"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."
-Winston Churchill

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Historian's Humor

Q: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?

A: There is a great deal of debate on this issue. Up until the mid-20th century, the accepted answer was ‘one’: and this Whiggish narrative underpinned a number of works that celebrated electrification and the march of progress in light-bulb changing. Beginning in the 1960s, however, social historians increasingly rejected the ‘Great Man’ school and produced revisionist narratives that stressed the contributions of research assistants and custodial staff. This new consensus was challenged, in turn, by women’s historians, who criticized the social interpretation for marginalizing women, and who argued that light bulbs are actually changed by department secretaries. Since the 1980s, however, postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between ‘light’ and ‘darkness,’ and its phallogocentric privileging of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. Finally, a new generation of neo-conservative historians have concluded that the light never needed changing in the first place, and have praised political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for bringing back the old bulb. Clearly, much additional research remains to be done.


Dear Dr. Leeson,

We regret that we cannot accept your historian joke in its present form. However, a panel of anonymous reviewers (well, anonymous to YOU, anyway) have reviewed it and made dozens of mutually contradictory suggestions for its... improvement. Please consider them carefully, except for the ones made by a man we all consider to be a dangerous crackpot but who is the only one who actually returns comments in a timely fashion.

1. This joke is unnecessarily narrow. Why not consider other sources of light? The sun lights department offices; so too do lights that aren't bulbs (e.g. fluorescents). These are rarely "changed" and never by historians. Consider moving beyond your internalist approach.

2. The joke is funny, but fails to demonstrate familiarity with the most important works on the topic. I would go so far as to say that Leeson's omission is either an unprofessional snub, or reveals troubling lacunae in his basic knowledge of the field. The works in question are Brown (1988), Brown (1992), Brown (1994a), Brown (1994b), Brown and Smith (1999), Brown (2001), Brown et al (2003), and Brown (2006).

3. Inestimably excellent and scarcely in need of revision. I have only two minor suggestions: instead of a joke, make it a haiku, and instead of light bulbs, make the subject daffodils.

4. This is a promising start, but the joke fails to address important aspects of the topic, like (a) the standard Whig answer of "one," current through the 1950s; (b) the rejection of this "Great Man" approach by the subsequent generation of social historians; (c) the approach favored by women's historians; (d) postmodernism's critique of the light bulb as discursive object which obscured the contributions of subaltern actors, and (e) the neoconservative reaction to the above. When these are included, the joke should work, but it's unacceptable in its present form.

5. I cannot find any serious fault with this joke. Leeson is fully qualified to make it, and has done so carefully and thoroughly. The joke is funny and of comparable quality to jokes found in peer journals. I score it 3/10 and recommend rejection.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Education Life" in the New York Times

Prof. Kidada Williams alerts us to a special New York Times section on graduate school issues. The section, titled "Education Life" and published Monday, July 25, contains a variety of articles that range from the serious to the light-hearted. If you haven't already seen it, check it out at this link:

Also, if you aren't already doing so, make sure to check out the online Chronicle of Higher Education for useful information and opinions. Their "ProfHacker" section on technology use and technology impacts in education is particularly rewarding. Find the Chronicle's homepage at: http://chronicle.com/section/Home/5/

Monday, April 25, 2011

New Grove for WSU on Earth Day

Dr. Barry Johnson, Ph.D., and four volunteers celebrated both Earth Day and Barry's successful thesis defense by planting five new trees on Wayne State's campus on April 22nd. The trees were purchased from the Greening of Detroit with donations in Barry's honor from History Graduate Students' Association members, and included maples, a sweetgum, and a tulip tree. Digging holes for the trees took about two hours, and involved pickaxe work to displace construction rubble, bricks, concrete, and even a layer of asphalt hidden under the lush grass. "It's urban planning, and you never know what you will find, but there's always something," Barry said, adding that he never worries if planting is more difficult than expected. "The tree is going to be there for a good long time, so there's no point in digging the hole in a hurry."

This is the fifth time he has planted trees on Wayne State grounds; he has planted or assisted in planting thousands of trees in the city as part of Greening's nonprofit efforts.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Re-Rescheduled Peer Mentoring Pizza Party: Thursday, April 7th 2011

Please join us for our re-rescheduled peer mentoring pizza party! Meet a mentor, find a mentee, OR just come hang out with the HGSA and your fellow graduate students!

Upcoming Department of History Colloquium Events

The Department of History Colloquium Committee Presents
Three Brown-Bag Events

All in the Bonner Room at Noon – BRING YOUR LUNCH!!!(Check posters, when available, for possible room change)

We’ve now done the important work of expanding our community with three wonderful new scholars. Now, let’s take time out, help colleagues with work, and gather new ideas as winter term winds down!!!

March 25 (Friday) – A discussion (paper available in front office) with Betsy Lublin

“Stopping the Train from ‘Cigaretville to Ruin’: Nemoto Shō and Japan’s 1900 Ban on Juvenile Smoking”

During the second half of the Meiji period, Christian reformers pursued a variety of measures to counteract the growing propensity of Japanese to smoke. Their efforts against this perceived social evil mirrored their attacks on intemperance and licensed prostitution with respect to the nature of the arguments they employed and their conviction that behavioral modification required not just personal initiative but also government intervention. Yet, while these latter two targets of the reform movement have received significant scholarly attention, smoking has not. This paper seeks to remedy that by providing a brief history of the anti-smoking crusade of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. A particular focus will be Nemoto Shō and his campaign to have the Diet adopt a law to prohibit smoking by minors. The passage of that bill in 1900 marked one of the few major successes of the reform movement and, as this paper will argue, resulted from Nemoto’s strategic use of nationalistic rhetoric, which linked the ban to larger government concerns.

March 31 (Thursday) -- A Discussion of a New Book with Charles Hyde

“The Arsenal of Democracy”

The primary focus of my new book is the role played by the military services, the automobile manufacturers, and the civilian planning agencies, such as the War Production Board, in organizing and managing the production of military goods during World War II. The book will concentrate on the automakers-turned defense contractors and their relationship with the military services and with other manufacturers during the war. The automobile companies served as prime contractors for many war products, but also as subcontractors on many other products. The book will examine the operation of the procurement/contract system used during the war, as well as the serious engineering and production challenges faced by the automakers and the means developed for overcoming these challenges. The roles played by the “ new workforce,” namely female workers and African Americans, in the success of the “Arsenal of Democracy” will receive a good deal of attention. World War II defense production brought the beginnings of the “ military-industrial complex,” a series of on-going working relationships between the military services and the defense industry, with minimal civilian supervision or control. President Roosevelt in effect eliminated New Deal reformers, the left wing of the Democratic Party, and Congress from decision-making for the sake of pursuing the war effort more effectively. In the process, Roosevelt also removed organized labor as an active player in wartime planning. Labor lost out in economic and political terms as a result of Roosevelt’s decisions.

April 12 (Tuesday) – A Panel Discussion with Ron Aronson (chair), Alex Day, Janine Lanza, and Fran Shor

“Is Marxism Still Relevant?”

The death of Marxism has often been proclaimed during the last twenty years. Even the Great Recession has generated no revival of socialist thinking or movements in the United States (although attacks on Obama's "socialism" are part of the Tea Party's calls to action). Where do we as historians stand with regard to Marxism? Is it still useful for understanding the past? methodologically? for explaining important events and processes?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

History Department News

The HGSA would like to congratulate the following people in the History Department on their most recent achievements.

First, and most significant to us"HGSAers," congratulations to our own President Tim Moran who is the receipient of the coveted University Graduate Research Fellowship for new Ph. D. students ensuring that Tim will be able to "concentrate" on his studies next year--well done Tim!

Prof. Danielle McGuire's recent book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power has been awarded the 2011 Frederick Jackson Turner Award, which is given annually by the Organization for American Historians for an author's work dealing with some significant phase of American history. Dr. McGuire's book also received an Honorable Mention for the OAH's Darlene Clark Hine Award for the outstanding book in African American womens' or gender history. Congratulations to Dr. McGuire for this achievement!

Prof. Osumaka Likaka has been selected to receive a 2011 Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award for the publication of his book, Naming Colonialism: History and Collective Memory in the Congo, 1870-1960, published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Congratulations to Dr. Likaka for the outstanding recognition of his book!

Prof. Aaron Retish has received has been awarded one of the University's coveted Career Development Chairs. The Chair will provide Dr. Retish with the time and the resources to advance his exciting project on the Russian peasant courts. Congratulations to Dr. Retish on this successful recognition of his scholarly research!

Dr. Retish will be receiving his award at the Academic Recognition Ceremony--Dr. Likaka will receive his at a Board of Governors meeting but will be recognized at the same event. The ceremony will be held on April 28th at 3:00PM, please plan to attend!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reserve Your Spot for the Upcoming Professional Development Workshop: Friday, March 4, 2011

The H.G.S.A. announces:


March 4, 2011 (Friday)
1:00-3:00 p.m.
Reuther Library Woodcock Room

Topics to be discussed include:

  • The Job Search and the Interview Process
  • CV writing
  • Finding Funds and Grant Writing
  • Getting Published
  • Teaching at Community Colleges

A number of History Dept. faculty members will be speaking at this event, including Dr. Kruman (Dept. Chair), Dr. Faue (Graduate Director), Dr. Retish (Undergraduate Director), and many others.

This beneficial workshop is free and open to all graduate students in the History Department. SPACE IS LIMITED. The H.G.S.A. asks that you sign up for this event in advance. Email your signing in to the addresses below as soon as possible.

Maria Wendeln, HGSA co-VP of Education

Beth Fowler, HGSA co-VP of Education

Friday, January 21, 2011

Peer Mentoring Pizza Party: Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Call for Papers - 2011 Great Lakes History Conference

Call for Papers: Great Lakes History Conference: “Education and Society”

October 7 & 8, 2011

The 37th annual Great Lakes History Conference, sponsored by Grand Valley State University, will be held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on October 7-8, 2011. Professor William Reese, Carl F. Kaestle WARF Professor of Educational Policy Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin, will deliver the keynote address.

We seek panels and papers on the history of education broadly considered, from national and transnational perspectives, with particular focus on providing a historical context to current “crises” in education, whether at the elementary and secondary level or in higher education. Papers may consider a range of topics, including the history of schooling, educational policy, educational reform, the history of colleges and universities, the “crisis in the humanities,” the costs and financing of education, questions of academic freedom, non-academic educational institutions, transnational educational projects, educational philosophy and pedagogy, the role of ethnic and racial difference in education, education and gender, or the intersection of religion and education.

The Great Lakes History Conference is a general history conference with an interdisciplinary emphasis. Although we give priority to proposals addressing this year’s theme, we will consider papers and panels on other topics as well. Proposals from varied disciplines and in all fields of history are welcome. We encourage comparative work across regions and chronological boundaries. Please consult the Grand Valley State University History Department website (www.gvsu.edu/history) and its link to the conference for updated information.

If you are interested in presenting a paper, please send an abstract of approximately 200 words and curriculum vitae by June 15, 2011, to Dr. Paul Murphy, murphyp@gvsu.edu or Dr. Doug Montagna, montagnd@gvsu.edu. Please include your address, e-mail and phone number. We encourage submission of complete panels; please forward a brief description of the panel and abstracts and curriculum vitae for each presenter. Papers must take no longer than 30 minutes in a 2-paper session and 20 minutes in a 3-paper session. Sessions will last 90 minutes. Those interested in commenting on a session should send a CV and indicate areas of expertise.

Conference headquarters will be at the L.V. Eberhard Center of Grand Valley State University in downtown Grand Rapids. Hotel accommodations will be available at the Holiday Inn of Grand Rapids (formerly the Days Hotel), which is across from the Eberhard Center. Their telephone number is (616) 235-7611. The conference is within easy walking distance of museums and restaurants. Grand Rapids is served by most major and regional airlines. The conference weekend coincides with Grand Rapid’s ArtPrize contest (http://www.artprize.org/home), so we suggest conference hotel accommodations be made early.

Please address all inquires and abstracts to:

Dr. Paul Murphy or Dr. Doug Montagne

Grand Valley State University, 1 Campus Drive, Department of History, MAK D-1-160, Allendale, MI 49401. Phone (616) 331-3429, Fax (616) 331-3285. Email murphyp@gvsu.edu or montagnd@gvsu.edu.

Registration and program information will be sent August 2011.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Final Schedule for Job Candidates

The Department of History will be hosting two job candidates for the open faculty position in Urban History. Graduate students are strongly encouraged to participate in the search by attending scheduled research presentations and meetings. Please be aware of the following dates and times starting THIS WEEK:

Damon Yarnell
1. Thursday, January 20, 1:30-3:00 research presentation 3339 F/AB, "Behind the Line: Outside Supply, Mass Production, and the Question of Managerial Expertise in the Model T Era"
2. Thursday, January 20, 3:30 - 4:30 p.m. Informal Meeting with Graduate Students, Bonner Seminar Room (next to History Department main office, 3rd Floor, FAB)
3. Friday, January 21, 1:00-2:30, teaching presentation, 211 State Hall

Tracy Neumann
1. Monday, January 24, 2:00-3:30, 3339 F/AB, research presentation, “Goodbye Steeltown: The Politics of Space in Pittsburgh and Hamilton”
2. Monday, January 24, 3:45 - 5:00 informal meeting with Graduate Students, Bonner Room (3rd Floor FAB, next to History Department main office).
3. Tuesday, January 25, 1:00-2:30, 1137 Old Main, teaching presentation.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Save the Date: HGSA Professional Development Worskshop, Friday, March 4th

The HGSA will be hosting a Professional Development Workshop on Friday, March 4th, from 10:30 to 12:30. Location TBA.

The insightful and informative workshop will cover the following topics:
  • The Job Search and Interview Process
  • CV Writing and Perfecting
  • Grant Applications and Applying for Funding
  • Getting Published
History Department Faculty and recent Doctoral Students will be presenting and available to answer your many questions.

Please R.S.V.P. by Friday, February 25th by email to hgsa.wsu@gmail.com.