Skip to main content

A Message from the Chair

I write this as the spring birds finally return to Chicago and the pansies and witch hazel remind us that winter may be coming but not before the three lovely seasons each cheer us in their own satisfying ways. Harris Hall is a busy place these days and I have space to mention only a few of the events that have most caught my attention this year.

One trend is that all of us—faculty, post-docs, graduate students, and undergrads—are doing far more public history projects than in the past. Here are a few examples: Adjunct Professor Daniel Greene, soon to leave us in order to run the Newberry Library as President and Librarian, is teaching a graduate class this spring in Public History. Professor Leslie Harris is participating in a project with the Frances Willard House Museum and Archives in Evanston to examine Willard’s lengthy exchange with Ida B. Wells on lynching, and Assistant Professor Doug Kiel currently sits on the Advisory Committee for the Field Museum’s renovation of the permanent exhibition of Native North America. Kate Masur served on the editorial team that created Reconstruction: The Official National Park Service Handbook and continues to work with various segments of the U.S. government that deal with America’s Past. Dr. Beth Healey, who completed a 2017 dissertation on “Nazi Crimes, British Justice: The Royal Warrant War Crimes Trials in British-Occupied Germany, 1945-1949,” is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Unsilence, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that develops educational resources and curricula about human rights and histories of oppression. Her fellowship is supported by the Chabraja Center for Historical Studies. And, in a slightly different mode, the History Department hosted former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, who delivered the 29th annual Richard W. Leopold Lecture on “Perspectives and Challenges in U.S.-Mexico Relationships,” in October, and chatted with undergraduates in a forum moderated by Gerry Cadava.

The Chabraja Center, founded in 2006, has expanded its activities under the direction of Sarah Maza and enriched the intellectual life of the department in many new ways, such as the fellowship now occupied by Beth Healey. Initiatives focused on undergraduates include sponsorship of new thematic courses. Scott Sowerby is debuting the first such course this spring on “Pirates, Guns and Empires” from the 1570s to the 1820s, focusing on the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the China Seas. It ranges over such topics as: maritime and imperial history, the formation of states, the history of race, gender history, labor history, and history from below. The Chabraja Center also sponsors students to work with faculty, learning the craft of research. The Leopold Fellows program has provided opportunities for about a dozen undergraduates annually to “breathe in the dust of the archives” – metaphorically for all and literally for a few of them—and work closely with individual faculty members on their long-term projects. This group includes Claire Pak (rising junior, WCAS) working with Professor Caitlin Fitz on “Emiliano Mundrucu’s America: How a Black Brazilian Revolutionary Shaped the Early U.S. Battle against Jim Crow” and with Professor Deborah Cohen on “American Journalists, Europe and Asia” and Lien (Sam) H. Nguyen (rising sophomore, WCAS) working with Professor Haydon Cherry on “Đào Duy Anh: Vietnamese Journalist” and Daniel Fernandez continuing work with prof. Michael Sherry on “Go Directly to Jail: The Punitive Turn in American Life.”

Several new people joined the faculty this year. Ashish Koul, who is featured on another page of this newsletter, began as an Assistant Professor of Modern South Asia in September. She is joined by seven new postdoctoral fellows, including Beth Healey. The Chabraja Center is sponsoring Alex HOBSON: 2017 dissertation: “Chains of Vengeance: The United States and Anti-Imperialism in the Middle East, 1967-2001” and Alexandra THOMAS: 2018 dissertation: “Reason of State and the Politics of Botero, Campanella, and Sarpi in the Waning of the Renaissance.” We enjoy the company of four other recent Ph.Ds through four different NU programs: Andrew G. Britt is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities via Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, and author of “I’ll Samba Someplace Else”: Planning Dislocations in Ethnoracial São Paulo, 1930s-1980s, the compelling interwoven histories of three of the city of São Paulo’s most prominent racialized/ethnicized neighborhoods: “Japanese” Liberdade, “Italian” Bela Vista, and “Afro” Brasilândia. Scott De Orio is a Postdoctoral Fellow via the Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN), His first book project, “Punishing Queer Sexuality in the Age of LGBT Rights,” examines the changing ways in which the branch of the carceral state concerned with controlling sex crimes has targeted LGBTQ subjects in the U.S. since World War II. Marci Freedman is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Judeo-Spanish Studies, who works on the legacy of Jewish learning and Hebrew books in post-1492 Inquisitorial Spain . Finally, Wendell Marsh, Postdoctoral Fellow via Buffett Institute for Global Studies, is spending his time at Northwestern turning his dissertation, “Compositions of Sainthood: The Biography of Ḥājj ʿUmar Tāl by Shaykh Mūsā Kamara” into a book. And, of course, Jonathan Holloway joined the department as a Professor in July 2018 but only rarely is able to slip away from his day job as Provost of our university.

Another high point was the day on which Annerys Cano, the departmental Business Administrator, won the Weinberg College Dean’s Excellence Award. Annerys manages the building, creates a supportive environment for the departmental staff--Eric West, Tricia Liu, Susan Delrahim, and Jasmine Bomer—and has the awesome power to calm even the most jittery member of the faculty. We couldn’t do it without her.

There is simply too much news to discuss everyone connected to Northwestern’s Department of History in one issue of this newsletter so please “stay tuned” for another issue at the end of the summer. But, before closing out this inaugural web-based issue, I would like to express my thanks to Gerry Cadava, for serving as an imaginative Director of Undergraduate Studies this year, Sean Hanretta, who is an astonishingly skilled Director of Graduate Studies, and Kevin Boyle, the magician of course scheduling, formally known as the Associate Chair of the department.

Laura Hein