Professor Moore Puts Research Assistants Warth and Small to Work

Over the course of the 2018-2019 academic year, the History Department has continued to provide opportunities for a number of its majors to serve as paid research assistants for professors engaged in a variety of tasks. One Thing after Another thought it would ask Professor Andy Moore about the work to which he put his research assistants this year. American Studies major Katherine Warth ’21 (left) assisted with research on Moore’s forthcoming biography of Jimmy Carter while History major Will Small ’21 (right) helped collect material for a course that Moore will teach this fall: Guns in America.

Q: Could you tell us a little more about the purpose and focus of these research projects?

A: The Jimmy Carter research has been ongoing for a long time. Many years ago I agreed to write a biography of him for Louisiana State University Press.  Other projects and family obligations have slowed my progress almost to a standstill. The Carter Library in Atlanta, Georgia doesn’t really have any archival material from his post-presidential life.  But he has had a productive life since he left the White House—some would argue more productive than when he was in the White House—and he is still alive and active. So Katherine is trying to round up research material about that part of his life. The guns research originated in a personal interest in guns—an interest I’ve had since childhood. Probably a year or so ago, I decided that guns would make an interesting course—especially for non-History majors, who need to a historical reasoning course. I read enough secondary sources to know what the overall course narrative and the key themes should be, but I had no primary sources to build a course on. That’s the research that Will did for me. He found primary sources that I could have students read. I could not have made this a historical reasoning course—which was my goal—without his work.

Q: Why do you believe these projects matter?

A: The Carter project matters because Carter himself is an interesting person. My biography of him will approach him as a southerner.  I believe—and this is the direction my biography of him is taking for now—that he was far more typical of many white southerners in the years leading up to his presidency than he or other biographers have allowed.  And since his presidency, the ways that he has diverged from the majority of white southerners is an interesting window into the development of the South in the late 20th century. The guns project matters because guns matter in our current political and social climate. I hope that a historical perspective will help at least everyone involved in the course to see the complexity of the issue and maybe, in some way, help move the needle a little bit in public discussions of an emotional and controversial topic.

Q: What roles did the students play during these projects?

A: Their roles are invaluable. I wouldn’t be prepared to develop a new course without Will’s guns research, and Katherine’s Carter research will save me time when I do get around to writing again. I won’t have to look for sources; she will already have done a lot of that heavy lifting for me.

Q: What do you believe the students got out of their work?

A: Not as much as I have, I’m sure. I hope they at least gained some valuable research experience. I think that inadvertently they have gotten really good at playing, “guess what Moore’s thinking,” since sometimes my instructions were probably too vague and left too much uncertainty.

Q: How is the Guns in America course coming along?

A: I have a draft syllabus completed, and I have done the credit hour, historical reasoning, and citizenship applications, and am now waiting for approval. I hope that approval goes through, because it is on the books for Fall 2019 registration (which happens in a few weeks)! I am scheduled to teach two sections of it in the fall.

Q: Still plan on working with student researchers in the future?

A: I sure hope so. There is still plenty of guns and Carter research still to do.

At this point, since turnabout is fair play, once One Thing after Another finished with Moore, it asked Katherine Warth and Will Small for their perspectives about their work.

Q: How did you get involved with these projects?

Katherine: I got involved with this research project when I received an email from the history department over the summer explaining job offerings for the upcoming year. One of the projects was on the post-presidential career of Jimmy Carter with my academic advisor professor Moore. I’ve been interested in Jimmy Carter since middle school when I saw ARGO, a film on the Iran Hostage Crisis. This movie sparked my interest in American history and motivated me to conduct personal research on the event and on Jimmy Carter, who was president at the time of the crisis. I thought it would be fun and a good opportunity to be involved in this research, so I applied and was lucky enough to be offered the position!

Will: Either during the summer before sophomore year or shortly into the first semester, I got an email listing several job opportunities for the History Department. I applied for a few and, after different interviews for each position, I was invited to become Professor Moore’s research assistant. I wanted to participate in the Guns in America project for several reasons. Most important, I’ve always had an interest in guns to some degree. Regardless of where my opinion lies in terms of gun rights and ownership, I just think they’re kind of neat inventions. I also developed an interest in the debate over gun rights due to noticing several strongly opposing viewpoints being held by my fellow students on the Hilltop. Shortly after the shooting at Stoneham Douglas in 2018, I overheard a number of conversations regarding a need to enact stricter legislation. At the same time, I had visited dorms on campus with flags on the walls stating, “Come and Take It” with an image of a cannon proudly displayed beneath the motto. I wondered how these differing opinions came into being, which had been more prominent in the past, and which was currently in control of the debate. I figured that first-hand research would be a great way to find out.

Q: Please describe your experiences working on these projects. What were your primary objectives and methods of accomplishing them?

Katherine: My research mainly involves researching documents pertaining to the post-presidential career of Jimmy Carter from 1990 to the present. I read through articles from TIME and The New York Times, press releases from The Carter Center, and book reviews of Carter’s published works. I’m using the information I gather to create an account of what Jimmy Carter has done since 1990 and how he has been viewed by the public. A lot of what I do also involves summarizing and organizing materials as I am compiling these sources for Professor Moore to use on his book on Carter. I have to make sure that the work I do is easily understandable as I know it will be used by others in the future.

Will: I spent a lot of time researching primary sources related to the gun rights debate throughout the entirety of American history. As long as the 2nd Amendment has existed, people have been arguing over how to interpret it, and it was my job to discover what their exact arguments were and help form a timeline of when they came onto the scene. New York Times articles and editorials and any other newspaper reporting on local or national gun laws, old hunting and fishing magazines like Field and Stream or Arms and the Man, TIME, and a number of Supreme Court and circuit court cases proved to be most of what I found, aided by the bibliographies of secondary sources. Most of these resources were found using online databases that the college has access to or public databases like the Library of Congress’s public archives. Anytime I found a document I believed would be useful, I uploaded a PDF or transcription of it to an online repository and created an entry detailing the name of the document, when it was published and who it was published by, as well as a short description of its main points.

Q: What do you believe you gained from working on these projects? Similarly, what is something about the topics that you learned during the course of your research?

Katherine: I’ve learned a lot about how research is conducted through this project. I’ve taken history classes and done research projects before but they have all been structured by my professors. This research is a lot more independent. Even just finding time to do this research while taking classes and being involved on campus can be difficult at times and I’ve learned the importance of self-motivation in research. Ultimately what keeps me going is my love of research and my interest in Jimmy Carter. It’s so fun to use a jumble of documents to create a clear picture of the past, which is exactly why I’m a part of the American Studies program and the History Department! One of the most interesting things I’ve learned through my research is about the work The Carter Center does regarding mental health and overseeing foreign elections. Mental health and advancing care for those affected is a huge concern of mine and seeing what Rosalynn Carter has done to advance Americans outlook on mental health, even in the late 20th century, is truly astonishing. The Carter Center’s involvement in overseeing foreign elections actually helped me in my Intro to American Studies class when we were discussing the concept of expanding manifest destiny and American democracy abroad. It was really fun to add information I learned from my research to the class discussion, especially because Professor Moore teaches my Intro to American Studies class.

Will: I definitely gained a deeper understanding of the research process and discovered a few tips and tricks that allow me to find the information that I want, faster. For instance, Professor Moore provided me with an outline of subtopics, possible questions, and time periods that helped to guide the process. Had he just said, “Well, I need documents concerning the gun rights debate, go find some,” it would have taken much longer for me to collect sources, since I wouldn’t have known what was possibly useful or not. I also now have a solid grasp of what sort of research resources the college does and does not have at its disposal, which will help streamline any further research I do down the road. One of my favorite things about this topic that I’ve learned is that arguments in favor of gun rights became more and more fundamental as the gun rights movement gained popularity and organized. For instance, in the 1800s, it was established jurisprudence that concealed carry was against the law. Those who argued against it generally did not have any problems with the constitutionality of anti-concealed carriage laws, but rather their practicality. They stated that criminals were not going to follow the law anyways, which put innocent, law-abiding citizens at risk. As the National Rifle Association began to take charge of the movement, that’s when you really begin to see appeals for the fundamental right of individual ownership and concealed carry being safeguarded by the Bill of Rights.

Q: Do you plan to do more research for the History Department?

Katherine: I hope to do more research with the department! I’m currently working with Professor Dubrulle on preliminary research for a statistical study of life outcomes for Civil War veterans from the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry. We’re only in the beginning stages of this project but I hope to be able to pursue it in my next couple years at SAC!

Will: Yeah! I actually plan on continuing to do gun-related research for Professor Moore over this coming summer, this time about the relationship between guns and Evangelical Christians, if his application for a faculty-student grant is accepted. Other than that, though, I’d always be open to research opportunities that match my interests.

Q: How does it feel to almost be juniors at SAC?

Katherine: It’s a little sad almost being a junior. Being halfway done with my time here on the Hilltop and only having two more gingerbread competitions makes me sorrowful thinking that in just two more years I’ll graduate. I’m also excited for everything to come in the next two years! Every day here is full of excitement, or at least some snow, and I can’t wait for the chance to make more memories, take more classes, watch my class of 2021 banner move in Davison Hall, and so much more!

Will: I don’t know! So I’m just not going to think about it until I’m already a junior and let the weight of that hit me all at once.

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“So, What are you doing on your sabbatical” Part II: Talking Tiananmen

Professor Masur is on sabbatical this semester. Some of you may be wondering: what exactly does a history professor do while on sabbatical? This is the second entry in what may be a regular series of posts from Professor Masur about how he is spending his time.


During a department meeting last fall, Professor Salerno (our Department Chair) suggested that we give public lectures as a way to reach out to the campus community and give students a chance to learn about history outside of the classroom. It just so happens that I had been mulling the idea of some kind of talk in conjunction with the thirtieth anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Because I would be on sabbatical in the spring, I felt that I could take the time to prepare a lecture without, say, worrying about a stack of papers that needed to be graded.

Tiananmen Square made sense as a topic. For our students—most of whom were born at least a decade after the demonstrations—Tiananmen is a bit of a mystery. Many of them are familiar with some of the famous images from the protest, but they may not have a deeper understanding of the origins, historical significance, or current relevance of the demonstrations. And even those of us who were alive at the time may be interested in revisiting those dramatic days of 1989.

The talk took place last week, well in advance of the anniversary of the demonstrations. The timing more necessity than choice—the calendar will be pretty full in March and April (including with talks from Professor Dubrulle and Professor Perrone), so it made sense to do the talk earlier in the semester. Nevertheless, we had a good turnout—to borrow a phrase from Sean Spicer, it was “the largest audience ever” to witness a talk at Saint Anselm. (Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise, even if they have data to support their claims. Haters.)

What did the lucky attendees learn, other than that I have some trouble operating PowerPoint? For those who could not attend, here is a brief overview:

First, I provided a summary of the demonstrations. The protests began in mid-April after the sudden death of Hu Yaobang, former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party who had lost his position because of his moderate views. In subsequent weeks, additional students, workers, and local residents joined the demonstrations, and they began calling for various political and economic reforms. Hardline Party leaders felt threatened and, after some deliberation, declared martial law in May. In early June, troops from the People’s Liberation Army violently suppressed the protests, killing and injuring an unknown number of demonstrators and bystanders.

Second, I explained the motives of the protesters. Although the demonstrations were ostensibly about honoring Hu Yaobang, the student protesters used the initial demonstrations as a way to criticize other CCP leaders, such as Deng Xiaoping. Many of the demonstrators simply rebelled against the suffocating control of the Party. And as the demonstrations grew, it became clear that the demonstrators were motivated by growing disappointment with political and economic conditions in China. Economic liberalization had brought prosperity but had stalled. Inflation cut into economic gains, and some workers were in danger of losing their job security. It had also led to endemic corruption, with high-ranking Party members profiting enormously from economic reforms. There was a general feeling of “malaise” among many Chinese in the late 1980s that fueled the protests.

Deng Xiaoping (L) and Hu Yaobang (R). Image source.

Third, I explained why these demonstrations were so threatening to hardliners in the Party. For one thing, Deng Xiaoping may have been feeling vulnerable because his popularity was already in decline. He had also been the victim of political attacks during the Cultural Revolution, which may have made him leery of the student demonstrators. The growing participation of workers in the movement was especially alarming. Workers were theoretically the base of the Communist Party—their discontent undermined the Party’s credibility. Plus worker unrest could threaten China’s economic growth. Finally, the demonstrations unfolded at a critical time. Several Eastern European countries had just experienced serious domestic challenges to Communist rule, which served as sort of a cautionary tale to hardliners in China. And Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to China in the middle of the crisis guaranteed that the world’s attention would be on Beijing. All of these factors led Deng Xiaoping and other hardliners to declare martial law and forcefully end the protests in early June.

The last part of the talk described China’s efforts to erase the memory of Tiananmen Square. This spring, we will undoubtedly see numerous examples of the Chinese Communist Party censoring references to the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. This effort has been going on for years, and with some success: in People’s Republic of Amnesia, Louisa Lim describes her surprise to find that many current college students in Beijing are unfamiliar with the famous “Tank Man” image. She also describes the Party’s strategy of using economic growth and stirring up nationalism to legitimize Communist rule and preclude opposition.

Honor guards attend a flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square in 2017. Under President Xi Jinping, China has ambitiously pressed its advantage almost everywhere at once.

Flag-raising at Tiananmen Square, 2017. Image source.

I ended the talk with a slight note of optimism. In spite of the Party’s efforts, information about Tiananmen does break through the wall of censorship. Every year, images circulate on social media—even in China—that draw attention to the events of 1989. Chinese censors will certainly be active this spring, but it is just as certain that Chinese citizens will continue to find ways to remember Tiananmen.

Marking 25th anniversary of China's Tiananmen Square takes creativity

Covertly remembering June 4, 1989 (89/6/4) at Tiananmen Square, 2014. Image source.

 

“So, what are you doing on your sabbatical?”

Professor Masur is on sabbatical this semester. Some of you may be wondering: what exactly does a history professor do while on sabbatical? This is the first entry in what may be a regular series of posts from Professor Masur about how he is spending his time.

Sabbaticals are often used for research, and I do have some research projects that I’m working on this semester. But I am also trying to update and improve some of my classes. And I want to take advantage of a schedule that is much more flexible than it is during a regular semester. To that end, I decided to head down to the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts to check out an exhibit on Chinese Empresses. I thought that the exhibit might give me some specific ideas for my classes, and it would help me to learn a bit more about a topic that is part of my general teaching area.


Apparently Professor Masur thinks that he doesn’t have to look presentable while on sabbatical.

So, what did I take away from the exhibit? Here were my main impressions:

1) Empresses have often been dismissed or overlooked in accounts of Qing Dynasty China. However, the exhibit illustrated that Empresses were actually figures of great importance during this period. For one thing, they had to produce a male heir to succeed the Emperor—no small task. In a society imbued with the Confucian principle of filial piety, Empresses were granted considerable respect as mothers and wives of Emperors, and therefore symbolic mothers of all of China. Conditions in the imperial court reflected on China as a whole, so it was important that Empresses oversaw a harmonious and well-functioning household. While Empresses were generally not expected to participate in the affairs of state, their activities were central to harmony and stability in China as a whole.

2) As I made my way through the exhibit, it occurred to me that I could name every Emperor from the Qing Dynasty, but only one Empress: the Empress Dowager Cixi (more on her later). The exhibit used techniques both overt and subtle to fill this gap. Upon entering the exhibit, an audio recording played the names of the Empresses who were featured in the exhibit. Exhibit cards included the names by which the Empresses were known, including a phonetic pronunciation guide. Names of Emperors did not include pronunciation, reversing the common habit of ensuring that Emperors’ names are known while leaving Empresses out of the story.

3) The exhibit displayed the wealth, craftsmanship, and artistry of Qing China. The exhibit included robes, paintings, and other objects created by imperial artists, some of whom were European Jesuits. The robes—brightly colored and filled with various adornments—were particularly striking. Another impressive object—a silk screen from the 18th century—covered an entire wall.

Court vest (top) and wall hanging (bottom), both 1700s.

4) The final section explored Cixi, mother of the Tongzhi Emperor and eventually Empress Dowager and power behind the throne in the years before the end of the Dynasty. Cixi is an interesting figure because she managed to gain considerable power in the imperial court through alliance-building and other machinations. By the late 1800s, she had orchestrated a palace coup and was arguably the most powerful figure in the imperial court—more powerful than her nephew, whom she had installed as Emperor in 1871. She is often depicted quite negatively in historical and popular accounts of the Qing Dynasty. But the exhibit made her out to be a more complex figure. It also explored the various representations of Cixi, including photographic images, depictions of her in film, and an enormous portrait by American artist Katharine A. Carl in 1903. Carl’s nine-foot-tall painting was displayed at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904 and given as a gift to Theodore Roosevelt. It was an important tool in crafting an international image of the Empress Dowager as a public figure—unusual for China’s Empresses.

Katharine A. Carl’s Portrait of Cixi, 1903.

Enjoying an afternoon at a museum was nice, but I do feel a certain amount of pressure to do something “useful” with my time on sabbatical. In this case, some of the key themes from the exhibit, and the images I took while I was there, will make their way into my courses on Modern China and Asian Civilizations.

Donahue’s Advice regarding Law School

Every so often, One Thing after Another runs into Joe Donahue ’13—whether it be at Market Basket in Bedford, Alumni Weekend, or some other venue. Joe is in the middle of law school right now, and this blog thought it might be useful if he shared some well-considered advice that he extracted from his experiences.

Q: What is your current job (title and duties), and what led to your working there?

A: I have been working as a Legal Executive Assistant at Ropes & Gray LLP for the past year and a half. Before that, I worked at Boston College in an administrative role.

Q: Did you pursue a law job straight out of school, or did you think doing something else for a bit was a good idea? How did that work out?

A: After graduating from Saint A’s, I had two careers that I considered pursuing: one in higher education, the other in law. To help me decide which career I was best suited for, I applied to jobs in both of these fields. I worked in higher education for my first few years after graduation but eventually decided that my interests lay elsewhere, so I applied to the Suffolk University Law School’s Evening Program and was accepted. During my first semester at Suffolk, I was hired by Ropes & Gray where I have been able to get first-hand experience in corporate legal practice.

Q: How did the history department, history study, or specific SAC experiences prepare you for life after college? 

Written and oral communication skills, as well critical thinking and the ability to analyze, are essential tools used every day by law students. Some students develop these skills before law school while others develop them in their first year. Luckily, I was able to acquire all of these skills during my time at Saint A’s. My course of study as a history major required extensive critical thinking and analysis which I employ when I approach cases and hypotheticals in the classroom; I will continue to use them in my career as a lawyer.

Q: What are the two things students thinking about law school should know?

A: First, it’s not as scary as it sounds. One thing that I constantly heard while I was going through the application process was how difficult law school can be. The coursework is challenging, and mastering it imposes demands on your time and energy. However, like any course of study, it is manageable. Just as you found your routine in college, you will find it in law school. You learn how to approach exams and form study groups where, in my experience, you learn as much as you do in class.

Second, you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do with your law degree before you go to school. You will be exposed to many different areas of law while in law school, and your interests will likely evolve as you progress. Keep an open mind and be willing to explore areas that you hadn’t previously considered. If you think you want to be a lawyer, but aren’t sure, take a couple of years off from school to work. Many law students spend a few years in the workforce prior to applying to law school. Don’t think you have to apply right away.

Q: What are two things students thinking about law school should do to prepare themselves?

A: Work at a firm or in-house legal counsel’s office. Making a decision to go to law school is a serious financial commitment, so you ought to make sure that you want to be a lawyer before you go to school. Internships are a great way to experience legal work while you are at Saint A’s, and they can help shape your course of study. If you don’t think that you are ready to apply right out of school, taking a few years to work at a law firm or an in-house counsel’s office is a great way to help you decide if this is the career path for you. This time can also serve as a great way to get a better idea of the type of law that you will one day want to practice.

Also, study/take a LSAT prep course. The LSAT is as important a measuring stick, if not more, for law school admissions as your undergraduate grades. It is a challenging exam that shouldn’t be taken lightly, even by those who consider themselves to be good test-takers. Buy a practice book and take a prep course. They can be a bit pricey but both are worth the investment. Your performance on your LSAT impacts your acceptances and even potential scholarship offers, so it is worth your while to take test prep seriously.

Q: Do you still think about history (books, professors, lectures, experiences)?  Do you keep up with history in any way?

A: I stay current in the field of history by following the History Department’s blog and by reading biographies during school breaks. I recently completed William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill (The Last Lion) and have begun Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson. I enjoy finding time to indulge myself in the areas of history that I do not apply regularly in my coursework and career.

Why We Write: SAC History Department Faculty on Their Books

In early January, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a short article by Rachel Toor entitled “How Academics Measure the Value of Their Books.”

https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Academics-Measure-the/245365

In this essay, Toor stresses that the standard academic authors use to judge their books tends to be very different from that employed by non-academics. Not only that, she argues, but professors who write books see the value of their works in varying ways. Toor’s piece got One Thing after Another thinking. What do the authors of books in the History Department at Saint Anselm College think about their works? Why did they write their books, and what value do they attribute to their labors in this particular area?

Professor Beth Salerno: I wrote my first book because it was my dissertation topic, and I needed to get research out in order to get tenure. I liked the topic and thought it would help shape a conversation in my field about women’s antislavery activities. But mostly I really wanted to stay at Saint Anselm College, and for that I needed 3 articles or a book, so I valued the book as a doorway or key. It also gave me experiences I would not otherwise have had—being interviewed on NHPR as an author, giving talks around New England, being asked to review other books in my field, and serving as a field expert to a museum exhibit.

I am writing my second book because I started it before my dissertation, and at this point (almost 30 years later!) I owe its subject, Mary Clark, my colleagues, and my family (some of them deceased), the book I promised. I will measure its success by the number of people who enjoy it, by compliments from colleagues happy to see it finished, by tweets from student researchers who have helped with it, and by the vast expanse of time I can enjoy being “post-book”. I’ll also head over to where I think Mary might be buried, and let her know it’s done.

Professor Sean Perrone: Originally, I wasn’t planning to revise my dissertation into a book. I had moved onto a new research topic (Spanish consuls in the early American Republic), and I thought that the Assembly of the Clergy was behind me. Then, Professor Holder in the Theology Department gave me a push to contact his editor at Brill. Next thing I knew, I had a book contract. Well, after cursing Professor Holder for getting me into this predicament, I set to work.  Fortunately, I had a sabbatical and was able to devote several months to revising and expanding the dissertation into a book. The process was actually very rewarding. Going back to the material nearly a decade after having written the dissertation allowed me to look at the documents with fresh eyes and make a stronger argument about the nature of politics in early modern Castile. I also incorporated maps into the book—my first attempt at spatial analysis. The book came out in 2008, and its publication opened the door to many professional opportunities for me. Needless to say, I’m forever grateful to Professor Holder for giving me a nudge all those years ago.

Professor Hugh Dubrulle: Most people I know who are not academics express enthusiasm when they find out that I’ve written a book. What does surprise me, though, is the frequency with which they ask how many copies I’ve sold and how much money I’ll make. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want my book to remain unsold and unread, but I never thought of the book as a money-making venture. To a great degree, it was a matter of self-respect. My simple syllogistic reasoning went something like this: I’m a professor; professors should publish books; therefore, I should publish a book. A number of different sentiments were bound up with this idea. I wanted to show myself capable of the sustained intellectual effort associated with writing a book. While this kind of effort can by trying and difficult at times, I enjoy the challenge of writing. Writing history is creative work, and I was greatly enamored with the thought of creating something. I knew I could write well, and I thought I had something original to say about British attitudes toward the United States during the Civil War. So darn it, I was going to write a book because that’s what professors do. I must concede that material considerations also figured in my decision; it was always part of my plan to use publication of the book to get promotion to full professor (although I could have attained the same rank by publishing a number of articles).

My book has been published too recently (June 2018) to have unlocked all the opportunities to which my colleagues have referred with regard to their books (although some have come my way already). Nonetheless, when I had completed it, I found new reasons to value the book, the most important being that I learned much about many things. I learned from other scholars in my field, but I learned mainly by reading a great deal on a wide variety of topics. That experience brought home to me in a clear and memorable way something that I had more or less already grasped: before one can teach either a reader or a student, one must learn much and learn it thoroughly.

Professor Andy Moore: For most academics who write books like mine, the short answer to the question, “why did you write this,” is, “in order to get tenure.” Academic historians look for work in a competitive atmosphere, and having a book published by a university press is supposed to make you stand out. But ultimately that’s not how I determine the value of my book. Doing the research that led to the book brought me into a world that was very different than my personal experience. My book is about Catholics in the post-World War II American South.  I am a southerner by birth, but I’m not a Catholic. When I began my research, one of my academic mentors said to me, “Andy, you need to learn the language.” He meant that I had to remove myself from the Protestant evangelical world I had grown up in and learn the extent to which Catholics viewed the world differently than my own people did. He was right. I wrote my book at a time when not many people had written on southern Catholics. As a result, my book created opportunities for me to engage with other historians working after me. I have read manuscripts for publishers, and I have shared my knowledge and research materials with other historians who contacted me because of that book. I did get tenure, but, for me, the real value of my book is that it introduced me to a new way of viewing the world, and it has created opportunities to shape other people’s scholarship that I would not have had otherwise.

Professor Matt Masur: I have co-edited a book and edited another one. The first thing I should note is that editing (or co-editing) a book is not the same as writing one. It is a different process, and it is viewed differently by academics.

I had two motives for working on these books. The first was to create a useful resource for other people like me: faculty who want suggestions from skilled and talented teachers at other institutions. I have always relied on advice from other people who take their historical knowledge and translate it into the classroom. These books are meant to collect those sorts of suggestions in a single resource. My second motive was more self-interested: completing these books would satisfy the incentive system in place at Saint Anselm College and help my applications for promotion. That may sound a bit calculating, but I don’t view it that way. The incentive system for promotion and tenure is in place because it reflects the goals we have for our faculty members. By “playing the game” I was fulfilling my end of the bargain. We want faculty members to be active in their field in a way that is demonstrated through publications (among other things), and these books were a way for me to fulfill that criterion.

I don’t know that these books gave me the same satisfaction as writing a monograph. They were not products of a long and agonizing intellectual journey, which is how some people describe a work of original research. Nevertheless, I am very happy with both books. Editing the books gave me a chance to collaborate with a large group of wonderful colleagues—my co-editors on the first book and numerous authors, including Professor Pajakowski. I also think that the books do give useful tips to other teachers. And realistically, these books are likely to reach a wider audience than a monograph that I might have written. I think they have sold relatively well, and I hope that the ideas in the books are being incorporated into classes in a way that helps students understand the past.

The Decline of the History BA and What to Do about It

“The History BA Since the Great Recession: The 2018 AHA Majors Report” which was published by the American Historical Association in late November 2018 has set off alarm bells across the profession.

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/december-2018/the-history-ba-since-the-great-recession-the-2018-aha-majors-report

The report found that since 2008, of all major disciplines, history has seen the steepest declines in the number of bachelors’ degrees awarded. In fact, history’s share of BA degrees has reached an all-time low since records have been kept on this subject since 1950. Benjamin M. Schmidt, the report’s author, is convinced that the recession of 2008 is largely (but not exclusively) to blame. As he puts it, shifts in attitudes toward history “are not just a temporary response to a missing job market; there seems to have been a longer-term rethinking of what majors can do for students.” Since students and their families appear to have become more skeptical of the usefulness of the major, history departments need to develop persuasive arguments that counter this tendency. Schmidt is careful to point out, however, that since decline of the major has been uneven among different groups, institutions, and regions, “each department is facing its own constellation of factors that may make the decline more or less severe.”

Whatever the case, the report makes for sober reading, and it has inspired a series of articles that seek to determine the source of history’s decline so as to chart a path to recovery. One response has come from advocates of “applied history,” that is, those who believe historians ought to develop lessons from the past with an eye toward shaping policies that could resolve contemporary problems (see Robert Crowcraft on this score). Hal Brands and Francis J. Gavin, for example, have argued that the History BA has suffered because “the academic historical profession has become steadily less accessible to students and the general public—and steadily less relevant to addressing critical matters of politics, diplomacy, and war and peace.” Historians, they claim, are no longer engaged in public life, no longer addressing the critical issues of the day and no longer interested in “constructive engagement with policymakers” (see another example of this argument here). It is for this reason, Brands and Gavin assert, that “students are fleeing history,” for the discipline “has long been fleeing its responsibilities.” The solution consists of offering more political, diplomatic, and military history; fostering greater public engagement among historians in these fields; and restoring cooperation between the academy and government.

These assertions, however, are not altogether convincing. For one thing, Brands and Gavin’s claims about what historians are or are not doing are debatable. While historians might not be advising, say, presidents, they do engage with the public in a multitude of ways. For another, it’s not clear to what extent engagement with policymakers is good for the country or for the profession as a whole. This blog has already criticized applied history as articulated by Graham Allison and Niall Ferguson for its reductionism and problematic use of analogies. And Brands and Gavin’s example of Woodrow Wilson engaging the country’s leading diplomatic historians to help him prepare for the Versailles Peace conference is perhaps an unfortunate one.

So far as resurrecting the major is concerned, though, there are two overlapping problems with the kind of argument that Brands and Gavin make. First, they present a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t recognize the varying circumstances of different institutions. Second, they make assertions about what should be supplied without having presented any evidence that they have studied demand. Brands and Gavin assert that it “hardly seems a coincidence that undergraduate interest in history has plummeted” just as the discipline has ceased teaching subjects central to understanding national and international politics, but this argument by correlation is vitiated by the admission that “direct causation is difficult to prove.”

Interestingly enough, Brands and Gavin have pointed to Yale University as an institution that is actually gaining majors because it has stuck with the time-tested subjects of political, diplomatic, and military history. They are correct that the number of history majors at Yale and several other Ivy League schools is rising. But history might not be thriving at the Ivies because of the subjects that are taught there. Jason Steinhauer points out that when Yale noticed the number of history majors declining, it asked students what they wanted. The history department found out that students asked for

a logical path and a cohort. In other words, they sought direction and community. They wanted to know what it would look like to move toward a history degree, and on from there. This was not a repudiation of the discipline, its job prospects, or its utility. The history degree was not broken; it simply needed to be tweaked to meet students where they were.

Steinhauer goes on to write that direction and community make sense for a post-millenial generation that has come of age in a networked world bound by social media. The point here is not that direction and community are appropriate for everyone; rather the point is that Yale asked students what they wanted. That seems like the best path toward rescuing the BA in history.

As we think about winning back majors, we probably ought to remember another important point that appears in an essay by Elizabeth Lehfeldt in Inside Higher Ed. Lehfeldt writes

Ask someone why they majored in history, and many of the answers will circle back to a strong emotional connection to the subject. It might have been a professor who told captivating stories about the past. Or an instructor with so much enthusiasm for the subject that they couldn’t help but get pulled in. In short, behind every history major is invariably a great teacher who connected them in some way or another to the power of narratives about the past.

This point jibes very well with One Thing after Another’s experiences. Students who enter Saint Anselm College as history majors often do so because they had an inspiring history teacher in high school (sometimes even a Saint Anselm College alum). And those who major in history after arriving at the college make the commitment because they have forged a connection with one of the faculty here. Lehfeldt continues by pointing out that history departments need to reinforce this enthusiasm by giving students assignments (especially research assignments) that provide them with meaning and purpose. History departments, she argues, should be more mindful about creating such assignments, especially ones that allow students to “change something beyond the walls of the classroom.” At the very least, instructors should link small tasks in class to the big picture as a means of motivating students. In some cases, the big picture might be related to diplomacy and high politics. And in many other cases not. “Applied history” is not just about statesmanship; as Lehfeldt suggests, history can be applied in many, many different ways to attract students.

Hauser and Vaccaro: SAC History Alums on the Board of Trustees

Like all Colleges and most non-profit organizations, Saint Anselm College has a Board of Trustees. These individuals oversee the institution’s budget, help shape and ensure implementation of the mission, approve new programs and support existing ones, and assist in raising the funds necessary for the institution to thrive. The Saint Anselm College Board has a number of history majors. One Thing After Another caught up with two of them, James L. Hauser, Esq., ’91 and John A. Vaccaro,’92 to ask about life on, after, and back on the Hilltop.

Q: What drew you to the history department when you came to the Hilltop? 

John Vaccaro:  I didn’t become a history major until my junior year. I received some great advice that your undergraduate work should focus on something that you are eager to learn about and have a passion for. Growing up in Boston, I was surrounded by history and spent a lot of time with my family exploring the area and experiencing the rich history the area offers. I wanted to learn more and to this day, I love to learn and experience history. I have been fortunate enough to visit many of the places around the world that I studied during my time at St. A’s.

Jim Hauser: I love to read and had a great AP American History teacher in high school who helped steer me to Saint Anselm.  I was  very focused on majoring in history when I came to Saint Anselm.

John Vaccaro ’92

Q: What class/experience/professor do you remember most from your time in the department?

Jim: I enjoyed taking Eastern European history with Pajakowski , Capowiski’s Civil War and War and Revolution courses as  well as Windhausen for Russian History. My memories of my history courses was of much reading and  writing, which continues to serve me well.

John: Professor Vincent Capowski’s US Presidency and Civil War and Reconstruction were my two favorite classes and still areas where I enjoy reading about today. Professor Capowski always returned graded tests in order of best to worst and addressed everyone by either Mr. or Ms. Today, when I recognize my sales professionals, I do the same thing in honor of Professor Capowski’s unyielding desire for his students to do their best.

Q: What was your career path when you left the Hilltop?

Jim: I went directly to law school at Loyola  University School of Law and then subsequently to Boston University School of Law for an LLM in tax law and then back to Boston College for a MBA in my late 20s while working.

John: I joined the investment business shortly after graduating in May 1992. Colonial Investments was one of the oldest mutual fund companies in the United States with a long and successful history. It was a great place to start and learn the business. The early years were spent doing what every new person does in our business – work long hard hours, study for your securities exams, listen, do what you are told and get paid barely enough to live on. I had a great mentor, who taught me early on, to get as many different experiences as soon as you can because the leaders of the future are going to need to know a lot more than the leaders of today.

I took that advice and took every “less than desirable” career development opportunity and started to learn. I developed my own liberal arts education within financial services. I have only worked for a handful of companies but have had countless different experiences. Eleven years ago, I joined Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company “MassMutual,” one of the oldest financial services companies in the United States, and have been fortunate enough to use my skills in helping our company achieve great success during turbulent times.

Q: What are you doing professionally now? 

John: I am head of MassMutual Financial Advisors and lead one of the largest and oldest distribution networks in the United States. I have a great team comprised of over 9,000 financial professionals located in every state and Puerto Rico. I also manage a team of over a thousand home office employees who are the best in the business. We have been helping people secure their future and protect the ones they love since before the Civil War. My kids ask me all the time, “Dad, what do you do every day?” It is a tough question to answer because the higher up you go in an organization, the less tangible things you do. My kids know that I spend a lot of time on the road meeting with the members of the organization that I lead. They hear me on the phone and nowadays checking my iPhone. They know I am always connecting with someone about something. However, my real responsibilities are to help set the strategy, be the messenger, eliminate problems and most importantly – recruit the best teammates possible and be there to support them. Surrounding yourself with the best possible people is a hallmark of an effective leader.

Jim:  I am a partner in a corporate law firm in Boston where we represent Venture Capital Funds and high growth technology and life science companies. I focus primarily on issues related to equity compensation and executive compensation matters.

Jim Hauser ’91

Q: How do you use the skills you learned in your history major? What was the biggest skill you had to develop after leaving college?

Jim: The ability to read and process large blocks of information and to organize my thoughts and ideas. My writing was a major area of continued development in law school.

John: Early on in my career, the ability to read quickly, learn the material, and be able to clearly communicate the main thesis of the material was critical. Every good employer is going to train you, but you must have the ability and desire to learn. In the investment world, understanding trends is critical to what you do every day. As my career evolved, my liberal arts education provided me with the ability to adapt to many different topics. I was a Chief Marketing Officer once and having a history degree was great for that role. This role was the chief story teller for the company. Studying history is all about reading a story that has already happened, but you get the opportunity to interpret those events. Everyone sees the same facts, but historians are all entitled to their own opinions on how these facts impacted people and places. In today’s economy, you need to understand how political, technological, and economic events will impact the business marketplace. A history degree provides you with the tool to understand those events and react to the changing landscape.

As a leader of a large organization, I continue to read about the leaders that shaped our nation. You can learn a lot of the good things they did, but I encourage you to pay particular attention to the things that they did poorly. You can learn a lot from the mistakes of the past. A bad decision is only a bad decision if you fail to react when you figure out it is a bad decision or if you have made this poor decision before – learn from and remember your personal history.

My career sends me all over the country.  I quickly realized that my “authentic” Boston accent was tough for people outside this area to understand. I had to learn really quickly to pronounce my “r”s. You want people to listen to you for what you are saying and not for how you are saying it. 

Q: How did you end up on the BOT?  How do you see yourself particularly contributing in the next few years?

Jim:  I have been on the Board for approximately 7 years and am honored to have an opportunity to play a small role in Saint Anselm’s continued evolution as a Catholic, Benedictine liberal arts college. The College is on a great upward trajectory, but competes in an extremely competitive and crowded marketplace in New England. The College needs to continue to evolve and strive for excellence in all aspects (i.e., new majors, experiential learning and community service).

John:  I actually first served on the BOT in 1992 while I was Class President. Back then, they had a student and faculty representative. I have known Steve Ellis ‘69, another board member, since I was a student and had the pleasure of working with him at The Hartford. He and I had lunch one day and he said “Ok, it is time for you to get back involved.” The one thing you will realize with St. A’s is whenever someone from the college calls you – you do everything you can to say yes and help them out. As you graduate, you will be amazed at how strong of connection everyone has to the school. I love hiring St A’s graduates, especially history majors!

Q: I find it really fascinating that there are currently at least four former history majors on the Board?  Do you think it says anything in particular?  

John:  I will give Professor Pajakowski all the credit for this one!  I believe a history degree provides a tremendous amount of flexibility in the career you want to pursue. A history degree accelerated my career because I was a quick learner and an even better communicator. The ability to learn and then quickly teach others is a skill set that is not as common in the workplace as it should be. I encourage everyone to spend more time communicating and sharing what you learned. The successful 21st Century leader will be great communicators and they will need to understand all the different ways in which to connect with your clients, employees, constituents, associates and probably robots at some point in the future.

Jim: Although it may be a coincidence, I am sure it is due to the high quality of teaching in the history department!