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Faculty News

Department faculty report that they have been especially busy during this unusual year. Below are brief updates from several of them—more will feature in the summer 2021 newsletter.

Lydia Barnett was delighted to receive tenure in the History department in June of 2020. She was also honored to have her first book, After the Flood: Imagining the Global Environment in Early Modern Europe, win the 2019 Morris D. Forkosch Prize for best first book in intellectual history from the Journal of the History of Ideas. (It was also a finalist for the 2020 George Perkins Marsh Prize from the American Society for Environmental History and was shortlisted for the 2020 Kenshur Prize from the Indiana Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies.) After an exhausting – yet deeply rewarding! – year of teaching on Zoom, she is looking forward to a post-tenure leave at The Huntington Library in southern California in 2021-22, where she plans to do research for her second book on gender, labor, and the environment in the history of the earth sciences.  

Henry Binford is in his last year of full-time teaching.  He will teach part-time for another year or two before retiring.  His new book, From Improvement to City planning: Spatial Management in Cincinnati from the Early Republic through the Civil War Decade, will be published by Temple University Press on September 10, 2021.

Geraldo Cadava spent the first half of 2020 at the Stanford Humanity Center, where he completed his book The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of An American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump (Ecco, 2020). Beyond that, he did a lot of talking and writing on Latino voters and the presidential election, which you can find online on the websites of The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. He also taught a lecture course on “The 2020 Election in Historical Perspective.” All of which is to say, that despite the very difficult year he managed to get stuff done and had a fun time doing it.

Peter Carroll was pleased that the internet, old xeroxes, and help from friends in China allowed him to complete a book chapter for a volume on cities and water despite being unable to go to the library. This project also allows him to recommend Michelangelo Antonioni’s cinema verité masterpiece, Chung Kuo, Cina (1972), which is available, with subtitles, on YouTube. This documentary would not be shown in China for 32 years, yet Antonioni and his film were nonetheless denounced in a 1974 political campaign for slandering China. The film was broadcast in the USA on ABC in 1973! That seems impossible now. Peter also served as the Vice-Chair of the China and Inner Asia Council (CIAC) of the Association for Asian Studies and helped draft AAS statements on the Hong Kong National Security Law, the Atlanta March 2021 Massacre, and the effective closure of a research center in Hong Kong. He also oversaw the crafting of the “AAS Statement Regarding Remote Teaching, Online Scholarship, Safety, and Academic Freedom,” which was endorsed by several other academic societies. As a result, in the fall, he joined with Ipek Yosmaoglu to lead a Buffett Center workshop for NU faculty on online teaching, safety, and academic freedom. He will chair CIAC, 2021-2022.

Caitlin Fitz has spent the past year proctoring her elementary schoolers’ online standardized tests, trouble-shooting their endless technology problems, and monitoring their online beginners’ percussion classes.  She spent fall and winter quarters teaching remotely from her in-laws’ house in Amherst, MA.  More specifically, she covertly taught the entirety of the early American history survey from her in-laws’ bathroom—the only room with decent internet and a door that shut.  Her children have enjoyed listening in to (and adorably interrupting) various lectures, workshops, interviews, and presentations, and they are grateful for daily hikes with their new (and very barky) puppy.  Caitlin also published a review essay in The Atlantic, and she drafted several academic articles that are currently in various stages of revisions and copyediting.

Jonathon Glassman published “Toward a comparative history of racial thought in Africa: historicism, barbarism, autochthony,” in Comparative Studies in Society and History 63,1 (2021).  The essay constitutes a prolegomenon to what will eventually be a volume on the subject, although Jonathon has always been suspicious of contemporary scholars who use words like “prolegomenon.”  He is now in the second year of his term directing the Chabraja Center for Historical Studies. 

Laura Hein: Like everyone else, COVID has been the big disruptor of the past year.  Throughout my adult life it has been rare for me to go 9 months without getting on an airplane or dusting off my passport.  Instead, I spent 2020 trying to figure out what we can do via Zoom as teachers, researchers, and members of a work community, first as Department Chair and, since September, for Japan studies.  I’ve spent most of the autumn in editorial negotiations with the 86 authors and translators for the upcoming Cambridge History of Japan, which will go to the publisher in the spring.  Another project was making a trilingual website ( for contemporary artist Tomiyama Taeko (aged 99! Still with us!). There is a big, new exhibit on her work in Seoul.  The book that originally accompanied the website, also titled Imagination Without Borders, was recently selected for permanent on-line status by the University of Michigan Press through the Humanities Open Book project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Daniel Immerwahr has spent his sabbatical researching fires in the nineteenth-century United States. They were common, he has determined. Having reached that hard-won conclusion, and cognizant of the dangers of cerebral overstrain, he has now returned to reading comic books, with frequent trips to the pantry for more crackers.

After seeing his biography of Ernst Kantorowicz (Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life (Princeton, 2017) translated into French and German, Robert Lerner was asked by his publisher whether he wanted to review the forthcoming Chinese translation but demurred. Subsequently he was gratified to receive copies of the book in a series that includes Chinese translations of Bloch and Foucauld. Once in a while the Chinese characters are interrupted by some of Kantorowicz’s technical terms that unaccountably are left unchanged (“Patripassianism”; “catopromancy”; “equiparition”). Lerner has extra copies of the book if anyone wants to pick one up.

Melissa Macauley’s book, Distant Shores: Colonial Encounters on China’s Maritime Frontier, was published by Princeton University Press. She spent much of 2020-2021 chasing an elusive leave year. She won a Fulbright to start a new research project in the PRC, Villages of the Sea: War and Revolution in Translocal China, 1929-1958. The start of that adventure was delayed by the pandemic to January 2021. Then the Trump administration decided that the Chinese Communist Party might somehow feel punished if the Fulbright program in China were terminated. She reapplied to conduct her research in Taiwan, and planned to leave in March 2021, but has now postponed her departure to get vaccinated with all of the other tail-end Baby Boomers. She published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that compared the Donald Trump wing of the GOP to a Leninist party that has wobbled toward Maoist-style upheaval. That displeased many readers from an array of emphatic political viewpoints, but it felt good to get it off her chest and, in the Age of Covid, that seemed advisably therapeutic.

Kate Masur is happy about the release of her book, Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction, which reveals an antebellum movement for racial equality and how it shaped the earliest federal civil rights laws and the 14th Amendment. Responding to the pandemic, she and historian Greg Downs (UC-Davis), editors of The Journal of the Civil War Era, created a series of online book talks that are archived on the journal’s YouTube channel and helped organize a historians’ national day of action with the hashtag #wewantmorehistory(Look out for the sequel in September 2021.) Her teaching and research interests came together in a project that involves researching the history of African Americans in antebellum Illinois, collaborating with the Colored Conventions Project (an award-winning digital humanities project housed at Penn State University), working with Josh Honn (University Library), Matt Taylor (MADS Lab), teaching undergraduate classes, and building a web exhibit. 

Joel Mokyr, who holds appointments in both Economics and History, is now nostalgic for the many times he walked across campus on his way from the Global Hub to Harris Hall and back. Instead, his academic activities, like everyone else’s, were spatially challenged and confined to his home study and subject to the mercies of Zoom, Canvas, Facetime, Skype and the like.

That has not stopped him from publishing “Could Artisans Have Caused the Industrial Revolution?" with Morgan Kelly and Cormac Ó Gráda, in: The Evolution of Economic History: Goods, People and Spaces in the Age of Industrialisation, eds. Kristine Bruland, Anne Gerritsen, Pat Hudson and Giorgio Riello (Montreal: Queens-McGill, reprinted in Rivista di Storia Economica, forthcoming). He also completed two major (at least size-wise) papers “The Wheels of Change: Human Capital, Millwrights, and Industrialization in Eighteenth- Century England” (with Assaf Sarid and Karine Vanderbeek), and “The Mechanics of the Industrial Revolution" (with Morgan Kelly and Cormac Ó Gráda), both now under “Revise and Resubmit” at general purpose economics journals. Two shorter “general audience” essays were “Why Our Knowledge Economy Can Survive the New Age of Pestilence” MIT Sloan Management Review, Fall 2020, pp. 15-17 and “The Great Fake,” City Journal, forthcoming 2021, as well as an irresponsibly optimistic op-ed on CNN entitled “Viruses and other germs: Winning a Never-ending war.”

In the spring of 2021, he was awarded a doctorate honoris causa by the University of Lyons II. The ceremony was postponed, which is dommage as they had promised him a meal in a top Lyons restaurant — and we all know about Lyons cuisine. He gave virtual lectures in Israel, Italy, Russia, France, England, Singapore and half a dozen talks in the US — reflecting wistfully about the foregone frequent-flyer miles, but grateful for avoiding the pandemic so far. He continues to serve as co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Economic History and as editor in chief of the Princeton University Press series on economic history, which published a number of major books this year.

Ed Muir: All in all, the year has been a bit of a research bust, unable to go to Italy or even use our library efficiently. However, my news is that I have been nominated as one of two candidates to run for the President of the AHA.

Carl Petry: I have completed the text for the History of the Mamluk Sultanate contracted with Cambridge U, Press. Due to delays resulting from COVID, I am awaiting feedback from the proposal evaluators. I have been informed that production schedules are now 'on pandemic mode.' What this means in terms of timing remains indeterminant.

With regard to activities: I am participating in the Roundtable on Islamic Legal History and Historiography, organized by the Center for Islamic Law at Harvard University. I have drawn on data I have collected over the past decade on crime and transgressive behavior in Egypt and Syria during the Mamluk period (13th-15th C.E. centuries) to raise questions about the range of information available in sources of the period (narrative chronicles, manuals of legal practice and theory, and biographical dictionaries that list members of the learned classes--many of whom were magistrates. The largest of these for Cairo contains 12,000 entries). Among topics relevant to issues of current interest, these sources yield copious information on matters of ethnic, racial and religious identity as they were reported in the context of criminal litigation in the Shariʿa or appellate courts of Cairo and Damascus. During upcoming sessions of the Roundtable, I will present cases that address these issues. Details on litigation surrounding women who were enslaved are particularly valuable for information on ethnicity and race relevant to this category of persons.

As I complete my final year in the Department and University, I retain fond memories of many former students who have kept in touch. I look forward to renewing these friendships once the pandemic eases. 

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