Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Creating a Personal History of the War on Terror

Leah Constable '20 is a sophomore History Major, originally from Clifton Park, NY. 

During Fall 2017, I participated in a directed study project entitled “Voices from the War on Terror” with Professor Abbas and six other students. Together, we engaged with oral history as a form of analytical research and understanding in order to try and capture the feelings and opinions of the Geneseo community in regards to 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror.’ We looked closely at the lasting impact that sixteen years of war had on the opinions and ideas of the American public, specifically the Geneseo community. The directed study sought to answer questions such as, how did the Geneseo campus and community responded in the midst, and wake, of 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror?’ What is the significance of these communal views within the context of the nation as a whole? Why is it important to understand individual perspectives of historical events as they happened and were experienced? How do the consequences of these events affect our lives as students of Geneseo today? Each student was expected to conduct three interviews with an individual framework of study in mind. In this, we were trying to accumulate a multitude of interviews, with a range of participants, to try and create an archive that might outline a more holistic picture of the Geneseo community’s response. These interviews will be placed in Milne Library for future students to access and use. We hope that in listening to the discussions, conversations may be sparked as we continue to grapple, as a community, with the ramifications of the ‘War on Terror.’

Map of the "War on Terror". Red indicates nations in which military efforts against terrorism have been undertaken; yellow indicates nations involved in the War on Terror campaign where terrorist attacks have occurred. [Source]

My personal focus, when choosing and conducting my research, was to learn about the effects that 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror,’ had on students and educators, with a special interest in how this is reflected in the classroom, both in the last sixteen years, and today. Consequently, the participants that I reached out to were all educators who were able to think critically about the topic at hand and approach it with different perspectives and ideas. Over the course of the directed study, and my three interviews, my own definition of what it means to be actively engaged in learning about the ‘War on Terror’ has changed, as we discussed the role that societal and political agendas play(ed) in shaping the public's universal understanding of the events.

To begin, I first interviewed Professor Cope, a member of the History Department, who has been working at Geneseo since August of 2001. His particular take on the education and memory of 9/11 was that it extends far beyond the classroom to include our cultural memory, in the way government policy decisions have created and produced stigmas of fear and paranoia in our society.

“I’m really interested in cultural memory and the ways that do cultural memories get perpetuated over time. One of the ways of looking at that is how reminders of events get structured into everyday life. That can happen through landscape, through war memorials and things like that. But I think that with 9/11, we are in a world where every time that you go to the airport, and you go through these really elaborate screening processes, this is a reminder that America changed after 9/11. So there are these unconscious reminders that, I think, have been formalized in really complicated, and sometimes problematic, ways. So its… references to 9/11 are not necessarily explicit in the world that we move through but they are implicit and everywhere. So it has the effect of keeping alive a sense of, “oh yeah we have to be vigilant about terror, we have to be vigilant about the, the world that we live in is not as safe as we maybe think it is.”

In this, Professor Cope is arguing that our collective education is being consciously, and subconsciously, influenced by government policy decisions that act as a reminder, as well as a reinforcer, of the fears that coincides with believing that “terrorism” is an ever present force lurking around us.   

File:Security screening at denver airport (3382932556).jpg
Security screening at Denver Airport. [Source]

Professor Cope’s sentiments were reflected by Sarah Prinzi, a local high school teacher who is an alumna of Geneseo. She graduated in 2003 with her Master’s in Education, and was a Junior on September 11, 2001. Mrs. Prinzi built upon the ideas articulated by Professor Cope, to include the rhetoric employed by our government and politicians as a form of public education that plays into the American public's fears and paranoia.

“I think that there’s just a lot, people are a lot more xenophobic, but whether or not thats… its hard to know what came first because I know that there’s a lot of xenophobia that came out in our last presidential election. Was that caused by the politicians? Why was that caused by the politicians? Is it a fear that was already there that they were playing on? My thought is yes, that this is a fear, because of terrorist activities that they, and then because there are refugees coming from countries, people are afraid of immigrants, so I don’t know. I’m leery of saying that it's because of 9/11 but I think that 9/11, at the very least, is very connected with the xenophobia.” 

Mrs. Prinzi is building on the idea of subconscious influences as she outlines the rhetoric employed by politicians to ignite fear in the public for their own personal gain.

A cartoon showing some of the political rhetoric deployed after 9/11. Marshall Ramsey / The Clarion Ledger.

So ultimately what grew from our conversations was an understanding that, yes, educators are actively speaking with students about 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ but much of the wider public's education, in this regard, is shaped by the paranoia that is being stoked by public policy decisions and political rhetoric. In this, we can see a juxtaposition of ideas and fears best summed up by Professor Sergeant, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. army and a history and humanities professor at Geneseo.

“I mean you could bring your gun on a plane if you wanted to [prior to 9/11], everybody had a pocket knife nobody thought twice, now if you take a pocket knife out in class students audibly gasp, “oh my God why do you have a,” I’m like it’s a two inch pocket knife what are you kidding me? Somehow we’ve kind of changed our perception in society, it’s very strange, I can hand out ten inch long stainless steel scissors to every kid, but if you take out a little two inch pocket knife that’s closed, locked, and in your pocket that makes them nervous, to me, the other thing is practically a sword or a dagger, and yet this is what makes you nervous? Because that’s what they’ve been taught.” 

Professor Sargent is summing up the ideas presented by Professor Cope and Mrs. Prinzi, in that, the accumulation of these societal fears has led to a skewed sense of what is a danger to “us,” and what is still considered to be socially acceptable practices.

The accumulation of these collective understandings of the education and the training of the American public to be fearful and actively aware of the perceived dangers that terrorism poses to the “American way of life” has been articulated and widely accepted throughout society. This was a staple of our discussion in the directed study, as we grappled with the continued consequences of the ‘War on Terror,’ and how these actions have manifested themselves into the consciousness of the Geneseo community at large. 

Doty Hall, SUNY Geneseo.

As a student of this directed study, the experience has taught me to have a newfound appreciation for oral history as a tool for research and study. I have learned, as a student of history, to be wary of oral history because of its implicit biases, but I have come to understand that all sources have biases and the advantages of using oral history rests in our capabilities to capture the more emotional, personal, and individual perspectives of specific events in history. Given that the study of history, is the study of humans over time, understanding unique individual's perspectives, when applied to a larger understanding of historical events, can help to create a more holistic picture.    

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

History at GREAT Day 2018: A Sneak Preview

The students and faculty of the History Department have been working hard to prepare for GREAT Day 2018, our annual college-wide symposium celebrating the creative and scholarly endeavors of the students here at Geneseo.

Looking for a sneak-peek of what's in store, historically speaking, on April 17? Check out this list of presentations by history students, who'll be delving into everything from world history textbooks to imperialism and the British Museum, from colonial India to Joan of Arc.

Session 1E 

Jenna Lawson. Laugh to Keep from Crying: Implications of African American Humor as a Cultural Shaper in the Jim Crow and Civil Rights Era South.

Session 1F

Deanna Palma. What is History Even Good For? An Analysis of World History Textbooks.

Session 1H

Allison Maier. Black Politicians in the Post-Civil War Natchez Region.

Session 1M

Theresa Gibbons. The Damned and the Domina: The Role and Historical Memory of Female Servants in the First Slave Society.

Zachary Veith. Collections in the Crossfire: The Lasting Legacy of Imperialism in the British Museum

Session 1T

Kathryn Forrester. The Holocaust on Screen.

Session 2M

Derek Kaczorowski. The Poles of Buffalo: The Social and Cultural Evolution of an Eastern European Other.

Allison Maier. Gender and Venereal Disease in Early Twentieth Century Rochester, NY.

Taylor McPherson. Redefining Rebellion: Riots, “Reverse Riots,” and the Rise of the Carceral State

Session 3F

Jenna Lawson. The ToKnight Show: 2017 Ambassadorship for Diversity.

Session 3K

Juliana Thompson. Effects of Hessian Soldiers on Morale in the American Revolution: How Mercenaries Skewed the War Toward the Colonists

Session 4J

Erin Herbst. Liberation through Language: How the Evolution of Lincoln’s Rhetoric Led the Nation through Crisis

Krista Borst. The Changing Landscape of Black‐White Interracial Relationships: From Slavery to the End of Reconstruction.

James Hamilton. The Colfax Massacre: A Forgotten Chapter of Violence.

Session 4P

Chase Chiamulera. Gender and Race in Colonial India, 1765‐1947 (The Next Episode)

Julian David-Drori. Sturges Hall and the Forgotten S.T.E.M.

Poster Session

250. Jessica Lisi. The War of Rhetoric: An Analysis on How the Revolutionary Rhetoric Affected Ideas and Sentiments of the American Revolution from 1767-1776

251. Shreya Srinath. Medievalism of the Maid.

252. Matthew Burley and Alison Coggins. The Medieval Premonstratensian Women Prosopographical Project.

Learning to Listen to Voices from the War on Terror

Alex Malescio '18 is a senior History major at SUNY Geneseo. Originally from White Plains, NY, Alex was recently inducted into the Golden Key International Honour Society. In this piece, he reflects on his experience undertaking a directed study with History Professor Megan Brankley Abbas. 

Over the course of the fall 2017 semester, I had the privilege of participating in Professor Megan Brankley Abbas’s directed study titled “Voices from the War on Terror.” In this course, my classmates and I engaged in multiple conversations regarding the origins as well as the consequences of the so-called “War on Terror.” While the effects of this “war” can be felt across the globe, the ultimate goal of the course was to gain insight into how this long standing U.S. policy affects the lives of various individuals in the Geneseo community. In order to accomplish this feat, we set out to interview those who we felt would be able to provide a valuable snapshot of how a global phenomenon can leave lasting imprints on even a small community such as Geneseo.

Each student in the course took on a different sub-set of the Geneseo community. I had a particular interest in speaking with Geneseo students who took an extra-curricular interest in politics and current events. Hence, I began the process of emailing the heads of various politically oriented student organized clubs and reaching out to classmates who I knew took an interest in politics. I conducted three interviews. My first interview was with Joshua, an international relations major in his junior year and president of Geneseo’s College Republicans. Then, I interviewed Rohan, a Political Science and Communications double major who holds a leadership position in both the Geneseo College Democrats as well as in Geneseo’s South Asian Student Association. Finally, I interviewed a fellow student who wished to remain anonymous. Through these interviews, I wanted to explore the role of human emotions like fear, anger, apathy, and empathy in students’ understanding of this conflict. In other words, how did some of my classmates not only think about but also feel about this “war?”

Graffiti denouncing strikes by US drones in Yemen. (Photo: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

During our interview, Joshua made his disdain for “the war on terror” very clear. His opposition to the policies and attitudes that came with this U.S. policy is deeply rooted in his self-described “libertarian-esque” values. In general, Joshua feels that people are scared of terrorism, which “...isn’t as prominent as they think it is.” Joshua feels that this fear is the driving force behind what he sees to be the American people surrendering their rights in hopes that the government can keep them safe. In addition to his fundamental objections to “the War on Terror,” Joshua also weighed in on what he saw as the cause and unnecessary perpetuation of this U.S. policy. Joshua pointed out that a large part of why we’re involved in “the War on Terror” is due to the actions of the United States long before 9/11. He points out that if you had asked the average American who Bin Laden was before 9/11...they could[‘nt] have told you.” That being said, one could argue that “...our continuing interference in the Middle East...could be the genesis of this entire War on Terror.”

Furthermore, when I asked him about civilian deaths in the Middle East as a result of our military involvement in the region, he pointed out that when American military action results someone’s death, this creates “...a very logical reason [for] why…” those who were close to this person would want to “...join a terrorist organization.” Oftentimes, people are quick to blame terrorism on the ideologies of fundamentalist Islam. Muslims who join jihadi movements are often viewed as faceless puppets of a supposedly controlling and political religion. However, Joshua recognizes that, while violence is always a tragic occurrence, much of the anger that some jihadist have towards the United States comes from a place of loss, pain, and the very human desire for vengeance. To recognize this is not to condone the violent acts that jihadi groups are often involved in, it is simply a recognition that the United States has an important role to play in ending a senseless cycle of violence.

During my interview with Rohan, he expressed his concerns that the “War on Terror” has long since reached its expiration date. Rohan stated that

The ‘War on Terror’ started basically...after 9/11. Bush started it. So I think it was a rallying call and a propaganda piece to start all these wars. I think what the war on terror meant to people at the time who were very patriotic was America’s gonna get revenge for all this stuff, basically 9/11. I think it’s basically morphed into this thing where we just keep bombing people. It’s this whole big thing and it should really end overall, I think it’s just too far gone. The ‘War on Terror’ to me is something that maybe started with some noble intentions, but at this point it’s over, it’s just too destructive.

U.S. troops from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division build a base in Parwan Province, Afghanistan in 2010. Photo: U.S. Army

When our discussion moved to the victims of American military action in the “Middle East,” Rohan expressed a similar concern to one that Joshua had mentioned. Rohan spoke about an article he had read.

They were surveying people in Afghanistan in this major province, I don’t remember the name of it it was a few years ago but only like 5% of them knew what 9/11 was. To them, we just came in there and started killing people and doing all those atrocities, so they’re just gonna hate us for that reason. And I think especially if you drone strike someone, like you kill some kid’s mom or dad, he’s just going to grow up hating America. 

Rohan also expressed concern that “the War on Terror” has been going on for so long because people have become apathetic to it. He pointed out that this may be in part due to the dehumanization of the victims American military action in the Middle East, suggesting that

People generally don’t care anymore. I think we see it a lot with our generation too. I think also a lot of people have become desensitized to violence in general. Especially people in our generation...I think they’ve grown up in an age...where they’re used to seeing these headlines, like 20 people dead, 30 people dead, they’re like whatever who cares anymore.
During our interview, I felt that Rohan had really highlighted perhaps the greatest pitfall of “the War on Terror;” it began in a moment of intense anger and fear, but the American public has since become apathetic to its effects, allowing the atrocities it causes to pile up, unscrutinized.
A political cartoon about the War on Terror from the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

My last interview was with a student who wished to remain anonymous. When I asked him to weigh in on the United States’ decision to take military action in the “Middle East,” he seemed reluctant to embrace certain aspects of our military strategy, but overall felt that military action in that region was necessary. He expressed his contention that

When these groups [violent jihadi organizations] act up, when they’re posing direct threats to the U.S. is when it’s worth going in because the only way to destroy the terrorist organizations would be to destroy the very ideology that its founded on which is impossible to do. I mean the best comparison I could use is of course Nazism with the whole movement in Germany during the second world war. Over there that the best job you can do in destroying an ideology, for the most part. And it took a world war to accomplish that, and it’s still not dead. You hear neo-Nazi groups popping up in various parts of the destroy an ideology is impossible.
This student felt that we should take military action because he saw violent acts from extremist groups as being founded on an ideology that can not be destroyed. Furthermore, this student described himself as someone who is very pro-America and very pro-Israel, and he expressed a great concern for the anti-Semitic sentiment he feels is making a comeback in recent years. With these fears being his justification for American military action, he saw much of the death and destruction in the “Middle East” as being an unfortunate but unavoidable aspect of a necessary war. He explained: “when there is a threat, it’s unfortunate to say, this is a war- people die. It’s a sad truth, civilian deaths are part of war.” At this point, it was clear that this student saw “the War on Terror” through a different lens than Joshua and Rohan did.
An incoming SUNY Geneseo class forming a giant 'G' on the quad to celebrate their arrival.

Overall, the interviews made me reflect on how the principles of humanism in particular affected the thoughts of these three Geneseo students. I learned how humanization can lead to empathy and how even a passive dehumanization of Muslim or Arab individuals can lead some to become desensitized to the suffering of others. In the realm of politics, one’s worldview - complete with all of one’s fears, values, and experiences - ultimately has the final say on issues such as “the War on Terror.” Today, the United States is so politically polarized. Candidates on both the right and the left sing the praises of bipartisan compromise, but the idea of cooperation between those who operate in contradictory paradigms seems nearly impossible. In a perfect world however, there should be a core philosophy on which all people can agree: the concept of humanism or that all human beings are inherently valuable. As a nation, we should actively seek to extend our concern for ourselves to a concern for all human beings. I believe that one’s inability to recognize the humanity of others is a direct indicator of our own worth.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Faculty News and Achievements Round-Up

We've had a busy few months here in the History Department! Here's a round-up of some of the individual and collective achievements of our faculty.

In October, SUNY Geneseo Provost and Professor of History Stacey Robertson opened the annual Historians Against Slavery Conference at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England. Dr. Robertson is the co-director of Historians Against Slavery, a community of scholar-activists who contribute research and historical context to today’s antislavery movements in order to inspire and inform activism and to develop collaborations that empower such efforts.

Chair of the Department Dr. Justin Behrend published "Expanding the Boundaries of Reconstruction", a review essay of some of the latest work on the history of Reconstruction, in Reviews in American History.

Dr. Emilye Crosby shared her expertise in civil rights history at an October event at the Geva Theatre Center on Rochester's history and the legacies of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.

She also helped to organize the visit of Geneseo alum Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell '67 MS '68 to campus in February. Dr. Crosby interviewed Dr. Barnwell for the public event "A Collision of Worldviews" about her involvement with the Civil Rights movement. Dr. Barnwell also led a Community Sing, introducing a broad cross-section of the Geneseo movement to the history and rhythms of African and African-American dance and song.

In April, Dr. Joseph Cope teamed up with Dr. Robert Doggett (English) and Veronica Taglia '18 to give a presentation at the Livingston County Historical Society entitled "From Geneseo to Glenveagh: Contextualizing Cornelia Wadsworth Adair's Life in Ireland." The presentation explored the life of Cornelia Wadsworth Adair, a Geneseo native and heiress who in the late nineteenth-century managed one of the largest landed estates in Ireland.

Dr. Cope was also appointed Interim Assistant Provost for Student Success, and will transition to that new administrative position this summer.

A Global History of Sexual Science, 1880–1960, the new volume co-edited by Dr. Ryan Jones, was published in November. The first anthology to provide a worldwide perspective on the birth and development of the field of sexual science, A Global History argues that people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa were important participants in debates on topics such as prostitution, birth control, and transvestism.

At a standing room only event in March, Dr. Jones gave a presentation on the process of research, writing, and editing such an ambitious and wide-ranging volume.

Dozens of dedicated, passionate high school social studies educators joined the History faculty in March for our fifth Annual Teachers' Day workshops. Professors Emilye Crosby and Amanda Lewis led workshops on new methods in teaching U.S. Civil Rights history and African history in the Grades 8-12 classroom, while Professors Catherine Johnson-Adams, Michael Leroy Oberg, Megan Brankley Abbas, and Yvonne Seale participated in a panel discussion on ways to think about place and identity when teaching history.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Undergrad History Major Achievements

Six History majors were offered membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest national honors society for liberal arts and sciences: Noah Chichester '18, Nicole Delligatti '18, Ashley Law '19, Jenna Lawson '18, Rachel Ollis '18, and Deanna Palma '18.

Rachel Ollis '18 is the current president of the Memories Campaign, a student-led oral history project which preserves the stories of older Geneseo community members. In January she helped to organize a fundraiser raising more than $900 to help with the costs of publishing the books in which the project members document the lives of our community's seniors. You can read more about the project and the fundraising in this Lamron article.

Isabel Owen '19 was one of two SUNY Geneseo students to receive a prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International scholarship awarded by the State Department. Isabel will travel to Nicaragua this summer to better understand how globalization and immigration affect developing Central American nations like Nicaragua, and to work towards her goal of a career in immigration law.

Shreya Srinath '19 has combined her internship with cultural heritage organization Global Xplorer with blogging for Saving Antiquities for Everyone, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of our common heritage. In this blog post, she writes about the history and symbolism of a nineteenth-century statue of Joan of Arc.

Jenna Lawson '18 was highlighted by the college in its series on outstanding graduating seniors. A Presidential Scholar and Edgar Fellow, Jenna has used her Center for Inquiry, Discovery and Development (CIDD) Ambassadorship in Diversity to create the “ToKnight Show” event series,  which brought nearly 250 students together to discuss LGBTQ issues, race, mental health, disability and student activism.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Voices from the War on Terror: A Sensory Exhibit

Please join us for the “Voices from the War on Terror: A Sensory Exhibit” in the Kinetic Gallery in the MacVittie College Union. This exhibit is the product of a three-semester-long directed study involving nearly a dozen students under the supervision of Professor Megan Brankley Abbas. Opening night will include a brief presentation by student researchers as well as food and beverages. The opening will run from 6-7:30 p.m. on April 23; the gallery itself will remain open to the public through Friday, April 27.

“Voices from the War on Terror” began with a simple question: how has this 17 years-long war impacted the lives of Geneseo community members in ways both big and small? In order to answer this question, students studied the theory and methods of oral history and then arranged interviews with community members. We interviewed a diverse range of individuals, including military veterans, Muslim students, local community leaders, educators, and average students. After identifying patterns and contrasts in these oral histories, we framed the exhibit around the interlocking themes of confusion and experiential knowledge.

This gallery opening will showcase the collaborative efforts of Geneseo history department students: Malachy Dempsey, Isabel Owen, Cate Shields, Jessica Lisi, and Rachel Ollis. Student participants from previous semeters include: Chris Tursellino, Leah Constable, Katherine Zaslavsky, and Logan Cleary. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Recent Alumni Achievements

Andreas Meyris '12 is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at George Washington University, specializing in American labor and political history. He contributed a piece to the Activist History Review which explores what the 1952 conviction of a police officer for civil rights violation tells us about police reform and labor history.

Cory James Young '13 is a Ph.D. student in the Department of History, Georgetown University, where he is researching the the fates of Central Pennsylvania’s enslaved and slaveholding families in the wake of gradual abolition. He writes regularly for the Activist History Review, where one of his most recent pieces, ''Bloom Where You’re Planted': Local History as Activism and Healing;, explores why local history matters.

Tom Garrity '17 received a Peggy Browning Fund Fellowship from New York State United Teachers for 2018. He writes that he is excited by the opportunity to represent real people and their issues. Tom is currently a student at University of Michigan Law School.