Recent Graduate Student Conferences at BU
American Political History Institute Graduate Student Conference
On April 11-12, the APHI held its sixth annual Boston University graduate student history conference. This year’s theme was “The Politics of Protest: Dissent, Interest Groups, and the Loyal and Disloyal Opposition in U.S. Political History.” The conference drew participants from twelve universities across the country and comprised five panels over two days. The panels spanned the course of United States political history, from Non-Jurors in Pennsylvania during the American Revolution (presentation by Brett Palfreyman of Binghamton University) to the pro-life left during abortion debates in the 1980s (Allison Vander Broek, Boston College). Courtney Thompson of Yale’s memorable presentation for the panel “Legislating Bodies: Public Health and Public Interest,” on the intersection of phrenological science and prison system reform in nineteenth century America, as well as Amy Smith of UNH’s contribution on African American economic life in 19th Century Portland, ME were also highlights of the conference. Smith’s presentation, part of the economic and business history panel “Money Matters: Harnessing the Power of the Market,” focused on abolitionism, economic uplift, and the Abyssinian in Portland. Presenters utilized a range of methodologies for their projects, and the conference organizers would like to draw particular attention to this year’s Outstanding Paper Prize, awarded to Glen Olson’s “Dysfunctional Empire: The Utah War and Sectional Politics.” Olson’s work situates the Utah War of 1857 against traditional narratives of the sectional crisis in the late antebellum period. The organizers would like to thank all of the commentators for providing their valuable insights, and Lisa McGirr of Harvard for her keynote address detailing her scholarly influences and method through the prism of her current book project, Prohibition and the Making of Modern America.
Robert Shimp, PhD candidate, BU
Dave Shorten, PhD candidate, BU
Oral History Workshop
On April 26th, 2014, the history department and African Center hosted an oral history workshop for BU graduate students in History and African Studies. During the workshop, entitled “Doing Oral History: Field Methods, Memory, and Ethics,” participants shared and discussed experiences and questions surrounding a wide range of topics from collecting and analyzing oral historical data, to protecting interviewees or informants. The African Studies Center and History Department sponsored the all-day event. Approximately eleven graduate students attended along with three faculty guests: Meghan Healy-Clancy (Harvard), Heidi Gengenbach (UMass Boston) and James Green (UMass Boston).
The purpose of the workshop was to devote a day to exploring and discussing the practice of oral history, broadly defined for a wide range of research interests represented by the multidisciplinary group. Some participants shared plans for individual oral histories to be central to their dissertation research and narrative. Others were interested in learning about how to incorporate a smaller set of interviews into a larger, archival-based project. And then others were interested in discussing how to utilize existing oral data collections (recorded and/or transcribed). One student joined the workshop out of a curiosity about how oral history methods might inform analysis of other historical sources intimately tied to memory, such as letters and diaries. The varied interests of the group opened up stimulating and critical areas of discussion such as the orality of written sources and understanding that with thoughtful approaches to integrating oral and written historical sources, oral history is not so distant from the written record.
The workshop was a great success thanks to the support from the African Studies Center and History Department. Thanks are also due to the graduate student attendees for their lively and thoughtful participation, and to the three faculty guests for their informative and inspiring insights into doing oral history. At the end of the day we not only left with new tools and resources to apply to our various research goals, we also created a new network of friends and colleagues across disciplines dedicated to the importance of oral history work.
Lilly Havstad, PhD candidate, BU