Reviewed: “Revising the Cold War” (November 6th, 2019), Hosted by the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest at Villanova University

(Photo by Katarina Andersen. Image shows the “Revising the Cold War” panel).

By Michelle Chan

Consider the Cold War, a conflict of global scale that depended on fears of uncertainty and prompted national scrambling to maintain and strengthen imperial control. The actions and ideologies of hegemonic powers during the Cold War are felt in the 21st century. Those who lived through the Cold War continue to go about their lives in the world dramatically changed by the era, and important historical questions are yet to be answered. How deep does the Cold War go into global citizens’ minds, actions, institutions, and states? The Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest hosted the 3rd installment of the Revisionist History series, “Revising the Cold War,” on Wednesday, November 6th, 2019. The panel discussion explored some of the core questions and ways people have breathed meaning and debate into the Cold War.

The guest speakers present were: Alex Wellerstein, Assistant Professor at Stevens Institute of Technology; Meredith Oyen, Associate Professor at the University of Maryland; and Manu Bhagavan, Professor of History at Hunter College. Commentary was given by Villanova’s own David M. Barrett, Professor of Political Science. Wellerstein delved into the psychological aspect of the Cold War, which weaponized fear and emphasized the nation’s demonstrations of “developmental” prowess and informational secrecy. Various nations were demonstrating their “developmental” status by exhibiting technological advancements, while advocating that their own ideology was superior and keeping governmental inner workings hidden. The panelist’s discussion broke the bilateral dynamic of United States versus the Soviet Union by moving beyond the narrative of the iconic battle between capitalist and communist ideals armed with world-shaking artillery of the modern era, which was merely a portion of the conflicts brought upon by the Cold War, as the conflict was global and legacies of the Cold War are felt internationally.

To start, Paul Steege, the faculty director of the Lepage Center and mediator of the night’s event, set the tone of the discussion, as the act of historians revisiting and revising topics is often accompanied with “…a whiff of the dangerous.” The Cold War is far from a case closed scenario regarding its historical influence, especially as scholars increasingly unveil valuable connections from the Cold War to better understand the modern era. What’s more, the tendency for the Cold War to be branded with a layer of tense theatrics to illustrate the era of multi-national anxiety gives further insight into the psychological front (as fear became a politicized spectacle) and ideologies of the Cold War. One of the best practices to address an era built on tension and uncertainty is to offer something concrete, namely find some solid ground to build the conversation. Steege, thus, began the conversation, asking, “Who won the Cold War?”

The speakers all emphasized the value of readdressing the concept of the Cold War itself, by first challenging the preconceptions assigned to the Cold War. Bhagavan addressed the question by describing the scope of affected landscapes to include India and other countries previously thought to be unrelated to the conflict. He challenges common perspectives about the Cold War, as he went beyond nation-states, and suggested scholars include all people in a “Cold War World.” Bhagavan, instead, made an argument about the purpose of conflict, stating “the winner is imperialism.” Afterward, Oyen suggested the usefulness of using the “Cold War” as a tool of analysis. While global, the Cold War has limitations and he argued “…they’re connected to it but not determined by it,” thereby changing the conflict from an entity to a lens. Addressing the looming presence of nuclear weapons in Cold War rhetoric, Wellerstein turned the focus from the material threat towards the conflict’s birth of proxy wars and resulting casualties despite the “cold” status.

The Cold War encompasses a wide range of historical, political, and intellectual complexities. For Oyen, flexing the broad terminology is a “refinement” that scholars should pursue. As connections continue to pop up, and add to the behemoth of Cold War forces, they prompt the question: how should historians redraw their methodological parameters? As global as Cold War discussions are, Bhagavan stressed “field specificity.” Each nation experienced the Cold War in a different way. Bhagavan, who specializes in Indian Cold War history, highlighted the shift India experienced from being unrelated to the Cold War to becoming a central part of the narrative. The change from ‘unrelated’ to ‘related’ status entailed historians regarding India as a new access point to paper trails. India became relevant due to the nation’s participation in violent discourse and was deeply affected by Cold War imperialist agendas.

Steege led the conversation into the realm of violence, beyond “imagined violence,” as exhibited in nation-states in Africa, Asia, and other areas that suffered casualties from Cold War forces. Nevertheless, Oyen offered advice – “Embrace the power of ‘and.’” Rather than adopting an “either-or” perspective, the word “and” connects the interplay between the nations as effected by both Cold War activities and imperialist endeavors. The effects that led to violence were widespread and interconnected. Oyen emphasized the need to restore agency to the people, as opposed to granting the “Cold War” concept center stage, and restoring individuals to a “subject” status of analysis as opposed to “object.” Wellerstein further elaborated on the idea of agency with “loose power” – the use of the Cold War by those in the past as a vehicle to garner political support on a national level. Amidst discussions of key figures, Wellerstein offered a lite motif to analyze individuals and the tone of the Cold War – a battle of idealism and realism. As a reference to the beginning of the conversation, Barrett highlighted a large societal component embedded into the psyche of Cold War peoples, the influence of a genuine fear of global annihilation and the value of “winning” for the public and the nation.

What do we do with the aftermath? One of the major fronts of the Cold War resided in intimate spaces, within homes, like never before due to the growth of technology. The people witnessed the world more than ever. Nevertheless, the historian is also a product of cultural and social circumstances. The discussion unveiled some key pillars of the Cold War era: conquests of imperialism, ideological struggles of realism versus idealism, and the effects of society grappling with potential annihilation in the face of nuclear war. The question of the aftermath may lead to further inquiries, so what are the takeaways? How do we calculate the casualties of a Cold War? What are the roles of the people beyond the national level? Revisiting the Cold War gives historians the opportunity to test preconceptions of winning and losing, thereby tracing how deeper roots of the era feed global forces of diplomacy, ideology, and immigration. The “Revising the Cold War” discussion established that violence as a means of exercising power, also in the form of perceived threats, not only defined the era but shapes how we understand and live in our world today.

The videos of the first three panel discussions, as well as information about the next three panels for the spring semester of 2020, can be found here.

Reviewed: “Revising the Civil War” (October 30, 2019), Hosted by the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest at Villanova University

(Image from nps.org. This photo shows Confederate reenactors at the Centennial of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg National Military Park on July 3rd, 1963).

By Keeley Tulio

Over 150 years have passed since the end of the American Civil War, yet the causes, consequences, and memory of the war are still a hot topic of conversation for the American public. A massive debate arose in recent years about the fate of Confederate monuments as Americans contested what to do with these physical commemorations of the Confederacy and its values, and many people protested for the removal of these monuments. In 2015, 21-year-old Dylan Roof murdered nine African American people at the Emmanual AME Church in Charlestown, South Carolina. When photos of Roof posing with a Confederate battle flag appeared online, a debate about the removal of the flag and Confederate monuments from public grounds heightened. White supremacists held hundreds of rallies across the nation in the months following. At the 2017 Unite the Right rally, white supremacists gathered to defend the General Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA, and justified their actions with “Lost Cause” rhetoric, and one anti-racist counter-protestor was murdered.[1] The wave of fervent debate and violence surrounding Confederate commemoration in recent years illustrates how contentions about Civil War memory has social and political ramifications in the present. On October 30, 2019, the Albert Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest hosted the second of its six-part “Revisionist History” series, “Revising the Civil War.” The invited scholars discussed how historians’ lived experiences and present context can influence the historiography of the Civil War.

Jason Steinhauer, Director of the Lepage Center, moderated the event. The panel featured three Civil War scholars: Rachel Shelden, Director of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn State University; Jill Ogline Titus, Associate Director of Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College; and Steven T. Phan, National Park Ranger and historian for the Civil War Defenses of Washington. Forty-five minutes into the panel discussion, Judith Giesberg, Villanova Professor of History and Director of the Last Seen Project, joined the conversation.

Using the revisionist theme of the event, the panelists spoke about how revisions of the Civil War narrative occurred over time and how those revisions influenced the historiography of the Civil War. Shelden remarked how quickly after the last shot of the war was fired, there was an effort to control the narrative of the Civil War. She elaborated that white Southerners created the “Lost Cause” narrative to revise slavery’s role in the causes of the war. This myth has several parts, including the belief that slavery did not cause the conflict, African Americans enjoyed and benefited from slavery, that the South would have given up slavery, and that the South was not defeated fairly.

Phan built on Shelden’s thoughts by explaining how contemporary politics controlled the narrative of the war. As a National Parks Ranger, he witnessed how contemporary politics influenced visitor interactions with Civil War sites. One visitor remarked to Phan that his previous visit to one of the Civil War Defenses of Washington sites occurred when segregation was still in effect in the 1960s. As a part of the National Parks, the Civil War sites in Washington DC were not exempt from realities like segregation. Experiencing the site under segregation reinforced for that visitor that racial tensions influenced the war and persisted in the 1960s. This visitor could not learn about the war without considering the racial context that he lived in as well.

The context of the 1960s changed how people commemorated the war, as Titus referenced with her discussion of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Politicians, social reformers, historians, and other members of the public celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1963 for their own uses. The purposes of the commemoration included: the effort to foster and portray unity as a nation in the Cold War, to serve as a base for people to draw upon to fight back against the supposed tyranny of the federal government, and to exist as a light for a just and unified society. These uses of the 1963 celebration of the Battle of Gettysburg all had arguments and evidence to support their purposes; however, each purpose served our society differently, primarily in ways that were racially exclusive.

The panelists asserted that revisions of Civil War historiography need to expand the narrative to include the actions of people of color as participants of the war. Giesberg mentioned that enslaved peoples themselves helped cause the conflict, as they ran away from their “masters” and undermined the economy that depended on them. Phan suggested that historians of the Civil War need to consider Asian Americans when discussing the war. He recounted how there are dozens of accounts of Asian Americans serving in the Union Army and Navy. For Phan, including these stories from the war helped him foster connections between visitors and the narrative of the Civil War, for the racially diverse visitor populations could contemplate the Civil War as a multiracial conflict, and multiracial history.

The historiography of the Civil War will continue to evolve. Titus asserted that public interest in the Civil War is changing, not dying out. People are still willing to question the war and its causes, which sparks new modes of scholarly inquiry. America during the Civil War was diverse, and there are still more stories of the Civil War to tell. The role of pubic historians, according to Titus, is to help create conversations where people can understand how the narratives of the Civil War are about battles for power. To control the story of the past is to influence the present. The Lepage Center’s “Revising the Civil War” speakers challenged how we can conceptualize the social and political utility of the Civil War narrative and what that utility means for our present.

[1] “Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy,” Southern Poverty Law Center, February 1, 2019. https://www.splcenter.org/20190201/whose-heritage-public-symbols-confederacy.

The videos of the first three panel discussions, as well as information about the next three panels for the spring semester of 2020, can be found here.

Reviewed: “Revising Early America” (September 18, 2019), Hosted by the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest at Villanova University

(Image from nps.gov. This painting, by Sydney King, depicts the sale of enslaved African peoples in Jamestown in 1619, which was 93 years after enslaved African peoples were brought to South Carolina by the Spanish).

By Kyle Scripko

“Our mission,” affirmed Jason Steinhauer at the first installment of Revisionist History on 18 September 2019, “is to bring history to bear on contemporary issues… If you look in contemporary culture, you will find references to revisionist history in many places.” As the Director for the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest and mediator of the “Revising Early America” panel, Steinhauer opened the talk by asking the audience questions about the complications of the term “revisionist history,” including: Who here thinks the term ‘revisionist history’ has negative connotations? Who here thinks it has positive connotations? Revisionist history, as Steinhauer implied, has a complicated past that demands careful attention to detail and responsible revisions from historians. Although the topic of the panel was “Revising Early America,” the overarching theme of the discussion, as well as the five other installments of Revisionist History for the academic year, was to probe the question, “what is revisionist history?”

Featured on the panel were Philip C. Mead, the Director of Curatorial Affairs and Chief Historian at the Museum of the American Revolution; Ana Lucia Araujo, a member of the International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project and Professor of History at Howard University; and Karin Wulf, the Executive Director of the Omohundro Institute at the College of William and Mary and co-founder of Women Also Know History. The panel was met with comments by Maghan Keita, the Founding Director of the Africana Studies and Global Interdisciplinary Studies programs and Professor of History and Global Interdisciplinary Studies at Villanova University.

The first half of the panel discussion focused on the theme of history from below, or history of the common person. The discussion started with the topic of the 400th anniversary of 1619, the year of the first documented arrival of enslaved Africans in the colony of Virginia. However symbolic this date may be, Ana Lucia Araujo pointed out that “slavery and the Atlantic slave trade… were going on for more than a century at that moment [1619].” If one forgets about the actions and movements of Africans in the Americas prior to this date, such as the people Araujo studies in seventeenth-century Brazil, then one forgets an important piece of early American history.

While on the topic of forgotten early American history from below, Karin Wulf chimed into the conversation by referring to her work against the “East Coast bias.” She recognized that “the American story… is not all rooted in a beginning in Jamestown or Plymouth or Philadelphia.” Rather, Wulf is a historian of early America who believes that looking at places like North Dakota and Colorado during the early American period is just as important as the first colonies. She fights for their histories and argues that they are foundational to the early American story. Without them, “we miss the richness and diversity which has been at the foundation of the American story from the very beginning.”

Philip Mead believes that the early American story also misses the “richness and diversity” of the everyday American Revolutionary soldier. He argued that “the revolutionaries themselves were revisionists… they were creating a narrative of the American Revolution during the Revolution itself.” His dissertation at Harvard largely focuses on the everyday soldier in the Revolutionary Army and how their diaries reflect the outlook of not highly political and ideological revolutionaries, but of ordinary people describing their day-to-day struggle during the American Revolution. Mead went on to suggest that the idea of “revisionist history” was a concept that was in play in early America, “even the American Revolutionaries didn’t agree when the Revolution was or when it happened.”

The second half of the panel discussion focused on coming to terms with the uncomfortable fact that the early American story is a fatal one. Steinhauer states that “the early American story is violent, and it includes bloodshed; it includes individuals who were killed or enslaved or who suffered.” After discussing the illegal slave trade that occurred following the abolishment of the legal slave trade, Araujo continued with this point of coming to terms with the violent past of the early Americas. “We are the product of this violence…” stated Araujo, “I think that it is important we recognize that. To be able to come to terms with this past… and not construct a history that tends to glorify certain individuals… [we must understand] this difficult past… [so that we can] deal with the problems that persist in the present.”

Wulf carried the conversation forward following Araujo’s point and called early American history the “most important topic to study” when it comes to discussing the foundation of democracy and the American experience. She believes that understanding instances of violence in early American history is important as it reminds the American people that “democracy is something we struggle for every single day… It’s not something that was handed to us.” Mead hit on a similar note as Wulf when he stated that recognizing and studying violence in early America shows just how “fragile the American democratic experiment is… it gives you a sense of how new it is.”

About an hour into the discussion, the panel was joined by Maghan Keita. “History is an interpretive art…” stated Keita, “it is subject to this question of revision.” Related to the discussions of the other panelists, Keita proposed to reanalyze another topic of early America: the question of “symbolism in historical production.” He introduced the idea of “bondsmanship” as a strong example, arguing that “most of us who come at the very beginning are in some form of unfree labor relationship.” However, much like the topics that were explored by the other historians on the panel, Keita recognized that this relationship is “a symbol that we don’t explore.” Responsibly revising the historiography and language of the early American story to reflect a more whole and inclusive picture is a movement that Keita, as well as the other three panelists, strive for and highlight in their own writings.

With the goal of bringing in scholars who have worked on revising “key points” in history, the Lepage Center hit the nail on the head with the first panel discussion of Revisionist History. As Karin Wulf pointed out in the discussion, “the point of revisionism is that it is a recognition of how powerful history is and how powerfully it works in our lives all the time.” Not only was this discussion an illuminating one about the unexplored parts of the early American story, but it was also a call for the adoption of a more positive outlook on the term “revisionist history.” With such a strong start to the series, the “Revising Early America” event, as well as the live panels of “Revising the Civil War” from October and “Revising the Cold War” from November, are a must-see for anyone interested in the discussion of revising history.

The videos of the first three panel discussions, as well as information about the next three panels for the spring semester of 2020, can be found here.

The Second Annual History Career Day

by Andrea L. Spencer (@__aerdna___)

On Friday, February 8th, 2019, the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest sponsored its second annual History Career Day.

The day began with a presentation by Emily Swafford, Director of Academic and Professional Affairs at the American Historical Association. Swafford acknowledged that it can be hard to explain what you learn in a history degree and articulate the skills you learned that can help you get a job. Swafford assuaged fears of not getting a job or not making money with statistics that the AHA collects. Swafford also focused on how to articulate the “soft skills” historians have into words and phrases employers want to hear. For example, history majors learn how change happens, how to find, process, and communicate information that is new to them, and how to make judgements and evaluations on complex issues.

After Dr. Swafford’s presentation, the Lepage Center provided lunch and an hour for attendees to informally network and she their experiences as history students–both undergraduate and graduate.

After lunch was a panel made up of 3 Villanova history alumni–Mark Kehres, Kathryn Szumanski, and Alain Duroseau–and moderated by Dr. Paul Steege. Each panelist described their career paths after Villanova and how their history degree helped them get where they are today.An audience member asked the panelists how their skills as a historian translate to their day-to-day job responsibilities. Duroseau replied that being a historian teaches you to be able to make an argument and support it convincingly, which is important in any job. Szumanski said that the most valuable skill she learned was how to put everything in context, which means learning from and understanding the past and how that informs present and future projects. Kehres believed that the most important skill he learned was clear and concise communication.

When asked specifically about applying to jobs, the panelists offered three main pieces of advice:

  1. Apply to any job within your interests. Many employers are interested in having all majors apply. They want diversity and creative thinking.
  2. Focus your job search by industry and then see how your skills apply.
  3. Know that, as a history major, you learn how to think about the world, how to problems solve, and how to communicate solutions.

The final session of the day was a workshop by Jhaakira Jacobs, the Assistant Director of Career Development at Villanova’s Career Center. Jacobs primary focused on how to write a great cover letter. Her advice was:

  • Begin with an intro paragraph about how you heard about the position. This is a good place for name-dropping any connections you have to the company.
    • Tell the reader why this organization appeals to you. Do your research, and decide if the company aligns with your values and interests.
  • In the second paragraph, pull from the transferable skills you learned in the classroom, from your research paper, and your presentations.
    • Here, you should mention 2-3 qualifications/experiences, what you took away from them, and how that is applicable to this organization.
  • In the third paragraph, you want to reiterate your interests and tell them you will follow up soon.

Jacobs also said to follow up on a job posting 2 weeks after the close date. If you are struggling to describe yourself in your cover letter, get feedback from supervisors and professors about your strengths and talents. When writing your letter, a good way to start is to pick out the key words in the post and brainstorm how you are qualified for them.

All in all, it was a successful and informative day that left attendees feeling positive about their position as job candidates after graduation. The Lepage Center always welcomes feedback on all its events, so please drop by SAC 410 or email lepage@villanova.edu with your comments!

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If you want to learn more about getting a job as a history major, here are some sites to check out:

https://www.historians.org/jobs-and-professional-development/aha-career-center

https://www.historians.org/jobs-and-professional-development/career-resources

https://villanova.peoplegrove.com/page/about

https://www1.villanova.edu/villanova/provost/careers/plan/onlineresources.html