Month: December 2016

Elliott-Traficante at the New Hampshire State Senate

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While reading the Fall 2016 issue of Portraits Magazine, One Thing after Another learned that Joshua Elliott-Traficante ’09, who majored in history at Saint Anselm College, had been appointed Policy Director for the New Hampshire State Senate. This blog is always in search of excuses to contact alums, so it decided to look Elliott-Traficante up and ask him about his job.

Q: What does the Policy Director for the NH State Senate do?

A: The Policy Director does a little of everything, but above all he or she advises the Republican senators on all aspects of public policy. This usually starts when the Senators are getting ready to file bills for the next session which is where we are now. I’ll help take an idea, and working with our drafting attorneys, turn it into a bill. Most of the time, if it is a straightforward bill, the Senator will do it on his or her own, but if it is something complex, that is when I will step in and help out. In addition, I help the Senate leadership in creating and communicating the agenda for the session. As the session starts, I keep track of all the bills going through the chamber, from introduction to committee hearings, all the way until they get voted on on the floor. It’s a bit like being an air traffic controller: I need to know where everything is, what it is, and where it is going next, as well as fixing things before they become problems.

Q: What do you enjoy most about this position?

A: No two days are ever the same, and I’m never bored. One day you are working on drafting a piece of important legislation, the next you are doing in-depth research on a random policy issue, so you can get a Senator up to speed. Like college, most people “in the real world” are procrastinators; sometimes we will only find out about an issue with a bill hours before it is supposed to be voted on, so it makes for a fasted-paced environment. There are some session days I managed to rack up 10,000 steps on my fitbit without even leaving the building. There is a sobering sense of responsibility that comes with the job, since your ideas and opinions can influence legislation that impacts the whole state.

Q: What career path did you take that eventually culminated in your landing this job?

A: Like most people’s career paths, mine hasn’t been much of a straight line. I originally was thinking of going into academia and applied to a mix of MA and PhD programs in European History and somehow managed to get into a Master’s program at the University of Chicago. Unlike the “Got Monk?” or “Where Blue Runs Deep” t-shirts you’ll find at St. A’s, UChicago has a decidedly less upbeat “Where Fun Goes to Die” on theirs. After finishing there, I did a summer language program in Germany. I was still thinking of applying for PhD programs that Fall, but needed to find a job in the meantime. A guy I had done some political work with while in college had a friend who ran a think-tank up in Concord and was looking to hire someone for at least a year, maybe more. With a research- and writing-heavy background, I was a great candidate and got the job. I dove into the public policy and left the academic track behind. For me, working in policy was the perfect mix of academic research with politics. With the exception of a brief leave in 2014 to work on a gubernatorial campaign as a policy advisor, I was there until Fall 2015. I had been poking around looking for my next move and this position opened up. An old colleague from the think tank was moving on from this job and recommended me for it.

Q: How did your undergraduate experience, particularly your major in History, help prepare you for this career?

A: Three things stick out in particular: it made me a better writer, it taught me how to do research, and it taught me how to be a critical thinker. These skills aren’t just important for my job, they are in high demand by employers everywhere.

As a senior about to head off to grad school, Professor Perrone suggested that I practice editing by going back over some of the papers I had written while at St. A’s to practice editing. I was absolutely horrified at what my writing was like as a Freshman and wondered how I hadn’t gotten terrible grades on these papers. As I worked my way through, I noticed that (thankfully), the quality got better and better. Being able to do research on what other states are doing on an issue, for example, is something I do every day. How different databases work can be completely different, but those basic skills on how to do research are universal. Critical thinking seems to be a lost art these days, but it is invaluable in trying to think through a policy problem. Like research, it doesn’t matter what the topic or the issue is—those skills can be applied to nearly any field. When thinking through a problem, you can’t possibly know everything. It helps to remember the first word of the Rule of St. Benedict: Listen.

Q: What’s the best part about living in Manchester, NH?

A: As a student, I really didn’t venture that much into Manchester, but it is worth making a little time to go explore beyond Target, Walmart, and Market Basket. On the history side, the Currier Art Museum is a hidden gem and a great place to spend an afternoon. Despite being nowhere near the size of the Museum of Fine Art or the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston, it has an impressive collection and manages to attract terrific visiting exhibits. There are plenty of great restaurants downtown that weren’t there when I was a student that won’t break the bank (or Mom and Dad’s bank when they come to visit.) It’s a cliché, but Manchester is close to everywhere else. An hour to the coast, an hour to the lakes and mountains, and an hour to Boston. If you are a skier (and winter is around the corner), there are also a lot of great mountains close by. Everything is close enough you can go and do something fun without needing to take an entire day to do it.

After Brexit, Whither or Wither British History?

brexit

Dane Kennedy recently wrote an essay in Perspectives, the newsmagazine of the American Historical Association, in which he analyzes the impact that Brexit will exert on the study British history.

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/october-2016/does-british-history-matter-anymore-reflections-on-brexit

In his survey of the field, Kennedy reaches two main conclusions. First, Brexit may make British history obsolete. The Brexit vote exposed important national divisions within Britain; England and Wales voted to leave the European Union, while Scotland, and to a lesser extent, Northern Ireland, sought to remain. The outcome of the referendum may only exacerbate these divisions. The Scottish National Party, which committed itself to the “Remain” campaign, is already weighing the wisdom of holding another Scottish independence referendum (the last one, held in 2014, was defeated 55% to 45%). By complicating relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Brexit paradoxically makes it more likely that the two will increasingly draw closer in an attempt to safeguard their common interests (e.g. stabilization and peace in the region). Should Britain begin to disintegrate, Kennedy asserts, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will increasingly focus on their own histories rather than a common British one.

Second, Brexit will undermine the precarious position of British history in the United States.  As Kennedy points out, up until the 1970s and 1980s, every history department in the United States believed it needed at least one British historian. This belief stemmed partly from a sense that America owed a great deal to its British inheritance, partly from a Cold War Atlanticist attitude that saw Britain as America’s closest ally, and partly from the “Eurocentric orientation of the historical profession itself.” However, starting in the 1990s, in an attempt to diversify their offerings, departments began to hire historians who studied previously neglected areas, such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As Kennedy puts it, “in the zero-sum game that characterized academic hiring in those financially straitened times, the number of British history positions declined.” And this number continues to decline today. As academic history in the United States became more diverse and global in outlook, the only factor that helped sustain British history was is its connection to empire. In other words, British history has remained interesting to the profession insofar as it is integrated into world history. For this reason, Kennedy argues that since Brexit “marks Britain’s retreat from the world around it,” academic historians will increasingly lose interest in that country with effects that are “detrimental to British history’s survival as a field of study in the United States.”

Much of what Kennedy writes makes a great deal of sense. For sure, as Kennedy puts it, “while Britain’s post-Brexit future may not change the facts about history, it will change how we view that history and what significance we draw from it.” Here Kennedy reminds us of the extent to which contemporary concerns and events shape our study of the past. If One Thing after Another has quibbles with Kennedy on anything, it is in the claim that Brexit is a major turning point that represents a retreat from the world. Such a statement seems like an oversimplification. Instead of representing a sudden break in the course of events, Brexit is part of a long saga in which Britain has sought to manage its relationship with the rest of the world and particularly Europe. It is worth pointing out that well before a slight majority of Britons voted to leave the EU, Britain had already opted out of a number of important EU polices: the Economic and Monetary Union, the Schengen Agreement, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and the AFSJ (Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice). In other words, Britain has long experienced reservations about political integration with the EU. Brexit was the triumph, then, of anti-EU feeling that had existed for some time. To say that Brexit represents a sudden retreat from the world, then, is only partially right. For sure, many voters and politicians who supported the “Leave” campaign felt that political integration with the EU exposed Britain to various elements of globalization that were intolerable (e.g. free movements of peoples). However, a distaste for political integration with the EU (and its consequences) is not necessarily tantamount to shutting oneself off from the world; there is more than one way to to engage with the global economy. Even the most obtuse of the Brexiteers understand that a country with the world’s fifth-largest economy (now possibly sixth-largest with the falling of the pound) simply cannot embrace some type of autarky, especially when exports account for almost 30% of GDP. Enthusiasm for a soft Brexit and bilateral agreements with other nations, unrealistic as these prospects might be, indicate that Britons still wish to relate to the rest of the world—but on their own terms. One Thing after Another does not claim that Brexit was a good idea, that the leaders of the Brexit campaign were models of prudence, or that those who voted “Leave” acted from the best of motives. Rather, this blog argues that Brexit is perhaps not the turning point it has been made out to be. If such is the case, then its impact on British history might be somewhat muted.

Toward the end of his essay, Kennedy expresses skepticism that Britain’s significance at the height of empire will sustain the interest of historians in future years. After all, he points out, the Mongols exerted enormous influence in the past, but there is no great demand for historians of this people. One Thing after Another begs to differ. As Christopher Bayly (a leading scholar of imperial and world history) argued in The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914, Britain was an “exemplar and controller” of modernity. In other words, starting in the late 18th century and continuing well into the next, Britain played a crucial role in propagating the globalization on which it has ostensibly turned its back. We no longer live in a British century, but we live in a world that Britain helped make. That achievement will help ensure its continued historical relevance for some time to come.