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Boston University Arts & Sciences

History News
Newsletter of the BU History Department

On The Road: BU History In The Eurozone

During the 2012 spring semester, four members of the faculty will conduct research across the Atlantic: Jim Schmidt and Eugenio Menegon in Italy, Jonathan Zatlin in Germany, and Simon Rabinovitch in Finland. Here are the first in a series of reports:

Eugenio Menegon is spending the spring semester in Rome to collect materials for his study of Europeans in imperial Beijing. As hub of the global activities of the Catholic church for centuries (including the China mission), Rome is home to several archives preserving a rich record of the religious, scientific, and artistic activities of the Europeans who served at the Qing imperial court during the 17th and 18th century. Most of the Europeans stationed in the Chinese capital were members of religious orders, trained in Europe both as missionaries and as technicians (astronomers, mathematicians, cartographers, clock makers, musicians, painters, etc.). In their technical roles, these men were able to remain in China even during periods of imperial prohibition of their religious activities, which they continued clandestinely while building clever automatons for the emperor or mapping the empire’s provinces.

Prizes The Europeans sent reports to their superiors in Rome, including details about their daily life, the prices of food, clothing, and real estate in Beijing, as well as their petty quarrels over money, courtly influence, and liturgical-ritual matters. The correspondence reveals recurrent tensions along national lines (e.g., French vs. Portuguese) or on the basis of divergent theological positions. Those quarrels fractured the small European community of Beijing, made up of an explosive mélange of men from Portugal, France, Germany, Flanders, Italy, and other nations. Letters and funds took years to reach China from Europe, and thus Beijing’s European residents had to make investments in China and elsewhere to sustain their enterprise, and had to rely on the protection of the Qing monarchs, as well as other Manchu and Chinese patrons in the capital. In the end, they succeeded in surviving as a group for over 200 years (1600–1838), ensconced within the Chinese bureaucracy and court.

Those quarrels and details of everyday life were mirrored in copious written reports all the way back to Rome. History, however, is not just made of documents. Walking the narrow streets of central Rome from his home near the Pantheon to reach the archives of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith on the Gianicolo—a hill beside the Vatican—is a daily exercise in historical reconstruction for Professor Menegon as well. The palaces, convents, and churches one passes by on the way were the very places where returned “old China hands” advised the papacy on Chinese matters. Together with the stately Palace of Propaganda Fide at Piazza di Spagna, designed by the famous architect Borromini, the Dominican Convent of the Minerva with its beautiful Casanatense Library was the center of the anti-Jesuit China missionaries. And yet, the Jesuit Roman College and the Professed House of the Gesù Church, seats of the Jesuit Order’s resistance to their political and religious enemies in Rome, are within a short distance from the Minerva Convent.

Those places, so close to each other, evoke in a tangible manner the passions of the political and theological struggles surrounding the China mission, and make one wonder how the Cardinals, the Pope, and the members of religious groups in the papal capital must have imagined the city of Beijing and the empire of China described in vivid detail in the written reports from the field. That is, after all, the same challenge in historical imagination that the historian faces while reading the archival record on the Europeans’ activities in the Qing capital. Thankfully, a cup of fragrant Italian espresso is always around the corner to help fire that imagination…

Meanwhile, Simon Rabinovitch writes from cold Helsinki:

Prizes During the Cold War, Helsinki was a very popular destination for western scholars interested in Russia and the Soviet Union. Finland was part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917, and from 1828 the University’s library served as an imperial repository, meaning it had the right to acquire a copy of everything published in the Empire. Because historians were free to use the library unhindered and away from prying eyes, and because of the city’s proximity to Leningrad, Helsinki became a significant center for Russian and Slavic studies. Many scholars, myself included, had their first Russian experience on the train from Helsinki to Leningrad (in my case, already renamed St. Petersburg). While Finns don’t generally admit it, Helsinki looks (and feels) Russian enough that during the Cold War, many films set in Russia were shot in Helsinki instead of the Soviet Union (see, for example, the classic Warren Beatty film Reds).

Now I’m back, spending the 2011–12 academic year as a Research Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, an independent center within the University of Helsinki. As I travel by train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg these days, I have the sense of coming full circle, and not just because Putin will likely soon be President again. I first made the trip in 2002 to study Russian at St. Petersburg State University, and I conducted most of my dissertation research in St. Petersburg in 2005–6. This time around, I’m writing and revising a book rather than starting a new project from scratch, but walking the streets where many of the key events in my story took place creates the same inspiring effect.

In one significant difference, this year I will have a nice respite from the northern European winter. 2005–6 was the coldest winter northern and eastern Europe had experienced in over 30 years, with temperatures consistently below minus 20 Celsius. People were still walking on the Gulf of Finland at the end March! Fortunately, our weather this winter has been mild and at the moment, when I look out the window as I write, it looks like I’m working inside a cheery snow globe. Nonetheless, in February and March, I will be a visiting scholar at Tel Aviv University’s Goldstein-Goren Center for Diaspora Research. I’m looking forward to revisiting the resources in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and my family is willing to suffer through days at the beach while I work.

History Bookshelf: Professor Betty Anderson And Doctoral Student
Linda Killian Publish New Books

Organizational Capabilities and the Rise of the New England Patriots Prizes

Both Associate Professor Betty Anderson and doctoral student Linda Killian have authored new books. Late last year, the University of Texas Press brought out Anderson’s The American University of Beirut: Arab Nationalism and Liberal Education, which the press describes as “a unique and comprehensive analysis of how the school shifted from a missionary institution providing a curriculum in Arabic to one offering an English-language American liberal education extolling freedom of speech and analytical discovery.” Recently featured in the Jordan Times, Anderson’s book has been touted as “the definitive study of the American University of Beirut.”

For more, click here.


Linda Killian, currently completing her doctoral dissertation, has had a distinguished career as a journalist, author, and administrator. Her new book, The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents, came out this month from St. Martin’s Press and already has received favorable attention. Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report and political analyst for NBC News, says that “Linda Killian does a great job of not only examining the importance and historic role of those independent and moderate swing voters who live between the partisan and ideological forty-yard lines, but she examines their mind-sets as well. What makes swing voters tick, what swings them and why? An understanding of swing voters leads to an understanding of the volatility and the turbulence that drove the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections and will likely drive 2012 as well.”

An excerpt appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, for more click here.

News and Notes

Professor Jonathan Zatlin attended a black-tie affair in New York City on December 13, where he was awarded the 2011 DAAD Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in German and European Studies. Held at the Cipriani Wall Street, an events center located in a bank built in the Gilded Age right across from the Federal Reserve building and near the stock exchange, the star-studded dinner included attendance by a variety of luminaries from the U.S. and Germany, including the CEOs of Alcoa, Estée Lauder, and Footlocker; star athletes, such as Edwin Moses, Rod Laver, and Stan Smith (the head of Adidas was also honored); prominent German politicians such as Otto Schily, the former German Interior Minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the former German Defense Minister and current EU Internet-Czar, Rudolph Scharping, former head of the Social Democratic Party, and the current German ambassadors to the U.S. and UN. Zatlin reports that it was the first time he’s worn a tux in twenty years!”

Zatlin also won the Hans Rosenberg Article Prize for 2010 for his article, “Integrating without Unifying: The East German Collapse and German Unity,” Central European History 43:3 (September 2010): 484–507. The prize is awarded by the Conference Group for Central European History biannually for the best English-language article or essay on central European history.

If you have been following the race for the Republican Presidential nomination, you know that every one of the candidates claims the mantle of Ronald Reagan, no one more so than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who bills himself as “a strong Reagan conservative” in distinction to the “Massachusetts Moderate” Mitt Romney. But, as graduate student Zack Smith reveals in his recent article for the website POLITICO, Newt took another U.S. president as his role model. Smith’s article draws on research from his recently completed dissertation, “From the Well of the House: Remaking the House Republican Party from 1978 to 1994.” Smith defended his dissertation on December 7, 2011.

Professor Charles Capper chaired and commented on the session “American Slavery: Reinforcements and Reactions” at the Society for U.S. Intellectual History Conference and Meeting, which met at the Graduate Center, CUNY, November 17–18, 2011. This now-annual conference was organized four years ago by a group of recent history PhDs eager to provide a forum for exciting new work in the field. This year, S-USIH presented 36 sessions in which several hundred scholars from ABDs to many of the most prominent intellectual historians in the United States participated. The quality of the papers was high and the spirit equally so, evidencing again the (re)rise of intellectual history during the last couple of decades.

Professor Nina Silber spoke on November 17 at the Massachusetts Historical Society to discuss some of the ideas in her book, Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War, recently released by Harvard University Press in paperback. She also participated in a panel on post-Civil War reconciliation at the Southern Historical Association meeting in Baltimore and in a panel on women and the labor force after World War II at the recent meeting of the Social Science History Association in Boston.

At the annual meetings of the Social Science History Association in November, doctoral student Anne Blaschke delivered a paper entitled, “Sport, Race, and Feminist Engagement: Women Athletes and the Politics of Professionalization.”

Professor Lou Ferleger has just published “America’s Dead Zones: From Dodge City to Durango, Why Does Prosperity Pass So Many Places By?” This insightful article investigates why some regions are recovering, while others across America remain in deep decline and asks how did this happen and what can we do? For more, please click here.

Professor Andrew Bacevich delivered the annual George C. Marshall Lecture sponsored by the Society for Military History. The History News Network (HNN) recorded the lecture, which is available at http://hnn.us/blogs/andrew-j-bacevich-revisionist-imperative.

Professor Jon Roberts recently published an article, “Science and Christianity in America: A Limited Partnership.” It appears in American Christianities: A History of Dominance and Diversity, ed. Catherine A. Brekus and W. Clark Gilpin (UNC Press).

Come Join Us

Come join us on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, at 7 p.m., in the BU Photonics Center for the annual Gaspar Bacon Lecture. Pulitzer Prize-winner Alan Taylor kicks off our “Landmarks” series with a presentation marking the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812: “The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels & Indian Allies.” A reception will follow the lecture.

Keep Us in the Loop

Let us know about news or upcoming events. Please send news items to megmay@bu.edu, or call Megan Maynard Winderbaum at 617-353-2540.

Boston University

Boston University
Department of History
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Telephone: 617-353-2551
Fax: 617-353-2556
E-mail: history@bu.edu