Greetings from Bay State Road! As I have remarked before in this space, commencement tends to be a bittersweet occasion, blending relief that a particularly arduous term for us in Boston has concluded, joy at the achievements of graduates, and sadness as we bid farewell to students, colleagues, and friends. That ambivalence was particularly acute this May, for like the class of 2013 that has just assembled on Nickerson Field; I too will "graduate." My term as Department Chair concludes on June 30. While I return with great pleasure to the duties of an ordinary professor, I will miss these opportunities to communicate with you. Rest assured I leave the department in good hands: my successor, Professor Lou Ferleger, will take over on July 1, managing the department and these messages with his characteristic skill and flair.
Professor Tom Glick Retires after Four Decades at BU
On May 9, the Department organized "Glickfest," an evening to celebrate the career of Professor Tom Glick, who is retiring after more than four decades at BU. A prodigious scholar (the author, co-author and editor of 30 books and hundreds of scholarly articles), who has won every award the discipline offers (including Guggenheim, NEH, National Science Foundation, and Fulbright fellowships), Tom is distinguished not only by the voraciousness of his quest for knowledge, but especially by the breadth of his achievements. His scholarship spans diverse fields: medieval Spain, the reception of Darwin, the history of medieval technology, the work of Albert Einstein, and food history. His interests run even wider—from contemporary politics to historical preservation (he is president of the Northeast Chapter of the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills). And amid this phenomenal output across an astonishingly broad range of fields, he has somehow found the time and energy to serve two terms as department chair and even as acting director of the American & New England Studies program.
For over forty years, Tom has enriched the intellectual life of BU with the breadth and depth of his knowledge, his wry humor, and the infectious pleasure he took in the work of a historian. He frequently reminded us of just how lucky we were to have our avocation as our vocation, and he really meant it.
Gitner History Prize Established
A generous gift from Gerald (CAS'66) and Deanne Gitner has established a new prize for excellence in teaching history at Boston University to be awarded annually. A permanently endowed fund, the Gitner History Prize recognizes exemplary undergraduate teaching by faculty and graduate students in the Department of History.
The prize will be known as the "Gitner Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching". The prize for the graduate student shall be known as the "Gitner Prize for Outstanding History Teaching Fellow". Both prizes will be administered by a selection committee of three Department of History faculty members. The Selection Committee is encouraged to make its choice so that the impact will benefit the department, the college, and the university in the most lasting way. The History Department would like to thank Gerald and Deanne Gitner for their generous gift!
Landmarks Event: Machiavelli's The Prince After 500 Years
On February 6, the History Department marked the 500th anniversary of Machiavelli's The Prince with an event in its ongoing "Landmarks" series. Guest speakers included Professor Edward Muir of Northwestern University, one of country's leading historians of the Renaissance, and Michael Ignatieff, a thinker, writer, professor, and public official. BU's James Johnson, professor of history, introduced the speakers and moderated the discussion that followed.
"Machiavelli at 500" raised themes connected to Renaissance Florence and today's national and global affairs. Professor Muir discussed the changing politics of Machiavelli's day and situated the writer's own shifting fortunes within them. He resisted any simple reading of The Prince as a handbook for tyrants and argued instead that Machiavelli prized freedom above all other values. His review of the works on Machiavelli conveyed the wide application and continued appeal of the thinker.
Michael Ignatieff spoke about his own political career, in which he unsuccessfully competed for Canada's Prime Ministership as the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, from the perspective of Machiavelli's account of Fortune. He said with some poignancy that he had never fully understood the depth of Machiavelli's insights until he was a public official. The leader must be "in tune with the times," Ignatieff stated, echoing Machiavelli. If he is not, then his ideas, his plans, and his dreams cannot save him. "Machiavelli at 500" was filmed for later broadcast on C-Span. You can watch it here.
Prizes, Prizes, Prizes
Forgive me for boasting but this past semester has witnessed another round of awards and honors for the department's students and faculty. We are particularly proud to announce that our graduating seniors won a whopping two out of four College of Arts & Sciences writing awards. Alexaundra Zanella, CAS'13, received the Michael A. Sassano III and Christopher M. Sassano Award for Writing Excellence in the Social Sciences, and Conor Gillies, CAS'13, received the Award for Writing Excellence in the Humanities in Honor of Robert E. Charm. Both Alex and Conor received these awards for their senior theses. Alex's was entitled "An Impolitic Marriage: American Identity and British Press Politics during the Abdication Crisis, 1936," and Conor's was "Ambient New York: How Erik Satie, John Cage, and Audio Technology in the 1960's Shaped Listening in America."
Other achievements of the past few weeks include:
Professors Chernock and Dellheim Participate in WGBH's An Evening Inspired by Downtown Abbey
- BU Humanities Center scholarship awards to History Department Graduate Students Christine Axen, GRS'14, and Amy Noel, GRS'16, as well as Undergraduate History Concentrators Christopher Barnes, CAS'14, and Matthew Lavallee, CAS'14.
- A Boren Fellowship for Graduate Student Zach Fredman, GRS'16, allowing him to do a year of research in China.
- The promotions of Assistant Professors Brooke Blower and Arianne Chernock to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure.
- The 2014 Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Society for Environmental History to Professor Jim McCann. The award is given every two years to an individual who has contributed significantly to environmental history scholarship.
- The Election of Professor Jonathan Zatlin to the Executive Board of the Central European History Society.
- The inaugural College of Arts & Sciences' Dean's Award for Excellence in Graduate Education was awarded to Professor Bruce Schulman.
On February 28, Professors Dellheim, Leventhal and Chernock came together at WGBH to participate in An Evening Inspired by Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey, a Masterpiece Classics series which completed its third season this past winter, chronicles the trials and travails of the (fictitious) aristocratic Crawley family, from 1912 to 1922. The series, produced by ITV in the United Kingdom, has been a resounding success on both sides of the Atlantic and has sparked broad interest in the changing fortunes of the aristocracy—and their servants—during this tumultuous period. At the event, which featured 1920's inspired food, drink and dance, Professors Dellheim, Leventhal and Chernock gave "mini lectures" on themes that dovetailed with the series. Professor Dellheim spoke on the cultural habits of the aristocracy with an emphasis on art collecting. Professor Leventhal mapped the changing economic landscape of the 1920's. Professor Chernock, meanwhile, discussed the shifting roles of men and women in the interwar period.
That concludes my Spring 2013 report. Thanks to you all for your assistance, kind words, and shared memories over the past four years. Let me leave you, as usual with a history joke (I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel so it's a good thing that Lou Ferleger will soon take over this page)!
The past, the present and the future walked into a bar…
…it was tense.
Best wishes for a pleasant and productive summer!
Chair, History Department
William E. Huntington Professor of History