When white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently over the removal of Confederate statues, they forced into national headlines a conversation over the meaning of historical symbols. They also reminded some observers of civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s, when activists successfully convinced Americans that they were fighting for a moral cause. Recently, Professor Moore spoke with a correspondent for the magazine America: The Jesuit Review and helped to place the Charlottesville protests into historical context. The correspondent, by the way, is Michael O’Loughlin, a 2007 Saint Anselm alum. The link for the article can be found here.
On a recent fall Saturday, eight Saint Anselm College History majors and minors, one Saint Anselm College alum, and Professor Beth Salerno headed down to the New England Historical Association Conference held at Rivier University in Nashua, NH. The New England Historical Association (NEHA) is the regional branch of the American Historical Association (the largest professional organization for historians in America) and offers a conference twice a year. Professor Sean Perrone currently serves as its Treasurer.
Professor Salerno, Lily-Gre Hitchen ’18, and Sarah Hummel ’19 presented research they did in History 359 American Women’s History (see our related post). Other history majors and minors came along to experience their first history conference and explore areas of particular interest. One Thing after Another caught up with the attendees to find out what they learned at the conference.
Q: What made you decide to propose a faculty/student panel for this conference?
Professor Salerno: During the American Women’s History course, I collaborated with Professor Laura Prieto at Simmons College, sharing assignments and research materials. She suggested that we put together a panel for NEHA so our students could experience a professional history conference. I agreed and we wrote up a proposal for a Roundtable on “Teaching and Learning Historical Skills through a Crowdsourced Women’s History Project.” It included the two of us as Chair and Commentator, plus two Saint Anselm undergraduate students, one Simmons College undergraduate, and two Simmons College graduate students.
Q: What motivated the students to participate on the panel?
Sarah Hummel ’19 (History): I agreed to present my research experience because I was eager to share with other students and educators the lessons that the project taught me. The NEHA Conference seemed like the perfect place to network and share my experience as a historian with like-minded history students and professors.
Lily-Gre Hitchen ’18 (History) It was an opportunity in itself to be able to reflect on work in front of an interested audience. There are many times I have completed a research paper for class that I am very proud of, but the paper is never seen by anyone besides my professor. I was also excited to be able to express my enthusiasm about the assignment, because the crowdsourcing project was a memorable process for me.
Q: It must have been a bit intimidating to give a presentation in front of professional historians.
Lily-Gre Hitchen ’18 (History): I learned that it is important to relax. When I was preparing my talk, I was continuously second-guessing the language of my presentation. I wanted to use complicated diction to express my experiences, but I learned that simplifying the language is necessary for clarity. When giving the presentation, I realized that taking a few breaths to calm down really made a difference. Being too serious or too nervous can sometimes hurt a presentation, and calming down before speaking really makes a difference. It took a certain amount of confidence to be able to relax before the presentation, and this confidence came from trusting myself and my abilities.
Sarah Hummel ’19 (History): Presenting in a conference setting forced me to focus not just on paring down my ideas, but also expressions. I also learned that if you are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the information you are going to present, those two factors make presenting much less nerve-racking – but it’s okay to be a little nervous too!
Q: Did all the student attendees come to your session?
Professor Salerno: Whitney Hammond ’18, Alexis LaBrie ’18, and Chris Griebel (’16, now a fourth-grade teacher at St. Pius School, Lynn, MA) all attended our session. They had been part of the American Women’s History class and done the project as well. They contributed their observations about the impact and value of the project during the audience discussion. The rest of the students attended other sessions during the same time block. They had five choices during each block, giving them a wide variety of options.
Q: For those of you who were not presenting, what drew you to the conference?
Caitlin Williamson ’19 (History): I signed up for this conference because I had never done anything like this before and wanted to see what it was like. Before the event, I was a little nervous (despite not having to present anything) just because I wasn’t sure what to expect out of something like this!
Whitney Hammond ’18 (History): I signed up for the conference because as a senior history major I want to experience as much as I can before I graduate. I think attending this conference was a great opportunity for history majors because we were able to listen to historians and connect what they study to what we studied in our own history classes. It was also nice to be a part of a community of historians and listen to the work they dedicate themselves to.
Q: Can you describe your favorite session?
Cody Face ’20 (History): One panel I went to was War and Order. I found the presentation by Nathan Marzoli (Historian, US Army Center of Military History) rather intriguing. He discussed the 12th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, a Union regiment during the Civil War that fought at Chancellorsville. This battle happened to be one of the bloodiest of the Civil War, and a major Union defeat (It is often seen as one of Robert E. Lee’s greatest victories). Instead of focusing on the battle itself, Mr. Marzoli focused on the view of the soldiers. We heard about two brothers lying next to each other amidst the chaos of gunfire, shrapnel, and screams of agony when all of a sudden one of the brothers was shot and killed instantly. Such an incident was eye-opening in that it gave us a sense of what these soldiers faced. It added a sense of gravity to the Civil War, as if I myself was affected by it. His presentation was engaging, and his use of technology made it easy to imagine the battle being fought (he provided pictures of the battleground). All in all, it was a very effective performance on his part.
Lisette Labbè ’19 (Psychology Major and History Minor): I went to one of the panels that discussed new and different historical approaches—which made me realize that although history is the study of the past, the discipline is still very much alive and adaptive. I think it’s fascinating to see historians find different ways to approach history, because it seems like there are many different approaches that have yet to be discovered.
Caitlin Williamson ’19 (History): My favorite panel of the day was focused on the 1860s and 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement. I immediately chose this panel because I’m in Professor [Andy] Moore’s Civil Rights Movement class this semester and was excited to see what different perspectives the papers on the panel would give me. My favorite paper out of the whole day was from this panel. It was on modern civil rights action and how college campuses are confronting their various histories, especially with notable alumni of many prominent institutions being slaveholders or having otherwise done something in the past that is unacceptable today. The professor had many examples at universities like Harvard and Yale, and her paper got me thinking more about how the Civil Rights Movement that is thought to be a thing of the 1950s and 60s is not over just yet.
Q: Did attending the conference change your sense of the past or the profession?
Alexis LaBrie ’18 (History and Criminal Justice Major): I gained a better sense that much of the historical profession is devoted to research. A person picks a topic that she find interesting and then she spend her whole life analyzing it. The other side of that is historians are constantly reevaluating moments in the past to incorporate new findings and perspectives. The questions that most commonly came up were, “What was the impact on the community/state/country?” I was struck by historians’ curiosity concerning the effect of the event and its lasting impact.
Sarah Hummel ’19 (History): Up until now, I thought the bulk of what historians did was researching and writing. This conference, both in presenting and in attending other panels, taught me that while writing and researching are important, the process of sharing this knowledge is just as important – and just as thrilling! It is comforting for me to have a better idea of how people can make a living and enjoy their career in a major that is often overlooked or underappreciated. Now, I am even more excited to be a history major – there are so many ways to share knowledge which are just as exciting as acquiring it.
Q: Would you recommend this opportunity to other history majors?
Whitney Hammond ’18 (History): I think it is a great opportunity for those interested in History, and I would definitely try to attend at least one conference before you graduate. I was even thinking of attending the next one because of how much I enjoyed it. It was really great to be surrounded by a community of people who all care about and appreciate history.
Lisette Labbè ’19 (Psychology Major and History Minor): I think more students should go to these conferences to really experience the culture of historians and learn about new topics that you may never have thought about. I think it is also a great opportunity to listen and learn about topics you are truly passionate about and to be able to talk to those scholars who specialize in it.
Caitlin Williamson ’19 (History): I learned from this conference how specific research such as this gets. Many papers looked at one specific individual, or a specific time period, rather than an entire group of people or a trend throughout decades. This was especially helpful as I look forward to possibly writing a thesis in the coming years. This conference presented me with examples of what historical research really looks like.
In the Fall of 1980, the Saint Anselm College History Department offered its first course in a practical approach to applying history. Applied History, designed by Professor Frank Mason and Malachy McCarthy, OSB attracted eight students: Julie Carmelo, Mike Duffy, Carol Flanagan, Barbara Flynn, Ellen Lynch, Nancy McGovern, Mary Quinn, and Lori Skeates.
In this course, Malachy McCarthy taught the principles of archival theory while Frank Mason dealt with oral history. During the second semester, many of the students took advantage of an internship opportunity with a local history organization.
Thirty-five years later, Nancy McGovern continues her work in archives as the manager in charge of digital preservation at MIT Libraries in Cambridge. She came back to Saint Anselm College in 2013 to share her expertise with students in Public History, the updated version of the course she took in 1980. Malachy McCarthy is now the Province Archivist for the Claretian Missionaries USA-Canada Province in Chicago. He still teaches archival principles and practice, educating future Catholic religious archivists.
In August 2016, at the annual convention of the Society of American Archivists in Atlanta, Nancy McGovern accepted the mantle of President of the Society and will lead SAA over the next year. Teacher and student were reunited as professional colleagues at the conference after 35 years.
Faculty often wonder what becomes of each student we have had in class. We know that many go on to very successful careers and lives. Some make it to the top of their profession, like Nancy. If you haven’t taken a moment to let your former professors know what you are currently up to, please do. We would love to know.
Professor Andy Moore recently landed a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to host the conference, “Jimmy Carter and the ‘Year of the Evangelicals’ Reconsidered.” Recently, One Thing after Another asked Professor Moore about the conference, the Luce Foundation, and Jimmy Carter.
Q: What is the Henry Luce Foundation?
A: Henry Luce was the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time magazine, and in 1936 he established the Henry Luce Foundation to honor his parents who had been missionaries to China. According to its website, the Foundation “seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.” This grant came from the Foundation’s Theology program.
Q: What is the purpose of the grant that you won?
A: I was awarded the grant to host an academic conference. The conference commemorates the 40th anniversary of a Newsweek magazine cover story about the appearance of evangelical Christians in public life. Newsweek borrowed a recent phrase from pollster George Gallup and labeled 1976 the “Year of the Evangelicals.” That issue appeared on October 25, 1976. I had hoped to schedule the conference for the 40th anniversary, but the timing is not going to work out. The best we can do is the spring 2017 semester, and January, February, and March are too unpredictable weather-wise. So the conference will take place April 6, 7, and 8.
Q: Besides the Luce Foundation, have you received other support?
A: Yes. Both the History and Politics Departments are contributing money, and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and the office of the Vice President of Academic Affairs are covering what the Luce Foundation grant does not. Conferences are not cheap, and I am grateful for everyone’s support.
Q: Do you know yet who will be participating in the conference?
A: Not entirely. Soon I will formally announce the conference and invite historians, political scientists, sociologists, religious studies scholars, and journalism scholars to participate (what academics call a ‘call for papers’). I have received a few commitments from some prominent historians. Notably, Randall Balmer will deliver the conference opening keynote address. He is the Dartmouth Professor in the Arts and Sciences at Dartmouth College and the author of many books—most recently, a biography of Jimmy Carter called Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter. That lecture will also be the College’s Norwin S. and Elizabeth N. Bean Distinguished Lecture. There are a few other historians—from as far away as Britain—who are committed also. The Newsweek religion editor who wrote the original story—Kenneth Woodward—also has expressed an interest in participating, and I am hopeful we can pull that off as well.
Q: Why was the Newsweek article on “the Year of the Evangelicals” so important?
A: A bit of history helps here. After the infamous Scopes Trial in 1925, fundamentalist Protestant Christians gradually removed themselves from public life. They concentrated on building their own institutions—churches, schools, missionary societies, etc.—so that they essentially ended up talking to each other and not trying to influence politics or public policy or change the culture. In the years after World War II, some of those people decided they needed to stop isolating themselves and start trying to engage the world around them. They decided they had something to offer to public debate, including politics and culture. They thought of themselves as “evangelicals,” and their desire to engage with outsiders intellectually and culturally distinguished them from fundamentalists. By 1976 they were becoming enough of a recognizable voting bloc that both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter believed it would benefit them to be identified as “born again” Christians. The Newsweek cover story marked a realization of those evangelicals’ growing public influence. The story had sort of a “gee whiz, who knew there were these people out there. Isn’t this fascinating?” feel to it.
Q: And why was Jimmy Carter’s election to the presidency so significant in the context of the evangelical movement?
A: Carter knew those people were out there, because he was one of them. He talked about being born again himself, and his life story—raised Southern Baptist, he was active in his church as a deacon and Sunday School teacher—resonated with those evangelicals. He spoke their language, and for their part it was exciting to have one of their own be running for president. However, he made some missteps—like granting an interview to Playboy magazine—and squandered some of that good will in the weeks leading up to the election. Still, he garnered enough evangelical support to win, and the election of 1976 does mark their re-entry into public life as a recognizable voting bloc. To be sure, by 1980, most of those evangelicals gave up on him in favor of Ronald Reagan.
Q: How did you get interested in Jimmy Carter?
A: Several years ago I had finished writing a book on Catholics in the post-World War II American South, and I was looking around for my next research topic. I was asked by an editor at Louisiana State University Press if I was interested in writing a biography of someone. I chose Carter. I was raised Southern Baptist myself, and I have certain expectations about the relationship between church and state. For those reasons, Carter interests me, so I agreed to write a biography of him. I figured I could use him to explore some issues related to my home region and my own faith. I have already published a little bit about Carter and the election of1976, but other projects have intervened over the years, and I have made what can only be considered glacial progress on the book. Still, I’m plugging away and hope the book appears eventually.
Q: What’s the story behind the picture of you with Carter?
A: I went to his church in Plains, Georgia—Maranatha Baptist Church—one Sunday. Carter teaches a Sunday School class for adults there. The church advertises his teaching schedule, and tourists come to see Carter. A few years ago, my family and I were on vacation at the beach in Georgia, and I drove over for church that Sunday. He teaches a room full of a couple hundred people or so, and if you stay through the worship service, then Carter will pose for a photo with you. There are very strict rules for the photo line (no touching Carter, no trying to chat him up, keep moving), so it’s not like I actually met him. I said, “Hello, Mr. President.” He nodded and mumbled in my general direction. The designated picture-taker pushed the button on my phone and then yelled “next!” And then the Secret Service made sure I didn’t hang around.
NOTE: To see the photos referred to in this post, go here.
Professor Hardin’s recent four-week research trip to Senegal was productive. She interviewed twenty-two individuals in six municipalities about the history of the southeastern region of the country, particularly how people there cultivated cotton in the 1970s (see photos 407, 421 and 422). Cotton production was remarkably profitable, but it required the use of strong pesticides. Interviewees discussed the ways they dealt with the toxic chemicals and why they found the work worthwhile at the time, but that now they would appreciate less dangerous and more lucrative economic opportunities. Interviewees cultivated cotton and other crops with and for their families. Individuals of both noble and slave descent gained and lost with cotton production as the industry ebbed and flowed.
Professor Hardin also interviewed a bambaaɗo (a griot or traditional oral historian) about the nineteenth-century history of the region as well as a few traditional healers about their work. These men and women, including Professor Hardin’s interpreter, Aminata Kaba (see photos 456 and 464), continue to treat patients using plants and other means. This research will inform Professor Hardin’s course on the history of African health and healing.
The timing of Professor Hardin’s trip was fortuitous. The National Archives of Senegal had been closed for the last two years for building renovations. A few days before she was scheduled to depart the country, however, the archives reopened in a new location in Dakar, and she was able to see a few documents (see photos 620-622).
From the hustle and bustle of the capital city to the pressing urgency to prepare fields for the coming rains in the countryside, Professor Hardin witnessed the range of Senegalese life. In the heat of late May and early June, young people were preparing for final exams despite their teachers’ strike. Teachers are asking the government to respect their contracts though the government has threatened to dismiss them. Teachers debated whether they should continue to go without their contracted salaries for the sake of the nation’s children or whether they should press the government to decrease the number of ministers making large sums. See this opinion piece published in Le Quotidien by Professor Hardin’s friend, Cheikh Kaling, who also holds a doctorate in history and trains some of Senegal’s history and geography teachers at the College of the Science and Technology of Education and Training [Faculté des Sciences et Technologies de l’Education et de la Formation (FASTEF)] at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar:
While education remains a long-contested sector, so too is agriculture. In May the director of the Company for Development and Textile Fibers (Société de Développement et des Fibres Textiles or SODEFITEX) visited remote towns to drum up enthusiasm for the impending cotton campaign, as well as for the production of corn, millet, sunflowers, hibiscus, rice, and sesame. Such outreach is necessary given that agriculture has not paid much for over a decade, many farmers are deeply indebted financially, rains have not been regular, and labor is scarce. Some tractors are currently being brought in, but some people are skeptical of the economic impact the technology will ultimately have.
Almost every family has someone living in Dakar and/or abroad who sends money back from as far away as Congo-Brazzaville, North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the USA . Since the 1970s, remittances have been one of the largest sources of revenue for the area. But migration is dangerous and people sometimes die trying to get to Europe. See this article on Tambacounda which is on the way to Vélingara:
See also photo 404 from Professor Hardin’s host family’s home in Vélingara. It’s of a blackboard for the private tutorial of the eleven-year-old nephew. It’s a dictation on “a stowaway” which teaches not only the French language but also the dangers of migration.
Traveling through Tambacounda to and from Vélingara in the Upper Casamance region of southeastern Senegal in late May, Professor Hardin saw fields being cleared by controlled burns. The remaining ash makes good fertilizer (see photos 410, 411, and 384). The burns were just in time too, since it rained in Vélingara for the first time for the season on the night of Friday May 27, 2016.
Vélingara is a town of over 25,000 people that feels like, in the words of someone born there, a “giant neighborhood.” Everyone knows everyone, people visit each other’s houses regularly and kids play in the streets. The vast majority of buildings are one-story; there is one gas station, one bus station, one bank (along with several money transfer offices where people pickup remittances), one post office, one large market, a cotton gin factory, one tourist motel and now two paved roads. Daily life centers around the market, the schools, the mosques, the bus station, and the health clinic. Common ailments for children are malaria and diarrhea while older adults suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma, and respiratory infections.
Hope springs eternal due to the recently paved road in town, dubbed the “road of Macky Sall” (the new president). The Compaganie Sahélienne d’Entreprises (CSE) which is paving the roads between Vélingara and other major cities is hiring some men locally, another cause for optimism. From Vélingara, Professor Hardin took the paved road to Médina Gounass and Linkéring, and took a dirt road to Wassadou, to do interviews. Each trip took over an hour but on the way to Wassadou Professor Hardin was able to stop and take pictures of the industrial rice field and the anti-AIDS sign near the border with Guinea-Bissau (see photos 442, 444, and 426—on the road to Wassadou. Agence de Gestion des Routes or AGEROUTE: “Let’s open the roads for development, but bar the road to AIDS.”) Cross-border trade is long-standing and essential to the region’s economy, but prostitution at the major market towns increases the rates of STDs. Despite these dangers, the state of health and health care in Senegal is better than in some of its neighboring countries.
Professor Hardin’s trip ended during the first week of Ramadan. Before it started, she saw on T.V. Arabic music videos and commercials celebrating the season. The day people began fasting in Senegal depended on whether they chose to start with people in Saudi Arabia or follow local clerics who decided based on how they saw the moon there. The daily schedule then changed with some people rising earlier than usual to drink water and eat a few dates before the sun rose at 7:00 AM; they would not eat or drink water until the sun set at 7:40 PM, at which point they would have their breakfast of coffee, a sandwich, and dates, followed by dinner at 9:30 PM, followed in turn by ataya, sugared gunpowder tea. Of course these meals and the day was interspersed by prayers at 6:00 AM, 2:00 PM, 4:30 PM, 7:30 PM, and 9:00 PM. Since people tended to go to bed late and get up early, those who could take a nap in the late afternoon did. Children, the elderly, the ill, and Professor Hardin, however, ate breakfast and lunch at regular hours.
In Senegal’s cities and towns, one hears the calls to prayer from mosques; the sounds of cows, donkeys, dogs and chickens; the honks of horns from trucks and cars; and most often people greeting one another. Salaam alaikum!
The Class of 2016 Senior Brunch and Baccalaureate Mass took place on May 20 as our seniors spent their last full day as graduands.
As part of the ceremonies, Abbot Mark Cooper read an email directed at seven graduating history majors. These seven students took time from their busy senior week to write fond remembrances to Fr. William Sullivan, O.S.B. Before his stroke in 2014, Fr. William had taught these seniors in history courses and served as their academic advisor. The students wanted to let him know that he was in their thoughts as they began their move from the Hilltop and into the broader world.
One Thing After Another thought many of you who knew Fr. William and who might be thinking about your own graduation this past weekend, would appreciate these thoughts:
Dear Maria, Mike, Brendan, Jenny, Katie, Kristen and Jim,
This is Fr. William’s sister-in-law Anne-Marie writing to thank you all for your incredible thoughtfulness to your former professor, advisor and friend. There are no words to adequately articulate the joy you brought to Fr. William and to his brother Mike and me as well.
Mike and I visited Fr. William on Wednesday and he was very pleased…actually quite animated…to show us a THANK YOU card that was in a place of honor on his table. Mike read it first and then handed it to me…WOW! …
Your kindness meant the world to Fr. William and the smile on his face and the gleam in his eyes said it all, so THANK YOU – THANK YOU – THANK YOU!
I’m sure you’re wondering where your past four years have gone. You have learned so much, grown up so much, forged friendships that will remain rock solid for the rest of your lives. Your foundation as you move forward is the best and I can only imagine the pride your families are feeling as you all prepare for your Baccalaureate Mass this evening and Commencement tomorrow. Mike and I have never met you and we’re very proud of you all!
Please keep this close to your heart when I tell you that one of the very best things you did while a student at Saint Anselm was “save the best for last”! I cannot imagine anything better than taking the time from your end of the year busy schedules to thank Fr. William in such a beautiful manner. Your gesture exemplifies the Benedictine values you have witnessed and espoused at the College. You absolutely give new meaning to SPECIAL DELIVERY!
Please know that we will keep you in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you for reminding us that, although he’s no longer in the class room, Fr. William continues to teach us all.
Wishing you all the very best life has to offer, Anne-Marie Sullivan
If you would like to share your good wishes or fond memories with Fr. William (or if you would like him to know how you turned out these couple – or many – years after you graduated), you can write to him at:
Rev. William, J. Sullivan, O.S.B.
Mount Carmel Rehabilitation and Nursing Center
235 Myrtle Street – Room 403
Manchester, NH 03104
All of us in the History Department appreciate hearing back from Alumni at any time, and particularly at this reflective closing of the academic year. You can always reach any of us by following the email links at http://www.anselm.edu/Academics/Majors-and-Departments/History.htm
In January 1821, the widowed Anna Ayer of Goffstown claimed before the selectmen of the town that Daniel Davis Farmer (who was married and had four children of his own) was the father of her unborn baby. Born in Manchester, Farmer had recently owned a farm in Goffstown but had returned to his home town. He furiously contested Ayer’s charge. If she could somehow prove that Farmer was the father, however, he, not the town of Goffstown, would be responsible for support of her child. On April 4, 1821, he bought some rum at Colonel Riddle’s store in ‘Squog Village (the area where the Piscataquog drains into the Merrimack River—which was then a part of Bedford), walked the five miles to what is now East Dunbarton Road (currently the northeastern part of Goffstown), and visited Ayer. What transpired next is unclear, but it appears Farmer hit Ayer on the side of the head with a shovel and then beat her with a stick. He also beat Ayer’s daughter before attempting to burn down the Ayer house. The widow Ayer was fatally wounded in the attack and died some eight days later. Ayer’s daughter, also named Anna, was injured but survived. A little over a week after the widow Ayer’s death, Farmer was indicted for first-degree murder by a grand jury sitting in Hopkinton. On October 10, he was put on trial in Amherst, then the seat of Hillsborough County, before the Superior Court of Judicature (the ancestor of New Hampshire’s supreme court). The trial began at 8 AM and concluded at 10 PM of that day. After deliberating for one hour, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The Attorney General sought the death penalty. The next morning, Farmer was brought before the bar, and Levi Woodbury, an associate justice of the court, pronounced a sentence of death. Farmer was kept in the county jail in Amherst until January 3, 1822, when, on a bitterly cold day, he was hanged near the town common before a crowd of 10,000 people (at a time when the population of Goffstown was only about 2,000). Farmer’s execution was one of only three that occurred in all of New England in 1822. Farmer also had the bad luck to be one of the five people executed in New Hampshire in the first half of the 19th century.
The Ayer murder serves as the topic for the research project in History 112: History’s Mysteries, team-taught by Professors Matt Masur and Hugh Dubrulle at Saint Anselm College. The reading list in the course consists of microhistories, almost all of which revolve around some sort of mystery (often including a court case). It is in this fashion that Masur and Dubrulle hope to initiate students in the practice of history as a discipline.
What is microhistory, you may ask? Writing in The Journal of American History, Jill Lepore argues that like biographers, microhistorians often study an individual’s life. Yet “microhistorians do have nonbiographical goals in mind: even when the study a single person’s life, they are keen to evoke a period, a mentalite, a problem.” To put it more thoroughly in Lepore’s words:
If biography is largely founded on a belief in the singularity and significance of an individual’s life and his contribution to history, microhistory is founded upon almost the opposite assumption: however singular a person’s life may be, the value of examining it lies not in its uniqueness, but in its exemplariness, in how the individual’s life serves as an allegory for broader issues affecting the culture as a whole.
In History 112: History’s Mysteries, then, students will read books that are classics not merely in microhistory but history as well, including Jonathan Spence’s The Question of Hu and Leonard Dinnerstein’s The Leo Frank Case. By reading about people like an 18th-century Chinese copyist who accompanied a Jesuit missionary back to France and an early 20th-century Jewish-American factory superintendent who was lynched by a Georgia mob, students can learn about past periods. Not only that, they can also learn how historians use documentary evidence to build arguments about these periods.
Having read a number of prominent works in microhistory, students will then try their hand at building the foundation for a microhistory of their own: Daniel Davis Farmer’s murder of the widow Anna Ayer. As students sift through some of the most important primary source material associated with the case, they will map out areas of secondary research that will help illuminate the world that both Farmer and Ayer inhabited. And thus they will lay the groundwork upon which future students enrolled in History 112 will build. Stay tuned for further updates on this blog as students in History 112 find out more and more about the mysteries surrounding the bloody events that transpired in Goffstown in the spring of 1821.