delrahim and Tricia Liu, who have kept the office open and running, and fielded inquiries so speedily that it’s been easy to forget that they’re simultaneously juggling households, children and work. Special thanks to Dr. Elzbieta Foeller-Pituch, the Assistant Director of the Chabraja Center for Historical Studies, who has helped the History Department immensely in this pandemic year. To the graduate students in our Ph.D. program, whose commitment to teaching and whose perseverance in exams and archival work even when libraries were shut and archives were closed, has been a model. And of course to our undergraduates, whose optimism and good humor has kept us buoyant and focused on the future.

To the future, then. We’re planning for our return to Harris, conscious of how much work lies ahead. Thanks to donations received this last decade, we have been able to expand the number of post-docs we can offer next year.  Together, the Chabraja Center for Historical Studies and the History Department will sponsor seven (as opposed to the usual three) post-docs in 2021-22. At a time when the academic job market has collapsed and other job markets, too, are depressed, these post-docs will be a lifeline for the department’s new Ph.Ds, who are the future of the History discipline.  

Recognizing that our undergraduates have been out of classrooms for much of the last two years, we have also created a new set of seminars: the Re/Intro series, which we’ll run for the next two years. These will be very small seminars with a maximum of eight students, centered on pressing issues for citizens today – Democracy, say, or Why Empires Fall – and focused on intensive discussion. We’ll be talking about how to disagree, even vigorously, in person. How to read a room, knowing when to talk and when to listen. And how to feel comfortable in class when you’re not at home in your pyjamas.

Here’s to the brave new world of real pants! A heartfelt thank you to all of you who have donated to the History Department.  We wouldn’t be able to fund the post-docs and the Re/Intro series without you.

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