The history profession has lost a number of giants in the field this past year. This past weekend, news spread about the passing of Michael Kammen, an influential historian of American cultural, social, and intellectual history. Kammen, who received his PhD from Harvard University in 1964, was a member of the Cornell University History Department’s faculty from 1965 through his retirement in 2008. He was the Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture. He is considered by at least some in the profession, to be one of the most prolific intellectual historians since Richard Hofstader.
Over the course of his distinguished career, he was the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for History, a Francis Parkman Prize, and the Henry Adams Prize. Kammen produced at least nine books, the most recent of which was Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials (2010). The book expands on his past work in memory studies, shedding light on new ways in which the memories of historic figures survive, and even continue to evolve after they are gone. His scholarship was complex, insightful, and always worth the challenge to read. In the introduction to his opus, That Noble Dream, historian Peter Novak (a fellow intellectual historian) quipped that writing intellectual history was like “nailing jelly to the wall.” Kammen found a way to secure that jelly.
Like the figures he studied, Kammen’s legacy is sure to live on.
When you are an academic, it is inevitable that you will discuss your reading habits with someone – be it your colleagues, or your students. These conversations often occur during the waning weeks of a term. For most academics, the intersessions between terms are a time to catch up on scholarly reading, research, and writing. Reading is a great way to find inspiration for future projects and to expand your knowledge of your own field. For those who teach, reading and conference attendances are ways to ensure that we are presenting our students with current material in our classes, and also a means to develop new courses.
My first goal is to “keep current” on the scholarship in my teaching fields – United States History, Caribbean History and African History. My reading goals for this “winter break,” include Esperanza Brizeula-Garcia and Trevor Getz’s African Histories, Jeanne Abrams, Revolutionary Medicine, Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s An Empire Divided and James H. Sweet’s Domingos Alvares. There are several others that I hope to get through before classes resume in January. An academic’s drive to learn more is never truly satisfied, and as I like to remind my students, you don’t have to be a “professional nerd” to indulge your intellectual curiosity. I am always gratified when students ask me for reading recommendations. My students have certainly earned their break this term.
Normally, I try to read at least a book or two that is outside of my own research area on the history of religion and race in the Early Modern period. My command of the subject will never match a college who does research in another area. This winter break, I have the good fortune to be finalizing my manuscript for the University Press of Mississippi. It will necessarily place some limits on my time for reading over the current break.
What are you reading?
Image Source: Wiki Commons
One of my undergraduate mentors once described Thanksgiving as an “onion.” The onion metaphor is most commonly associated with social penetration theory. In essence, it is used by psychologists to describe relationships between individuals. With apologies to Altman and Taylor, we are going to co-opt the term here to analyze the complex meanings of Thanksgiving.
While it may seem odd to compare the history of a national holiday to a pungent vegetable, it is an apt descriptor not only of Thanksgiving, but history in general. Most histories are layered. It is why the work of historians examines change, context, complexity and causality. Historical writing and research is not unlike peeling back the layers to get at the deeper meaning. And the history of Thanksgiving is layered with memory, politics, religion, and conflict. Read On….
Canadian War Memorial. Image: Wiki Commons
This weekend is all about memories. November 9-10 is the 75th anniversary of Krystallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), the horrific anti-semetic progrom that left 91 Jews dead, 30,000 bound for concentration campus, approximately 1,000 synag0gues burnt to the ground, and 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed. Although Austrian and German Jews had faced rising discrimination since 1933, this “November progrom” is widely recognized by historians as the beginning of the final solution.
Monday, November 11th marks the observation of Veterans’ Day here in the United States. It is also observed as Remembrance Day in Great Britain and Canada Read On….
A few nights ago the television was on in the background, tuned to WMUR-TV. New Hampshire Chronicle was covering the story of University of New Hampshire Professor Ellen Fitzpatrick and her book Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation (2010).
November 22 of this year will mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. I was intrigued by Chronicle’s coverage and I went to the library to check out the book. Two things struck me as I read Professor Fitzpatrick’s introduction: the first being the power of television, and the second being the importance of archivists and the work they do for both historians and the pubic at large.
There is that famous question people often ask: Do you remember where you were when Jack Kennedy was shot? Read On….
Guest Post by Kevin Q. Doyle
“South End Forever. North End Forever. Extraordinary Verses on Pope-Night . . .”
(Boston: The Printer Boys in Boston, 1768)Observe the length and the thoughtfulness of this Fifth of November poem, drafted and printed in Boston in 1768.
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Today is November 5 (the Fifth of November), a date that much of the Anglophone world (including much of the British Empire) celebrated for centuries, in commemoration of the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 – a conspiracy to assassinate James I, king of England (1603-25); detonate Westminster Palace, the house of Parliament; and, ultimately, substitute the anti-Catholic monarchy of England with a protectorate that would favor the Church of Rome and its people. In early England, the government made 11/05 a holiday that the people called “Guy Fawkes Day,” while, in early America (i.e., the first thirteen colonies and beyond), this anniversary often bore the names “Pope’s Day” or “Pope Night.”
What follows is a description of the way that this holiday of November 5 got remembered in the early American republic: Read On….
By Dr. Deena Parmelee
There’s an old adage in the world of retail business that success depends on three things: location; location; and location. The study of history – at any level – relies to a similar extent on three things: perspective; perspective; and perspective! 
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that perspective changes over time. It’s easy to look back at the past and wonder why people didn’t respond to events the way we think we would, or think about things the same way we do. Popular images, or concepts of, Native Americans are a great example of this. Here is a public service ad from TV in 1971: Read On….
On Thursday night (if not before), little goblins and ghouls will take to the streets in search of the ultimate prize – the sugar high mother lode! Between candy, costumes, and decorations, Americans spend roughly $5 billion dollars on these October festivities. Candy sales represent approximately one half of that total. (Comparatively, candy sales are approximately $2.1 billion at Easter, $1.4 billion for Christmas, and a bit over $1 billion for Valentine’s Day.) But how did this celebration began? The answer is that our modern Halloween celebration is actually a blend of traditions, most of which are much older than the United States.
Halloween is based on an ancient Celtic (Druid) harvest festival called Samhain (Sow-inn). It marked the end of the fall harvest. The ritual included large bonfires, sacrifices (animal and crop) to Celtic deities, and often, predictions of the year to come. The Druids also believed that there was a thinner veil between the worlds of the living and the dead.
When the Romans invaded the Celts Read On….
Phillis Wheatley, ça. 1753-1784
On October 19, 1778, Phillis Wheatley was emancipated from slavery, following the death of her master, John Wheatley. Wheatley is an important figure in religious history, African-American history, as well as literature. Born sometime in 1753 in either Senegal or Gambia, Wheatley arrived in Boston aboard the slave ship Phillis (from which she got her name) on July 11, 1761, where she was promptly sold to John Wheatley, a wealthy merchant.
Wheatley purchased this young girl of 8 as a servant to his wife, Susanna. She received her master’s last name, as was common practice. And, while slavery is most often associated with southern plantations, Read On….
Emmeline O Adams Daughr of Mr. John & Mrs. Dorcas Adams, who died March 21. 1810. Aet. 2 years. 1 mo. & 21 da. Photo by JC
During the past year, I have been working on creating an on-line map and database of the Old Burial Ground, located on Academy Road in North Andover, Massachusetts. The Old Burial Ground was established around 1650 and the site holds the remains of the founding families of Andover, as well as their descendants. This means the graves marking the burials—as well as the burials themselves—are of historic significance to early New England.
I developed the idea for this project from a graduate class I took last fall which considered the historical aspects of the New England landscape. Burial grounds certainly do not come to mind immediately Read On….