Top Young Historians: 12- Michael Willrich

Michael Willrich, 40

Top Young Historians: Index

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, Brandeis University; (Chair of the Brandeis Graduate Program in American History, July 2003-June 2005)
Area of Research: American social and legal history, urban history, and the Progressive Era (1890-1920).
Education: Ph.D, University of Chicago, 1997
Major Publications: City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago (Cambridge University Press, 2003); Michael  Willrich JPG Untitled on smallpox, public health, and the politics of vaccination in the Progressive Era, work-in-progress, to be published by Penguin Press, New York (The Penguin History of American Life series).
Awards: City of Courts won the American Historical Association’s John H. Dunning Prize for 2003.
William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Prize, 2004, awarded under the auspices of the American Society for Legal History, “to recognize and reward excellent work by young scholars in legal history.”
Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, awarded January 2004; research leave planned for 2006-07.
Residential Fellowship, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard, 2004-05.
Biennial Prize, Society for Historians of the Gilded Age & Progressive Era, for “the best published article treating any aspect of U.S. history in the period 1865-1917,” 2000.
Erwin C. Surrency Prize, best article on law or constitutionalism, American Society for Legal History, 1999.
Nominated by University of Chicago for Allan Nevins Prize, Society of American Historians, 1998.
Additional Info: Formerly Assistant Professor of History, Rice University, 1997-1999.
Willirich is on the Editorial Board, of Law and History Review, for a five-year term starting January 1, 2005.
Willrich was a journalist in Washington D.C. from 1987-1991 where he wrote articles on politics and urban affairs that appeared in The Washington Monthly, Washington City Paper, The New Republic, Mother Jones, The California Republic, and other magazines.

Personal Anecdote

Forgive me for being sentimental, but my dissertation sources stunk. Really. They made my eyes tear, my skin itch, and my nose explode. Working in the old archives room of the Chicago Historical Society in the mid-1990s, I’d taken to wearing a mask, the kind other folks wear when they’re sanding chipped varnish off an old bed frame or driving a five-pound sledge hammer through dry wall. Only I was poring over the contents of an old scrapbook of newspaper clippings that a long-deceased local judge, Chief Justice Harry Olson of the Municipal Court of Chicago, had kept in the early twentieth century. The scrapbook had apparently spent much of the previous seventy-five years in someone’s basement or attic, where the damp and the vermin and the mold spores had made a home in its brittle newsprint pages. I couldn’t have been a pretty sight myself. Archie Motley, the much-beloved dean of Chicago archivists (who passed away in 2002), would chuckle sweetly as he padded by my table. When Archie had first laid his hands on this scrapbook in 1994, I’d already been coming to the society for years, most recently to research a dissertation centering on the criminal courts of the Second City in the Progressive Era. Archie quietly slipped the disassembled scrapbooks onto my desk one day. And weeks later, mask and all, I still couldn’t believe my dumb luck.

I’d learned to shut up and just be thankful for everything that wind-ripped Midwestern metropolis had unceremoniously laid before me since I first arrived at the University of Chicago, in search of an education, in the fall of 1991. After a few years working as a journalist in the nation’s capital, I’d come to Chicago to study urban history. My best bet was that I’d stay maybe a year. But by the time the first subzero night spun permafrost like white cobwebs onto my apartment windows, and Max Weber’s Economy and Society had found a permanent place on my desk, I guess I knew I’d settled in for the long haul. I’m not entirely sure what did it. It might have been Kathy Conzen’s incredible first-year research seminar in social history, Bill Novak’s classes and interdisciplinary workshop in legal history, Tom Holt’s seminar on race, conversations about urban culture with George Chauncey, or the many nights swilling history with my grad school friends at Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap. Or it could have been all of those deep archival sources-including criminal court records, feeble-minded commitment proceedings, unpublished sociological dissertations, manuscript collections, and newspapers-some of them just turning up, like some gangster’s body, in a county warehouse, just when I needed them most. But looking back there’s no question that Chicago itself had a lot to do with my decision to become a historian and to do the kind of history I do. That city and its people and its institutions and its music and its history: they fed my head, my body, my senses. I tried once to get away-tried to contrive a dissertation that would carry me back home to California. But it was no use. Chicago had, at least for the time being, become my home, Sweet Home.

Quotes

By Michael Willrich

  • “The problem of crime in the modern city raised two far-reaching social questions, which could not be resolved within the cultural and legal framework of late nineteenth- century, Victorian liberalism. The first was how far one could trace the actual autonomy, personal agency, and moral responsibility of the individual self in an ‘interdependent’ urban-industrial society. The second question, intimately related to the first, was what role the courts, the workhorses of nineteenth-century governance, should play in the regulation of a complex economy and society. . . . How Americans in the Progressive Era debated these two great issues of their day illuminates the momentous upheaval in cultural perception and liberal ideology under way in their lifetimes. The outcome was an unprecedented expansion of governmental power, through the criminal courts, into the everyday social life of American cities.” — Michael Willrich in “City of Courts”
  • About Michael Willrich

  • “…painstakingly researched and beautifully written…” — Social Service Review
  • “Willrich tells an important story; and he tells it very well. The research is rich and deep. This book is one of the best, most insightful, and provocative studies in American legal history that has appeared in recent years. It could serve, in many ways, as a model, in its adroit blending of social and legal history.” — H-Law
  • “Willrich’s account is complex, insightful, and wide-ranging; City of Courts incorporates the history of science, legal history and political history in a narrative that casts new light on crime and punishment in the second largest city in the United States.” — The Times Literary Supplement
  • “Michael Willrich shares with Fyodor Dostoevsky and Theodore Dreiser an absorbing interest in the ancient riddle of whether crime should be reckoned as an individual or a social failing. He probes that riddle to magnificent effect in City of Courts, freshly illuminating the social, political and cultural landscape of Dreiser’s own Chicago. This book announces the arrival of a major new scholar of the progressive era. It also surely heralds a rebirth of interest in that formative period when Americans struggled to define the ideas and institutions appropriate to the myriad challenges of the twentietth century. Indispensable reading for all students of the conflicted and consequential history of modern American liberalism.” — David M. Kennedy, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History at Stanford University and author of Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945
  • “Willrich is God… what an amazing class, what an amazing lecturer.”… “He is one of the best professors I’ve had in college. The combination of well developed and delivered lectures and willingness for discussion made this class a great learning experience for me.”… “Great professor, really interested in the topics he teaches. Always supportive and encouraging, although completely honest when work is just not up to par, which, in the long run, is more helpful than not. Extremely approachable, great discussion leader!” — Anonymous Students
  • Posted on Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 11:55 AM

    History Buzz: January 2006

    History Buzz

    By Bonnie K. Goodman

    Ms. Goodman is the Editor/Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

    January 30, 2006

    HNN STATS THIS WEEK:
    MOST POPULAR:
    • Juan Cole’s blog, Informed Comment, is the most popular history blog on the Internet.
    IN THE NEWS:
    REVIEWED:
    OP-ED:
    PROFILED:
    INTERVIEWED:
    QUOTED:
    • Peter N. Stearns on the word “cool”: “We were dealing with a culture that was placing an increasing premium on controlling emotion, particularly anger.” The hippies in the 1960s used the word to “promote the notion that they were relaxed and not angry…” – Newsday, 1-29-06
    • Gil Troy on Stephen Harper as new Canadian PM: “Welcome to the major leagues. It’s a very important lesson to learn at the beginning of his leadership. Lesson No. 1 is that once you become the leader of a nation, you now are public property. You belong to history….” – The Ottawa Citizen, 1-28-06
    SPOTTED:
    ON TV:
    SELLING BIG (NYT):
    • Doris Kearns Goodwin: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, #10 (13 weeks on list) – 1-30-06
    • Taylor Branch: At Canaan’s Edge, #16 (1 week on list)- 1-30-06
    • David McCullough: 1776, #18 – 1-30-06
    • Douglas Brinkley and Julie M. Fenster: Parish Priest, #24 – 1-30-06
    FUTURE RELEASES:
    • Linda Eisenmann: Higher Education for Women in Postwar America, 1945-1965, Feb. 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Frank T. Kryza: The Race for Timbuktu : In Search of Africa’s City of Gold, Feb. 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • James L. Swanson: Manhunt : The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, February 7, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Deborah Davis: Party of the Century : The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black-and-White Ball, Feb. 24, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Robert L. McLaughlin, Sally E. Parry: We’ll Always Have the Movies: American Cinema During World War II, Mar. 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Douglas Brinkley: The Great Deluge : Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Apr. 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    HONORED:
    DEPARTED:

    Posted on Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 5:02 PM

    January 23, 2006

    HNN STATS THIS WEEK:
    MOST POPULAR:
    • Juan Cole’s blog, Informed Comment, is the most popular history blog on the Internet.
    IN THE NEWS:
    REVIEWED:
    OP-ED:
    • Jeffrey Kimball: A Firebell Rings in the Night, but Where Are the Historians? – POTUS HNN, 1-21-06
    PROFILED:
    INTERVIEWED:
    QUOTED:
    • Canter Brown: “You always hope there’s some middle ground. I know for a fact many individuals who proudly associate themselves with the Confederate flag and the heritage it represents are not racist in their intentions…” – The Ledger, 1-22-06
    • Robert Dallek on Reagan’s legacy: “But when you go through the scandals we have seen… Reagan and Kennedy become all the more appealing.” Chicago Tribune, 1-21-06
    SPOTTED:
    • John Lewis Gaddis: Discussing The Cold War: A New History @ the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., February 2, 2006, 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m., Cold War International History Project
    • Stanford historian Richard White: Lecture part of UCSC Alumni Association Distinguished Visiting Professor program (Feb. 15, 2006) – UC Santa Cruz Currents, 1-23-06
    • Yale’s Paul Kennedy: Lecture to discuss the connections between Darwin, survival, and Empire (Jan. 20, 2006) – Press Zoom, 1-21-06
    • Doris Kearns Goodwin: Pulitzer Prize-winning historian coming to Springfield (Feb. 11-12, 2006) – sj-r.com, 1-20-06
    • Thomas J. Sugrue: Lecture “Beyond Apocalypse: Rethinking America in the 1960s” at the Minnesota History Center, (Jan. 21, 2006) – Pioneer Press, 1-20-06
    • Juan Cole: Examines Jihadist Groups at UCLA (Jan. 18, 2006) – UCLA, International Institute, 1-20-06
    ON TV:
    • Laura Fisher: “The War That Made America” on PBS – NYT, 1-18-06
    SELLING BIG (NYT):
    • Doris Kearns Goodwin: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, #9 (12 weeks on list) – 1-22-06
    • David McCullough: 1776, #11 (34 weeks on list) – 1-22-06
    • Douglas Brinkley and Julie M. Fenster: Parish Priest, #20 – 1-22-06
    • Taylor Branch: At Canaan’s Edge, #30 – 1-22-06
    FUTURE RELEASES:
    • Leanda de Lisle: After Elizabeth : The Rise of James of Scotland and the Struggle For the Throne of England, Jan. 31, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Linda Eisenmann: Higher Education for Women in Postwar America, 1945-1965, Feb. 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Frank T. Kryza: The Race for Timbuktu : In Search of Africa’s City of Gold, Feb. 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • James L. Swanson: Manhunt : The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, February 7, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Deborah Davis: Party of the Century : The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black-and-White Ball, Feb. 24, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Robert L. McLaughlin, Sally E. Parry: We’ll Always Have the Movies: American Cinema During World War II, Mar. 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Douglas Brinkley: The Great Deluge : Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Apr. 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    HONORED:
    DEPARTED:

    Posted on Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 5:35 PM

    January 16, 2006

    HNN STATS THIS WEEK:
    MOST POPULAR:
    • Dan Cohen: 10 Most Popular History Syllabi – Dan Cohen Blog, 1-11-06
    • Juan Cole’s blog, Informed Comment, is the most popular history blog on the Internet.
    IN THE NEWS:
    REVIEWED:
    OP-ED:
    PROFILED:
    INTERVIEWED:
    • Fatima Muge Gocek: Statement on Armenian Genocide Cause Anger Tide among Turkish Organizations – PanArmenian.Net, 1-12-06
    QUOTED:
    • Gordon Wood on Benjamin Franklin: “He certainly is a multiplicity of persona, so one never knows which one is the real Franklin.” – AP, 1-14-06
    • John Hudson on Thomas Becket: “Those who share my prejudice against him may consider his assassination in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December, 1170, a fittingly grisly end.” – Wimbledon Guardian, 1-13-06
    SPOTTED:
    ON TV:
    • Lincoln on the History Chanel, Monday, January 16 @ 8PM/7C
    • The History Channel: Announces the Line-Up for Its Groundbreaking Programming Event ’10 DAYS THAT UNEXPECTEDLY CHANGED AMERICA’ (April, 2006) – The Futon Critic, 1-11-06
    SELLING BIG (NYT):
    • Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, #8 (11 weeks on list) – 1-15-06
    • David McCullough: 1776, #10 (33 weeks on list) – 1-15-06
    FUTURE RELEASES:
    • Leanda de Lisle: After Elizabeth : The Rise of James of Scotland and the Struggle For the Throne of England, January 31, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • James B. Jacobs: Mobsters, Unions, And Feds: The Mafia And the American Labor Movement, January, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Linda Eisenmann: Higher Education for Women in Postwar America, 1945-1965, February 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Frank T. Kryza: The Race for Timbuktu : In Search of Africa’s City of Gold, February 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • James L. Swanson: Manhunt : The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, February 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Robert L. McLaughlin, Sally E. Parry: We’ll Always Have the Movies: American Cinema During World War II, March 2006 – Amazon.com
    HONORED:
    DEPARTED:

    Posted on Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 3:34 PM

    January 9, 2006

    HNN STATS THIS WEEK:
    IN THE NEWS:
    REVIEWED:
    OP-ED:
    PROFILED:
    INTERVIEWED:
    QUOTED:
    • John Womack on Subcomandante Marcos: “That moment 12 years back, when the Zapatistas came down from the mountains with the thrill of purifying the country, is gone.” – Newsweek, 1-16-06
    • Julian Zelizer on the Alito hearings: “Whereas with Roberts, senators were dealing with more of a mystery, now it’s more Alito needing to defend or explain his statements.” – San Francisco Chronicle, 1-8-06
    • Kenneth T. Jackson on NY Museum: “My view is that the great advantage of the museum, is that it’s about the city of New York.” – NYT, 1-8-06
    • Timuel Black on Lou Rawls’ passing: “He was so appealing that he crossed racial ethnic barriers. He was a non-braggadocio guy who people could easily like.” – Chicago Tribune, 1-7-06
    • Barbara Dafoe Whitehead on the conventionial romantic movie formula: “We’re in a talky culture. We talk everything to death…” – Los Angeles Times, 1-4-06
    • Historians discuss California dreamin’ – The Valley Herald, 1-1-06
    SPOTTED:
    SELLING BIG (NYT):
    • Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, #3 (10 weeks on list) – 1-8-06
    • David McCullough: 1776, #7 (32 weeks on list) – 1-8-06
    FUTURE RELEASES:
    • Taylor Branch: At Canaan’s Edge : America in the King Years, 1965-68, January 10, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Leanda de Lisle: After Elizabeth : The Rise of James of Scotland and the Struggle For the Throne of England, January 31, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • James B. Jacobs: Mobsters, Unions, And Feds: The Mafia And the American Labor Movement, January, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Linda Eisenmann: Higher Education for Women in Postwar America, 1945-1965, February 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Frank T. Kryza: The Race for Timbuktu : In Search of Africa’s City of Gold, February 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • James L. Swanson: Manhunt : The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, February 1, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Robert L. McLaughlin, Sally E. Parry: We’ll Always Have the Movies: American Cinema During World War II, March 2006 – Amazon.com
    HONORED:
    DEPARTED:

    Posted on Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 5:00 PM

    January 2, 2006

    HNN STATS THIS WEEK:
    IN THE NEWS:
    REVIEWED:
    OP-ED:
    PROFILED:
    INTERVIEWED:
    QUOTED:
    • Donald Richie on the Year’s Judicial Nominations: “Through most of the 20th century there were very few occasions of straight party- line votes. House rules favor the majority; the Senate by nature has to be more bipartisan.” – Legal Times, 12-30-05
    • Adrian R. Lewis on War Heros: “The media was a lot more supportive then. That was a big difference…” – Newhouse News Service, 12-30-05
    • Jack Bass on S.C. Historical Society’s 150th: “Most people don’t realize that history is the collective experience of all of us…” – Myrtle Beach Online, 12-29-05
    • Historian Michael Bliss: “I think the (Peter) Newman book, trashy and wretched as it is, is simply further evidence of the argument I make …that (Brian) Mulroney was a throwback to an earlier political style and that he might have made a good mayor of Boston in the 1940s.” – Vancouver Sun, 12-28-06
    • Alan Brinkley on Clinton Inpeachment in Textbooks: “It should not be in the book for titillating purposes or settling scores. It should be in the book because of its significance to our recent history.” – AP, 12-27-05
    SPOTTED:
    SELLING BIG (NYT):
    • Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, makes it to #1 this week (9 weeks on list) – 1-1-06
    • David McCullough: 1776, #5 (31 weeks on list) – 1-1-06
    FUTURE RELEASES:
    • Amanda Mackenzie Stuart: Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age, January 3, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • James Risen: State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, January 3, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Taylor Branch: At Canaan’s Edge : America in the King Years, 1965-68, January 10, 2006 – Amazon.com
    • Leanda de Lisle: After Elizabeth : The Rise of James of Scotland and the Struggle For the Throne of England, January 31, 2006 – Amazon.com
    THE YEAR IN REVIEW:
    • 2005 was bad news:
      Douglas Brinkley: “Look, if you think there were greener pastures in another era, I have one word for you: dentistry…
      Rick Shenkman: “No question, 2005 was a bad year, but there’s no indication 2006 will be any better…” USA Today, 12-28-05
    HONORED:
    DEPARTED:

    Posted on Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 2:51 PM

    History Doyens: Robert V. Remini

    What They’re Famous For

    Robert V. Remini is professor emeritus of history and the humanities at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Robert V. Remini  JPGHe is currently at work on a narrative history of the U.S. House of Representatives, and has been named House Historian. Remini has written a three-volume biography of Andrew Jackson, the third volume of the series, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845 won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1984. He is also the author of biographies of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, as well as a dozen other books on Jacksonian America, and is considered the most preeminent scholar on Andrew Jackson and his times.

    Personal Anecdote

    To a very large extent my career as an historian, such as it is, was determined by events over which I had little control. For example, when I graduated from college I fully intended to become a lawyer. Not because I was intrigued by the law but because it seemed like a worthy profession then for a child of the Great Depression. Fortunately World War II came along and I found myself aboard a ship plying the Atlantic and reading histories of the United States. I even read all nine volumes of Henry Adams’s History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and I loved every page. After three years in the service I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life reading and writing and teaching history. I got so worked up that I even had the audacity of writing an article and submitting it for publication to the American Historical Association. It wasn’t a very good article and was based solely on secondary sources. Graciously, the AHA rejected it, but it was not many years later when they did publish an article I wrote.

    So as soon as I was discharged I enrolled in the graduate school of Columbia University and began my newly discovered career. I was particularly anxious to study 20th century, urban, New York, political history. I’m not sure why, except that I was born and raised a New Yorker, as were both my parents. I signed up for an MA seminar conducted by Richard Hofstadter. He had arrived at Columbia about the same time I did. The class was packed with about 40 students, most of them returning veterans. Can you imagine a seminar of 40? I don’t think I ever said a word in the seminar. I just enjoyed every word Hofstadter spoke, for he spoke like he wrote, in complete sentences and paragraphs, every one a delight to hear. I wrote my master’s essay on John Purroy Mitchel, the reform mayor of New York City just prior to World War I and fully intended to continue with this topic for my doctorate.

    Then one day Hofstadter approached me and suggested that I consider doing my PhD dissertation on Martin Van Buren since the Mitchel papers were locked up for 50 years which would prevent any further work on that topic. It seems that Columbia had received a grant that would permit the University to purchase microfilm copies of presidential papers held in the Library of Congress and the library people at Columbia were anxious to begin with copies of the Van Buren papers. Apparently the grant also stipulated that a graduate student begin working on them after their arrival. Now Van Buren was a New Yorker, said Hofstadter, and an important political figure. Granted he was not urban or twentieth century, but if I accepted his suggestion it would mean that I could do my basic research at Columbia and not have to travel to Washington or any other remote repository. Now if you think a graduate student cannot be influenced by such a proposal you are very mistaken.

    I was gratified that Hofstadter had suggested me for this work and I agreed to switch to the nineteenth century. I did my doctoral dissertation on the early political career of Martin Van Buren under the direction of Dumas Malone, since Hofstadter did not give a PhD seminar at that time. That dissertation when published as a book argued that Van Buren was central to the formation of the Democratic party and the revival of the two party system. I fully expected to continue that work and write a full biography of Van Buren but Andrew Jackson intervened and changed all my plans. But that’s another and longer story.

    Quotes

    By Robert V. Remini

  • At length one sovereign artist found the language to express what Andrew Jackson had meant to his generation. In Moby Dick, Herman Melvile paid everlasting tribute to the fallen hero:“Men may seem detestable… but man, in ideal, is so noble and so sparkling… that over any ignomininous blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes…. But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shall see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!

    The Course  of American Democracy, 1833-1845 JPG “If, then, to meanest mariners, and renegades ands castaways, I shall hereafter ascribe high qualities, though dark; weave round them tragic graces;…if I shall touch that workman’s arm, with some etheral light…then against all moral critics bear me out in it, thou just Spirit of Equality, which hast spread one royal mantle of humanity over all my kind! Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God!…Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; who didst hurl him upon a warhorse; who didst thunder him higher than a throne! Thou who, in all Thy mighty earthly marchings, ever cullest Thy selectest champions from the kingly commons; bear me out in it, O God!”

    To such an invocation of Jackson on behalf of the democratic ideal, one can only say, Amen, O God, Amen. — Robert Remini in the conclusion of “Andrew Jackson : The Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845″

  • I have been invited to speak on Heroes of History, a subject about which it is very easy for professional historians to be cynical. And that is a great mistake because there are a great many genuine heroes in American history, starting at the very beginning and coming down to the present. I am thinking in particular of the heroes of 9/11, the astronauts of the space ship, Columbia, and the soldiers who fought and are fighting in Iraq.The question immediately arises as to what constitutes heroism. How can a hero be defined? Each person will have his or her own definition, but to me heroes are those who have performed extraordinary sacrifices for the benefit of others, and most especially for their country.

    This past year I was fortunate to be invited by the Library of Congress to undertake the writing of the history of the United States House of Representatives. I will start with the First Congress and continue to the present 108th. In researching and writing that book, I have been amazed by what the members of the First Congress accomplished, not only by the fact that they were mostly “ordinary” men, most of whom are obscure today, but how through heroic efforts they breathed life into the Constitution and helped create a republic that has not only survived, but prospered to an extraordinary extent. — Robert V. Remini “Ordinary heroes: Founders of our republic,” July 2003

  • The House really needs somebody who can remind them of all of the great traditions, the history of the institution. This is how you come to really love the place, by knowing more about it and how it evolved. — Robert Remini on his commission by the Library of Congress to write history of the House.
  • About Robert V. Remini

  • “Robert Remini, the Jackson biographer who has also turned out works on John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, said that only recently had he realized that he’s never written history, just biographies. Even his newest project, a history of the Congress, is really a “series of biographies.” He said he finds it easy to write. It’s the rewriting that’s hard. ‘I was trained by Jesuits and you were rewarded if you did good and punished if you did bad. I decided that I had to write nine pages a day. And if I did I got a martini. If not, I didn’t. Now I take a martini whether I’ve written or not’ (laughter). Remini, who by now had the crowd in stitches, said there’s one chief advantage of biographies. ‘For one thing there’s a beginning and an end. He dies.’ — Rick Shenkman in HNN’s “Reporter’s Notebook: Highlights from the 2004 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association”
  • “The appointment of professor Robert Remini to the House Historian position is a magnificent choice. From my experience as House Historian, I know that the Representatives themselves and the public at large, not to mention historians in particular, believe that the person with the title of historian should be someone who has devoted his life to history, not to the study of politics and political institutions. In Robert Remini the House not only has a Historian, but a great historian. In fact, Remini is one of our greatest living American historians. He is one of the legends. He is author of a monumental biography of Andrew Jackson, and for years has been widely considered our most accomplished Jackson scholar. Furthermore, Remini has written numerous books on the Jackson period and on the fundamental issues and questions of American history. He is beyond question superbly qualified to be Historian of the House of Representatives.” — Christina Jeffrey, Visiting Professor of Politics, Coastal Carolina University in Roll Call
  • “In introducing his magisterial biography of Daniel Webster, Robert Remini laments the creeping historical illiteracy that threatens to engulf Webster and his contemporaries. All the more reason, then, to be grateful to Professor Remini, the nation’s leading Jacksonian scholar, for reminding us of a time when eminent historians still wrote for the general educated reader. Remini’s research is impeccable, his storytelling on a par with his outsized subject. And what a story he has to tell.” — Richard Norton Smith on “Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time”
  • “With this book, Robert V. Remini has completed his trio of biographies of the great political leaders of the Middle Period: Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and now Daniel Webster. Remini seems never to have met an anecdote he didn’t like. Alas, a good many of dubious authenticity found their way into this volume. The story of how Webster demanded an apology from the eminent lawyer William Pinckney for insulting him during arguments before the Supreme Court, for example, does not ring true. ‘Now I am here to say to you, once for all, that you must ask my pardon, and go into court tomorrow morning and repeat the apology,’ Webster supposedly told Pinckney, ‘or else either you or I will go out of this room in a different condition from that in which we entered it,’ at which Pinckney ‘trembled like an aspen leaf.’ It also seems hard to believe that after Webster’s notable reply to Hayne, another Southern senator said to him, ‘Mr. Webster, I think you had better die now, and rest your fame on that speech,’ whereupon Hayne himself declared: ‘You ought not to die: a man who can make such speeches as that ought never to die.’ Still, such tales enrich the narrative, and perhaps they illustrate a deeper truth. This life of Black Dan the Godlike Daniel is undoubtedly the fullest and the best that we will have for a long time to come.” — James McPherson, Princeton University on “Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time”
  • Basic Facts

    Teaching Positions: University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, Chicago, professor of history, 1965-91, research professor of humanities, 1985-91, professor of history emeritus and research professor of humanities emeritus, 1991–; chairman of department, 1965-66 and 1967-71, director of Institute for the Humanities, 1981-87.
    Wofford College, 1998.
    University of Notre Dame, 1995-96.
    Robert V.  Remini JPG Douglas Southall Freeman Professor of History, University of Richmond, 1992.
    Jilin University of Technology, China, 1986.
    Fordham University, New York City, instructor, 1947-51, assistant professor, 1951-59, associate professor of American history, 1959-65.
    Visiting lecturer, Columbia University, 1959-60.

    Area of Research: 19th century U.S. History; Presidential History; American statesmen; including John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Martin Van Buren and Henry Clay. He is especially well known for his works about Andrew Jackson and Jacksonian America.

    Education: Fordham University, B.S., 1943; Columbia University, M.A., 1947, Ph.D., 1951.

    Major Publications:

    Sole Author:

  • Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party, (Columbia University Press, 1959).
  • The Election of Andrew Jackson, (Lippincott, 1963).
  • Andrew Jackson, (Twayne, 1966).
  • Andrew Jackson and the Bank War: A Study in the Growth of Presidential Power, (Norton, 1968).
  • The Revolutionary Age of Andrew Jackson, (Harper, 1977).
  • Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767-1821, (Harper, 1977).
  • Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832, (Harper, 1981).
  • Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845, (Harper, 1984).
  • The Life of Andrew Jackson (includes 1767-1821, 1822-1832, and 1833-1845), Harper, 1988, published as Andrew Jackson, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).
  • The Legacy of Andrew Jackson: Essays in Democracy, Indian Removal and Slavery, (Louisiana State University Press, 1988).
  • The Jacksonian Era, (Harlan Davidson, 1989), second edition, 1997).
  • The Legacy of Andrew Jackson: Essays on Democracy, Indian Removal and Slavery (Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History), (Louisiana State University Press, 1990)
  • Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union, (Norton, 1991).
  • Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time ,(Norton, 1997), also published as Daniel Webster: A Conservative in a Democratic Age, (Norton, 1997).
  • The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Viking, 1999).
  • Andrew Jackson & His Indian Wars, (Viking, 2001).
  • John Quincy Adams, (Times Books, 2002).
  • Joseph Smith, (Viking, 2002).
  • The House : The History of the House of Representatives, (Collins, May 2006)
  • Editor, Contributor, Joint Author:

  • (Editor and author of introduction and notes) Dixon Ryan Fox, The Decline of Aristocracy in the Politics of New York, 1801-1840, (Harper, 1965).
  • (Editor and author of introduction and notes) James Parton, The Presidency of Andrew Jackson, (Harper, 1966).
  • (Contributor) Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Fred L. Israel, editors, History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, Volume I, (McGraw, 1971).
  • (Editor) The Age of Jackson, (University of South Carolina Press, 1972).
  • (With James I. Clark) Freedom’s Frontiers: The Story of The American People, Benzinger (Beverly Hills, CA), 1975.
  • (With Clark) We the People: A History of the United States, Glencoe (Beverly Hills, CA), 1975.
  • (Compiler with Edwin A. Miles) The Era of Good Feelings and the Age of Jackson, (AHM, 1979).
  • (With Robert O. Rupp) Andrew Jackson: A Bibliography, (Meckler, 1991).
  • (Author of historical overview) Sara Day, editor, Gathering History: The Marian S. Carson Collection of Americana, (Library of Congress, 1999).
  • (With Fred W. Beuttler, Melvin G. Holli), University of Illinois at Chicago (The College History Series), (Arcadia Publishing, 2000)
  • Consulting editor, The Papers of Andrew Jackson.
  • Additionally, Contributor to Encyclopaedia Britannica, and to professional journals. Member of editorial board, Journal of American History, 1969-72.
  • Awards:

  • The Freedom Award, The U.S. Capitol Historical Society (2004), Remini was honored for his lifelong work in historical scholarship and his current efforts in writing a narrative history of the House of Representatives.
  • the American Historical Association’s Award for Scholarly Distinction
  • Commissioned aide-de-camp and Tennessee Colonel by governor of Tennessee, 1992.
  • Society of Midland Authors Award, 1992, for Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union; commissioned Kentucky Colonel by governor of Kentucky, 1992.
  • Honorary degrees from Governor’s State University, 1989, Eastern Kentucky University, 1992, and Fordham University, 1993.
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation Award.
  • Carl Sandburg Award, 1989, for The Life of Andrew Jackson.
  • University Scholar Award, University of Illinois, 1986.
  • Friends of Literature Award, 1985.
  • National Book Award in nonfiction, 1984, for Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845.
  • Guggenheim fellow, 1978-79.
  • Huntington Library fellowship, 1978.
  • Friends of American Writers Award of Merit, 1977.
  • Encaenia Award, Fordham University, 1963.
  • Grant-in-aid, American Council of Learned Societies, 1960, and American Philosophical Society, 1964.
  • Additional Info: In May 2005 named House historian.
    In September 2002 named Distinguished Visiting Scholar of American History in the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress; Remini will research and write a narrative history of the U.S. House of Representatives. (The project was authorized by Congress in 1999 under the House Awareness and Preservation Act (P.L. 106-99))
    Remini is a much sought after speaker and is hailed for his ability to make history “come alive.”
    Honorary historian of Thirteen-Fifty Foundation.
    Remini was named to the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.
    Remini has served as a review board member for the National Endowment for the Humanities since 1974.
    He was selected by President George Bush in 1991 to speak at the White House as part of the Presidential Lecture Series on the Presidency and has been invited by President George W. Bush as well.
    Special editor, Crowell-Collier Educational Corp.
    Military service: U.S. Navy, 1943-46; became lieutenant.

    Posted on Friday, January 20, 2006 at 2:59 PM

    Top Young Historians: 11- Dylan Penningroth

    Dylan Penningroth, 34

    Top Young Historians: Index

    Basic Facts

    Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, Northwestern University
    Area of Research: African American history, with special interests in the history of slavery and emancipation, property and family, and African Studies.
    Education: Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 2000
    Major Publications: The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South, University of North Carolina Press, 2003 (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture).
    Book Chapter; “My People, My People: The Dynamics of Community in Southern Slavery,” Dylan  Penningroth JPG 166-76, in New Studies in the History of American Slavery, ed. Edward E. Baptist and Stephanie M.H. Camp, (University of Georgia Press, 2006).
    Awards: Penningroth’s The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South won the 2004 Avery O. Craven Award from the Organization of American Historians.
    Penningroth’s dissertation “Claiming Kin and Property: Black Life in the Nineteenth-Century South” won the Allan Nevins Prize of the Society of American Historians in 2000.
    Other awards include; Distinguished Lecturer, Organization of American Historians (2005-08); Lane Professor in the Humanities, Northwestern (2006); Pre-doctoral Fellowship, Carter G. Woodson Institute for African and African American Studies, University of Virginia (1998-99); Huggins-Quarles Award, Organization of American Historians (1998); and W. M. Keck Foundation and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, Huntington Library Summer (1998).
    Additional Info: Formerly Assistant Professor of History, University of Virginia, (1999-2002).
    Consultant for Teaching American History institute, Evanston, IL. (Summer 2005); Referee for Journal of Southern History, Oxford Univ. Press, Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Personal Anecdote

    My specialty is the history of black life during and after slavery. During graduate school I often talked with my relatives about my research, and one day my Uncle Craig handed me a cassette. It turned out that back in 1976, he had taken a tape recorder with him to go see our great-uncle, Thomas Holcomb, who had migrated up to New Jersey from Farmville, Virginia in 1927 or so (and who used to help the 5-year-old me chase rabbits). And when I listened to the tape, I heard Uncle Tom talking about “slavery time people”: it dawned on me that his father, and many of the people he grew up with, were freedpeople.And the stories he told were amazing-not because they did anything exceptional but because they did it at all, and they were my family. He talked about moving up North (“we couldn’t make it farming”) yet holding onto the farm anyway. He talked about how his father, who was named Jackson Hall, used to run away from his master and hide out in the Great Dismal Swamp.

    One story in particular made a big impression on me. At that time, I was researching the legally strange phenomenon of slaves who owned property, and was wondering whether I should try looking outside the Lowcountry, where scholars had shown it was common. On the tape, Uncle Craig asked if he remembered any stories about the Civil War. He did. Late in the war, Jackson Hall ran into a gang of Confederate soldiers who wanted him to take them across the river in his boat. They were running from the Union army in Virginia, probably desperate and definitely well-armed. So what happened then? Uncle Craig asked. Well, Uncle Tom said, they paid him. It was just the inspiration I needed.

    Quotes

    By Dylan Penningroth

  • “September 30, 1799 was Denmark Vesey’s lucky day. Just as thousands of middling and poor people did sometimes, he bought a ticket for one of Charleston’s lotteries; like everyone else, he probably put it in his pocket and barely gave it a second thought. But thirty-nine days and several drawings later, number 1884 came up and lottery commissioners promptly put $1,500 into Denmark Vesey’s hands. His master and mistress drove a hard bargain, but when he paid them their price, they signed his freedom papers without any comment. Denmark Vesey led an extraordinary life-after all, he not only won the lottery, he also was accused of plotting the biggest slave insurrection in American history. But there is something in the mundane details of his otherwise unusual life that raises a fascinating question about American slavery, and about southern society as a whole: why did the lottery pay $1500 to a slave?” — Dylan Penningroth in “Claims of Kinfolk”
  • Between 1800 and 1880, an extra-legal economy took shape in the South, was challenged, and eventually molded anew. That system of property ownership and trade scarcely registered on the statute-books but it went on in yards, cities, and back roads across the South; it was part of the fabric of southern society. While white people tolerated and often participated in it, black families and communities provided the muscle, the watchful eyes, and the social pressures that made the system work. In turn, property ownership and the special efforts it demanded from slaves put an unmistakable dynamism into their social ties, stretching and bending the lines of blood and marriage. Throughout the 1800s, black people were constantly negotiating with one another over family and community-who belonged, and what it meant to belong. — Dylan Penningroth in “Claims of Kinfolk”
  • About Dylan Penningroth

  • “What did it mean, Penningroth asks, for people who were property to have property? The answers to this deceptively simple question utterly transform our understanding of the meaning of property in the South, the history of family and community in slavery, and the centrality of African history to American history.” — Walter Johnson, New York University
  • “A pioneering study. . . . Skillfully researched and cogently presented, Penningroth’s book broadens our understanding of property as a key element in the lives of African American slaves and freed-persons.” — Law & History Review
  • “Specialists in African American studies will greatly appreciate this provocative study of property holding among enslaved African Americans.” — Journal of African American History
  • “This fine work of scholarship challenges and complicates notions about slavery, reminding us of the diversity and resilience of the people subject to its debilitating effects.” — Maryland Historical Magazine
  • “Penningroth is awesome and he knows his history. If you want to look at history from a different perspective, take his African American History class.” — Anonymous Student
  • Posted on Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 6:47 PM

    Top Young Historians: 10 – W. Fitzhugh Brundage

    W. Fitzhugh Brundage, 45

    Top Young Historians: Index

    Teaching Position: William B. Umstead Professor of History, Director of Graduate Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2002- )
    Area of Research: Modern U. S. South (since 1865)
    Education: Ph.D, Harvard University, 1988
    Major Publications: Author of: The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (Harvard University Press, 2005); A Socialist Utopia in the New South: The Ruskin Colonies in Tennessee and Georgia, 1894-1901 (University of Illinois Press, 1996); Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930 Fitzhugh  Brundage JPG (University of Illinois Press, 1993).
    Editor of: Booker T. Washington and Black Progress: A Centenary of Up From Slavery (University Press of Florida, 2003); Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002); Where These Memories Grow: History, Memory, and Regional Identity in the American South (University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Under Sentence of Death: Essays on Lynching in the South (University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
    Awards: Brundage has received several awards for his books including; Choice Outstanding Academic Book of the Year in 1997 for A Socialist Utopia in the New South; the Merle Curti Award for Best Book of Social History awarded by the Organization of American Historians in 1994 and the Elliot Rudwick Award for Best Work on Afro-American History published by the University of Illinois Press in 1992 both for Lynching in the New South.
    Additional awards include; Kirk Visiting Scholar, Agnes Scott College, Spring 1997; National Humanities Center Fellow 1995-1997; Whitney Humanities Center Fellowship, Yale University, 1995-1996 (Declined); A.S.U.S. Teaching Excellence Award, Queen’s University (1991).
    Additional Info: Formerly Associate Professor of History at Queens University, Canada (1989-1997) and Professor of History at the University of Florida (1997-2002) and Department of History Chair at the U of Florida (1999-2002).
    Advisor, exhibit design, Cape Fear Museum, Wilmington, NC, 2003-2004; Advisor, Listening Between the Lines/Reality Works documentary series on racial and ethnic conflict in American history, 2001-; Interviewed by for Shaping America Educational Television Series; consultant and participant in Bill Brummell Productions/A&E documentary on vigilantes and lynching, June 1999.

    Personal Anecdote

    Like every first-time book author I was anxious when I submitted my revised dissertation to my editor. That my editor was August Meier, a distinguished and remarkably prolific historian of American race relations and African Americans, only added to my anxiety. Meier had a reputation as a stern taskmaster and an irascible critic. In the year and a half that I spent revising my dissertation Meier had proven to be a surprisingly gentle critic. But I did have to get used to receiving phone calls at odd hours (e.g., 7:30 on a Sunday morning) that often included lengthy digressions during which Augie recounted his extraordinary life story from his childhood in leftist summer camps in New Jersey to his participation in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Beyond deepening my respect for Meier, these conversations accentuated my own doubts about the larger significance of my own work. After all, I was revising my dissertation for publication at the same age that Meier, several decades previously, had already worked for President Charles Hamilton, the noted black sociologist and President of Fisk, and had publicly debated Malcolm X.

    With mixed emotions, then, I prepared to send my manuscript to Augie. At the time, I was teaching at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. It was both easier and cheaper to mail the manuscript from upstate New York, so I crossed the border and dropped off my manuscript at the MailBoxes Plus in Watertown, New York. The proprietor of the store generously provided a free recycled box (fewer dead trees and no expense for packaging!), which just so happened to be a box emblazoned with the Subway sub shop logo. I carefully addressed the manuscript and sent it off.

    Within a few days I received a letter from Meier’s secretary at Kent State – email was still not the preferred medium of record – thanking me for the package and assuring me that it was safely stored. Apparently, Augie was in India (another fascinating chapter in his life) and would return in a month or so. I was a little puzzled by the stress that Augie’s secretary place on thanking me for the package but I gave it little thought. A month passed without a word from Augie, but I expected as much because he was in India. When a second month passed I began to wonder but a first time author is hardly likely to harass his/her editor after taking too long to read a manuscript. Moreover, by then I was immersed in the business of fall classes.

    Finally, almost four months after I sent the package to Augie, I received a terse note from him asking pointedly about the state of my manuscript. I immediately called his secretary, reminding her that I had sent Meier the package more than three months earlier. For perhaps fifteen seconds there was dead silence on the line, and then we simultaneously began to laugh hysterically when he realized what had happened. For whatever reason, she had assumed that I had sent Augie a package from Subway subs, which she had conscientiously stored in his refrigerator for more than three months. She at once retrieved my manuscript, which had been preserved in excellent condition among the other frozen goods in Augie’s freezer. Curiously, Augie never seemed to see the humor in the saga of my manuscript.

    That my manuscript ended up in Augie Meier’s freezer, I suggest, is a testament to the charming eccentricities of academia. In what other line of work would a secretary assume that someone would ship a sub sandwich from upstate New York to northern Ohio? But given Augie’s eccentricities (and those of other academics that his secretary almost certainly dealt with), who can blame her? The other lesson I draw from this experience is that it doesn’t pay to cut corners or save pennies when it comes to manuscripts. I willingly pay for packing now.

    Quotes

    By W. Fitzhugh Brundage

  • “During the twentieth century we have become accustomed to measuring the numbers of victims of inhumane violence in millions. The casualties of genocide during this century — Armenians, Jews, Cambodians — almost elude the grasp of the human mind. Lynching in the United States, which claimed somewhere between four and five thousand victims, may appear as modest in scale by these standards. But the atrocity of lynching has left an indelible mark on American life. For blacks, lynching epitomized the hypocrisy of a nation that prided itself on respect for the natural rights of mankind. In song and literature black artists, such as Billie Holiday and Richard Wright, found in lynching a tragic symbol of the American capacity for savagery. For whites, lynching was either a relapse into barbarism that stood in contradiction of their faith in the continued ascent of humankind, or an expression of their determination to crush what they perceived as a threat to the advance of civilization. With the decline of lynching, many southern whites renounced the inhumanity of the mob, preferring instead to rely on the harsh justice of the state. The history of lynching inspires pessimism and skepticism about the values of a society that could unleash the dark forces of mob violence. Yet it also fosters a degree of hope that the demise of lynching at once has emancipated African-Americans from a gnawing fear and at the same time demonstrated that descents into barbarism are not irreversible.” — W. Fitzhugh Brundage in Lynching in the New South
  • About W. Fitzhugh Brundage

  • “This is a major book, a likely award winner. The research is formidable, the analysis sophisticated. Clearly, this is the best work ever written on lynching.” — Numan V. Bartley, author of The Rise of Massive Resistance: Race and Politics in the South during the 1950s on “Lynching in the New South”
  • Fitzhugh Brundage’s The Southern Past is an extraordinarily ambitious and important book, a true achievement by an immensely talented historian. This book should reach a wide audience with its story of how the past has been shaped and reshaped in the South through usable narratives, commodities, curriculums, parades, books, sacred sites, vacant lots, real politics, and heroic icons on both sides of a tragic racial divide. In scope, research, and writerly execution, no one has ever captured the scars and the possibilities of Southern memory quite like this. — David W. Blight, Yale University on “The Southern Past”
  • History is a powerful weapon. In this stunningly imaginative and finely crafted study of the struggle for the control of the memory of the Southern past, W. Fitzhugh Brundage has provided a critical lens through which we can view some of the most volatile issues of our time. In stark detail, he explains how Southern white memories of gentility and the heroic Confederacy co-existed with, and were finally challenged by, Southern black memories of human bondage and heroic slave resistance. In a most sophisticated analysis Brundage explains how shifting political power has constructed and reconstructed the remembered history of a changing Southern cultural landscape. This is history at its best in service of our society’s efforts to come to terms with notions of Southern heritage, one of the most complex, controversial, and significant issues of our time. — James Oliver Horton, co-author of Slavery and the Making of America on “The Southern Past”
  • “I really recommend this class… Brundage seems to know everything imaginable about music, and is always open to our questions. really nice guy!”…”awesome teacher, lectures are interesting… awesome class.” — Anonymous Students
  • Posted on Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 12:34 AM

    Top Young Historians: 9 – Brian Cowan

    Brian Cowan, 36

    Top Young Historians: Index

    Basic Facts

    Teaching Position: Assistant Professor of History, (2004 – present)
    Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Early Modern British History, McGill University.
    Area of Research: British early modernity with a special interest in the social history of ideas.
    Education: Ph.D., Princeton University, 2000
    Major Publications: The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse; , (Yale University Press, 2005).
    Cowan is currently working on a book on the media politics surrounding the 1710 trial of Brian Cowan JPG Doctor Henry Sacheverell and he is collaborating with Prof. David A. Boruchoff on a study of the long term history of the commonplace notion that the ‘three greatest inventions of modern times’ were the compass, gunpowder and the printing press.
    Awards:Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Early Modern British History (2005-2010 and renewable).
    Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) infrastructure support supplemental grant (2005); Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Standard Research Grant, (2005-2008).
    Post-doctoral research fellowship from the UK Leverhulme Foundation (1999-2000) and a Jacob K. Javits graduate studies fellowship from the United States Department of Education (1993-1997).
    Additional Info: Previously taught at Yale University, USA (2001-2004) and the University of Sussex, UK (2000-2001).

    Personal Anecdote

    Academics, especially those with positions at research intensive institutions, often complain or (much less often) brag about their teaching ‘load’. The goal, if one is to believe this talk, is to be burdened with as little teaching as possible so as to maximize the time one needs to keep up with research and publications. While one could always use a little more time to devote to reading, thinking and writing, I haven’t found that my teaching responsibilities at any of the three universities at which I have worked have impeded my research. To the contrary, teaching has broadened my research horizons, it has forced me to explain my arguments, my hypotheses and my knowledge to a number of intelligent but non-specialized minds on a regular basis, and it has even shaped new research agendas.

    My first university post was at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. Teaching at many English universities remains wedded to a time-honoured tutorial or seminar model and most of my responsibilities at Sussex were along these lines. I taught an interdisciplinary seminar on ‘literature and politics’ and conducted M.A. tutorials in seventeenth-century British history. Teaching this interdisciplinary seminar helped me expand my thinking beyond the manuscripts, books, and newspapers I was familiar with and forced me to take plays and poems seriously as sources for understanding the early modern past. In my M.A. tutorials, I plowed through scores of important works in seventeenth-century British history with my students. Talking about these works with my students helped me come to terms with the conflicting perspectives on the period by various historians and this in turn prompted me to write a long historiographical review essay on the topic for the Sussex-based journal History of European Ideas.

    I left Brighton, and the nice Georgian flat on Marine Parade overlooking the English Channel that I was living in there, in the summer of 2001 to take up an appointment as an Assistant Professor at Yale University. While Yale uses the lecture format rather more intensively than English universities, it remains committed to offering small seminars as well and it was in courses such as these that I was able to study early modern ideas of art connoisseurship and the political uses of early modern media along with immensely talented undergraduate and graduate students. Some of the ideas prompted by these seminar discussions found their way into articles I later published in journals such as Modern Intellectual History, the Historical Journal and Eighteenth-Century Studies. Although I didn’t teach tutorials per se at Yale, I had plenty of opportunities for individual interactions with my students. In the summer of 2003 I supervised a talented undergraduate who had won a Yale College Dean’s Fund research fellowship. His work that summer convinced me of the historical interest and value of a manuscript held at the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Our work together on making sense of this manuscript source posed so many interesting questions that I came to realize that an entirely new research project could evolve from it. And I was right. The book I am currently researching on the political uses of early eighteenth-century media forms such as print, manuscript, rumour, clothing, and riot was the direct product of many a summertime coffeehouse conversation with my supervisee.

    I moved from New Haven, and the nice set of college rooms overlooking Sterling Memorial Library and Maya Lin’s Women’s Table, to Montreal in the summer of 2004 to teach at McGill University. My students at McGill continue to help me refine my thinking about my research. I have worked with student research assistants, both graduate and undergraduate, on projects such as copy-editing and indexing my manuscripts as they are prepared for publication or source searching in the electronic databases that are increasingly offering a whole new world of easy access to primary source material. McGill’s History Department is honourably committed to offering year-long intensive honours research seminars which introduce students to the nuts and bolts of original historical research and courses such as this offer me an opportunity to watch new historical knowledge being produced on the spot.

    The Canadian university research funding system has also afforded new opportunities for blending research and teaching. Grants from national funding agencies such as Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) allow for student research assistants to accompany their professor on research trips to archives and to present their work at scholarly conferences. Support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) allows for the development of ‘laboratories’ for humanities research in which professors and students may collaborate. I am already watching how fruitful this can be for both professors and their students in my participation in the working groups affiliated with the current McGill-based ‘Major Collaborative Research Initiative’ (MCRI) on ‘ Making Publics: Media, Markets and Association in Early Modern Europe‘. I am currently working with David A. Boruchoff, a faculty colleague in Hispanic Studies, and graduate students from the departments of English and History in search of references to the ‘three greatest inventions of modern times’ – to wit, the printing press, the compass, and gunpowder – in texts and images from the renaissance to the present day. We have recently made our first public presentation on the topic and expect to co-author a related book in the near future.

    Teaching for me has never been a ‘load’ or a burden, it has been an opportunity to learn both from and with my students. It has also been a cooperative venture, even (perhaps especially) in my one-on-one tutorials. Discussion and debate are at the heart of humanistic enquiry and I find that one of the most stimulating venues for this to be the classroom – and the coffeehouse, but that’s another story.

    Quotes

    By Brian Cowan

  • “As colorful as its history may be, the story of the introduction of coffee into the British Isles reveals much about the ways in which early modern economic, social and political relations were constituted. Coffee culture itself did not transform British society – this book has emphatically refused to argue for a ‘caffeine revolution’ that inaugurated a modern work ethic or a more recognizably democratic civil society – but understanding the remarkable ways in which British coffee culture did emerge helps us understand how even a pre-modern society could adopt innovative consumption habits and could invent new social institutions such as the coffeehouse. Hard as it is for us today to imagine a world without coffee, it was even harder for early modern Britons to imagine what a world with coffee would be like. It is a testament to their flexible imaginations that they succeeded in creating a coffee world of their own.” — Brian Cowan, in The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse.
  • About Brian Cowan

  • “Cowan’s work fits the bill in many ways. It is easily the most thorough account of the social history of the British coffeehouse ever written.” — Adrian Johns, University of Chicago
  • “Brian Cowan’s Social Life of Coffee is an engagingly written, lavishly illustrated, and meticulously researched book. It provides the most comprehensive account of the rise and accommodation of coffee and coffeehouse culture that is currently available. Cowan’s book will begin a number of important and intellectually fruitful debates about the rise and extent of virtuoso culture, about the nature and limits of the bourgeois public sphere, and about the gendered nature of social space in Early Modern England.” — Steven Pincus, Yale University
  • “Prof. Cowan is a wonderful addition to McGill’s hist. dept. He clearly puts a lot of prep into his lectures, and succeeds in making them very interesting. His outlines are very helpful. I’m sure that he has perked the interest of many first year students with his clear love of the subject.”… “This teacher was amazing!… B. Cowan is great.”…”This class is really great. Professor Cowan knows his stuff and is a good lecturer.” — Anonymous Students
  • Posted on Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 12:11 PM

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