What Did I Get Myself Into?


By Mitchell Hall

One of the more interesting projects in my career has been the publication of a new, two-volume encyclopedia, Opposition to War: An Encyclopedia of U.S. Peace and Antiwar Movements.  Typically, historians work individually on research and writing projects, although some participate in occasional collaborative ventures.  I have been part of essay collections both as a contributor and as an editor, but this particular project presented an entirely new experience for me.

 An acquisitions editor whom I had worked with on a previous project contacted me with the original idea in May 2015, and after about two months of negotiation, I had a contract from the publisher.  Wanting the input and support from other scholars of the American peace movement in developing this project, I persuaded three experts to join me as consulting editors by early July.  I began by compiling a preliminary list of possible entries by reading the indexes of several key surveys and monographs in the field, ranging from the colonial era to the present.  I submitted about 900 items to my colleagues with a list of questions about how best to organize the work.  Their advice was enormously helpful, and we whittled down the list to just over 400 entries for the table of contents by late August.  The publisher accepted the list and word lengths in mid-September.  History Department office worker Gina Weare helped me put together a website for the project that potential contributors could review.

 Now all I had to do was find people to write the 90 percent of entries not claimed by my consulting editors and myself.  I wanted the highest possible quality, so I did extensive research to compile a list of experts who had published on the subjects in the table of contents, and in many cases had multiple names for a single item in case the initial person turned me down.  I sent individual emails to these scholars, asking them to write on specific topics and any additional entries they felt qualified to address.  More than fifty percent of these letters received a “no” response, although the vast majority were complimentary and encouraging.  Thankfully, this effort attracted authors for a majority of the available entries, many of whom volunteered (compensation is minimal for these types of projects) to write multiple essays.  Progress was never fast enough for me, since I was working on a deadline.

 Once I had exhausted my list of names, I ran an announcement in the newsletter of the Peace History Society, an organization I belong to, and some of whose members had participated in previous major reference works on peace and internationalism.  I was confident that this constituency would be reliable, but since I was no longer selecting people based on their specific work, but in essence asking them to select my project, I now asked for a vita to accompany letters of interest.  By insisting that writers be acquainted with primary source research on their proposed topics, I may have cost myself a few good contributors, but if I was going to make a mistake, I wanted to err on the side of caution.  This plea brought an additional influx of enthusiastic and expert scholars.

 With additional entries still unclaimed, my last solicitation was a general call for contributors via H-Net.  This was more of a risk because the audience was so broad, but I carefully read the attached vitas and added several first-rate writers who covered a number of valuable entries.  Even with this, a significant number of important subjects remained unclaimed, so I invited (some might say begged) some of my contributors who had already completed their commitments to write additional essays.  I was most gratified that a few sacrificed time and energy to help reach the target.  The encyclopedia eventually included over 130 contributors.

 During the process, I added a handful of entries at the suggestion of contributors and dropped a few that no longer seemed appropriate or contained too much overlap.  We ended up with 375 entries, but because I could be more flexible with essay length, the project ended well within the expected word range.  The majority of the essays were quite good, edited primarily for consistent style, but a handful required extensive revising.  Most authors were conscientious, but I spent a good amount of time gently reminding people of missed deadlines.  Perhaps a half-dozen or more made commitments then promptly disappeared and stopped communicating.  I was able to adjust to these various problems and produce what I believe is an excellent reference work.

 My responsibilities included writing an introductory essay and preface, compiling a bibliography, building a chronology and guide to related topics, and, of course, editing.  After completing those tasks, with numerous important entries still unclaimed, I jumped into researching and writing as many essays as time permitted.  I originally committed to writing 11 entries, all related to the Vietnam War era, but ended with 33 essays at over 30,000 words.  Learning about various subjects outside my comfort zone was a great education, and perhaps the most exciting part of the entire effort.  This ended up being a 2 ½ year project with numerous challenges and unexpected twists, but I made lots of new professional acquaintances and found the process to be extremely rewarding.  For anyone interested in more information, I would be happy to have a more extensive informal conversation.

Tiger Woods: Racial Identity and Sports


CMU history professor Lane Demas offered an insightful reflection on the importance of Tiger Woods for the UNC Press blog. His book, Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf, is now available in print or eBook formats. From the publisher: "This groundbreaking history of African Americans and golf explores the role of race, class, and public space in golf course development, the stories of individual black golfers during the age of segregation, the legal battle to integrate public golf courses, and the little-known history of the United Golfers Association (UGA)--a black golf tour that operated from 1925 to 1975. Lane Demas charts how African Americans nationwide organized social campaigns, filed lawsuits, and went to jail in order to desegregate courses; he also provides dramatic stories of golfers who boldly confronted wider segregation more broadly in their local communities. As national civil rights organizations debated golf’s symbolism and whether or not to pursue the game’s integration, black players and caddies took matters into their own hands and helped shape its subculture, while UGA participants forged one of the most durable black sporting organizations in American history as they fought to join the white Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). " Enjoy and excerpt of his blog post below.

Tiger Woods and his career are officially history.

No, this is not another mean-spirited screed; a sportswriter proclaiming the once-greatest golfer can barely hit the ball today, a tabloid promising more lurid details on the star’s “shocking” downfall, or another fan angry that people still care when Woods is now just the such-and-such ranked golfer in the world. (#987, as of this writing)

Can they really not understand why we’re still interested in Tiger? Do they really prefer to read about #986? (No offense to Mr. Jake Roos of South Africa, I’m sure he’s an interesting guy.)

At any rate, I have no idea what the future holds for Tiger Woods on the golf course. I won’t even speculate. What I do know is that the recent attention surrounding his personal and professional “decline” led to a missed opportunity, for this past April marked the twentieth anniversary of his first victory at the world’s most important golf event: The 1997 Masters Tournament at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club. Yes, it’s been twenty years since 44 million U.S. viewers watched 21-year-old Tiger dominate the field, win his first major championship, and tearfully embrace his father Earl on the eighteenth green.

So whether or not his golf career is history, it’s at least time to consider Tiger Woods as history.

And here, at a moment when the star’s light is fading and some are questioning the legacy of his accomplishments, I have perhaps a different perspective. As a historian, I believe that the past decade has seen the historical significance of Tiger Woods grow, not shrink. Even as his popularity and prowess fades, even if he may never reach the expectations many had in the 1990s – heck, even if a better golfer should soon come along (unthinkable at the height of Tigermania) – it’s still likely that Woods will make the history textbooks of 2050, 2100, and beyond.

Why? Because it’s increasingly clear that Tiger Woods was the largest pop culture figure associated with the discussion of racial identity – blackness, whiteness, multiracialism, etc. – at a pivotal moment in American history when those ideas evolved swiftly.

Continue reading at UNC Press Blog.

Teaching 9/11

New York Times front page Sept. 12, 2001

New York Times front page Sept. 12, 2001

By Jennifer Vannette

"On the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, high school social studies teacher and footbal coach Robert Lake stood outside with students waiting to get picked up from school. One of them — a good kid, member of the football team — asked Lake a question: 'Is the whole world going to change now?' Nearly 15 years later, Lakes say he still remembers his response. 'I kind of thought about it, and said, 'Probably. I think it already did.'" [1]

As much as the world did change following that fateful, clear September morning, more research demonstrates that as educators we have failed to truly teach the lessons. Most of our students now will have little to no memory of the events of 9/11. They will have picked up misinformation along the way, in large part because those of us who have clear memories of the day don't really want to talk about it even though we echo the refrain, "Never forget."

Cheryl Duckworth, professor of conflict resolution at Nova Southeastern University, conducted research about what American students are learning about 9/11 in schools. She has discovered that most schools really don’t teach anything, and if they do, they focus on the shock of the day and the heroic actions of the first responders and other bystanders. As NPR reported, "‘The narrative about 9/11 that students are getting is really ahistorical,’ says Cheryl Duckworth. ‘It has no context. It's very thin.’ Duckworth surveyed more than 150 teachers and interviewed several dozen in-depth for her work 9/11 and Collective Memory in US Classrooms.

Duckworth found that if Sept. 11 is addressed in classrooms, too often teachers don't want to tackle the complex, often ugly aftermath at home and globally: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Patriot Act and civil liberties; radical Islam and Islamophobia.

‘I think it's very disturbing,’ Duckworth says, ‘especially during this presidential election cycle. Islamophobia is just sort of free-floating out there in the air.’ If we don't address Sept. 11 in all its complexity, she says, stereotypes and misinformation will continue.” [2]

Many texts designed for teaching college level courses have included new material discussing 9/11, and there is a growing collection of digital resources available (many are designed for younger ages, but can be adapted to college level work). The 9/11 Memorial website provides very useful timelines that incorporate video and audio clips in addition to images. Other available timelines include the 9/11 recovery and also the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. An additional compliation of resources is available through PBS: The 9/11 Anniversary in the Classroom.

As hard as it can be to make it to 2001 in a survey course, we must contextualize the events and aftermath, particularly as it still directly impacts us today. Our students need to understand exactly why we shouldn't forget rather than echo hollow refrains. While it is important to recognize that the attacks on 9/11 resulted in the single largest loss of life in the course of a foreign attack on American soil, even more important is the task of helping students understand why it happened and how the American response changed the nation and the world. It may be worth visiting the idea of having entire courses that focus on the event.

[1] Jamie Martines, “9/11 Is Now a History Lesson for School Kids,” Hechinger Report (Sept. 11, 2016). http://hechingerreport.org/911-is-now-a-history-lesson-for-most-school-kids/
[2] Eric Westervelt, “Teaching Sept. 11 to Students Who Were Born After the Attacks,” NPR (Sept. 11, 2017).  http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/09/11/549532978/teaching-sept-11-to-students-who-were-born-after-the-attacks-happened?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170911


Powers Hall: Then and Now

Powers Hall, Central Michigan University

Powers Hall, Central Michigan University

By Jennifer Vannette

A new semester is upon us. Welcome back students and faculty. As most of you are aware, our building has undergone a rather long and arduous remodeling project. While this created many headaches for all those who needed to continue to use the building for work throughout the summer, the results have included more accessible restrooms, and I'm sure we will all be grateful in the long run. Offices were changed around a bit as well.

Original lobby to Powers Hall. Photo: Clarke Historical Library

Original lobby to Powers Hall. Photo: Clarke Historical Library

The remodel got me thinking a bit about the changes in the building over time, and how those who first used Powers Hall might recognize the outside of the building (that really hasn't changed), but they would not recognize the interior at all. Powers was built beginning in 1938 as a combination student union and men's residence hall. The project was funded by a Public Works Administration grant under Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. C. William Palmer of Detroit was the architect. The Clarke Historical Library notes: "The interior of the building was dramatically different than it is now. The lobby opened onto a grand staircase to the second floor. The first floor contained a cafeteria, men's lounge, and a game room. The second floor housed the women's lounge on the west end, a billiards room, and the grand ballroom which is still there. The men of Keeler [as the residence hall was known] were required to wear ties to dinner in the dining hall, which is now a classroom (room 140) in the back of the building. The west wing of the building on both the first and second floors housed the dormitory section."

The building was gutted in the 1960s and soundproofed to be refashioned as the music building. If you look outside in the courtyard, you can see the central planting bed is shaped like a grand piano, an echo of its past life.

Now, Powers Hall houses the History Department, the Leadership Institute, and the Honors Program. As we begin a new year of instruction in historical studies in an updated building, it's nice to ponder the historical nature of the building itself.

Happy Independence Day!

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Had a Declaration..."

Philadelphia July 3d. 1776

Had a Declaration of Independency been made seven Months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious Effects . . . . We might before this Hour, have formed Alliances with foreign States. -- We should have mastered Quebec and been in Possession of Canada .... You will perhaps wonder, how such a Declaration would have influenced our Affairs, in Canada, but if I could write with Freedom I could easily convince you, that it would, and explain to you the manner how. -- Many Gentlemen in high Stations and of great Influence have been duped, by the ministerial Bubble of Commissioners to treat .... And in real, sincere Expectation of this effort Event, which they so fondly wished, they have been slow and languid, in promoting Measures for the Reduction of that Province. Others there are in the Colonies who really wished that our Enterprise in Canada would be defeated, that the Colonies might be brought into Danger and Distress between two Fires, and be thus induced to submit. Others really wished to defeat the Expedition to Canada, lest the Conquest of it, should elevate the Minds of the People too much to hearken to those Terms of Reconciliation which they believed would be offered Us. These jarring Views, Wishes and Designs, occasioned an opposition to many salutary Measures, which were proposed for the Support of that Expedition, and caused Obstructions, Embarrassments and studied Delays, which have finally, lost Us the Province.

All these Causes however in Conjunction would not have disappointed Us, if it had not been for a Misfortune, which could not be foreseen, and perhaps could not have been prevented, I mean the Prevalence of the small Pox among our Troops .... This fatal Pestilence compleated our Destruction. -- It is a Frown of Providence upon Us, which We ought to lay to heart.

But on the other Hand, the Delay of this Declaration to this Time, has many great Advantages attending it. -- The Hopes of Reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by Multitudes of honest and well meaning tho weak and mistaken People, have been gradually and at last totally extinguished. -- Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act. -- This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six Months ago.

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Had a Declaration..." [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/

The Personal is Historical: Opportunity and Loss in the American West

Women on the Oregon Trail

Women on the Oregon Trail

By Shannon Kirkwood

Many years ago, I read an article about women’s experiences on the Oregon Trail. The authors expected to find that these women experienced a new level of freedom and equality on the trail that they lacked at home because they were performing essential and similar tasks to their male counterparts. That this was their expectation is not surprising, given that the article was written in 1975 – the halcyon days of the ERA, when work and notions of equality were at their peak convergence. Instead, the authors found that moving west was not viewed as an opportunity for equality, but as a process of loss for women. In relocating, they lost their families, their friends, their houses – everything that defined their identities and self-worth. They even lost their personal belongings, since china dishes, musical instruments, and heavy pieces of furniture were the first to be off-loaded along the trail as inessential. Generally speaking, moving west meant opportunity for men, and loss for women.

As it happens, I now live near the trailheads of the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail. The women who traveled westward on these famous trails had to pass through the area where I live on their way. My own relatives (my grandfather’s grandmother) came through this way and landed in Southeast Kansas, three hours from my house. Knowing the history of the area has highlighted for me in a very personal way all of the things that have changed in the last hundred and fifty years, and all the things that haven’t. Like those women before me, I have moved here from Michigan not for myself, but for my husband’s job. While I didn’t have to leave my stand mixer or the couch somewhere along I-70, I did have to leave behind my friends, my colleagues, and my sister. When my son was born three months ago, nurses asked repeatedly if I had a support system – anyone that could help us out – and were quite distressed when I answered, "No, we’re new here." It wasn’t anything like giving birth in a sod house, days-ride from the nearest neighbor, but the isolation was very real all the same.

What has changed since the 19th century are my own expectations from family life. The women who traveled the Oregon Trail did not expect equality, which is why their household objects were so important to them. The tea sets and the pianos represented a domestic domain where they had authority and autonomy, which they lost along with the actual possessions. Today, I expect a certain level of equality – we both do housework and we both have identities outside of the house. But even that is gone now – we are in an arrangement like that of generations past. My husband earns while I stay at home with the baby. This is has been one of the hardest and most surprising losses for me. I have never not worked. Ever. Much of my identity has come from my work.

While I am grateful for the fact that we can afford for me to stay home, I am also envious of my husband. He gets to teach, mingle with co-workers, and even grade papers, while I spend all day with someone who, for all that he’s cute, doesn’t realize that his feet are connected to his body. Not the most intellectually stimulating environment for someone with three degrees and working on a fourth.

Luckily, I have the benefit of historical insight for this time in my life as well. Yes, I am feeling more of the personal losses. But I know that it won’t be that way forever. I take comfort from the fact that I will go back to work at some point, and from the fact that I am not the first woman to feel torn between family and personal ambition. I just keep reminding myself it is possible to overcome these obstacles, and that women have done it in the past – with less support from their husbands and more children. Like the women who passed here before me, I feel the loss of what I left behind, but like them, I continue on this path knowing it holds promises for the future. This is just a weigh station on the road.



Blackbodies and White Lies

Max Planck, 1933

Max Planck, 1933

By Matthew Vannette, Associate Professor of Physics,                                                                                                                                                 Saginaw Valley State University

In the late 19th and into the early 20th centuries, physics had a problem.  The way scientists understood the world at that time could not explain why hot objects, like iron in a blacksmith's forge, glow the precise way they do. Such glowing objects are called blackbodies, and the light they emit is blackbody radiation. The spectrum (how bright the light is at each color) of a glowing body shows a bright peak at middle wavelengths, and gets dimmer at very long, infrared wavelengths and the shorter ultraviolet to X-ray wavelengths.  The particular wavelength where the peak is observed depends on the temperature of the object - higher temperature means a shorter wavelength for the peak.  At the time, Rayleigh's* analysis, using the accepted -- and very successful -- model of light as an electromagnetic wave, predicted that the spectrum should get continually brighter as the wavelength gets shorter, with very short wavelengths being infinitely bright, irrespective of the object's temperature.  Since brighter light means more energy, an infinitely bright light at any wavelength implies that every object gives off infinite energy. 

Rayleigh's result was so wrong it is termed the "ultraviolet catastrophe."  Then, in 1900 a young German physicist named Max Planck settled the matter by introducing energy quantization, the first step toward quantum mechanics.  This was an entirely new way of thinking about things, and it straight-forwardly prevents the infinite energy Rayleigh's model predicts.  Physics was saved.  The idea was so radical that even Planck felt it had no physical basis and that someone smarter would come along and correct it.  But, it solved the problem.

This is the story we tell physics students about the development of quantum mechanics and modern physics.  It has a nice feel to it.  Very scientific method-y, if you will.  And it's a lie.  Planck was not solving the ultraviolet catastrophe known to the rest of the physics community.  Planck's first paper on the subject was published in January of 1900 (though not read at a conference until October of that same year), and he was motivated by a small discrepancy in the long wavelength limit.  Rayleigh's was not published until July 1900.  It just so happens that Planck's work provided a good model over the entire spectrum.  Unless Planck had worked out the ultraviolet catastrophe himself, he could not have been trying to correct for it. And if he had worked it out, for some reason, he chose not to publish. Perhaps he refused to present a model that gave such bad predictions. A core tenet of science is that if the model does not match the data, it cannot be correct, except in a very limited sense.

Understanding the motivations of a researcher is very important. It can reveal subconscious biases that may have led to inadvertent mistakes or omissions. If a particular researcher, then, has the weight of authority, those mistakes and biases can become part of our culture. Even for scientists, it is important to know our history so that we can examine our intellectual forebears honestly. Many years ago, a mentor of mine at Boston College, Andrzej Herczynski said that Einstein was an ordinary genius -- well beyond what our normal minds can expect to achieve -- but Planck was a transcendental genius. We can appreciate Planck's contribution more fully when we realize that he solved a problem well before the rest of the physics community knew there was a problem to solve, and scientists can have a greater understanding for how research and theories are developed.

*British physicist, Lord Rayleigh, John William Strutt