Month: September 2014

Dufresne’s Winding Road

Derek Dufresne Final

Manchester native Derek Dufresne ’08 graduated from Saint Anselm College as a History major with certificates in Medieval Studies and Public Policy (before we had minors, we had “certificates”). In addition, Dufresne took pre-med coursework during his last year at the college. After a somewhat winding road, Dufresne became co-founder of RightOn Strategies, a political consulting firm, where he is now a partner. One Thing after Another recently contacted Dufresne and asked him to describe the path that led him from Saint Anselm College and a History major to political consulting.

Q: You grew up here, and Saint Anselm College was practically in your backyard. What made you decide to go to school locally?

A: Growing up in Manchester, I attended small, Catholic schools from the very beginning.  After graduating from Trinity High School in 2003, I thought it might be the right time to try something new and live somewhere outside of New Hampshire. After much consideration, I went to the University of Connecticut for my freshmen year of college. While my grades were strong and I enjoyed living away from home, at a school the size of UConn, it might sound like a cliché, but you quickly realize that you are just one among tens of thousands of other students. Coming from a high school with a graduating class of 112, I was more accustomed to challenging courses taught by professors who knew you by your name, not by your student identification number. Through conversations with friends who were already on the Hilltop, I knew I would receive the kind of education I was accustomed to and find the community I was looking for at Saint Anselm College. I made the decision to become a Hawk, and I couldn’t be happier about my choice.

Q: How did you become a history major?

A: Indecision is a curse of our youth, but it can also be a blessing in disguise as long as you are willing to take risks.  Like many of my fellow classmates, I remember hours of stressful conversations with my high school guidance counselors and countless online quizzes with the headline, “what should my future job be?” While I wish I had begun my college career as a history major, it took me some time to make my way into Professor Silvia Shannon’s office with my final decision. I dabbled in different majors, from those within the Economics and Business Department to those in Political Science. Like many of my peers, I was trying to mold my college major to fit my future career—something that was incredibly difficult considering I was still unsure of what I wanted to do after college.

Due to my willingness to explore different classes, I finally came to the realization that my major should reflect my interests and the courses I enjoyed the most; my career would shape itself around that premise, which led me to become a history major. I kept that same mindset throughout my college career with the minors and additional classes I decided to pursue, and it served me well.

Q: In your fifth year at the college, you completed pre-med coursework. What directed you down that path?

A: Towards the end of my time at Saint Anselm College, I started to gain interest in possibly pursuing a future in medicine.  While you can go to medical school with any major, it is standard for most programs to require students to have multiple semesters of top-level courses in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and others.  I’ll admit that it certainly wasn’t easy squeezing all of the additional classes in, especially considering that I was also finishing up a couple of minors (which were then called “certificates”) in Public Policy and Medieval Studies.  However, I stayed focused, completed all of the courses, and performed well on the MCATs.  I ended up deciding against going to medical school, but I am still thankful I heightened and broadened my knowledge in those subject areas.

Q: Shortly after graduation, you ended up on the staff of Frank Guinta who was then the mayor of Manchester. How did that happen?

A: It all began with an internship. If there is only one piece of advice I could give an incoming or current student, it is to do as many job shadows or internships as possible. The opportunities they open and the insights they give you about the direction of your future career is priceless.

My interest in politics led me to an internship in former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta’s office, which then grew into a job on his campaign staff, and fortunately, into a spot on his congressional staff. While House of Cards makes a career in politics look glamorous, it is rarely that easy, and the competition is grueling. In Washington, I started as a lower-level legislative aid surviving on Ramen Noodles for dinner and Red Box rentals for entertainment, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.  I worked my way up the ranks and, when the two-year congressional term concluded, I had earned the title of Communications Director.  While many at Saint Anselm College who love politics immediately gravitate towards the NHIOP, a major in History prepared me just as well, if not better, in certain areas, for the career direction I ultimately decided to pursue.

A profession in politics, in many ways, gives one the ability to make history. I had the opportunity to see legislation that I helped write get voted on in Congress.  I stood in Statuary Hall with scores of reporters waiting for the President of the United States to finish his State of the Union address just feet away from me.  Those are just a couple of examples of extraordinary moments during my time on Capitol Hill that I will never forget. In my opinion, a love of history in the classroom is the prefect fit for a future career of contributing to history through politics or government work.

Q: One Thing after Another remembers running into you some years ago outside of the NHIOP. At the time, you thought that your career could go in several different directions. Why did you eventually choose political consultancy?

A: Opening up your own business is certainly risky, especially in politics, but I was fortunate to have the opportunity about two years ago to start RightOn Strategies with two of my closest friends in the business.

Being a staffer on campaigns in New Hampshire and in government positions on Capitol Hill were extremely rewarding, but co-founding a national political consulting firm has built even further upon those experiences. We have clients from many different backgrounds and have run races in all corners of the country. With each new candidate or project we take on, I have more opportunities to learn something new about a different state or develop a new strategy to help win a future campaign.  Thus, by being a political consultant on the national level, I have had the chance to broaden my skills and improve my abilities more than I would ever have been able to if I had only worked in New Hampshire or as a Capitol Hill staffer.

Q: For some reason, many of our students never get to know Manchester particularly well. Is there some place in town that our students have not heard about but must visit?

A: While my first inclination is to say the Puritan Backroom for some of the best chicken tenders you will ever eat, there is nothing like walking through Manchester’s Millyard along the Merrimack River. Especially for students who are not from New Hampshire, it is worth taking a trip to the Millyard Museum first to learn more about the area and the immigrants who used to work there.  Most New England cities have razed a lot of their mills. To see so many of them refurbished in one place and just as beautiful as they were over a hundred years ago is worth taking in.

Talking ‘Bout My Generation

Generations

The Atlantic recently posted an interesting article about the way in which the use of the word “generation” changed over time–a topic that should be particularly interesting to historians:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/the-generation-of-generations/379989/

According to this article, until the mid-19th century, the word “generation” described biological relationships within a family (e.g., “three generations of Smiths were present at the reunion”). However, in 1863, Emile Littré, the French lexicographer, defined a generation as “all men living more or less in the same time.” This new definition represented the increasingly prevailing sense among Europeans that cohorts of young men were at odds with their fathers on a number of pressing social and political issues. It is no coincidence that Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, which dwelled on this topic, was written in 1862. Since then, we have used “generation” in this way–the Lost Generation, the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennial Generation, and Generation Z. Each is supposedly different from the one that preceded it.

But how useful is this type of generalization? To what degree do historians find this typology useful? To a certain extent, historians themselves are responsible for this way of looking at the past. As the article points out, in The Generation of 1914 (which One Thing after Another had to read in graduate school), Richard Wohl stressed the extent to which European intellectuals during the period around World War I saw themselves as divided in generations. Of course, Wohl is not the only one; numerous historians have employed this analytical approach. Detlev Peukert, for instance, availed himself of this tool in the beginning of The Weimar Republic (another book One Thing after Another had to read in graduate school) to explain the experiences that molded the politicians who were active in Germany during the 1920s.

As with anything else, of course, one can take the concept of generations too far. It fails distinguish enough within generations while at the same time exaggerating the differences between generations. All the while, decade after decade, we have been stuck using the same discourses, tropes, and traditions as we attempt to represent contrasts between generations. Take the following articles from Slate and The Wire:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/06/05/pew_survey_how_each_generation_thinks_it_s_special.html

http://www.thewire.com/national/2013/05/me-generation-time/65054/

In reporting the results of a Pew study, Slate points out that over half of the respondents saw their generation as unique. Slate observes that the economic circumstances that predominated in each generation’s young adulthood failed to make the list of what each generation thought made it special. Such an omission seems strange to Slate since studies appear to indicate that the economic situation in our young adulthood plays a large role in shaping our attitudes. This reference to the economy highlights a large problem with the idea of generations: it ignores the degree to which wealth and poverty–in short, class–influences the so-called common experience of any cohort. Of course, class is only one of many markers that distinguish members of a generation from one another. Race, religion, gender, and a host of other factors lead to important differences in the way different members of a generation perceive the world around them.

At the same time, The Wire points out that over the decades, those who self-consciously peddle the idea that there are generations (often the press) repeat the same tired and questionable observations about the younger generations then coming of age: the new generation is selfish, it is immature, it threatens of undermine civilization as we know it, and so on and so on. How can every new generation be like that? And if every new generation is indeed like that, what’s the difference between generations? The Wire, of course, has an answer, citing a 2010 article from Perspectives on Psychological Science to the effect that every generation in its twenties is narcissistic to the same extent. As every generation grows older, it loses that self-centeredness. Of course, if every generation is self-centered in its twenties and eventually grows up, such a fact would indicate that generations are not that different after all.

This is not to say, of course, that generations do not matter. They do. But belonging to a generation is only one element of somebody’s identity. The great events that ostensibly shape a generation mark different members in different ways depending on their situation. The lesson to be learned here is, as Slate puts it, “Generations are mushy sociological constructs that lend themselves to gross generalizations about massive, diverse groups of human beings.”

Woo-hoo! Time to Celebrate the Bicentennial of the Congress of Vienna!

Congress of Vienna

A peace that ended the greatest war that Europe had ever seen? Check. A settlement that imposed large reparations on the vanquished and deprived them of territory? Check. Talks in which the victors sought to erect a diplomatic system as well as a forum for discussion that would contain the defeated and preserve the peace? Check. With all the recent talk about commemorating the centennial of World War I’s outbreak, we must be referring to the Paris peace settlement of 1919, right? Wrong! Instead, this month, we celebrate the bicentennial of the Congress of Vienna which convened in September 1814. History Today has published an interesting article about this momentous event:

http://www.historytoday.com/stella-ghervas/congress-vienna-peace-strong

To be precise, the Congress of Vienna, which “met” from September 1814 to June 1815, was not exactly what we’d call a congress. Nor was it conference in which all the participants met at once in one location. Rather it was a series of meetings between various diplomats representing the great powers of Europe—Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia, and later France—who sought to pick up the pieces after Napoleon’s political demise (Napoleon first abdicated in April 1814, went into exile, returned, lost Waterloo, abdicated again, and went into exile for good in July 1815). After almost 25 years of war, the great powers sought to erect a stable diplomatic system that would contain France and ensure that Europe could enjoy a sustainable peace. Recognizing the extent to which domestic and foreign policy were related, the great powers also hoped to promote peace by quelling the revolutionary forces associated with France, such as liberalism and nationalism.

Gordon Craig (1913-2005), perhaps the most important English-speaking historian of Germany of his generation, claimed the Vienna settlement was based on three principles: “compensation for the victors, legitimacy, and balance of power.” While he conceded in the next sentence that this description was perhaps a little crude, it is easy to remember.

By “compensation,” Craig did not mean money. He meant territorial compensation. As the map of Europe was redrawn, each great power believed that nobody should receive more territory than anybody else. If Austria lost territory in one region, it should receive compensation for that loss elsewhere. If Russia received additional territory, so should everybody else. It was all associated with a concept of balance. Napoleon had thrown this idea out the window. He compensated himself with territory and redrew the map of Europe to suit his own needs without giving anything to anybody else. Now it was time to return to a different principle.

By “legitimacy,” Craig meant a particular kind of legitimacy—the right to rule. In the contemporary age, we might say a government possesses legitimacy if it has the support of its people. The idea that a government relied on the consent of the nation to govern, however, was considered a revolutionary idea in 1815 Europe. Rather, legitimacy referred to pre-revolutionary rights and privileges. A monarch had the right to rule a particular territory according to tradition and precedent. This was what legitimacy was all about. Often, however, the great powers neglected to observe this concept, either in the pursuit of compensation or the balance of power.

By “balance of power,” Craig meant a state of affairs in which the great powers operated in a kind of equilibrium that prevented any one of them from becoming too powerful. In 1815, the main state that everybody feared was France (it had singlehandedly made trouble for the previous quarter century), and the territorial settlement was created with an eye toward containing that country. Yet all the great powers were suspicious of one another, and so each sought to check all the others.

The Congress of Vienna has often received a good press from historians, and it has frequently been compared favorably with the Paris settlement of 1919. The few successful revolutions (Greece and Belgium) that occurred while the Congress system remained in place were more or less sanctioned by the great powers. Under this system, the great powers also managed to see off the Revolutions of 1848. The arrangements of 1815 more or less survived until the mid-1850s, when the Crimean War (1853-1856) between France, Britain, and Sardinia, on the one side, and Russia, on the other, led to a series of unforeseen events that completely disrupted the machinery erected in Vienna forty years before. The Crimean War eventually led to the estrangement of Austria and Russia, the expansion of France, the unification of Italy, and eventually the creation of Germany.

Saying that the Congress system collapsed because X did Y, and A did B, of course, describes how it fell apart but does not explain why. Ghervas’ article points to the failure of the great powers to include the Ottoman Empire in their deliberations. There is some merit to this argument since the retreat of the Ottomans from Europe (as well as their weakness elsewhere) produced a power vacuum that led to much conflict between the great powers. To dwell on the weakness of the system, however, allows us to neglect the necessity of good will in perpetuating that system. For sure, a corrupt system will pervert the best of wills, but perverted wills can corrupt even the best systems. By the 1850s, some powers had lost interest in upholding the system (Britain), proved incapable of defending it (Austria), or deliberately sought to overturn it (France and Prussia). Pointing out this problem is, perhaps, another way of saying that the interests of the great powers were bound to diverge. The memory of the great war that had bound them together receded farther and farther in the past. Instead, national interests returned to the forefront. Moreover, changes in the relative strength of the great powers, changes in their character, and changes in the overall circumstances within which they operated, all conspired to bring the Congress system down.

So has it ever been with the demise of various diplomatic systems—they are the victims of these kinds of transformations. Yet in light of this fact, the destruction of the Congress system seems especially piquant in that it sought to arrest change and revolution.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, the most intelligent conservatives understood the futility of attempting to hold back changes in Europe. Among them, Otto von Bismarck, Minister President of Prussia and later the first Chancellor of a united Germany, came to see that “for things to remain the same, everything must change” (to quote Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, a work of historical fiction dealing with Italian unification and one of the greatest Italian novels of the 20th century). This “white revolutionary,” as Lothar Gall described Bismarck (white is the color most commonly associated with conservatism, so a white revolutionary would be a conservative revolutionary, something of a paradox), participated in the destruction of the Congress system for the sake of creating a unified Germany national state that could better preserve conservatism at home.  In so doing, Bismarck created the so-called “German problem”—that is, an extremely powerful state that perpetually threatened to dominate the European continent. The formation of this state is the bridge between the destruction of the Congress system and our own time.

The Humanities are at a Discount, but the Value is Still Immense

Death of Socrates

If, like One Thing after Another, you follow The Atlantic, you have probably already seen the following essay:

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/the-morbid-fascination-with-the-death-of-the-humanities/372216/

And if you have been reading The Chronicle of Higher Education or any serious journalism over the last several years, you will most certainly have encountered the idea that the humanities are in crisis. There are many ways of looking at or defining this crisis. Some dwell on how difficult it is for those with majors in the humanities to find a job, how people with degrees in these fields do not earn much money, how enrollments in the humanities are falling, how the humanities have failed to adapt to new technologies or innovative modes of delivery, how the humanities are receiving less funding, how the humanities are less relevant in the digital age, and so on and so forth.

One Thing after Another does not pretend that Benjamin Winterhalter’s description of the “crisis of the humanities” is any more insightful than any other perspective. On the one hand, One Thing after Another appreciates the cleverness of Winterhalter’s argument that “the humanities crisis is largely a positive feedback loop created by stressing out over economic outcomes.” As Winterhalter describes it,

Research by government bureaus held that people who studied STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] disciplines had better employment prospects. As a result, state and federal education budgets consistently made these subjects a priority. Enrollment in the humanities slumped, and this made it more difficult for budding humanists and artists to succeed, not least because fewer and fewer jobs were available in the academy. . . . The stinging irony of the whole situation is difficult to dismiss: The very people demanding to know why English and art-history departments weren’t doing very well were often the people who’d helped drive students away from those departments to begin with.

On the other hand, One Thing after Another is less than enamored of Winterhalter’s discussion of Matt Langione’s research. One Thing after Another finds nothing objectionable with Langione’s work, which sounds extremely intriguing. Rather, it takes issue with Winterhalter’s argument which makes English sound like an auxiliary of neuroscience and suggests that the study of literature derives validity from the extent to which it spurs on scientific research.

The main reason, however, that One Thing after Another brings this article to your attention is because of what Winterhalter writes about John Harpham. Stripped to its essentials, this point is not particularly penetrating, but it cannot be repeated enough. Winterhalter echoes Harpham by writing, “the humanities offer a level of discourse that’s inaccessible through quantitative research.” To put it more simply and concisely, the humanities exercise a civilizing influenced that other disciplines cannot. To use one example of what Winterhalter and Harpham are talking about, (and somewhat ironically in light of this discussion), quantitative research provides tangible evidence that reading literary fiction increases empathy, a measure of social intelligence that would undoubtedly enhance the effectiveness of our public discourse:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2013/oct/08/literary-fiction-improves-empathy-study

At the same time, the humanities offer insights not provided by other disciplines. History, for example, gives an important vantage point not available to those looking at issues exclusively from the perspective of here and now. Every problem we face today has an important backstory that historians can help elucidate. Moreover, as we look at developments today, we need to realize that there is very little in the world that is new or unprecedented. For that reason, historians can provide valuable insights with regard to current events. Even the disruption associated with the digital age (which many pundits think has utterly remade the world and suspended all the rules) has its analogy in the industrial revolution of the early 19th century (see, for example, Tom Standage’s accessible little classic, The Victorian Internet, which looks at the history of the telegraph with an eye on how it anticipated our own internet age). Whatever the case, historians bring a unique sensibility and set of tools to a variety of important questions.

In our department alone, we have scholars investigating, among other things: the intersection of law, politics, and ideology in late-nineteenth-century Austria-Hungary (Professor Pajakowski); women abolitionists in New England, their connection to various social movements, and how they understood the nature of the early American republic (Professor Salerno); and the cultural tools that South Vietnam employed in the name of nation-building during the Vietnam War (Professor Masur). All of these topics are innately interesting, and research in these areas helps explain something about how different parts of the world got to be the way the way they are. At the same time, it does not take much imagination to see how all of these projects can provide important insights concerning the problems we face today. On the department web site, Professor Salerno writes that her “research projects are linked by a fascination with people who choose to make change in the world, who are able to organize others, and who write perceptively and regularly about the challenges of those tasks.” Even in a digital age—in fact, especially in a digital age—somebody has to think about those kinds of questions, and scholars in the humanities are thinking about them.