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history department

Daisha Brabham

Daisha Brabham, who graduated from Southern in 2017 with a degree in history, was awarded a prestigious U.S. Fulbright – U.K. Partnership Award for the the 2019-2020 academic year that allowed her to complete a Master’s of Public History degree at Royal Holloway University of London. There is only one slot for the U.K. Partnership Award to Royal Holloway University, and it is highly competitive.

The U.K. Fulbright Commission recently posted a profile on its website about Brabham, “A Journey in Defining Blackness.” In the profile, Brabham discusses how her Fulbright project plans evolved with the onset of the global pandemic.

Brabham’s Fulbright project involved a play she wrote for an independent study in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program in her senior year. During her senior spring at Southern and the summer following, the play — Homegoing: A Herstory of the Black Woman — was performed on campus. Homegoing reflects the history of Black womanhood in America, beginning with the Yoruba tradition of West Africa and going on to travel with a number of different African American women, such as Venus Hottentot, Billie Holiday, and Mammie.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced Brabham to return to the United States before her Fulbright year was over, her plans for her play changed, but she found new avenues for her creativity and thought.

As Brabham writes in the profile, “As a Fulbrighter, you act as a bridge. A way of connecting two countries. We live in a world in which so many voices are speaking, but few are speaking to each other. . . . As we move forward, it is important that we each create spaces in our own respective fields to be a bridge, to act as agents of accessibility, community and connectivity.”

Read “A Journey in Defining Blackness”

A scene from Daisha Brabham’s play, “Homegoing,” as performed on Southern’s campus

 

 

 

From videos produced by History Department faculty, clockwise, from upper right: "Attica! Race, Incarceration, and Radicalism" by Troy Rondinone; Steve Judd; "Militarization and Its Consequences in the Time of COVID" by Jason Smith; Julian Madison

History provides the much-needed context for how we got to the present moment, says Jason Smith, an assistant professor of history at Southern. George Floyd’s death in March 2020 and the Black Lives Matter Movement only strengthened his belief that now, more than ever, “thinking historically” can help students model what it means to be historians and humanists. To make connections to the movement, racism, police brutality, the pandemic, and other related issues, Smith and fellow history faculty created a teach-in lecture series; it’s been widely received — and not just by history majors.

“The project originated from a number of questions that emerged at the beginning of the summer,” Smith said. “I wondered how I might personally respond to the death of George Floyd and all of the history that lay beneath it, especially given the health risks associated with participating in mass protests.” He noted that he wanted to respond to current events from a historian’s perspective, modeling for students how we see historical evidence bearing on the present.

“We’re in a moment when we feel so disconnected from our students, and this also was a way to address these questions coming up on social media,” Smith said. “It was a collective effort, to show how in this moment histories and humanities are so important.”

Jason Smith

The series features Smith’s “Militarization and Its Consequences in the Time of COVID”; Professor of History Troy Rondinone’s “Attica! Race, Incarceration, and Radicalism”; Associate Professor of History Julian Madison’s “The Psychology of Racism”; Professor of History Steve Amerman’s “Listening to Indigenous Peoples”; Professor of History Steve Judd’s “Are the BLM Protests America’s Arab Spring”; and Associate Professor of History Marie McDaniel’s “History and Statues in 2020.”

An historian of war and American society, Smith’s lecture addresses the ways in which militarizing the encounter with COVID-19 may have certain lessons to teach us about the expansion of executive power, new rituals surrounding death, the scape-goating and brutalizing of an enemy, and more.

“It struck me as interesting and significant that in March-April, similar tropes were being used to confront COVID-19,” Smith said. “We were fighting a ‘war’ and ‘an invisible enemy.’”

The response to the series has been enthusiastic, and the lectures have been viewed hundreds of times, particularly Madison’s “The Psychology of Racism,” which Madison attributes to curiosity about “how all of this got started.”

“There has always been prejudice, even back to the Roman Empire,” Madison said. “It used to be illegal to marry people with blond hair! [William] Shakespeare actually had a relationship with a Black woman, and he wrote about prejudice and racism, but there hadn’t been laws mandating discrimation. Racism isn’t that old. It’s been prevalent since the 1600s, but it wasn’t always so.”

As for whether the series may continue through the fall, Smith is uncertain. What he does know is that the opportunity for everyone — student and non-student alike — to learn about history and how it intersects with the present is too important to pass by.

“The History Department took up the project enthusiastically, and I want to thank our faculty and staff for participating and really spearheading this project,” Smith said. “I think we view it as part of our department’s larger effort to reach students where they are, to make strides to build a sense of social and intellectual community among our students and alumni, in particular, as they must remain off campus and out of the classroom, as they confront very difficult and sometimes hopeful events often in isolation. We don’t stop being teachers when we’re kept out of the classroom. These times present new, challenging, problematic, but also exciting opportunities to teach.”

You can view the entire teach-in video archive on the Department of History YouTube channel. The faculty also compiled a list of recommended readings, which is posted on the department’s website.

C. Michelle Thompson teaching Vietnamese History class

Vietnam is often viewed by Americans as a country heavily influenced by China, its neighbor to the north. After all, the Vietnam War – etched in the collective memory of the Baby Boom Generation – is remembered as a proxy fight between the United States and China/Soviet Union. And it would be inaccurate to say that Vietnam has been devoid of considerable Chinese influence.

But the relationship between Vietnam and China is quite complex, according to Michele Thompson, professor of history and an expert on Southeast Asia. She explores that relationship through a medical lens in her book, Vietnamese Traditional Medicine: a Social History.

The book, published by the National University of Singapore Press, was so highly regarded by her peers that Thompson was selected as the recipient of the 2018 SCSU Faculty Scholar Award on the basis of the book.

“The (Faculty Scholar Award Committee) was impressed by your use of multilingual source material, the interdisciplinary range of your book, and the fact that it forces scholars to re-examine long-held assumptions about the relationship between Chinese and Vietnamese traditional medicine,” said Rex Gilliland, chairman of the Faculty Scholar Award Committee.

Thompson focuses on the 18th and 19th centuries, and the social and political context of Vietnamese medicine. “While it is very closely connected to Chinese medicine, it is not some carbon copy,” she said.

She points to Vietnam’s acceptance of early Western vaccination techniques as a key example in how it differentiated itself from China in the medical realm.

In the late 1700s, British doctor Ed Jenner discovered that people who had cowpox didn’t seem to get smallpox. The viruses that cause the two diseases are closely related, though cowpox usually has milder symptoms.

Jenner was a pioneer in the effort to begin a form of vaccination, albeit a primitive one. In other areas of the world – those without European cows — doctors began attempts to eradicate smallpox through arm-to-arm, human-to-human vaccination from those who had cowpox.

Vietnamese medicine preferred this Western approach to the Chinese alternative inoculation method. The latter involved taking a small amount of material from smallpox sores and transferring them to others. The Chinese method sought to produce a weakened form of the virus.

Thompson said it is an honor to be selected for the Faculty Scholar Award. “I was surprised,” she said. “I remember getting the envelope with the announcement in it, but it came at the end of the fall semester, when everything is pretty hectic. So, I just sort of randomly opened that particular envelope and was surprised to see what it said.

“But I am honored to follow in the footsteps of so many other excellent scholars before me.”

Thompson began teaching at SCSU in the fall 1998. Before coming to Southern, she taught at the University of Washington. She previously taught English as a Second Language in Taiwan.

She grew up in Alabama, and currently resides in New Haven. Her expertise is in Southeast Asia, with a particular focuses on Vietnam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle East History Professor Steven Judd says he doesn’t “shy from controversy” when it comes to scholarly work or university life – and he’s demonstrated that in his recent book: Religious Scholars and the Umayyads: Piety­ minded Supporters of the Marwanid Caliphate.

The book forces scholars to re-examine long held assumptions about the early history of Islam.

Judd is this year’s recipient of the Faculty Scholar Award, an honor conferred jointly by the Faculty Scholar Award Committee and the university president. The award recognizes scholarly and creative work of exceptional merit by a full-time member of the SCSU faculty.

Judd’s book argues that opposition to the Umayyads was not universal and that a substantial network of pious religious scholars actively supported the regime. “Religious Scholars and the Umayyads was meant to disrupt,” Judd wrote of his book.

Judd asserts in his work that “the standard historiographical approach to the period falls victim to the biases of a few selected sources and that a broader array of sources provides a necessary corrective.”

He goes on to explain, “By exploiting different sources, I reconstructed the network of religious scholars who supported the supposedly Godless regime and demonstrated their influence on Islamic legal development.”

A colleague reflecting on the book informed Judd that he and others were “impressed by the depth of your scholarship, your imaginative use of biographical sources, and the fact that your book forces scholars to re-examine long held assumptions about the early history of Islam.”

Another colleague wrote: “Dr. Judd’s imaginative use of biographical sources is used to shed new light on an era that is forcing even the defenders of the orthodox position to acknowledge that some assumptions need to be re-examined.”

In describing the book, Judd writes that the Umayyad century, between 661-750 CE, has traditionally been treated “as an interregnum, characterized by ungodly rulers confronting pious opponents whose resistance ranged from rebellion to quietist withdrawal.”

Judd’s book has been well-received by scholars in the field, he says, “despite its disruptive intent and its critique of long-standing historical and historiographical paradigms.”

Reviews of the piece have appeared in diverse venues, including American, German, Turkish and Italian publications. The work has also been cited extensively in a variety of publications.

Hamza Zafer, the leading Islamic historian at the University of Washington, asserts that the work “changes our understanding of lslam’s early development,” and “upends the standard Western and Muslim narratives.”

David Powers, senior Islamic legal scholar at Cornell and long-time editor of “Islamic Law and Society,” describes the work as ”a solid and persuasive monograph” and “an important contribution.”

In addition to formal reviews, Religious Scholars and the Umayyads has been cited in a variety of articles, including by Nimrod Hurvitz, a leading Israeli scholar who notes that Judd’s work “marshaled a convincing body of historical ‘evidence that contradicts the ‘opposition paradigm.”

Judd says that broad and largely positive interest shown in the book around the globe suggests that it will have a long-term impact on the field and force scholars to question long-standing historical and historiographical paradigms.

“If that is the case,” he said, “the book will have accomplished its purpose.”

Judd holds a Ph.D. and master’s degree from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College. He counts among the courses he teaches: Islamic Civilization, Muhammad to the Mongols, Modern Iraq, Islamic Fundamentalism, and The Medieval Middle East.

 

Siobhan Carter David

When you get dressed in the morning, are you thinking about how your clothing, or how you wear it, tells the world a story about you or your place in history?

Siobhan Carter-David, assistant professor of history, is a “reader” of clothing and fashion as historical texts and says, “We can learn a lot from studying fashion. It tells us so much about the cultural life of a particular group over time in different places.”

Currently teaching “Dress in Recent U.S. History: The Life and Times of 10 Iconic Fashions,” Carter-David  presented a talk on November 3, “Supreme Style: Fashion, Aesthetics, and the Making of a Black Heterodox Islamic Tradition.” Her talk was part of the interdisciplinary forum for faculty in the arts, humanities, and social sciences to present and discuss new scholarship, with special emphasis on emerging topics, methodologies, and areas of research in the 21st century.

In her “Dress in Recent U.S. History” course, Carter-David discusses the social and historical context and meanings of several post-World War II fashions. Blue jeans, the miniskirt, the dashiki, the studded leather jacket, evening gowns, the power suit, workout wear, the sneaker, and the hoodie all come under her lens in the course.

She plans to publish her dissertation, “Issuing the Black Wardrobe: Fashion and Anti-fashion in Post-Soul Publications,” in which she discusses what fashion and dress mean in “a post-civil-rights moment.”

Her November 3 talk, although focused on fashion and history, is a side project, she says. She became interested in the topic because, she says, “so little is done on the Five-Percent Nation,” which she explains is an offshoot of the Nation of Islam and is also called the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE). Founded in Harlem in 1964, NGE is a heterodox black Islamic faction that is intentionally flexible and individualized in its doctrine. Women members have used the NGE’s modest dress code to create an evolving aesthetic that has influenced and been influenced by many facets of post-civil rights urban life.

Carter-David says she finds the NGE interesting because of its flexible doctrine. “Everything is negotiable,” she says. “People are affiliated with it, but not members.”

This flexibility comes into play in the clothing worn by Five Percenters, which is why their fashions drew Carter-David’s particular attention. She explains that in the NGE, women – whose clothing is called “refinements” — are referred to as Earths and men as Gods (as in the Nation of Gods and Earths). Earths are expected to cover three-quarters of their bodies, as three-quarters of the earth is covered by water. The fashions are hip-hop inspired, and many rappers of the 1990s were affiliated with the Five-Percent Nation, such as Erykah Badu and Wu-Tang Clan.

Carter-David conducted oral histories for most of her research on this project, as so little academic research has been done on fashion in the NGE. What an Earth wears is negotiated between herself and her male partner, and every woman who becomes affiliated with NGE has to be taught about it by a man – not necessarily a male partner, but a man nonetheless. Yet in spite of this male influence on Earths’ experiences and refinements, Carter-David found that much of what is done with women’s fashions is feminist in nature. Her use of oral histories – interviews with Earths — helps her tell a story that is less about seeing dress through a men’s lens than through a female one.

In the 1960s, for example, older Earths would teach the younger ones how to dress, and Earths would make clothing for each other, as some of the articles of clothing were not easy to find. Earths wear headwraps, and women would share with each other in private how to wrap their heads. Carter-David says this practice has been changing with the advent of YouTube; Earths can now watch videos that show them different styles of wrapping their heads. Yet “women have created their own spaces in terms of how they do their refinement,” Carter-David says, “rather than letting men dictate it.”