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.