Faculty Reports

Walter Adamson writes:

Walter AdamsonThe work of the historian is and ought to be influenced by life as it is actually lived in the present. One thing we see today is that, despite longstanding prophecies to the contrary, religion is simply not going away. But historians, in my view, have yet to catch up with this commonplace. Most historians continue to write as if the longstanding notion of secularization as a simple decline of belief remains adequate as a framework for understanding the development of modern life. An increasing number of historians, however, among whom I count myself, have become convinced that much modern history needs to be rewritten under the guidance of a revised theory of secularization, one that sees it as a complex process of religious ¿reconstruction¿ rather than a simple decline of belief. All this as prologue to naming the territory into which my research is headed: the nature of religious experience in fascist Italy. Currently, the field is dominated by the idea that Italian fascism was a ¿political religion¿ ¿ an effort to provide a secular religious experience for an alienated mass society that had experienced a death of God and that thereby awaited a secularized political substitute with open arms. My research will rebut this image. Stay tuned.

Patrick Allitt writes:

Patrick AllittFor the first time, this year, I was invited to participate in the selection of the Emory Scholars from among our incoming freshmen. Out of the 17,000 applications Emory received from high school seniors, the admissions officers selected the best 100, and left a committee of faculty members, administrators, alumni, and current scholars to choose the best sixty from among them, half of whom would receive full tuition, the other half full tuition and all other expenses too (the Woodruff Scholars). It was an arduous selection process. We spent weeks reading through the files of these astonishingly accomplished seventeen-year-olds, arguing over their merits in committee, and then interviewing them in groups of four or five when they came to campus. The interviews demonstrated to us that these students are in fact flesh and blood, with plenty of characteristic human weaknesses, but also that they had been more or less telling the truth in their breathless statements of purpose. The process also had the effect of reminding me of the infinite variety of human types--they really did come in every shape, size, ethnicity, race, religion and gender. If I had to single out one characteristic, however, it would be how many of them were either immigrants or the children of immigrants. It was quite common for the application form to show that the student, even though she was a debate champion here in America, had been born in India and that the language spoken at home was Gujurati. The old clichés about America acculturating generations of new immigrants, and about immigrants working harder and trying more desperately to succeed, still have plenty of validity, to judge from this experience.

Tonio Andrade writes:

Tonio AndradeOver this past year I finished a book which was inspired by the first course I taught at Emory. It was a freshmen seminar about piracy in world history. My students were enthusiastic. Sometimes they were too enthusiastic. One of them suggested that each student should steal something for each class, as homework, and he brought his own booty to class as an example: a flag he¿d stolen from another floor in his dorm. Anyway, as the course proceeded, I realized that I had some fascinating material from my dissertation notes that hadn¿t made it into the book manuscript I was working on (that was my first book, How Taiwan Became Chinese). So I put together an article about the pirates of the China Seas, sent it off to the Journal of World History, and thought that was the end of it. But the article took on a life of its own. It was praised and blogged about and reprinted in Pirate Magazine. A literary agent even contacted me and asked whether I might be interested in proposing a book on the topic. I demurred at the time, feeling that the story wasn¿t rich enough for a whole book. Besides, I was plenty busy with other writing projects.

But the idea didn¿t go away. I began to realize that the agent had spotted the germ of something important. A couple years ago I decided to delve into the sources and write a new article about the Chinese pirates, and as I did so I found that those sources ¿ Chinese, Dutch, Spanish, and German ¿ were exceptionally rich, with actual dialogue (rare in historical sources), vivid descriptions, and a great cast of characters full of scandal and intrigue. There was enough here for a book, and all of it had something to say about the question that animates my scholarly life: Why did Europeans rather than Turks, or Indians, or Malays, or Chinese create the world¿s first global empires?

So I began writing a book about the Chinese samurai-pirate Zheng Chenggong and how he went to war against and defeated Europe¿s most dynamic colonial power: the Dutch East India Company. During the Dutch Golden Age, while Rembrandt and Vermeer painted masterpieces in Holland, the Dutch East India Company outcompeted the British and captured Spanish and Portuguese colonies all over the East Indies (i.e., Asia). They met their match in Zheng Chenggong. His mother was Japanese, from a samurai family. His father was a pirate who had once worked for the Dutch first as a translator and then as a privateer, pillaging under the Dutch flag and sharing his spoils with the company. When the pirate-father went legit and began dominating China¿s overseas trade, he began to be seen by the Dutch East India Company as a rival. Indeed, his trading empire had an income far larger than that of the famous Dutch East India Company itself. After Zheng Chenggong inherited his father¿s organization, that rivalry turned to war. The Dutch were defeated, losing one of their most valuable colonies, the island of Taiwan.

The book examines the history of Zheng Chenggong and his conflict with the Dutch. In the process it engages an important debate in world history. On the one side are the revisionists, who believe that there was broad parity between western Europe and developed regions of Asia until relatively recently. To them, the Great Divergence between Europe and Asia didn¿t occur until around 1800. On the other side are the counter-revisionists, who believe that Europeans were on a special historical path as early as 1500, and were already outstripping Asians technologically, economically, scientifically, and militarily long before 1800. The war between Zheng Chenggong and the Dutch sheds light on this debate, leading me to suggest that although my sympathies are with the revisionists, in some respects the counter-revisionists are left. My sources suggest that the Dutch did indeed have some areas of decisive technological superiority already in the 1600s, when the war took place. 

So the story has important lessons, but what I most enjoyed was spending time with the fascinating Zheng Chenggong, quick to anger, apt to chop off heads at a whim, and very, very smart, and with the many other historical actors, particularly some forgotten minor characters, like two African boys who spied on the Dutch on behalf of Zheng Chenggong, and a Chinese farmer who tried to give the proud Dutch governor advice about how to use his powerful fleet. The book will come out this summer or early next fall with Princeton University Press.

Clifton Crais writes:

Clifton CraisA paperback edition of Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus will be released this November.  Crais and Scully consulted on a feature film on the life of Sara Baartman, directed by the acclaimed French director Abdel Kechiche.  Venus Noire had its American premiere at the 2010 New York Film Festival.  Crais recently finished two books.  War and Poverty, a study of the economic implications of colonial conquest, is now with a publisher.  He has just finished History Lessons, which combines memoir, historiography, and neuroscience to explore memory, silence, and ways of writing history.  Crais is at work on the South African Reader for Duke University Press.

Astrid M. Eckert writes:

Astrid EckertWhat I liked most about the past academic year was, as always, graduation. All those smiling faces and proud parents. It reminds me why I signed up. This year, graduation was special in several ways. I taught a Freshman Seminar four years ago and ¿ guess what ¿ four years later, those freshmen have turned into seniors and graduate. It was an outstanding class, full of talent. I had stayed in touch with several students from that seminar, watched them grow as academics and as individuals, and then saw (and shamelessly photographed) them again in their gowns. Priceless!

I spent the past summer in Germany, conducting research in various archives and libraries. In fact, I¿m off for the entire academic year and will be living in Berlin in order to work on my book on the history of the Iron Curtain. The study as I am currently envisioning it investigates the impact of the 1,393 kilometer-long inter-German border on West Germany. It seems that existing scholarship treats the border almost exclusively as part of GDR historiography. I am not challenging the significance of the Berlin Wall and the border for history of socialist East Germany. That significance is beyond dispute. The border imprisoned East German citizens and criminalized their behavior if they tried to cross it. It is therefore considered to constitute the most damning evidence for the lack of political legitimacy of the GDR. But the first step for my project is the simple observation that the border¿s effects were not limited to East Germany. It did, after all, split a previously unified polity and territory. What, then, did the Iron Curtain mean for democratic West Germany? How did the Federal Republic¿s perception of this border change over time as the frontiers with its western neighbors became increasingly permeable? What was the place of the newly emerging eastern borderlands in a country that prided itself on rapid postwar prosperity and integration into ¿the West¿? While historians have sought to understand the meaning and consequences of the Iron Curtain for the GDR and its citizens, they have not yet posed similar questions for the ¿old¿ Federal Republic. And that¿s what I¿m attempting to do this coming year. A Berlin newspaper published some of my thoughts on the subject, so if you are interested, you can read more about The East of the West here.

Jeffrey Lesser writes:

Jeffrey LesserSince my first term as Chair of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies is now ending, I am looking forward to productive year at the Fox Center for the Humanities where I will be working on a book entitled Becoming Brazilian:  A History of Immigration, Ethnicity and National Identity to be published by Cambridge University Press.  This year I was co-authored, along with Celia Sakurai, Kasato Maru - uma viagem pela história da imigração japonesa (co-authored with Celia Sakurai). (São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial, 2009). This book examined some newly discovered documents on Japanese immigrants who came to Brazil in the early twentieth century. The book was published as part of the yearlong centenary of the arrival of the first immigrant ship in 1908.

This year the History Department and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies worked closely together in the hire of Ellie Schainker as Blank Family Assistant Professor of European Jewish History.  Dr. Schainker will join Emory in September 2011 following a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania¿s Center for Jewish Studies.

Although I will be on leave, next year will be a busy one for me as a teacher.  Three of my Ph.D. students should be completing their dissertations and entering the job market and two more will be taking examinations and defending their project proposals, while Jennifer Katherman, an undergraduate honors major in the History Department, will complete her honors thesis.

James Melton writes:

James MeltonI assumed two new responsibilities this year.  One is here at Emory, where I serve as the Department¿s new Director of Graduate Studies.  The other is in the profession at large, where I was chosen President-Elect of the Conference Group for Central European History in the A.H.A.  Both positions keep me busy and my inbox full.

A Spanish edition of my Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe appeared in 2009 with PUV in Valencia, and a Turkish one is forthcoming.  Otherwise I also had two articles appear in 2009-10, one a piece on Pietists and slavery in an anthology published by Brill, the other an essay in German published by Suhrkamp Verlag in a volume of essays on the historical philosopher Reinhart Koselleck.  Meanwhile I am at work on revisions to my final chapter of a book-in-progress, Migrations of Conscience in the Old World and the New: From Alpine Valley to Colonial Lowcountry.  The chapter looks at how the settlers of Ebenezer, my German-speaking utopian community in colonial Georgia, came to accept and even embrace slavery after having been among the colonial South¿s most vocal opponents of the institution.

One of my most enjoyable experiences has been teaching my new undergraduate course, an upper-level class on ¿Mozart¿s World,¿ which explores social and cultural themes in the composer¿s operatic works.  I learn much from the students whose musical skills are far more advanced than my own.  Most satisfying of all, though, are those who begin the course with little or no knowledge of Mozart, but by the end are devoted to his music.  Observing their evolution is fascinating and rewarding.

Matthew Payne writes:

Matthew PayneI have had an interesting year introducing several new courses, directing the Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and presenting several papers on my work on Stalin¿s forced settlement of the Kazakh nomads. Perhaps the biggest initiative was in introducing a new course, The Silk Road & Inner Asia, 1700 BCE-1700 CE which I taught to generally good student evaluations last fall. Interestingly, having designed and taught this course, I received the opportunity to attend a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, The Silk Roads: Early Globalization and Chinese Cultural Identities at The East-West Center in Honolulu. Since my expertise is in the Eurasian steppe, Russia and points west, I am looking forward to developing a greater expertise on the engine of the Silk Road, China. I continue to teach and research in the Stalin period of Soviet history and am presenting a new upper-level course this summer entitled, The Soviet Gulag.

Sharon T. Strocchia writes:

Sharon StrocchiaThe high point of the past academic year was the publication of my book, Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).  My study asks how and why Florentine convents were transformed from small, semi-autonomous communities into large civic institutions serving family, state and society between 1350 and 1550. In the course of researching this project, I made some fascinating discoveries. I learned, for instance, that Renaissance religious women were also working women. The two or three thousand nuns who lived in fifteenth-century Florentine convents spent large parts of their days at work: they made gold thread, embroidered exquisite liturgical garments, copied manuscripts, taught young girls how to read, managed convent property, wrote letters to patrons and political leaders, and tended to the everyday needs of their communities. In other words, Renaissance convents were not only houses of prayer but active sites of commodity production. Even though nuns were often hidden away behind convent walls, their ¿invisible hands¿ advanced the development of urban economies. I¿m already working on a kind of sequel that builds on this research but takes it in a new direction. My new book project looks at the roles played by religious women in the healthcare system of sixteenth-century Italy, where nuns served as commercial apothecaries, nurses, hospital administrators, and spiritual healers. Once again, I expect to be surprised by what I find tucked away in Italian archives!

Brian Vick writes:

Brian VickLooking back over the past year, two particularly exciting things occurred in my Emory History career.  For one, I received tenure, and am as of September an Associate Professor in the Department of History.  Now I can look forward to a good many years of teaching, research, and service with my colleagues.  

The second exciting event is that in Spring 2010 I launched a new 200-level course: Race, World Travel, and European Identities, from 1750 to the Twentieth Century.  When I was in Vienna this past summer I even happened to see an exhibition at the Museum for Ethnography on (I could hardly believe my luck) the subject of our second unit, Captain Cook¿s expeditions to the South Pacific.  The exhibit not only covered the voyage itself but offered an impressive and beautiful array of the artefacts gathered from the various island cultures of the region and brought back together from several different locations just for this occasion.  What a class trip that would have made!

And what took me to Vienna?  That points towards my activities over the coming year, when I will have the opportunity to make progress on the manuscript of my next book, on the Vienna Congress of 1814-1815 and the political culture of Europe in the wake of Napoleon¿s defeat.  Tenure brought with it the added boon of a semester¿s research leave in the Fall, and a generous grant from Emory¿s University Research Committee will allow me to continue writing next Spring while in residence in Atlanta.  This too is an exciting development, but I will miss the teaching, whether in my courses on nineteenth-century Europe, or exploring with students those voyages of mixed enquiry and empire to other parts of the globe (including the expeditions of James Cook).