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Boston University Arts & Sciences

History News
Newsletter of the BU History Department


History students and faculty resumed life on Bay State Road this month after adventures across the globe (and some closer to home). Returning to a familiar theme (remember that first required essay in high school English?), in this issue, graduate students Chris Conz and Zach Fredman, recent graduate Maggie Scull, undergraduate Ilana Berman, and Professor Cathal Nolan tell us what they did over the summer break.

By Zach Fredman

Without air conditioning, August in Chongqing would be utterly unbearable. After spending a few years here during World War II, Karl Eskelund, a Danish-American journalist, wrote that “Chongqing has two seasons, both of them bad.” August is the worst month of the long summer: daytime highs frequently exceed 100 degrees, the nights drop to the low eighties, and it’s always humid. But I nevertheless enjoyed a pleasant and productive stay here while doing research in the municipal archives and visiting local historical sites.

A dense, hilly, heavy industry center located in the Sichuan Basin at the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze rivers, Chongqing ranks alongside Wuhan and Chengdu as one of China’s largest inland cities. From 1938 to 1945, with much of coastal China under Japanese control, Chongqing served as Chiang Kai-shek’s wartime capital. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese followed the Nationalist government to Chongqing, taking machinery and entire factories along with them in an exodus no less impressive than the Communists’ 1934 to 1935 Long March to Yan’an. From the relative safety of the Sichuan Basin, Chiang’s Nationalist government survived the war, only to fall to Mao Zedong’s Communists in 1949.

Image: Zach in China

Zach in China

I visited Chongqing, courtesy of a short-term GRAF from the BU Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, in order to carry out preliminary dissertation research. Many of China’s municipal archives have opened to foreign researchers only during the past couple of years, and few Western studies of China during the 1940s—my period of interest—have used these manuscript collections. My project focuses on wartime interactions between ordinary Chinese and Americans. Tens of thousands of Americans—soldiers, journalists, businessmen, relief workers, spies, diplomats, police advisors, and others—passed through western China during the war, making the 1940s the largest encounter to date between Chinese and Americans. Much of the literature from the period covers elite politics, operational military history, and high-level diplomacy. I aim to use these recently opened municipal archives to show how ordinary Chinese and Americans understood and dealt with this large American presence.

While in the archives, I examined local police, city government, and education bureau records. In 2007, the archivists began digitizing their collection, and their online-finding aid made my work a lot easier. But this was also my first time dealing with handwritten documents, and the penmanship and condition of many documents leaves a lot to be desired. The staff, however, was friendly, helpful, and eager to assist me in making my way to local museums and historical sites.

Over the weekends, I visited two museums dedicated to the American wartime presence—one at the former home of General Joseph Stilwell, chief of U.S. forces in China, and the other dedicated to America’s famous pilots in China, the Flying Tigers. I also explored the Chinese Nationalists’ wartime command center and several rebuilt wartime prisons where U.S. advisors helped train Chinese commandos and security forces. The locals were surprised to meet an American with a Sichuan accent who could speak to them about China’s wartime history and they treated me well.

Next spring, I plan to return to Chongqing to carry out long-term research, and I also plan to visit municipal archives in other cities where the Americans had a significant presence.

By Maggie Scull

On a day in early May, I got into my car and drove south, past horse ranches and farms, deep into Kentucky. Why leave my home in the north? To visit a place I had imagined for years—the Abbey of Gethsemani. Now, I’m not a very religious person, nor am I irreligious—I’m curious. My mother raised me Catholic and I spent college exploring other religions and beliefs, hoping to gain perspective. A friend of mine from high school took a weekend retreat to a monastery near Lexington, Kentucky, and, since then, I’d been curious about that, too. So when a chapter ended in my life, I quickly jumped at the opportunity to spend a week at this monastery.

Image: Abbey of Gethsemani

Abbey of Gethsemani

Upon arrival, I became speechless as the Abbey came into view. After driving through back roads, you’re not expecting to see this towering structure among the rolling hills. Admittedly, I was nervous. I’m not one for doing anything alone. I got out of my car, grabbed my overnight bag and headed toward the entrance. As you walk up to the Abbey, there are signs everywhere asking for silence in the courtyards. When I arrived in the guesthouse, I soon realized that the brother in charge of check-ins was attending service. I’d have to wait, in silence.

When service did end, it was time for dinner. After a silent meal, the Abbey’s chaplain gave us a brief talk. He explained that Brother Thomas Merton, a famous monk who resided at the Abbey, believed “to entertain silence in the heart and listen for the voice of God—to pray for your own discovery.” The chaplain elaborated, explaining that we only needed to be silent in designated areas, like the dining room or the halls. We could speak to our friends if we wanted to. However, I wanted to commit to silence. So for four nights and five days, I said not a word (except for the occasional slip up, where I accidentally muttered ‘thank you’ to any passing kindness).

Every day, the brothers pray together eight times, beginning at 3:15 a.m. with Vigils and ending at 7:30 p.m. with the Compline. The Abbey does not require its guests to attend any religious services. Guests can attend as many or as few religious services as they would like. Often, guests attend one to two services a day, although a few guests attend none.

The monks spend the mornings after breakfast working for the next four hours. Some brothers work in the guesthouse while others work in the kitchen making the Abbey’s famous fudge and fruitcakes.

The only ‘plan’ guests must follow is the meal schedule. Breakfast, dinner, and supper have strict times and I often found myself running so I would not be late. Otherwise, guests can spend time in Chapel in prayer, go hiking through the thousand acres of forest, or simply read in one of the many outdoor siting areas. The Abbey owns an extensive library with both religious and secular texts. Another highlight of the monastery is the cemetery in front, containing graves dating back hundreds of years (including Abraham Lincoln’s first teacher).

I spent only five days in silence, without my cell phone or computer. For this small victory, I pat myself on the back. Yet five days is nothing compared to the experience of the brothers, who spend years in solitude and prayer. The monks offer the retreat to all guests for free, although they ask for some donation. As I write this article now, it has been a few months since my retreat. I’m heading to London in a few weeks to begin my master’s in modern history at King’s College. Even now, I still think about my time at the Abbey and treasure the peace and solitude it provided. I cannot thank the monks enough for allowing me this experience, and I hope one day to go back again.

For more information about the Abbey of Gethsemani, please visit their website.


Professor Cathal Nolan, faculty advisor for BU Water Brigades, posted a short video of the opening of a water project in the two linked villages of El Canton, Honduras. Two different crews of BU Water and Public Health Brigades students from five BU schools and colleges completed a dam, 16 kilometers of buried PCP pipeline, and a rebuilt treatment tank; the system has been turned on, so that clean, safe water is now flowing freely. This is the third such project to be completed since BU Water Brigades began in January 2010, bringing treated water directly to four villages in the high mountains forming a bowl valley about two hours south of Teguce (or Tegucigalpa). Medical Brigades follow up in these villages with public health impact studies. Already, parasite and child diarrhea rates have markedly declined in one-year-out studies.


Graduate student Christopher Conz spent two months in southern Africa studying the Sesotho language at the National University of Lesotho. The trip was made possible by a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) summer fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education, via the African Studies Center at BU. While at NUL, he was also able to spend time at the University archives and establish new contacts which will be important for future fieldwork in Lesotho.

Image: Ilana Berman

Ilana Berman

This past summer, sophomore Ilana Berman interned at HistoryMiami, the premier institution charged with celebrating Miami’s history. Most notably, she produced an exhibit trailer for HistoryMiami’s newest exhibit, “The Guayabera: A Shirt’s Story.” The exhibit gained attention from the Miami Herald and New York Times.

Image: Thornton Book

Cambridge University Press recently announced the publication of Professor John Thornton’s latest book, A Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1250–1820. Exploring the linkages in the histories of Africa, Europe, and North and South America, Thornton traces the backgrounds of the populations on these three continental landmasses brought into contact by European navigation and the political and social implications of the encounters, excavating the origins of a variety of Atlantic societies and showing how new ways of eating, drinking, speaking, and worshipping developed in the newly created Atlantic World. According to Ira Berlin, the author of Many Thousands Gone, “John Thornton captures the moment Africa, Europe and the Americas came together and the new world that was created. A Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1250–1820, will be a foundation stone in the study of the Atlantic, simultaneously an entry point for novices, a reference for established scholars, and a guide for future studies. An extraordinary achievement.”

Image: Haberkern Baby

Baby Brendan and family.

Brendan Conrad Haberkern was born on July 29 at 8:24 a.m., and he weighed 7 lbs., 6 oz. He’s doing great, as are his mom and big sister, and we couldn’t be more excited about his arrival!


Named after Robert Shotwell, father to one BU alum and grandfather to another, the fellowship brings the quality of persistence to this scholarship. Graduate students are known for procrastination, taking longer and longer to complete their dissertations. Bob Shotwell’s notable tenacity illustrates how persistence can lead to the satisfaction of completion. Born in 1920s Los Angeles, he had almost finished studies at the University of Southern California when WWII recruiting officers enlisted his skills as a photographer, leaving him one semester short of graduation. Almost 60 years later, he returned to receive his degree as the oldest graduate in the history of the Marshall School of Business. Between the war and graduation, he was an entrepreneur in the printing and copier industry and is now engaged in several projects relating to history, his favorite subject. In Camden, Maine, where he resides, he leads a project to refurbish a historic theater and has established the Cole House for history teachers at Montpelier, General Henry Knox’s house in Thomaston, Maine. This year’s winners are:

Seth Blumenthal

“Bridging the Gap: Nixon, New Politics and the First Youth Vote, 1968–1972,” argues that young Americans of the 1968 generation provided a limit to the conservative realignment Richard Nixon envisioned but also revitalized the Republican Party after the 1960s. As president, Nixon struggled to implement his law-and-order conservative policies on youth problems such as marijuana and campus disorders while he acquiesced to youth-friendly congressional members on other issues such as the draft, environmental protection, and lowering the voting age. Young liberals also motivated Senator George McGovern’s presidential campaign that secured the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1972. Nixon cultivated his own youth cadre, Young Voters for the President (YVP). Carefully targeting non-students to join this 400,000-member organization, YVP leaders utilized both grassroots organization and Madison Avenue’s modern advertising techniques to pry increasingly independent young voters and the “sons and daughters of the silent majority” from previous Democratic strongholds such as urban, ethnic enclaves and the Sunbelt.

Michael Holm

“America in the World: Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy in the Early Cold War,” examines the origins and influence of American exceptionalist ideology on the foreign policies of the Truman administration from the end of the Second World War in 1945 to the outbreak of the war in Korea in 1950. I argue that the ideological threat posed by the Soviet Union at the onset of the Cold War ignited Americans’ historical consciousness and cultural self-perception of their nation as the world’s savior—that the Cold War did not change Americans; the Cold War made them more themselves. Analyzing the influence of language and ideas on President Truman’s foreign policy, this study demonstrates how American exceptionalist ideology—to a far greater extent than national interest—manifested itself in every major foreign policy initiative during the early years of the Cold War as the U.S. set out to create a new world order.

Jonathan Koefoed

“Cautious Romantics: The Transcendental Trinitarians and the Transatlantic Romantic Discourse,” argues that between 1800 and 1860, there is a vast and overlooked intellectual discourse in antebellum America. I call this discourse Cautious Romanticism as these influential artists, literary critics, professors, writers, and clergymen don’t fit into the historical narratives and categories available. Intellectually, they were American Romantics, but they rejected the American Transcendentalists religious innovations and liberal optimism. Religiously, the Cautious Romantics also don’t fit into our established understanding; they were simultaneously critical of Old School Calvinism, Unitarianism, Evangelicalism, and Transcendentalism, and they came from various religious denominations. Using letters, personal journals, and published sources, I contend that these intellectuals were a distinct, Romantic discourse that transcended intellectual genre, gender, religious denomination, or politics. By taking this approach, I provide a new perspective on the well-known artists Washington Allston and Thomas Cole by placing them in a larger historical and intellectual discourse beyond art history. I also provide a more complex perspective on certain Catholic convert intellectuals, like Orestes Brownson and Isaac Hecker, who are almost always seen simply as Catholic. Finally, numerous under-researched and even unknown figures like Richard Henry Dana Sr., James Marsh, Sophia Dana Ripley, and George Allen find their proper place in the American intellectual narrative.


  • Modern Intellectual HistoryAugust 2012 Issue Published. Professor Charles Capper is the co-editor of Modern Intellectual History along with Duncan Kelly (Cambridge), Anthony La Vopa (NC State), and Sam Moyn (Columbia). The journal is based at BU and published by Cambridge University Press in the UK.
  • Jonathan Koefoed delivered a paper titled “‘The First Painter from America’: Washington Allston’s European Sojourn and the Advent of Transatlantic Romanticism” at the Boston-Warwick Conference on the Atlantic World on May 24, 2012, at the University of Warwick.
  • History Department PhD Belete Bizuneh is now chair of the History Department of Addis Ababa University.
  • Professor Simon Rabinovitch published a new article, “Europe, the Orient, and the changing image of the Jews,” in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
  • Aaron Hiltner Wins Outstanding Teaching Fellow Award. Aaron has served as a grader for several classes and earned high praise from students as a teaching fellow for HI 300 American Popular Culture.
  • Matt Pressman Wins Research Paper Prize. First-year graduate student Matthew Pressman won the History Department’s “Outstanding First Year Graduate Research Paper Prize,” for his paper “Black and White and Red All Over? Reassessing Newspapers’ Role in the Red Scare of 1919.” Congratulations to him!
  • Professor Jim Johnson Wins Kenschur Prize. The Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies, housed at Indiana University, has awarded Professor James Johnson the Oscar Kenshur Book Prize for his 2011 book, Venice Incognito (the book has already won the Mosse Award of the American Historical Association). The Kenshur Prize is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph of interest to eighteenth-century scholars working in any discipline.
  • Professor Simon Payaslian, Kenosian Chair in Modern Armenian History and Literature, presented a paper titled “The Armenian Book, Translation, and Cultural Domestication and Resistance,” at the Armenians and the Book symposium, which was held in conjunction with the exhibits at Harvard University and the Armenian Library and Museum (ALMA) commemorating the 500th anniversary of the first printed Armenian book.

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