Monday, April 24, 2017

Studying the Grey Area: Getting to Grips with Islamic History

Rachel Ollis is a junior history and art history double major at SUNY Geneseo. After completing an impressive 16 credits worth of classes on the Islamic world, she is currently serving as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for Professor Megan Brankley Abbas’s HIST 292: Modern Islamic History and plans to write a senior honors thesis on modern Islamic history next year. Rachel is also a member of the Varsity Tennis team. She is originally from Suffern, NY. 

When applying to Geneseo as a seventeen year old, the list of majors intimidated me. While deciding which box to check, I crossed out math and science because I despised chemistry and algebra. However, this still left me with a big decision to make. I knew history was a subject that excited and intrigued me; on top of this, I had excelled in my high school history classes, including AP history. Although I really was not sure what I wanted to do with my life, I declared the major and hoped for the best. Looking back, I realize it was one of the best decisions of my life.

My freshman year at Geneseo consisted of mostly General Education classes, so unfortunately it was not until my sophomore year that I was able to sign up for my first history courses. That fall, I enrolled in the course, HIST 291: History of the Islamic World from 600-1800. Admittedly, signing up for the course was nerve-wracking because I genuinely knew nothing about Islamic history other than the events of 9/11 and the Iran hostage crisis; like most people, I embarrassingly struggled to place most Islamic countries on a map.

A leaf from the "Blue Qur'an". Ca. 900, Tunisia. [Metropolitan
Museum of Art
]

In this course, we studied factual material like what year Muhammad received revelation but also explored more complex concepts such as sharia law. We delved into the Qur’an in order to understand how Islamic jurists view polygamy, theft, and the mainstream media concept of “jihad.” We used the Qur’an and Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) as evidence to challenge our own preconceived notions that Islamic/ Sharia law is inherently violent. By digging beyond the common misperceptions in American society, I realized that I cannot simply listen to the media or politicians and assume their words to be true. As a result of this experience, I now attempt to read and research historical and political topics in order to develop an informed opinion rather than let other outlets dictate my opinions and ideas.

After completing HIST 291 in Fall 2016, I enrolled in four additional courses on the Islamic world. Together, these courses have encouraged me to examine historical events from different perspectives. For example, in 1979, Iranian revolutionaries seized the American embassy and took hostages for 444 days. Most Americans remember this event because of the extensive media coverage and the recent production of the film Argo. However, viewing this event only through American eyes is problematic. When we study and examine the Iran Hostage Crisis through this singular narrative, we forget that, in 1953, the United States government overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran and then allowed for the oppressive Shah to come to power. The American-backed coup does not justify the Iran Hostage Crisis, but remembering this piece of history does introduce a contradictory narrative into our discussions.

A student demonstration in Washington, D.C., during the
Iran Hostage Crisis, 1979. [Library of Congress]

Rather than approaching this event in black and white terms, we studied the grey area, where multiple interpretations and stories exist. These multiple lenses and angles on the Iranian Hostage Crisis allowed me to see the discipline of history as one that has very few universal truths. We are often under the assumption that historians study facts or universal truths; however, I have encountered the opposite through my courses and studies into the Islamic world. As a student who concentrates in Islamic history, I have found that most historical events have an expansive grey area, which requires one to weigh arguments from a multitude of sources and angles.

Grasping these grey areas can be challenging and makes it even more essential that historians consult as many archives and documents as possible; however, these written documents should not be deemed as the truth when attempting to understand grey areas. Those who write history possess personal or political agendas, and this is something academics should note when doing research. When accessing written documents, we need to remember that just because an event or action is not written down does not mean that it did not occur. An example of this can be seen through the 1953 overthrow of the Mossadeq government in Iran. Until 2013, there were no files on the CIA overthrow of the government; however, this does not mean that this event did not happen. It is likely that there are also more files on the event that have not yet been released or that some decisions/actions were not put into writing. Lack of written records or unreleased archival records makes it necessary for us to conduct and consult oral history. This style of history enables us to capture and analyze the experiences of the socially marginalized. With no prior experience in oral history, I originally dismissed it because it is not “hard evidence.” Today I realize that not everyone's experiences are found in state archives. As a result, it is crucial that we give voices to the voiceless and internalize them in hopes of challenging state centric Truth narratives.

Shirin Neshat, "Women of Allah",
1994. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

By understanding multiple interpretations and stories in history, I have come to the realization that very few events in life are black and white. Studying this grey area provided me with the tools to make change within our community. Now, it may not seem like a big deal to attempt to fix things in tiny Geneseo, but that’s where change starts. Currently, I am interviewing members within our Geneseo community who have a personal stake in the “War on Terror.” By interviewing our community members, I strive to give a voice to stories that often go untold. Along with conducting interviews, I recently presented a lesson on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to 9th grade students at Letchworth Central School District.

Sometimes, it feels like, in the undergraduate courses, we merely sit in circles discussing the world’s issues but never do anything about them. Fortunately for me, this has not been my experience. I have had opportunities to collaborate with my professors and fellow classmates on ways to improve Geneseo and then most importantly, we do something about our problems. My personal involvement with these problems has taught me more than any course I have ever taken. The active role I have played has allowed me to become a confident, self- empowered individual. With this experience, I realized that you don’t need to be a politician in Washington to make change, you just have to want to contribute. I see myself continuing to help address problems beyond my years at Geneseo. After graduation, I plan on enrolling in law school with hopes of fulfilling my dream of becoming an immigration lawyer. My law career will not be shaped by the grades I earned in my Islamic history courses but rather by how these courses allowed me stop seeing the world in terms of black and white and start listening to people’s experiences. Studying history has enabled me to become a better person.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

History Department Honors and Awards Luncheon

On Saturday, April 22, the History Department held its annual Honors and Awards Luncheon, in recognition of the academic excellence and civic achievement of our undergraduate students this past year. A number of students were also formally inducted into Phi Alpha Theta, the national honors society for history. Thank you to all the supportive family and friends who attended, particularly those who traveled some distance to be with us!


Attendees filing in to the Luncheon, held in the historic
Riviera Theater in downtown Geneseo.

Professor Jim Williams formally inducts some of the newest
members of the SUNY Geneseo chapter of Phi
Alpha Theta.
Victoria Cooke, recipient of the prize for Best First Year Paper,
and Shreya Srinath, recipient of the prize for Best Analytical Paper.
Eamon Danieu, one of the recipients of the James K.
Somerville Scholarship, pictured with his proud mom.
Prize recipients pictured with Professors Joe Cope and Megan Abbas.
Jenna Lawson, recipient of the DeMarco '30 Memorial Scholarship,
with Isabel Owen, recipient of the Henzel Memorial Scholarship
and the Wachunas Prize.
Derek Kaczorowski, recipient of the Bill Derby Prize, pictured
with Thomas Garrity, recipient of the Beck Prize for
Outstanding Senior History Major and the prize for
Best Senior Experience Paper.

Medieval Banquet: April 21, 2017

Over fifty people attended the SUNY Geneseo Medieval Banquet at the Yard of Ale restaurant on April 21. This event, co-sponsored by the History Department, brought together students, faculty, and community members who contribute to our Medieval Studies minor. Attendees dined on medieval-inspired dishes, were introduced to the love songs of the Middle Ages, and learned how to sing a thirteenth-century round about the coming of spring. It was a wonderful evening, and a testimony to the flourishing nature of medieval studies here at Geneseo.

Many thanks for the generous support of the Office of the Provost and the Departments of English, History, and Languages and Literatures.

Dr. Jess Fenn (English) welcomes the attendees. 

Students Matthew Burley and Noah Chichester prepare to regale
us with song.

Professor Ronald Herzman (English) pictured with some of our
Chamber Singers.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Discussing SNCC and Its Legacy

Earlier this month, the History Department co-hosted a series of panel discussions as part of Geneseo’s annual honoring of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy. Civil Rights Campaign veterans Freddie Greene Biddle and Jennifer Lawson, together with Shaketa Redden (Black Love Resists in the Rust, Buffalo) spoke with students about the continuing struggle for African-American rights. Some SUNY Geneseo students, who are currently interns with the SNCC Digital Gateway project, also addressed the audience. 

You can read more about the panels, and about student reaction, in this article in Geneseo's student newspaper, The Lamron.

History major and SNCC Digital Gateway intern Jenna Lawson.

Jennifer Lawson and Freddie Greene Biddle speak with a panel attendee.

Panelists Shaketa Redden (Black Love Resists in the Rust, Buffalo)
and Civil Rights activists Freddie Greene Biddle and Jennifer Lawson.

SNCC Digital Gateway Intern Tanairi Taylor ('18).

Senior History major and SNCC Digital Gateway intern Tom Garrity.

Panelists and Civil Rights activists Freddie Greene Biddle
and Jennifer Lawson pictured with Professor Emilye Crosby.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Facts, Belief, and the "Post Truth" Society: The Value of Majoring in History

Ashley Law is a sophomore history and political science double major at SUNY Geneseo. She is also a member of the Edgar Fellows Honors Program. During the Spring 2017 semester, Ashley has been serving as a Teaching Assistant for Professor Megan Abbas’s HIST 292 course: History of the Modern Islamic World, 1800-Present. She is originally from Cuba, NY. 

There are two different - but equally misinformed - reactions that I get when I tell someone that I am a history major. Either, “wow, that must be so boring,” or, “what could you possibly do with that?” These reactions are indicative of a profound misunderstanding of what the study of history actually is. In my two years as a history major, my classes have been neither boring nor useless; my history education has made me an infinitely better reader, writer, and thinker. The skills that I have acquired in my history classes, of critical thinking, analyzing arguments, and articulating my own unique point of view, have helped me in all aspects of my college life and I believe will serve me well in whatever career I choose to pursue.

When people think that history is boring, it is usually because they assume that it consists of a lot of memorization of dates, events, and people. In college, nothing could be farther from the truth. After almost two years of my history education, I cannot name all 45 presidents in order, and I do not know the dates of the Peloponnesian War. Nor could I name any past emperors of China or tell you what happened on a particular date in the past. What I do know is that history is less about facts than it is about interpretations. Now, don’t get me wrong, facts are crucially important, especially in today’s “post-truth” society. As historians, we all start with a base of indisputable knowledge. But after that ends, the real work begins.

Michal Rovner, "Border #8" (1997-98). Painting depicts
the Israel-Lebanon border. [Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

One clear example of the work of interpretation that historians do that I have come across in my coursework is the creation of the state of Israel. Let’s start with the facts: Palestine was partitioned into Israeli and Palestinian territory by the British in 1948; immediately afterwards, there was a mass movement of population accompanied by violence. And from here, historians move away from the firm bedrock of truth to the shifting sands of interpretation. If you listen to the typical Israeli historical narrative, the Palestinians left the newly-formed state of Israel voluntarily and there were no orders to commit violence against them. The Palestinians, however, claim that there were forced expulsions and ethnic cleansing. Clearly, there is very little in common between these two historical narratives.

So which one should we believe? It’s really up to you. But unlike politics, when someone can make a claim (like climate change isn’t real or vaccines cause autism) without any evidence to support it, historians are held accountable to certain standards. We analyze their sources, evaluate their arguments, and question the motives driving their work to determine whether or not we trust their interpretation. In HIST 292: History of the Modern Islamic World, 1800-Present, we read several historians’ competing interpretations of the creation of Israel. Throughout the course, we were never told what the “right” interpretation was. Rather, we scrutinized these historians and their work to come to our own conclusions. Take Benny Morris, a revisionist Israeli scholar, for example. Morris relied solely on Israeli archival sources to come to the conclusion that, while there was no direct order or master plan to expel the Palestinians, there were multiple incidents of Israeli violence and intimidation. Putting aside his quite radical political views, there are accusations against Morris for being a bad historian. He has been known to decontextualize quotes, make up certain discussions, and manipulate sources. So perhaps his interpretation isn’t reliable. But if you take a closer look, the scholar who accused Morris of these manipulations is a vocal defender of Israeli policies towards Palestinians. Do the two scholars’ politics undermine their professional abilities? It is questions such as these that history majors learn to ask in order to come to their own conclusions about what the “truth” is.

Captain Avraham Adam raising the Ink Flag
at Umm Rashrash, marking the end of
the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
 [Government Press Office of Israel]

The misconceptions that history is boring or irrelevant are particularly false when discussing issues like the creation of Israel because these varying interpretations of the past have tangible political ramifications in the present. With hot-button political issues like the Israeli-Palestinian debate, decisions that politicians make based on these misconceptions have profound effects on policy. Whether or not you interpret Israel as an aggressor in the 1948 War directly correlates to questions of Israeli military actions today. As we have seen, these issues are complicated; far too often, discussions by politicians and pundits about America’s foreign policy with Israel ignore the long and complex history of the debate. History, unlike politics, allows for a deeper understanding of issues to provide a clearer path forward. Now that doesn’t mean that by studying history we can solve all of the world’s problems, but with a background of historical knowledge, we can look past the political artifice and see the full picture.

In the future, I hope to pursue a career in government or politics and I know that having this historical background will help me to be successful in that field. I will be able to apply my understanding of the past to policy issues that we are grappling with today. And while I still don’t know exactly what I want to do after graduation, I believe that my history education has given me the necessary tools to succeed in whatever I decide. Majoring in history has been neither boring nor a waste but rather it has made me a better thinker. There is something incredibly liberating in sitting in a history class discussing my own views on how I interpret the past. Instead of being a passive recipient of information, I am an active agent in my education. I can choose what I believe, but I always have to be able to support it. History has taught me to analyze, interpret, and think critically. It taught me to think about and challenge the world around me. And more than anything, it has taught me that my voice, and my opinions, are important. These analytical, research, and writing skills are valuable assets in any career field. And the confidence that comes from coming to my own conclusion and speaking my mind is one of the most important things that I have obtained from my historical education.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

History at GREAT Day 2017: A Sneak Preview

The students and faculty of the History Department have been working hard to prepare for GREAT Day 2017, 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 25? Check out this list of presentations by history students, who'll be delving into everything from women and politics in late medieval England, to prostitution in nineteenth-century upstate New York, to scientific discoveries in early modern Europe and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

"New York Histories: Tonawandan Economics, Cayugan Removal, and Perceptions of Prostitutes"
Session 1Q (8:30-9:45am, Sturges 108, Sponsor: Professor Oberg)

Brandon Gaylord, "How the Cayugas Became the Only Iroquois Nation Without a Home, 1774-1795”

Caleb Weissman, “Tonawanda: Economics and Interconnection, 1850-1892”

Coleen Cummings, “Constructing the "Social Evil": An Analysis of Prostitution in New York, 1875-1920”

"Research in Gender and Sexuality History I"
Session 1U (8:30-9:45am, Sturges 109, Sponsor: Professor Jones) 

Evan Goldstein, “Modern City, Vice City: Workers, Sexuality, and Social Control in Interwar Detroit”

Derek Kaczorowski, “The Queen City: The Progress of Prostitution within the City of Buffalo during the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries”

Isabel Owens, “From the Shtetl to the Streets: Transforming Jewish Womanhood on the Lower East Side, 1890-1925”

"Edgar Fellows"
Session 2G (9:55-11:10am, Bailey 103, Sponsor: Professor Mapes)


Joshua DeJoy, "Kodak and the Deindustrialization of Rochester"

"Research in Gender and Sexuality History II"
Session 2R (9:55-11:10am, Sturges 109, Sponsor: Professor Jones)

Jenna Lawson, “Cross-Dressing as Comedy in Film and Television, 1950-1999: What a Joke Costs and Who Pays For It”

Theresa Gibbons, “An bhfuil aon bean sa chogadh?: Gaelic, Gathering and Girls in the 1916 Easter Rising”

Erin Sheehan, “History of Vibrators”

"SNCC Digital Gateway and Geneseo: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Past and Present"
Session 2S (9:55-11:10am, Sturges 108, Sponsor: Professor Crosby)

Presenters: Thomas Garrity, Jennifer Galvao, Lauren Plevy, Tanairi Taylor, Laura Brown  

"East v. West: An Analysis of Shenzhen and Western Views on Chinese Capitalism"
Session 4E (3:50-5:05pm, Sturges 106, Sponsor: Professor Jones)

Presenter: Adam Pease 

"History Honors Theses"
Session 4J (3:50-5:05pm, Sturges 109, Sponsor: Professor Cope)  

Jaclyn Carlin, “The Influence of Dynastic Women on the Wars of the Roses.”

Thomas Garrity, “The Virtues of the Coffeehouse Broadsides: The Normative and Practical Public Sphere of English Coffeehouses”

Samantha Misa, “Speaking of Secrets: Secret Codes, Ciphers, and Encryption in Personal Communication”

"Honors Theses: New Perspectives on Jury Discrimination and World War II"
Session 4K (3:50-5:05pm, Sturges 108, Sponsor: Professor Behrend) 

Morgan Weber, “Two Steps Back: The Late 19th Century Retreat of Southern Black Jury Rights”

George Gatzoflias, “Political Cartoons of the Greco-Italian War”

Tim Krol, “September Campaign of 1939”

Poster Presentations
(College Union Ballroom; Sponsors: Professors Abbas, Cope, Jones)

Connor Terry, Liam Collins, Demetrios Giannios, “Newton V. Hooke: The Battle over Intellectual Property and Scientific Knowledge”

Talia Fabilli, Lena Evers-Hillstrom, Carlose Abreu, “Robert Boyle: The Relationship Between Spirituality and Scientific Inquiry”

Katherine Zaslavsky, Rachel Ollis, Isabel Owen, “Voices from the War on Terror”

Jessica Lisi, “Drag Balls, Drag Queens, and AIDS in New York City: How Drag Culture Became a Source of Liberation, Community, and Identity”

Gabriel Ponce, Trajen Cracium, Morgan Weber, “From the Minds of Many: James Joule and the Scientific Social Networks of the 19th Century”

Daniel Wolfanger, Logan Cleary, Maureen Henry, "Patronage in 17th Century Europe: How Tycho Brahe Influenced Johannes Kepler's Research in Planetary Motion"


Friday, April 7, 2017

“Hacking the Middle Ages” from the Students' Perspective

The students in our Spring 2017 research seminar "Hacking the Middle Ages" (HIST 302) collaborated on recreating medieval Paris using digital mapping techniques and drawing on the Description de la ville de Paris (1434). Here they team up again to tell us what they learned about digital history, trial and error in the research process, and group work. 


In “Hacking the Middle Ages,” we created a digital project about Guillebert de Metz’s Paris of the fifteenth century. This collaborative research project took place during the first half of the semester in History 302. Throughout this project, we practiced our research skills and learned how to use various technological components to display the information that we found. Our class used Omeka as our home base for the web page. We also learned how to use Neatline, which allowed us to incorporate various maps into our website. Since these tools were new to us, this project required a lot of trial and error.

For many of us, this was our first foray into the world of digital humanities as well as website building. It’s a whole different ballgame than paper writing, because websites are intended for use by a wide range of people. When it comes to research, it’s one thing to write a lengthy paper, but trying to condense large amounts of information into short, user-friendly and jargon-free paragraphs is deceptively difficult. It forced us to write in a different style because the information being presented had to be digestible for a much larger audience than we are used to when we are writing for a research paper. 


Also, digitally mapping medieval Paris combined in-depth historical research with technology in a way that we had not seen before. Neatline allowed us to link the research that we had done in groups to a map of medieval Paris that we learned how to georectify using a map warping program. The class was divided up into a number of smaller working groups. Each group started with a portion of Guillebert’s writing, and our task was to figure out how to turn that part of the book into a map or some other visual.

So from there we had to research that part of the text in detail, so for instance one group researched all the churches and colleges in medieval Paris that he talked about. Being able to display actual items on the site—like photographs of surviving buildings from the Middle Ages or early modern maps of the city—helped for the material being researched to come alive in a way that simply cannot be replicated in a research paper.



During our research process, we experienced the intricacies and complications that can come with historical research on any subject. Navigating these obstacles allowed us to grow as historians and helped us to gain new knowledge and skill at navigating numerous databases and sites, including JSTOR, Worldcat, and Omeka, amongst many others. We gained communication and time management skills that we didn’t have before. Throughout the process of digitally mapping medieval Paris, the most important lesson we learned is to never underestimate the power of collaborating with others. We have learned that it is acceptable to ask questions and that sometimes it helps the entire group to understand the process of researching better. We learned to view information in a more critical manner, and examine sources with a skeptical eye, in order to ensure the sources are reliable.

The intention that our project will be able to inform anyone about medieval Paris is just one of the great things about the digital humanities; it makes what could be considered specialized information very accessible. It was interesting to be creating something that might hypothetically be viewed by somebody with relatively little expertise in the field, and was a definite change of pace. We are very proud of the end result. As we continue our journey as historians, the methods and strategies we have learned will be applicable to our education in history at Geneseo.

L-R, Back: Tyler P., Danny K., Mary H., Raina S., Carolyn F., Ben G., Maggy K., Eamon D., Nick M., Chris T.
L-R, Seated: Shreya S., Erin L., Nick D., Emily B., Ryanne K. (Not pictured: Nate K.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"Denial" Movie Screening and Panel Discussion: April 18


“Denial” is based on one of the most high-profile libel cases in recent years: when David Irving sued historian Deborah Lipstadt in 2000 for writing that he was “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial.” The ensuing trial, dramatised in this recent movie starring Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall, grappled with issues of truth and how to deal objectively with historical evidence. At a time when “fake news” and “alternative facts” are on the rise, and when public debate seems ever more polarized, “Denial” challenges us to think about our understanding of the past and its legacy.

Join us for this free movie screening and subsequent panel discussion, which will feature Professors Megan Abbas (History) and Justin Behrend (History), and Laura Matthews (Hillel Program Coordinator).

Presented by the History Club and by the Geneseo History Department.

April 18 at 7pm
South Hall 338

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"It’s fascinating to think about how we can change our perceptions of history based on whose voices we listen to." — Q&A With History Major Isabel Owen ('19)

We continue our student Q&A series Isabel Owen ('19), who's majoring in history and creative writing. We talk about the importance of approaching history from the bottom up, and the links between history and social change.

Is there a particular kind of history (field, approach, time period, theme) that you're most interested in?

Before I came to Geneseo, I had no idea that cultural history was a topic of study. I found myself quickly attracted to this method of history because it makes sense to me as a writer to filter people’s thoughts and lives through the zeitgeist’s popular culture—visual, written, musical, physical, and beyond. It is, essentially, history from the “bottom up” which is something I find intellectually liberating. It also challenges power. Cultural history makes me ask questions about preconceived notions of history—questions I wrestle with in my Modern Mexico class with Dr. Jones, where learning about the spread of nationalisms through modes like train poetry and body culture in Porfirian Mexico made me wonder if perhaps there was a much bigger revolution before the “Mexican Revolution.” Challenging this in class, I learned that, of course, this constitutes an active discussion among cultural historians of Mexico. It’s fascinating to think about how we can change our perceptions of history based on whose voices we listen to.

George Bellows' "Cliff Dwellers" (1913) shows life on New York's Lower
East Side in the early twentieth century. Los Angeles County Museum of
Art, 16.4


What did you research for your HIST 302 course, and what did you want that research to achieve?

My research was on changing conceptions of Jewish womanhood on the Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century. This project started off more as an identity search than anything, so it took me a while to answer that “So what?” question, which was one of the hardest roadblocks I’ve faced academically. At first, I wanted my research to try to bridge the gap between popular conceptions in the American-Jewish imaginary as the Lower East Side as the place where the modern, new Jewish woman was born. In the end, my research did that and also worked as a piece of cultural history, relying on a multiplicity of Jewish woman’s voices to speak about the close relation of mothers and daughters in the evolution of the Jewish-American female identity.


What's the one thing you came across in the course of your independent research that you think more people should know about?

One thing that I wasn’t aware of before starting my project was the trend of desertion among Lower East Side Jewish families of this time. Reading letter after letter in the Bintel Brief (a popular letter to the editor section in the Daily Jewish Forward), I was astounded by how many stories there were about husbands leaving families, and how that created drastically different economic and social realities from what was the norm back in the shtetl, or Jewish small-town in Russia. The multiplicity of sources confirming this spoke a lot to the impact of the changing family unit on the maintenance of religiosity. It continues to interest me, and I want to know more about how this trend coincided with regional or national desertion trends overall, and if it was talked about in terms of modern “moral decay.”


The first issue of the Yiddish-language Forwardpublished April 22,
1897. The 
newspaper was an important part of life for Eastern
European Jewish immigrants.

Working independently on a history project calls on lots of different skills. What was the most important skill/method you had to call on during your research?

The skill that has fundamentally changed the way I do academic research throughout my disciplines has been learning how to use research tools like the interlibrary loan system, and even becoming more familiar with minutia like knowing the difference between a subject and a keyword. Although knowing how to use a search engine better may not sound like the most tremendous research revelation, these various tips and tricks have facilitated and streamlined the way I look for information. Most importantly, the help of research librarians like the wonderful Sue Ann Brainard opened me up to the resources that Geneseo has to offer, and taught me how vital is to reach out to such valuable resources during the research process.


What do you love about history and historical research in general? What value do you see in it?

More and more, I see history as a vehicle for social change. I’m experiencing this prominently in my directed study with Dr. Abbas, entitled Voices from the “War on Terror.” Studying “nontraditional” historical methods like the oral narrative, methods vital for those who are not as “written into history,” has allowed me understand the impact history can have on our social fabric. When conducting oral narratives or working on local research, the act of “doing history” becomes more than sifting through archive; it becomes an active give and take with community members and various actors who all have differing political and personal investments in the memory that you’re working with.


View of the old city of Jerusalem, December 2013. [Source]


What's been the favorite class you've taken in the history department here, and why?

Yikes, this is a hard one! Well, besides my HIST-302 with Dr. Jones, which taught me both how to research and shattered some preconceived notions about the very malleable constructions of gender and sexuality, there’s one survey class that stuck out to me. That class was the Modern Islamic World with Dr. Abbas. This extremely political class reminded me that there are no far-reaching answers to contentious historical debates like those surrounding partitions—only different viewpoints, which is both frustrating and fascinating. The analytic work I did, such as dissecting U.S. media portrayals of the Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014, was valuable for my growth as a historian, personally and politically.  As someone who identifies as Jewish and who grew up with certain narratives about Zionism, learning about differing narratives of 1948 has educated and impacted me in ways that I am still using in dialogue with my Jewish community and in my own creative work.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Geneseo Makes a Strong Showing at Phi Alpha Theta 2017

Well done to our many history majors who presented talks at the Phi Alpha Theta Western New York Regional Meeting 2017 at SUNY Brockport on March 4! All of their presentations were based on independent research which they have undertaken in courses here at Geneseo, and covered topics ranging from the history of Jewish immigrant women in Manhattan, to regional LGBTQ history, to media and the Cold War.

The students were accompanied by faculty member, Professor Ryan Jones, who also snapped some photos of the day. 

  • Ilana Turk: “The Cold War Production of Knowledge: How the Era Shaped the Public’s Perception of the Roles of Women Through Its Representations in Journalism, Politics, and Hollywood”
  • Isabel Owen: “From the Shtetl to the Streets: Transforming Jewish Womanhood on the Lower East Side, 1890-1925”
  • Joshua DeJoy: “The Dialectics of Slavery: Hegel and the Contradictions in Slavery”
  • Colleen Cummings: “Prostitution: An Analysis of the Limits of Western Feminist Theories on Chinese Women”
  • Morgan Weber: “Two Steps Back: The Late Nineteenth-Century Retreat of Southern Black Jury Rights”
  • Timothy Krol: “Lances Against Tanks: Rethinking the September Campaign of 1939”
  • Demetrios Giannios: “Gay Rochester: A History of the Rochester Gay Community from World War II to Stonewall”








Thursday, March 16, 2017

Learning from the Past, Researching for the Future: Working on the SNCC Digital Gateway


Tom Garrity ‘17 and Jen Galvao ‘19 are two of four Geneseo students who currently work as interns for the SNCC Digital Gateway Project and enjoy every minute of it!

The SNCC Digital Gateway - coordinated by the SNCC Legacy Project, Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies and Duke University Libraries - is a documentary website that aims to preserve the history of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a civil rights era organization of young, grassroots organizers who worked to empower the local residents of southern black communities. Tom and Jen were both introduced to Karlyn Forner - the SNCC Digital Gateway’s Project manager - by Dr. Emilye Crosby, a Professor of History at Geneseo and a member of the SNCC Digital Gateway’s editorial board. They are thankful for Dr. Crosby’s continued support of their work. The SNCC Digital Gateway website serves as a valuable resource for both historians and the general public because of the way it collects and condenses information. The website provides detailed timelines of important events, as well as collections of pictures, videos, and interviews from the Movement. The website presents summaries of important events and people in a clear, narrative style that is accessible to both historians and the general public.

The homepage of the SNCC Digital Project

Tom is primarily asked to survey SUNY Geneseo’s historical and contemporary audiovisual material of the SNCC organizers for certain key topics identified by the Project’s editorial board. Thus, through his work on this Project, Tom has honed his ability to survey large amounts of material, extract the essential sections from this material and then synthesize these sections into brief, easily understood documents. Once Tom identifies the location of these key topics in the audiovisual material, other members of the SNCC Digital Gateway Project may upload the identified sections to the SNCC Digital Gateway website so that it may be referenced by scholars and the general public.

This semester, Jen has been working with Karlyn Forner to manage the SNCC Digital Gateway’s social media, specifically in constructing informational This Day in History posts. Jen works first to compile a calendar of important events and birthdays, then uses the SNCC Digital Gateway website to research and compose brief, informational social media posts about these important figures and events. These posts will hopefully encourage people on Facebook or Twitter to learn more about SNCC by visiting the Digital Gateway website. Through this internship, Jen is learning how to boil down the most important facts about a person or event, and then use these facts to help others understand their significance to the movement. This work has allowed Jen a new perspective on the utility of social media for educational and promotional purposes.

 
Interacting with people through social media like the
SNCC Digital Gateway Project Facebook page allows for the incorporation
of new perspectives into scholarly work.

Tom’s work on this Project has been invaluable for his personal growth; it has provided him – a white male from the suburbs of Western New York – the ability to interact with the first-hand accounts of those who have a different perspective of the world. This has granted him a “diversity of thought” from many of his peers of the same gender, race and economic status. Tom will certainly carry this diversity of thought with him throughout his law school experience and his intended career as a voting rights lawyer. Tom’s work as an intern for the SNCC Digital Gateway Project has been one of the most meaningful learning experiences of his academic career, as the audiovisual material he surveyed has provided him with a perspective of the world he would have never been able to perceive on his own.            

This internship is important to Jen because it has allowed her to continue learning about SNCC outside of the classroom in a more personalized, in-depth manner. She has especially enjoyed getting to explore the biographies of individual workers within the Civil Rights Movement. This emphasis on local leadership and the power of the individual characterized SNCC’s work in the South. Jen’s work with the Project has encouraged her to think critically about the way individuals and their actions impacted the larger Civil Rights Movement. 

The SNCC Digital Gateway Project includes resources like videos of former
SNCC members talking about their activism. Pictured here, Ivanhoe Donaldson (1941-2016).

Monday, March 13, 2017

Teacher's Day 2017

We were pleased and proud to host our fourth annual Teacher's Day event here in the History Department on Friday, March 10. Approximately 50 high school history teachers from 17 school districts in the region came to hear Geneseo faculty members review scholarly trends in U.S. and global history.

Faculty workshop presenters provided short updates on the most recent scholarly trends in their fields. Assistant Professor Yvonne Seale explored the ways that historians of the Middle Ages are increasingly doing research that connects European history to wider regional and global contexts. Michael Oberg, SUNY Distinguished Professor of History, hosted a workshop on Native American history. The lunchtime keynote, presented by Professor Joseph Cope, gave the attendees the six things they needed to know about the Irish Potato Famine. 

The faculty workshop facilitators also created course packs of relevant historical documents, contextual information, study questions, and other pedagogical materials for the attendees. These provided them with materials they can immediately incorporate into their lesson plans. 





We followed this all up on Monday, March 13 when Professor Cope, Associate Professor and Chair Justin Behrend, and Geneseo alum and Geneseo Central School District teacher Sarah Prinzi appeared on WXXI's "Connections with Evan Dawson" to discuss Teachers' Day and our department's other outreach programs. You can stream the episode or find links to podcasts for download at the Connection's website

As a department, we gratefully acknowledge the financial support of former teachers and Geneseo alumni Joe '67 and Elaine '66 Bucci, without whose help the Teachers' Day events would not be possible. 






Thursday, March 9, 2017

"I aim to represent the views of historically marginalized groups, and I am confident that studying history at Geneseo is the best path to help me get there." — Q&A With History Major Jenna Lawson ('18)


In the first of our series of Q&As with current SUNY Geneseo history majors, we're chatting with Jenna Lawson ('18), about what she finds fascinating about history, her career goals, and why Richard Pryor would be a great person to have a cup of joe with. 

Why were you drawn to the study of history?
It never occurred to me to study anything else. I always wanted to do historical research to unpack and evaluate the sociopolitical arguments I heard around me. Growing up in a very politically diverse family, I found myself wanting to mediate and solve conflicts over Thanksgiving dinner. I also come from a very small, racially homogeneous town in Western New York, where I was told that racism essentially ended in 1965. I felt a disconnect between what my history book was telling me and the lived experiences I heard about online and decided that I would no longer take such critical information and historical contexts at face value.

What did you research for your HIST 302 course, and what did you want that research to achieve?
I researched comedic crossdressing and drag performances in television and film from 1950-1999 and tracked effects on the transgender community. I came into the project aiming to prove the real-life effects that seemingly throw-away jokes can have on marginalized individuals, and I was not disappointed. I ultimately found that performances of crossdressing aligned closely with modern rhetoric of the transgender bathroom debate of men infiltrating women's spaces and engaging in threatening voyeurism, while performances of drag often subverted (and in some cases, reinforced) societal expectations of the LGBTQ+ community. 

What interesting things/items did you come across in the course of your independent research?
My research was complicated by the unexpected finding that issues of race were still very much prevalent in the drag community and that progressive displays of gender often co-opted or discouraged non-white cultures, thus limiting the positive effects of the performance. I expected to find that the drag community during this era was a kind of utopia, but even in all-black drag spaces, the desire to appear white was still extremely pervasive.

Everything has a history: Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter in
cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Working independently on a history project calls on lots of different skills. What was the most important skill/method you had to call on during your research?
Time management cannot be stressed enough. I had never written such an extensive research paper before, and holding myself to a strict schedule and engaging in collaborative peer review with my fellow students was a huge asset in completing a successful project. I sacrificed a few Friday nights sifting through endless digital archives, but it was definitely worth it. 

What do you want to do with your degree from Geneseo?
I hope to one day work either at a national museum or as a historical researcher for political satire television like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in order to bolster the legitimacy of comedy as a medium for social reform and criticism. Regardless of where I go from here, I aim to represent the views of historically marginalized groups, and I am confident that studying history at Geneseo is the best path to help me get there.

If you could have a coffee with any person from history, who would it be and why?
I would love to have coffee with Richard Pryor. I find his stand up routines that expose the contradictions and absurdities of racism in America to be one of the most revolutionary uses of popular culture and media of all time. I would give nearly anything to hear his take on our current political climate because he was such a merciless quick thinker who allowed his opponents to back themselves into exploiting their own hypocrisy and could shatter defenses with just a look. I also think neither of us would be big coffee drinkers, but that's neither here nor there.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Come work with us!

Join us in the scenic Genesee Valley! The Department of History at SUNY Geneseo is seeking applicants for a Visiting Assistant Professor position in global history with a focus on East Asia, South Asia, or Africa to begin August 2017. The appointment is for one year, and there is a possibility of reappointment for an additional year.

For more information about duties, qualifications, and contact information, see the H-Net job listing.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

"Local History, Public Memory, and the Underground Railroad in Livingston County" with Cathy Adams

Professor Cathy Adams will give a talk this Sunday in the Livingston County Historical Society Museum on how the Underground Railroad operated in this area. The talk is free and open to the public, and all are encouraged to attend.

Professor Adams has been a member of the Geneseo faculty since 2007. She is an expert on the history of African-Americans in the early United States. Her book, Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England (2010), was the first study of black women in colonial and Revolutionary New England.

1:30-3:00pm, 26 February 2017
Livingston County Historical Society and Museum
30 Center St, Geneseo, New York 14454


Friday, January 27, 2017

"Tumbling Walls: U.S. Immigration Policy" with Kathleen Mapes & Ryan Jones

Tumbling Walls: A GISP Dinner & Dialogue on U.S. Immigration Policies
Tuesday, February 7, 2017 5:30 – 7:00 pm | Interfaith Center, Franklin Street, Geneseo

The Fifth Annual Geneseo Interfaith Service Project (GISP) Community Dinner & Dialogue is one of the featured events in the GISP Series. Two SUNY Geneseo faculty members from the History Department—Professors Kathleen Mapes and Ryan Jones—will offer historical and current perspectives on the U.S. Immigration policies.

 Following the brief presentations, all campus and community faith groups and individuals are invited to participate in table discussions on immigration issues related to the 2016-2017 GISP theme of Tumbling Walls: Opening Doors to Interfaith Connections. Participants will enjoy a free meal courtesy of the Philanthropic Chefs, the Center for Community and Geneseo Interfaith Center.

Students, please register via GOLD. Community Members register at go.geneseo.edu/interfaithdinner or by calling 585.243.1460.