Senior Profile–Cody F.

The class of 2020 is having an unusual final semester, to say the least. While it is no replacement for a graduation ceremony, we thought it would be nice to have a little feature for each of our graduating seniors. 

Cody F.

Today’s featured student is Cody F.

Why did you become a history major?
Throughout my life, I always found myself drawn to history. Whether it be movies/media, places like museums or cemeteries, or even classes in school, I wanted to immerse myself in historical subjects. While doing this, I discovered that I enjoyed it. It was not just a subject, but something I was eager to learn about both inside and outside the classroom. This is when I knew I was going to be a history major.

What is one book from a history class that will stick with you?
One book that will stick with me is Changes in the Land, by William Cronon. While When the King Took Flight, by Timothy Tackett, is a close second, Changes in the Land gave an interesting argument as to why the landscape of New England was a major player when it came to conflict between the Native Americans and the English Settlers. Colonial America is also my favorite era of study, so this book fit perfectly.

What is a fond memory you will have about your time as a history major?
A fond memory I will have of being a history major is the excitement the professors brought to class each day regarding the subject they were teaching. This made class far more enjoyable, and I was able to engage more because of it. I hope to bring some of the energy and passion for history into the classroom with me when I begin teaching. I also enjoyed the beginning of the year get-togethers.

Who was the most interesting or intriguing historical figure that you learned about while at Saint Anselm?
The most intriguing historical figure I learned about was Charlemagne. Prior to attending Saint A’s, Charlemagne was not covered, so learning about this historical figure who became the first undisputed ruler of Western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries prior was both fascinating and gratifying.

If you could live in a time and place that you studied, what would it be?
While I would love to go back to Colonial America, I would have to pick Ancient Rome. If I had to narrow it down further, I would love to see the Pax Romana. However, getting a view of the various campaigns and wars fought would also be pretty cool!

Do you have any plans after graduation?
Plans after graduation involve finding a teaching job while also teaching myself everything there is to know about remote instruction, for after the pandemic is over education is going to look fundamentally different. That, and a whole lot of social distancing!

Golen Takes the Road Less Anticipated

Just a couple of weeks ago, Kevin Golen ’08 was in town and decided to pay the History Department a visit to see what was new. Professors Dubrulle and Perrone had the good fortune to speak to Golen and find out what he had been up to lo these many years. One Thing after Another found Golen’s career trajectory so compelling that this blog thought it would share his story.

Q: If we recall correctly, you did not come to Saint Anselm College intending to enter journalism as a field. Why did you go to Saint Anselm College, and what were your original intentions?

A: Although I was from the Philly suburbs, I always enjoyed visiting my father’s side of the family in western Massachusetts. This inspired me to apply to several small, New England colleges where I could continue running cross-country. During my first visit, I had the opportunity to meet Coach Paul Finn, the men’s cross-country team, and several of the monks on campus. Once I returned home, I knew that St. Anselm was the right fit for me. During my freshman year, I changed majors at least two or three times. Initially, I was putting pressure on myself to choose a major that would perfectly align with what I imagined my future job would be after graduation. Thankfully, two of my good friends and fellow history majors, Jimmy Siracusa ’08 and Mike Labrie ’08, helped me to stop worrying if I was going to be an accountant, teacher, or lawyer, and instead focus on choosing a major that I was genuinely interested in. Growing up close to Valley Forge and knowing that my favorite subject in high school was history made that an easy decision.

Q: Portraits Magazine ran a story about you back in 2013 (written by fellow History alum Lauren Davitt ’08) explaining how you ended up at the news desk of Fox News. Could you briefly relate how you obtained an opportunity to work there?

A: I was very fortunate to be paired up with Fox News Channel political analyst Juan Williams. He knew by the end of the New Hampshire primary that something had clicked and that I was seriously interested in opportunities at Fox. After following up with him a few times via email, Juan put me in touch with someone who was looking to hire an overnight assistant position at Fox’s Headquarters in New York City. After two phone interviews, a writing test, and an in-person interview, I accepted an offer and began working the Tuesday after I graduated.

Q: From Fox News, you went to Dataminr and them from Dataminr to Insite. In other words, you moved from journalism to security. Could you connect the dots? In other words, what was it about one job that prepared you for the next?

A: At Fox, I eventually became a breaking news editor on the National Desk. I was mainly responsible for monitoring breaking news by staying in regular contact with Fox’s affiliate stations across the country. When a big story broke, we initially had to rely on the information that our affiliates were picking up in their local newsrooms. Some of the local editors were understandably so overwhelmed with their own stations’ programming that the last thing they wanted was a call from us. In 2013, one of my former Fox colleagues asked me if I was interested in joining a technology startup called Dataminr. The company’s mission was to create an advanced AI platform that could detect the earliest tips of breaking news and pre-viral stories. Dataminr was looking for breaking news editors who had the experience to train the algorithm to discover these high-impact events. Seeing the potential this technology could have in newsrooms all over the world, I left Fox and took a chance working for a startup that at the time had zero clients. Today, journalists in more than 600 newsrooms depend on Dataminr’s technology for breaking news. What became most fulfilling for me, however, was the value of our platform for the public sector and corporate risk clients. Our early warnings of natural disasters, transportation mishaps, active shooters, and terrorist attacks were helping to protect the public in real time. I’m currently working for Insite, a risk management and consulting firm that uses Dataminr and other information discovery tools, to protect global corporations, asset managers, family offices, and other private clients.

Q: When you started at Saint Anselm College, you probably had no idea that you would end up at a place like Insite. Do you think there is a lesson there for college-aged students?

A: I never could’ve predicted where my career ended up. My roles at Dataminr and Insite didn’t even exist when I graduated in 2008. My recommendation for undergrads would be to focus on the skill-sets that are at the core of a Saint Anselm education—writing ability, humility, people skills, and curiosity.

Q: How do you think the History major helped prepare you for your career?

A: I found that Saint Anselm History professors were especially gifted in being able to unify massive amounts of data points and themes concerning a particular historical period and somehow figure out how to consistently present those findings to students in a highly compelling way. I think back to this whenever I have to brief a client on a new threat or other security-related matter. No matter how much intelligence I collect and analyze, its all for nothing if I don’t effectively communicate my findings.

Q: What was your favorite History course when you were at Saint Anselm College and why?

A: At Dataminr, we developed a three-tiered threshold (Alert, Urgent and Flash) for our real-time notifications. Whenever I trained analysts on how to rank and prioritize these warning signals, as a parallel example, I would often explain to them the tactical, operational and strategic planning model from my War and Revolution class. Although not a perfect analogy, many new hires shared positive feedback that this helped them more easily understand our prioritization system.

Dubrulle Reviews 1917

Back in November, in the introduction to a review of Midway, One Thing after Another claimed it it was breaking “new ground” because it usually did “not review movies.” And yet, here we are again, reviewing another movie. In this blog’s defense, all we can say is that we look for material wherever we can. It so turned out that last Friday night, Professor Hugh Dubrulle was invited by some friends to see 1917, and he accepted with alacrity, thinking he could leverage some entertainment and good times into another post. What follows are his thoughts on the film.

Truth be told, due to the many trailers I saw on social media, I’d anxiously awaited the release of 1917 for months. I must admit, though, that this feeling of anticipation was mingled with ambivalence. The trailers suggested that the movie was beautifully filmed and suspenseful. The premise, however, seemed a bit difficult to swallow (“Deliver this message to your brother’s battalion, or they will all walk into trap, and 1600 men will die.”) Moreover, the trailers had a Dunkirk quality to them (i.e. the nightmarish images, the ticking clock, etc.), and while I rather liked that film, I didn’t want to see the same thing set in World War I. Of course, I understood that trailers do not always accurately represent a movie, so, in that respect, I hoped that 1917 would be better than advertised.

To summarize, 1917 is an uneven film with many strengths and several flaws. Perhaps the biggest problem is that parts of the plot seems contrived. The movie takes place in northern France on April 6-7, 1917 toward the end of the German army’s retreat to the Hindenburg Line. Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) is told by his sergeant to choose somebody for an unspecified task. He taps his friend, Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay). The two are taken to General Erinmore (Colin Firth) who tells them to deliver orders to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) that will call off the attack of the 2nd Devons (2nd battalion, Devonshire Regiment). The Devons, who have advanced deep into the area abandoned by the Germans, are about to attack a newly fortified enemy position which, unbeknownst to them, is much stronger than they think. How the Devons advanced alone and unsupported so far ahead of the main body of the British army is never explained. Why Colonel Mackenzie thinks he can launch an attack with only two measly battalions against any kind of position (without reconnaissance) also remains a mystery. In 1917, as it pursued the retreating Germans, the real British army, habituated to the trench warfare of the previous two-and-a-half years, was cautious to a fault, so this storyline seems difficult to believe. Since I don’t want to pick nits of this sort throughout the review or unveil spoilers, I’ll stop there, but the film is punctuated by a series of similarly unlikely events. Undoubtedly, war is characterized by absurdity, confusion, and chance occurrences, but these events sometimes make it difficult for the viewer to suspend disbelief.

One can partially defend the plot by pointing out that in many ways, this movie is not about World War I in the way that, say, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) was. (Although Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, on which that film was based, was not exclusively about World War I; it was framed as a brutal bildungsroman). Rather, 1917 is a quest story set during the war. Think here about The Odyssey, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and The Lord of the Rings. Blake and Schofield’s quest consists of a short but difficult and eventful journey to save Blake’s brother and the lives of the 2nd Devons. Quests are often allegorical, and in thinking about the unlikely plot turns, one must not lose sight of that fact.

A strength of the movie is the cinematography which is often effective without drawing attention to itself. Everybody and his uncle have made much ado about what appears to be one continuous take, something that forges an intimacy between the viewer and the characters. But aside from this technique, it’s obvious that Roger Deakins, the cinematographer, took great pains to convey powerful impressions of very different landscapes. As Blake and Schofield start on their quest, the audience witnesses the muck, the crowds, and claustrophobia of the trenches followed by the decay, desolation, and strangely awesome isolation of no man’s land. The vivid green fields beyond the battle-scarred landscape provide a sort of visual relief. Only when the story reaches the desolate village of Écoust-St.-Mein does the filming become a little too self-conscious by fabricating a rapidly dancing chiaroscuro through the use of flares at night. But still, a number of the scenes that Deakins creates are reminiscent of Dunkirk in that they effectively bring to mind nightmares or frustration dreams.

The acting is generally strong. Chapman and especially Mackay, who are compelled by the plot to carry the film, both deliver excellent performances. Mackay, in particular, makes an impression that is all the more powerful for its restraint. That power is especially on view in a scene where a truck Schofield is riding in gets stuck in the mud. He urges the other soldiers traveling with him—all strangers from another unit—to help him push it forward. The audience knows what he knows: time is wasting. His body language and the tone of his voice capture an earnestness and urgency that have reached the cusp of despair; his fellow soldiers respond to his pleas and having learned of his mission, look at him with a newfound respect. When compared to the scenery-chewing and overacting that characterize Midway (the other major war movie of this year), 1917 proves that less is oftentimes more.

That being said, the movie could have provided Chapman and Mackay with more opportunities to develop their characters. Towards the beginning of their quest, tension between Blake and Schofield suddenly breaks out into the open; after almost getting killed, the latter pointedly asks why he should risk his life on this journey to save the former’s brother. Schofield, who might as well have asked Providence the following, continues his questioning by demanding to know why Blake chose him for this task (to which Blake can only stammer that he did not know what the mission was at the time he picked Schofield). Schofield’s questions are important, existential, and universal. Why should we sacrifice ourselves for others? How are any of us chosen for our missions? These issues assume a substantial, if not sufficiently large, place in Saving Private Ryan. But in 1917, this flare-up between the two men is just that—a flare-up. We hear no more about this matter that so exercises Schofield in this scene and provides a window into the characters of both soldiers. Through his subsequent actions, we learn that Schofield has decisively answered his own question. And while his answer is beautiful, it is wrought by some strange events.

Indeed, the why and the how of this answer is what simultaneously gives the movie its dramatic force while undermining that force. It is painful to write in oblique terms about an issue of such significance to the film, but I cannot say more for fear of spoiling the movie. 1917 is a strong and striking work but not a perfect one. When all is said and done, elements of the plot (particularly the contrived parts) have difficulty sustaining the power of the film. A number of scenes in 1917 are moving, but the conclusion feels incomplete, and not just because the quest only half succeeds.

Latinx History and Literature Students Explore Latinx NYC

During the last weekend in September, members of SP374/HI150/HU300—a team-taught interdisciplinary course on Latinx History and Literature taught primarily in Spanish—immersed themselves in the art, culture and history of Latino communities in NYC. Piling into a van at 5:00 am on Saturday morning, the first big stop was El Museo del Barrio, New York’s leading Latino cultural institution. Students viewed artwork from the Taino culture that preceded Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World and modern pieces that challenged current perceptions of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos in NYC. Each student had a favorite, including senior Josephine Roy, a Biology and Spanish double major. She spent a full 30 minutes watching and listening to a video in which two Latina indigenas (persons of Native American descent) created a social experiment that played on the space between the public’s fascination with “uncontacted peoples” in Latin America but lack of knowledge of Latino culture in the U.S.

The group then met New York city artist Adrián Viajero Román, who creates immersive installation environments. We explored a recreation of his grandmother’s house from Puerto Rico, which was destroyed in Hurricane Maria, but which continued to exist in memories, salvaged and treasured furnishings, and protests of discriminatory treatment of the island’s residents, who are U.S. citizens.

We were lucky to be joined by Latino community builder and media promoter George Torres who gave us a four-hour tour of key parts of the Latino community in New York City. From the history of street murals and graffiti to the economic obstacles to generational wealth accumulation, Mr. Torres used personal history and humor to help us all see parts of NYC hidden from the casual visitor. As senior Abby Mitchell, a Sociology major and Spanish minor from West Hartford, Connecticut put it, “I have been to NYC many times with my family, but in one day George showed me how much more there is—and how much pride and energy many Latinos have invested in these less-seen parts of the city.”

Sophomore English and Secondary Education major and Spanish minor Cam McIntire was particularly struck by our visit to the Bronx to see Amaurys Grullon, founder of Bronx Native and recent recipient of the Bronx Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Leadership Award. Mr. Grullon and his colleagues were preparing a party for Jharrel Jerome, the first Dominican American to win an Emmy for this role in Netflix’s When They See Us. Yet he took the time to explain to us his entrepreneurial approach to building respect for a borough that has historically been excluded and perceived as violent (with highways built to direct traffic away and trap residents within). Celebrating the rappers, politicians, and artists that have risen from the Bronx, Bronx Native seeks to curate art, make records, film videos, produce products, and build connections that promote Bronx pride and showcase Bronx successes. As Cam noted, “Bronx Native is both a store and movement that seeks to unite the people of the Bronx.  The owner and artist seeks ways to help the community build confidence in its identity, to know and understand its heritage and to have faith in its own culture.”

The Pregones festival was next, a series of performers highlighting all aspects of the Latino experience in NYC. Poet Rob Vassilarakis spoke about being gay and Latino in NYC, a theme of intersectionality or multiple identities that has come up often in class. LaBruja or Caridad de la Luz made clear that while her Latina momma expected her to sing Latino folk songs, this Latina rapped—and how!  Power Malu spoke about how the Freddy Gray shooting was originally an environmental tragedy, as lead in the soil of Freddy Gray’s neighborhood had robbed him of intellectual capacity long before police officers robbed him of his life. Power Malu emphasized the need for more urban Latinos to get involved in environmental awareness. Meghan Wilson, a senior Spanish and Sociology major with an Education minor, was particularly struck by a poet who told her personal story of struggle growing up Afro-Latino and feeling excluded in white, black and Latino culture: “We’ve learned about the history of discrimination and the challenges faced by Latinos, so it was inspiring to hear from a person who is living that reality today, but fighting and taking pride in her heritage, her identity, and her skin color.” Sophomore Valeria Mendoza felt that experiencing the Pregones festival was the best part of the trip because it provided such a diverse set of Latino points of view. She noted, “In class we see primarily the big picture, but here it was smaller with more specific and personal experiences. We could see what is similar or different across experiences and groups and hear people’s feelings.”

Kudos to the students for amazing energy (and Professor Jaime Orrego for organizing, and then handling a very long day of NYC driving and parking!). After this packed day, we trekked to the hotel, had an amazing pan-Latino dinner, and checked out the East River waterfront across which we could see the Empire State Building in lower Manhattan. Professor Orrego and a group of students even took an Uber to Times Square to see the bustling, hustling city on a Saturday night!

The next day, after sleeping “late” (breakfast at 9:30 was early for some students), we headed back into Manhattan for one last stop—the 9/11 memorial and a street food festival. Full of Bolivian salteñas (empanadas) y salchipapas (french fries with cilantro and pork), we finally headed back on the long drive to campus. Senior Josephine Roy summed up the experience well:  “When I enrolled in this class I thought we would be studying the past.  Now I understand we are studying the present, since people are still living with the impacts of the past today.”

For more information on the locations, activists, and artists mentioned in this piece, see , , , , , ,

Or if you are an Instagram user, you can check out @viajero, @thebronxnative, @powermalu, @labrujanyc, @simply_rob_vassilarakis, @pregonesprtt and @urbanjibaro.

History Majors Present at Phi Alpha Theta Conference

On Saturday, November 23, three Saint Anselm College students joined 41 other history majors from 15 New England colleges and universities at Salem State University to present their research at the Phi Alpha Theta New England Regional Conference.  One Thing After Another caught up with Maria Gregor, Dena Miller, and Nicholas Meissner to ask them about the experience.

Maria Gregor ’21

Q: What was your presentation about?

A: I presented my research seminar thesis which argues that Renaissance courtesans were early feminists who have been omitted from the feminist narrative. The poetry of the likes of renowned Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco are not only left out of the narrative of Renaissance history, but from the history of feminist writings. I believe that this omission indicates that courtesan women were excluded from academia and the category of feminist literature due to scholars’ disproportionate fixation on their sex work rather than their scholarly achievements.

Q: What was it like to present your research at an academic conference? 

A: I greatly enjoyed presenting at Phi Alpha Theta, and it was interesting to hear the research topics inside and outside of my own panel. My panelwas focused on gender and race in Early Modern Europe, and all of the topics presented during this segment were linked by rampant negative assumptions about specific groups of people [Spanish colonists, women, courtesans]. Talking with other students outside of my own college gave me the opportunity to gain additional perspectives on my research and re-evaluate the most effective aspects of my thesis.

Dena Miller ’20

Q: On what did you present?

A: I presented my senior thesis, “Mary of Hungary and the Political Manipulation of Gendered Assumptions.”

Q: What did you think of the conference? 

A: Initially, the idea of presenting my research at a conference was intimidating but once the program began, I didn’t feel that way anymore. Instead, it was interesting. It was cool to hear from other undergraduate students about their research. There was a supportive atmosphere because we all knew what it took to produce research papers of this sort. When I got up to give my presentation, I didn’t feel like I was being judged, as I was afraid I was going to be. I don’t know if I would do it again, but I do value the experience of presenting and showing off what I have worked so hard on.

Nick Meissner ’20

Q: What was the topic of your presentation?

A: I presented my history thesis on the involvement of the United States in the Guatemalan Civil War between 1965 and 1968. During these years, officials in the State Department, Office of Public Safety (a bureau to the USAID), and the CIA-trained the Guatemalan police and military in counterinsurgency warfare. The result was state-sanctioned terrorism with right-wing death squads, indiscriminate violence committed by government forces in the countryside, and selective violence practiced by the police via an efficient archive system.

What was it like to share your research at an academic conference?

I found it very engaging to share the results of my research with other history students from different colleges and universities. It was personally intriguing to be placed in a discussion group whose members presented theses with similar stories of American political and/or economic imperialism in the post-war world (i.e. Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Cuba before 1959). We were all able to connect our arguments into a larger historical trend of foreign interventionism abroad during the Cold War.

Barrett Teaches English in China

Nick Barrett ’19 was a History and Economics double-major at Saint Anselm College whose senior thesis in the History Department’s research seminar was about the impact of World War II on the Maine lobster industry. Barrett is now about as far away from Maine as one can be—he’s been teaching English in Shenzhen, China, since late August. One Thing after Another was intrigued by Barrett’s story, so this blog decided to ask him some question about his unusual experiences.

Q: What grade level of students do you teach English to? What level of language proficiency would you say your students leave your class with?

A: I teach 7th and 8th grade Oral English. I see each class once every two weeks, and I teach 12 classes a week. Each class has roughly 50 students. In total, I teach 1200 students. The level of English in every class varies greatly from student to student, and so I am working on making sure that students can recognize certain conversational English words. I make sure that students use their English in class, and I speak no Chinese, so I only use English during the class. Ideally, my students understand what I am saying to them and are able to respond correctly and coherently.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

A: The sheer number of students I have is fairly daunting. Luckily, I do not have to give homework, quizzes, or exams, but because I have 1200 students, I have a hard time developing a relationship with them. I am a novelty to them, and they all enthusiastically yell “Hello!” as I walk by, but I cannot even begin to learn all of their names and understand the best way to handle each individual student. It’s hard to see progress in your students when you teach this way, so I do feel a little frustrated. My Chinese teachers claim my students are making progress, and that talking with me does allow them to become more proficient in their spoken English — a skill that is becoming more and more important in China.

Q: Why did you want to teach in China, and when did you make the decision? Would you want to teach anywhere else or teach any other subject?

A: China was really my best offer. I did not explore the ESL market much, and I have learned that the traditionally large ESL markets such as South Korea, Japan, and the Czech Republic are becoming saturated; job security and wages are precarious. Countries such as China and Vietnam are becoming more popular for ESL teachers because of increased opportunities and wages. I also welcomed the opportunity to work in China, as it is the second largest economy in the world and a basic understanding of the culture and Mandarin would not hurt future employment opportunities.

Q: How did you become an English teacher in China? What qualifications were required?

A: The process was fairly simple. I signed a contract with SeaDragon Education in March 2019. I then had to complete an online TEFL course to become certified in teaching ESL in a foreign country.  After that, I had a few hoops to jump through to get a working visa, but my company aided me with the whole process. SeaDragon Education also found me a school to work in (they facilitate the placement and payment of foreign teachers throughout Shenzhen) well before I got there—which is not always the case for foreign teachers. When I got to China in the last week of August, I quickly found an apartment, had some basic teacher training, met with my school, and taught my first class the following week.

Q: Are there any interesting stories pertaining to your classes or your life in China that you would be willing to share?

A: One of the more interesting parts about my life here is how international my friends  are. I have friends from all over the globe, all of whom are ex-pats and foreign teachers. The community of foreign teachers is large and allows us all to support each other because we are all, well, foreign.  Some of the normal conveniences we enjoy at home are not available here here, and being able to hop on WeChat (the Chinese messenger app) and send a message to a huge group of teachers and instantly receive feedback is incredibly helpful. You can find answers to questions ranging from simple things like how to use a certain delivery service to something as complex as what hospital to go to in case of an emergency. I also have many Chinese friends whom I have met at school. They speak very little English, but we play in a teacher’s basketball league together so I have become fairly close with the teachers who play. They, too, are a great resource if I ever have any questions about how to get by.

Q: Why did you decide to become a history major? How has this helped prepare you for your current vocation?

A: I had 8 credits from my AP history courses when I came to Saint A’s, and I have always enjoyed History, but I also knew I wanted major in Economics.  Instead of choosing between the two, I decided to do both.  And it didn’t hurt that the History and Economics & Business departments are in the same building. I also wanted to be sure I knew how to analyze and present information effectively which is a major part of my job here. I explain concepts to students who do not speak the same language as I do, so I have to research creative ways to explain the concepts and then implement them effectively in the classroom. I also do a decent amount of writing with lesson planning, so the basic skills I learned in history classes really help me with writing my lesson plans. I also believe that being a History major in a foreign country is a huge advantage, since learning about new cultures and what drives them was already a major part of my education. You appreciate the culture more if you know the history of it. Living abroad, I get to experience a new culture up close and personal, not through explanations in textbook or a monograph.

Q: What do you plan to do afterwards?

A: I have no plans.  I have the option to renew my contract here after the current school year, but I have not thought that far ahead yet.

Dubrulle Reviews Midway

One Thing after Another does not review movies although it has at times participated in historical disputes about films and other visual media (including commercials). Today, the blog breaks new ground by presenting something that resembles a review. Only a couple of days ago, against his better judgment, Professor Hugh Dubrulle was convinced by Professor Phil Pajakowski to attend a showing of Midway. Having expended the time and effort to see the film, Professor Dubrulle thought he ought to parlay his hard-won experience into a review that might both educate and entertain.

It’s hard to make an analogy between Midway and other war films because nothing quite fits. Film reviewers are, surprisingly, not much help. They have described Midway as “traditional” and “retro,” but these are vague phrases. Others, with a greater appearance of precision, have claimed that the film looks like a video game, World War II propaganda with 2019 CGI, or Pearl Harbor II. All these claims, however, seem like glib shorthand generated by necessarily prolific writers seeking to meet yet another deadline. Have these reviewers actually watched World War II propaganda?

To use a label produced by Jeanine Basinger in The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre (2003), Midway looks most like an “epic re-creation of historical events.” Basinger uses this phrase to describe “large-scale epic combat films” that devote “attention to minute detail,” document real events as well as the doings of real people, and make the war “a legendary story—fully distanced and mythic—suitable to be one of our national stories for all time.” Such films include The Longest Day (1962), Battle of the Bulge (1965), Battle of Britain (1969), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), and, of course, the original Midway (1976).[i] Yet the fit is not exact. As we shall see, there is something about our Midway that is not quite so serious and didactic as these docudramas.

Moreover, in epic re-creation films, the point of view is usually omniscient. Midway, on the other hand, focuses on a handful of characters while aiming for omniscience at the same time. It’s not hard to see why. Audiences need to feel connected to a small number of individual characters, but the omniscience also allows theater-goers to make sense of the grand narrative. Unfortunately, the effect is disorienting and asks more of the movie than it can deliver. Most of the time, Dick Best (played by Ed Skrein) and Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) are at the center of the action, and that makes sense. Through Best, a dive bomber pilot, we witness the sharp end of war, while Layton, an intelligence officer, allows us to see the big picture (although it does feel odd to survey the action from such divergent points of view).  These two characters, however, cannot survey everything, so from time to time, the audience ends up in a wild variety of places that are related to the main protagonists in the most tangential way (e.g. China, where Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle tramps about after crashing his plane there). Traveling across the length and breadth of the Pacific to cover a series of events between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway takes a great deal of time which means that the grand narrative is a bit sketchy and a little disjointed. After Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington famously observed:

The history of a battle is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.

And that seems to be a difficult problem for Midway to resolve, especially since the film is not concerned with merely one battle.

As the foregoing suggests, the screenplay is the great weakness of this film. Because Midway spends so much time jumping from place to place, there is not much time for character development—although the film doesn’t seem to be terribly interested in doing much along those lines anyway. Ed Skrein plays the swaggering, gung-ho fly-boy who is always engaged in harum-scarum antics. The only way in which he doesn’t conform to type is that he is not a fighter pilot—instead, he flies dive-bombers. The film seeks to present him as a cocky but highly capable pilot—a sort of prototype for the guys who became astronauts in The Right Stuff. Partly because of the screenplay and partly because of his acting, Skrein comes off as an unlikable, immature jerk. And his accent is atrocious. Skrein is originally from London, so somebody had to teach him how to speak American English. The result sounds like a strange cross between a Mississippi drawl, New York diction, and somebody being strangled. As for Patrick Wilson’s character, one of the few things we learn about him is that he works too much. How do we know? Because people keep telling him that he works too much. Especially his wife. Every character he knows makes the comment so frequently that I kept thinking it was some kind of foreshadowing. Would he have a heart attack? Would his wife leave him? This character’s only other outstanding trait is his regret that he did not assert his opinion more forcefully with his superiors before the Pearl Harbor attack; had he done so, perhaps the Americans would have been better prepared to thwart the Japanese assault.  That’s about it, aside from his propensity to utter portentous statements—or banal statements that sound portentous.

Everybody in this film is a tough guy. You have cocky young tough guys (Skrein). You have intellectual tough guys (Wilson). You have crusty old tough guys (Dennis Quaid playing Bull Halsey). You have wise old tough guys (Woody Harrelson who seems a strange pick to play Chester Nimitz). You have cocky young New York tough guys (Nick Jonas as Burno Gaido). And so on and so forth. Nobody, of course, is as tough as the Japanese (but more about that anon). Many of these tough guys do not get on with one another. Skrein’s character has a beef with Wade McClusky, the air group commander on his carrier (Luke Evans), and Eugene Lindsey, the leader of a torpedo bomber squadron (Darren Criss). This beef provides opportunities for much posturing, but fortunately for the United States, once the fighting gets serious, these tough guys all pull together to win the battle. No doubt all of these guys were tough, and the navy was a masculine world during this period, but the problem is that these characters all speak with the same voice.

Two characters don’t quite fit this general pattern, and they play only minor roles: the master codebreaker, Joseph Rochefort (Brennan Brown), and a young replacement pilot in Best’s squadron, Edwin Kroeger (James Hicks). Since he is a genius, Rochefort is, of course, eccentric, which means he is allowed to pad around in a bathrobe and slippers in his office while sneaking nips of whiskey from a flask concealed in a file cabinet. He also wears a perpetually fearful expression and an unhealthy, sweaty pallor. His look reminded me a little of Buster Keaton. As for Kroeger, the audience knows he is doomed the second he shows his sad baby face. At the end of a briefing, Kroeger approaches Best and stammers that he’s lost his confidence. Best initially tells Kroeger to suck it up but thinks the better of it and takes on Kroeger as a wingman in an attempt to help him. No matter; in the next scene, Kroeger crashes on takeoff, and the carrier runs over his plane. There is no mercy for the weak. Kroeger’s sole purpose in the movie consists of giving Best a brief pause to reflect on his leadership (and show his soft side to his wife) before he can resume his role as tough guy.

The portrayal of the Japanese is also clichéd. They are, of course, tough, but in a much more reserved way. A number of film critics have described the treatment of the Japanese in this film as respectful and even-handed, but one can’t help feel that there are some old stereotypes at work that insist on drawing them as a formal and restrained people. It’s hard to complain about these stereotypes when no disrespect is intended and the Americans are so thoroughly stereotyped themselves. Whatever the case, Midway depicts them as honorable and worthy adversaries which makes the American feat of sinking four Japanese carriers at Midway appear all the more impressive. Marshal Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (played by Etsushi Toyokawa) conforms to traditional portrayals of this leader. He is even-tempered and sagelike—a kind of Buddha in admiral’s clothes. Of course, had Yamamoto been as wise as the tradition portrays him, his Midway campaign might not have ended in fiasco. But Yamamoto is wise, so we get to hear him tell his wife the famous line with which his name is indelible associated—“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”—even though there is no evidence that Yamamoto ever said such a thing in his life. I must admit that it was hard to dislike the Japanese; after all the posturing on the American side, the Japanese affect seemed like a breath of fresh air. And the Japanese are funny (if only inadvertently). Occasionally, they give the Americans backhanded compliments during the action scenes: “The Americans are brave; lucky for us their planes are obsolete.” Such comments strangely reminded me of the kind of backhanded compliments I make about opposing teams during my son’s high school soccer games: “They’re creating a lot of chances; lucky for us they don’t know how to finish.” And the Japanese method of holding oneself to account, though also conforming to an old stereotype, felt refreshing—especially in this day and age when CEOs and politicians take “full responsibility” for some terrible mistake by traipsing off with a colossal severance package or, better yet, a cushy position somewhere else. Towards the end of the film, as the Hiryu (the fourth Japanese carrier destroyed by the Americans) is consumed by flames, Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi (Tadanobu Asano) informs his officers that the defeat was not the fault of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s sailors. Instead, the sailors had been failed by their leaders. As one of those leaders, Yamaguchi insists on going down with the ship. Now that’s taking “full responsibility.”

And yet the portrayal of the Japanese as worthy adversaries goes a bit far when a dedication appears at the end of the film that pays tribute to the American and Japanese sailors who fought at Midway. This exercise in broadmindedness seems a bit pious for a cartoonish film like Midway. More important, this dedication appears to forget that the Japanese served an extremely violent, unpleasant, and militaristic regime. For sure, the United States was also an imperial power that sought to uphold the colonial status quota in Asia. Yet anybody familiar with the character of Japanese imperialism during World War II ought to feel a bit queasy about paying tribute to the Imperial Japanese Navy.

There are other annoyances in this film. One of my pet peeves is when historical films have characters say things for the sake of providing context to the audience. This type of thing occurs throughout Midway. At one point (could it have been after the Battle of Coral Sea?), I think Bull Halsey turns to one of his officers and says, “One of our carrier’s been sunk. Now we only have three in the Pacific!” This exclamation is purely for the audience’s benefit; all of Halsey’s officers would have known how many American carriers were arrayed against the Japanese. In another case, Layton takes Nimitz on a tour of the codebreakers’ offices to explain how the intelligence system works. Again, this scene is for the audience’s benefit; it’s hard to imagine that Nimitz didn’t understand how intelligence was collected. Such scenes are often necessary for historical films, but in Midway, they seem a bit unsubtle and ham-fisted.

Finally, there are all the little things that rivet-counters will object to. The dive time of the SBD Dauntless takes far too long in the film; the Dauntless is portrayed as far too maneuverable; the rear gunners on these Dauntlesses shoot down far too many Zeroes; the Dauntlesses dive too close together throughout their runs; the TBD Devastator could not carry a torpedo and bombs at the same time; there was no way that Best or anybody could have made a Dauntless use a hammerhead stall to evade Japanese fighter planes; and so on and so forth.

Yes, there is much in Midway that is exasperating. But it is hard to hate the film. It is certainly not as bad as Pearl Harbor (2001). I remember being so bored during Pearl Harbor that when the USS Arizona finally blew up after what seemed like an hour and forty minutes into the film, I just didn’t care anymore. Midway is shorter and punchier. It isn’t saddled with a dreadfully tedious love triangle the way Pearl Harbor was. The fact that it is a bit cartoonish seems to indicate that it doesn’t take itself quite as seriously as Pearl Harbor either. And that somehow makes it much less insulting. It is a mediocre action-adventure film masquerading as an ““epic re-creation of historical events.” I get the feeling that it almost winks from time to time that the history lesson is a cover for some good fun.

Maybe the action scenes are not perfect. They do remind me a bit of video games. They also resemble the attacks on the Death Star in Star Wars. Did George Lucas draw inspiration from old World War II movies with aerial combat? Do World War II films nowadays draw inspiration from Star Wars? It seems we have completed a loop. Whatever the case, how often do you see SBD Dauntless dive bombers on the big screen attacking a big Japanese flattop? That is a novel experience indeed.

Strictly speaking, the dive-bombing scenes are inaccurate. Yet they still represent an important truth in dramatized fashion. One clearly senses the thrill-terror of flying a clattering plane in a near-vertical dive while attempting to guide a bomb onto the deck of an enemy aircraft carrier that is throwing up a rich but deadly black storm of anti-aircraft fire. A sensitive, imaginative, and empathetic viewer who sees through all the pyrotechnics of Midway may just catch a glimpse of the serious question that occurs to Rear Admiral George Tarrant (Frederic March) at the end of the The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954):

Where do we get such men? They leave this ship and they do their job. Then they must find this speck lost somewhere in the sea. When they find it they have to land on its pitching deck. Where do we get such men?

Although smaller-scaled than Midway, The Bridges at Toko-Ri (which takes place on an aircraft carrier during the Korean War) is a far superior film. An adult screenplay and better acting both contribute to that superiority. Together, they produce the haunting and dark spirit that characterize the movie. I can think of no better way to describe it than by referring to the way John Keegan depicted a passage from Michael Howard’s The Franco-Prussian War: “neo-Classical, severe in mood, somber in tone, his subjects frozen in the attitudes of tragedy in which fate, deaf to appeals of compassion, has consigned them.”[ii] The problem with Midway is that an action film masquerading as an “epic re-creation of historical events” cannot clearly render the darkness of the Pacific war. That darkness is apparently not suited for “a legendary story—fully distanced and mythic—suitable to be one of our national stories for all time.”

[i] Jeanine Basinger, The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003), 170-171.

[ii] John Keegan, The Face of Battle (New York: The Viking Press, 1976), 44.

Gregor Interns at the Kennebec Historical Society

Last summer, Maria Gregor ’21 obtained an internship with the Kennebec Historical Society in Augusta, ME. One Thing after Another was intrigued and asked Maria to discuss her experiences.

Q: What inspired you to go to work for the Kennebec Historical Society? How did you end up in the position?

A: When I grew up in Augusta, Maine, the Kennebec Historical Society (KHS) was always an integral part of the community. I remember distinctly that when I was a child, its members and staff were constantly organizing public events and trying to generate community interest in the rich histories of Kennebec County and the general Augusta area. My grandfather has been a member of the society after moving to Maine many years ago, and he regularly attends programs that they hold. These include talks on a wide variety of New England topics and more specific discussions about local history. He suggested that I might apply there, as he understood how invested I am in history and its preservation for future generations. I applied for the position in the early spring of my sophomore year of college and interviewed for the job in early May. I was the last candidate to be interviewed, which meant that I started working almost immediately after I was hired. I met with the archival staff as well as the director and president of the establishment during the interview process, and they thought I was a good fit for their team!

Q: What sort of tasks were you assigned as an archival intern? Which of these was your favorite? Was there anything that was particularly challenging?

A: As an archival intern, I performed a wide variety of tasks that were important to the advancement of the organization. Much of my work had to do with the organization of books and documents in the Kennebec Historical Society Collection. Unfortunately, because so many years have elapsed since certain items were brought in, it was very difficult to figure out what to do with them or how to categorize them. One of my jobs was to completely take apart and reconstruct the entire Annex Library, book by book, which could get quite tedious. I then had to enter each item into the database individually. However, it was well worth it when the final shelf list was solidified and everything was finally findable. The rest of my work was mostly centered around document preservation and transcription. These tasks required a wealth of information (and manuals) which enabled me to place documents in the collection by appropriate time period and preserve them. This was some of my favorite work. There is nothing quite like the feeling of having saved an important piece of information from decay.

Q: What variety of skills would you say that you developed or refined during your time with KHS? Would you say that this internship helped you towards your career goals?

A: During my time at the KHS, I discovered a number of things about the documents that we so often read as primary sources during our time as history majors. I often think that we take the preservation of such documents for granted. I learned how to properly preserve documents in melinex and file them away as well as how to catalogue new items and books. This position also fine-tuned my skills as a team leader, negotiator, and critical thinker. Most of the new skills I gained were learned on the fly, and without careful thought and a willingness to work with my fellow intern, I would have been entirely lost. Once I learned these new tasks, I was then able to become a leader and work more closely with the head archivist. Despite the fact that I have decided to pursue law in the future, this internship opportunity gave me a chance to engage in an aspect of my major that I never would have investigated otherwise. I learned a great number of valuable skills in terms of working with people who might have a different work ethic than myself, and I also got to experience the collection of New England history behind the scenes.

Q: Are there any particularly interesting stories from your work, or any historical facts that you uncovered over the summer that you would be willing to share?

A: A particularly interesting story from my time at the KHS is one related to the house I currently live in. When my family moved to Maine, my father received a plaque from KHS stating that our house was historical and listing the original owners of the house. During my time as an intern, I asked about my house and searched the existing database for items linked to the property. There, I discovered a letter addressed to a descendant of the original owner and was able to transcribe it and scan it into the digital collection. It was fascinating to glimpse the life of someone who lived in my house centuries before I did!

Q: Why did you decide to declare a history major?

A: When I came into Saint Anselm College as a history major, I initially wanted to become a professor. Today, the idea of making a difference in law appeals more to me. History is a versatile major, though, and it promotes a variety of skills that can be useful in any number of areas. No matter what career I choose, I know that a history degree will strengthen my ability to do research, writing, and critical analysis. It is a major for those who are curious about the world and want to be immersed in it.

Moore and Small Study the Relationship between Guns and Evangelicals

Last academic year, Professor Andy Moore obtained a summer research grant from Saint Anselm College’s Center for Ethics in Business and Governance. Moore used part of the grant to pay History major William Small ‘22 a stipend to serve as a research assistant. One Thing after Another asked them about the project on which they worked together.

The blog first asked Professor Moore some questions.

Q: Please tell us about your research topic.

A: Within the past couple of years, I started to notice a public and very distinctive relationship between Protestant evangelicals and the gun rights movement. This project explores that relationship both historically and in its current state. So in a sense, I am exploring the 21st-century culture wars and the nature of the conservative movement now. If we created a Venn diagram of the people I will be studying, there would be considerable overlap between Protestant evangelicals and gun rights supporters. Both groups are politically conservative, both tend to come from rural areas or the South, and both supported Donald Trump by overwhelming majorities in 2016. Beyond simply acknowledging the overlap, however, I hope to tease out some of the theological underpinnings of these evangelicals’ connection to guns and the Second Amendment.

Q: How did a historian come to work with the Center for Ethics in Business and Governance?

A: I have been developing a new course called “Guns in America” that I am teaching for the first time this fall. As part of my interest in guns, I started to notice these examples of Protestant evangelicals closely aligning themselves with gun rights, the National Rifle Association, and defending the Second Amendment. I started to collect news accounts and other sources about this trend, thinking I might come back to it at some point after I finished other projects that I have been working on for a long time.

When the Center for Ethics in Business and Governance (CEBG) announced its summer research grant, I started thinking about the ethical questions inherent in this topic. Because I think this could be a great opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary conversation with another discipline, I reconsidered the project in light of the CEBG’s mission. A good friend who is an ethicist critiqued my original proposal for me, so even in writing the proposal I have engaged in interdisciplinary conversation.

For me, one aspect of the grant that made it attractive was the opportunity to work with a student researcher. Will Small agreed to work with me this summer to track down and analyze sources. Last year, Will had helped me locate primary sources to use in my new course, “Guns in America,” so this gave the chance for us to continue that research and take it in a different direction.

Q: What types of sources were available for this project?

A: Will found a lot of online sources that were relevant. Those include news stories from both Christian and secular publications, as well as blog entries and discussion forums by activists on both sides and by people who have given this issue some theological thought. Also, I visited the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, Tennessee. The Southern Baptists are the largest evangelical denomination, and they have leadership that has been increasingly political the past 40 years. There I found official church publications and letters from lay Southern Baptists from all over the country about gun rights and gun control. About 20 years ago, there was a mass church shooting at a Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas. I found some information about that shooting and its aftermath.

Q: Given the controversial nature of gun rights in the United States, have you envisioned opening up the discussion of them to Saint Anselm students in any way? If so, how?

A: I hope so. The research grant requires a public presentation of the research. I hope that proves to be an opportunity to engage with students—or anyone with an interest in guns and gun-related issue—in a fruitful dialogue about a controversial topic.

 Q: Besides the public presentation, what are the goals of this research?

A: I hope that an academic journal article will be the ultimate product of this research. By the end of the year, I expect Will and I to have a serviceable article manuscript that we can begin to shop around to potential journals for feedback and eventual publication.

Next, One Thing after Another turned to Will Small for some questions.

Q: What was your experience doing research over the summer? What skills did you develop? 

 A: I was allotted approximately 125 hours of work over the summer, so I decided to schedule this number out to encompass the entire season rather than front or back-load it all. I ended up with a routine that involved working two hours a day every week, minus weekends. Towards August, though, I began to work three hours every other day, including weekends, as I felt that it fit my schedule better. I found, as probably is to be expected, that digging up new materials on the topic was more engaging than taking detailed notes on what I had already found. Throughout the project, I was able to develop efficient methods of online research and further my knowledge use of the college’s databases. I was also able to put some analytical thought into action in attempting to figure out how all of these pieces of research fit into the larger narrative of American or evangelical history or culture.

 Q: Did anything surprise you during this research?

A: As Professor Moore mentioned, the majority of my research involved finding and taking notes on newspapers or other editorial articles that expressed a Christian perspective on gun rights. Surprisingly, much of what I found from evangelical authors supported a more restricted view of gun rights, especially from the Reverend Robert Schenck, president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute and a faith consultant for many officials in Washington, D.C. In fact, according to an August 2017 survey by the National Association of Evangelicals (, although 58% of evangelical leaders live in a home with guns, 55% of them also support stricter gun laws. I was not expecting the sheer volume of pro-gun control (or gun safety, as some prefer to call it) evangelical writings. Additionally, in rifling through public forums, I was a little surprised to find how common concealed carrying in churches is in some places in America. Since I had never come across this phenomenon in my daily life or given it much thought, it was interesting to find a way that others in the country lived differently.

Gibb Reads Spain’s Early Modern History

As History major Nelson Gibb ’21 returns to campus, One Thing after Another decided to ask him about his experience learning paleography (that is, deciphering old handwriting) and transcribing sixteenth-century Spanish documents from the Archivo General de Simancas over the summer for Professor Perrone. Gibb obliged us in this thoughtful interview.

Q: How did you learn paleography?

A: I learned paleography both with the help of Professor Perrone and an online course that covered the basics of the subject. This course, through the website Coursera, highlighted basic steps one should take when presented with a document. It also gave a general overview of the history of medieval Spain which was the period these documents were from. Spending much time in Professor Perrone’s office going over every letter of every document as well as refining my skills throughout the entire summer has made me feel confident in the art of paleography.

Q: What were the challenges of transcribing sixteenth-century documents?

A: By far, the hardest thing about transcribing such documents was the penmanship of the various writers and scribes I was presented with. Each writer had a different writing style from the next, and getting used to each of them was certainly very hard. Another challenge was that these documents featured many abbreviations which could be dealt with only by keeping a list of all of their meanings. Very often I would come across a few letters or even just a symbol that the original scribe had written to avoid writing common words and place names too often; these all had to be memorized or written down. Obviously working 130 hours on this project as well was challenging, as sorting through so much data at times became tedious. Overall, however, I would not trade the experience, and I am very glad that I was able to help with this project.

Q: What did you find most interesting about the archival documents? Did anything surprise you?

A: What was most interesting to me was how thorough the scribes were about their discounting. These documents were filled with very specific amounts that certain monasteries had been discounted—as well as the very date that certain transactions had taken place. I was surprised by how important this information must have been to those who organized and received it. I also appreciated the occasional 500-year-old doodle on the sides of some pages done by the original scribes.

Q: What do you believe you gained from transcribing documents for a data base? What did you learn about Spanish history from using digital images of original sources?

A: I believe that by having the opportunity to transcribe these documents I have learned how to identify early modern Spanish abbreviations, better recognize long strings of Roman numerals, and apply myself for long hours at a time to a project with great significance. Obviously, the online course taught me a lot about the history of medieval and early modern Spain, but nothing could compare to the in-depth look that this paleography project gave me.

Q: How has this research contributed to your studies as a history major?

A: The medieval and early modern periods in Europe have always been very interesting to me, and this subject allowed me to fully invest myself in the day-to-day life of sixteenth-century scribes. There is something awe-inspiring about not only learning about this time period, but immersing oneself in it. The idea that these documents have not been transcribed by anybody before now is also very humbling. I feel that my knowledge of day-to-day affairs in early modern Spain has been deepened, and to look this closely at history is something that I had always hoped my college career would prepare me for. I will also be touring Spain with the Saint Anselm College Choir in the spring, and I look forward to gaining an even deeper understanding of the places and names that popped up often in the documents.

Q: What made you decide to be a history major?

A: I actually started my freshman year as theology major, but I always knew that the history of theology was what truly interested me more than anything else. Because of this, I tended to be more engaged in theology courses that discussed the history of the Hebrews or Christians, or of the church itself. With the help of many amazing history professors, I realized that I could combine history and theology by majoring in one and minoring in the other. Before I had officially switched majors, I took Origins of European Civilization with Professor Perrone and Asian Civilization with Professor Masur. These two classes confirmed that history was what I was truly passionate about, and I am grateful that I have been able to focus heavily on it as well as theology.