Spring 2021 History Department Newsletter

Catch up with the history department in our spring 2021 newsletter
Photo of apple blossoms

Greetings from the Department of History at the University of Minnesota,

This past year has been difficult for us all. We are convinced that in these hard times, history matters more than ever. It's not that history enables us to predict the future—it doesn't. But what it does is give us the capacity to put things in context, to ask different kinds of questions, and to analyze complicated situations. Knowing about the past helps us think about the present in new ways. Learning about how people lived in the past, the choices they made, and the ways they organized their societies, their successes, and their failures can be a great source of pleasure in and of itself.

We have responded to the multiple crises facing us in several ways. When the pandemic first hit, I asked colleagues to write brief essays on how epidemics had an impact on the times and places they study. The essays range from plagues in antiquity to the 1918 flu epidemic.

And of course, last May, first Minneapolis, and then the whole world, was shocked by the murder of George Floyd. Members of our department have participated in events prompted by the murder of George Floyd in a number of ways. Malinda Lindquist is one of the organizers for an Interdisciplinary Collaborative Workshop called Democracy under Threat, an ongoing project involving several departments in the College of Liberal Arts, as well as partners at Howard University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College. Their ongoing work has been given added urgency by events of last summer. The group organized a series of virtual teach-ins: “ Racial Justice Protests and Social Change” and “Art and Social Protest: Visions of Artists from Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Minneapolis.” Their work is ongoing and we look forward to future iterations of the work of the group. Malinda Lindquist has been named CLA's new associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion; read more about her appointment below.

Last summer, we began our monthly History Book Club. Someone with connections to our department (a faculty member, former faculty member, or alum) gives a short talk on a recent book, which is followed by a lively question-and-answer session. Visit our History Book Club webpage to learn about upcoming events and find links to selected recordings of past gatherings. And last fall, in collaboration with community partners, including Katie Sample and Rose McGee (of Sweet Potato Comfort Pie®️), we instigated the Katie Sample Lecture Series to honor the work of Katie Sample, a longtime proponent of the importance of educating African American youth about African and African American history.

Graduate Student News

The department has decided, with some regret, to pause graduate admissions, which means we will not be admitting a new class for fall 2021. We anticipate operating in somewhat straitened circumstances in the immediate future; our first commitment is to those students who are here. We plan to use this year to think in critical and creative ways about our graduate program. Stay tuned; we’ll be posting updates on our website.

But in the meantime, our students have been busy. More than a dozen graduate students have completed their dissertations in 2019 and ‘20. A glance at the dissertations will show you the breadth and dynamism of the work our graduate students are doing. And that work has been rewarded. Brooke Depenbusch won the University of Minnesota Graduate School’s Best Dissertation in Arts & Humanities Award in 2020 for her dissertation, “Down and Out in the USA: General Relief and the Politics of Precarity in the Shadow of the Welfare State, 1935–1964.” She continues a tradition; in 2019 Evan Taparata won the same prize for his dissertation, “No Asylum for Mankind: The Creation of Refugee Law and Policy in the United States.”

Graduate students have won other awards: Emma Snowden was awarded a Mellon-Council for European Studies Dissertation Completion Fellowship and Kent J. Weber was named a Post-Doctoral Fellow in US Foreign Policy and International Security at the Dickey Center for International Understanding, Dartmouth College. Adrian Chavana and Andrew Schumacher Bethke were each awarded the College of Liberal Arts' Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship Awards.

Public Engagement

Members of our department have taken an active role in speaking to communities beyond the academy. David Perry, our senior academic advisor, writes frequently for outlets like CNN. He recently held a workshop for faculty and graduate students on how to write opinion pieces. Among Perry’s many pieces is this article on DIY assistive technologies in the New York TimesErika Lee wrote an  op-ed on the impact of COVID-19, which appeared in the Washington Post. She also recently testified before Congress about discrimination and violence against Asian Americans; you can read her remarks or watch her video testimonyAjay Skaria has written several op-eds on activities in India. Zozan Pehlivan wrote several articles in her native Turkish on the demonstrations following the death of George Floyd; these articles have received wide circulation.

Gail Dubrow teamed up with graduate student Sarah Pawlicki and Heritage Studies & Public History alum Laura Leppink to present new work on disability justice and public history last fall for the Society of Architectural Historians. They co-taught a new graduate course on the subject this spring, focusing on sites significant in disability histories in the Twin Cities.

Our students are finding creative ways of bringing their expertise as historians to a wider public. For example, Jason Herbert, a PhD candidate, is the founder of Historians at the Movies (HATM), a group 13,500-strong that watches a Netflix movie every Sunday night. The group tweets responses to movies. When Disney showed the musical Hamilton last July, HATM generated 6,000 tweets and notice from the New York Times.


Two faculty members have published books in 2020. Kirsten Fischer’s American Freethinker: Elihu Palmer and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in the New Nation appeared in December from the University of Pennsylvania Press and Allen Isaacman’s Mozambique’s Samora Michel: A Life Cut Short from Ohio State University Press. MJ Maynes co-edited an innovative book called Children and Youth as Subjects, Objects, Agents: Rethinking Research Across Space and Time, (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming April 2021) with UMN colleagues Deborah Levison and Fran Vavrus. The book is the result of a multi-year interdisciplinary collaborative housed at the University’s Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change. The book includes 14 chapters, many of them by UMN faculty, graduate students, and alums; they showcase innovative approaches to the interdisciplinary field of childhood and youth studies.


Faculty have won a number of external awards. Erika Lee was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Zozan Pehlivan won a Guggenheim Fellowship for her project A Climate of Violence: Environmental Crises in the Late Ottoman Empire. Katharine Gerbner was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for her project Constructing Religion, Defining Crime: Slavery, Power and Belief. And a number of faculty have attained recognition from the College of Liberal Arts here at the University of Minnesota. Kathryn Reyerson was named the Paul Frenzel Land Grant Professor for the next three years, Katharine Gerbner was named a Scholar of the College, and Zozan Pehlivan received an Institute for Advanced Study fellowship for fall 2021 and a McKnight Land-Grant Professorship for 2021–23.

Our faculty have won a number of awards celebrating their excellence as teachers and their work as community-engaged scholars. Mai Na Lee has won a University of Minnesota Engaged Scholar Award; Saje Mathieu has won an Award for Global Engagement and a Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award; Malinda Lindquist has won a University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education; Tom Wolfe won the "Red" Motley Teaching Award, and Ann Waltner won an award for Outstanding Contributions to Graduate and Professional Services.

Our undergraduates continue to do excellent work. Some of that work is featured in the second edition of the Center for Austrian Studies undergraduate publication, the Central Europe Yearbook.

Four undergraduates won Donovan Awards to fund research projects in 2019–20. Here are the awardees and the titles of their projects. The project titles give you some sense of the variety of work our undergraduates are conducting.

  • Cristina Craig: Competing Childhoods: An Analysis of Children's Work In British Colonial Kenya
  • Ian Fuchs: As Long as It's "Not Grotesque": Sanctioned and Punished Queerness in the Great War
  • Kate Beaudry: How Germanic Tribes Can Affect Modern Political Identity
  • Benjamin Reis: City on Fire: Survival in Charleston during the Civil War

And last but not least, we welcomed four new colleagues to the department in fall 2020. Sheer GanorAaron HallIgor Tchoukarine, and Andre Kobayashi Deckrow. Next year, we will be joined by Sarah Balakrishnan. We look forward to building a future together with them, in which we can all find a place that is both safe and just.


Ann Waltner

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