Friday, December 16, 2011

The end of finals!

Well, here we are at the very end of finals week in the last testing period of the last day! I appreciate that my students are all tired, anxious to be done, and to be on their way to home, family, and Christmas vacation. Amen.

I commend those students who stuck it out with me over the week and are diligently finishing their exams on this last day. I thank them all for their efforts.

I hope they all have a great vacation and come back safely. I look forward to seeing them all here in the new 2012 spring semester!

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Location:Saint Edmunds Hall, Room 106

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tis the Season!: Senior Thesis Presentations (2)

As the day progressed, so too did the wonderful presentations! The students were professional, absorbed in their topics and the faculty inordinately proud of their accomplishments! Congratulations!!!!!!!!!

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Location:STE 102

Tis the Season!: Senior Thesis Presentations

The sure signs are out that it is the end of the fall semester here at Saint Mike's. The bells are pealing with Christmas hymns, the library is full of students working with a redecorated effort (perhaps they are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?), and in the History Department the seniors are finishing up their capstone projects in Senior Seminar. Saturday, December 3rd, is the day they present their project presentations and we all celebrate their creativity, industriousness, and the fruit of their labors.

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Location:Saint Ed's Hall

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Early Fall Semester Update

It is indeed hard to believe that we are at the beginning of the fourth week of our fall (2011) semester! I think we have started the semester well here in the History Department. Our six full time and two part-time members of our department are offering sixteen courses on the introductory and upper levels, covering American, European, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Asian history. (Our colleague, Dr. Douglas Slaybaugh, is on sabbatical this fall, as I think I have mentioned before.) We have a number of new seminars offered this fall. Each caps at fifteen students, and they include "Orwell in the 1930's" (Dr. Jennifer Purcell) and "Topics in Latin American History: Islands in the Caribbean" (Dr. Kathryn Dungy, pictured above). We also have one new introductory survey course, "Medieval Europe" (taught by yours truly), which is a one semester replacement for our medieval history survey that used to be two semesters. Other offerings on the upper level include "World War II in Asia," "The American Revolution," and "The Black Death."
What is also particularly exciting to me is the strong start of our senior seminar in History, required of all majors in their senior year. This is the capstone course for our majors, and each of them will be presenting his or her research results in early December. It is always a small seminar, and this semester we have fourteen students working on a variety of topics (ten History majors and four American Studies majors). The wide-ranging topics include the Armenian genocide, the history of policies in Major League Baseball on performance enhancing drugs, the Thomas Indian School in New York, and the legacy of racism in Birmingham, Alabama.
In the past few months we have been revising our History Department Web site, so if you have not yet checked it out, please do so. We also have a number of upcoming events, including our annual Kuntz Lecture early next semester and our bi-annual pre-registration pizza dinner for our majors in October (when we lay out the course selection for the following semester).
Today I am headed out to the Ethan Allen Homestead in the new North End of Burlington to hear a lecture by my colleague, Dr. Susan Ouellette. She is talking about what we can learn about women's work in early nineteenth century America from her study of the diary of Phebe Orvis Eastman (her current research). This comes just a few days after I heard my colleague in Religious Studies, Dr. John Kenney, speak at the College on Neo-Platonism and Saint Augustine. These are two reasons why being a faculty member at Saint Michael's College can always be so enlightening and also so much fun. The learning just never stops, even (or especially) for a middle-aged college professor.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Academic fair!

Here we are at Ross gym with professor Dameron and Tan Wai Hui. A freshman History student Mr. Tan stopped by our table to talk and get to know us. We are pleased to have a great new student join the ranks!

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Location:Ross gym

First day at Saint Mike's

Okay. Summer's officially over...... The first day of classes is Monday, the freshmen are on campus, and the rest of the students will move in this weekend just ahead of a hurricane. Hopefully everyone will be safe and the worst that happens is we get some much-needed rain here in the valley.

More importantly, the semester is about to launch and everyone is anticipating an exciting new experience. The faculty and administration are looking forward to the launch of the new curriculum model and the expansion of our scholarly and academic efforts. The students, while there maybe some apprehension among them, are looking forward to the changes that will hopefully smooth out some of the variable credit bumps they and others have experienced in the past.

In the History department we are excited about all of this, but we also have a few other developments that raise our spirits. We have a new faculty member to get to know, Kathryn Dungy, our newly appointed Latin Americanist. Kathryn's expertise will enhance the department's offerings and her presence will grace us. Another new faculty member will arrive in the fall of 2012, Katharina Ivanyi, who will teach courses on the Near East, Islam, and the Ottoman Empire. The history program will be enormously enhanced by these teachers and their scholarly interests.

So, here we go, but maybe we can still enjoy a few sunsets over the water.........

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Location:Somewhere on Lake Champlain

Monday, July 25, 2011

Our New Curriculum ..... and other stuff

Although I am still concentrating hard upon enjoying the remains of the summer, I have been thinking about the new curriculum and what it means for faculty as well as students. Most faculty are excited to have the opportunity to expand their courses within the new scheduling concepts and to think about creating greater academic rigor in those same courses. As they imagine it, students will have the ability to concentrate on four courses rather than a multitude of five, six or seven as often has been the case in the past.

On the other side of the desk, students have expressed various opinions to me as well; some fear the new curriculum could mean unreasonable expectations on the part of faculty in their course work while others see the revised schedules as a sort of "get out of jail free" card. I hope that as the new semester unfolds and we begin to explore the ways in which the new 4/4 scheduling works, we will find that there is time for more textured and nuanced learning both in the classroom as well as in outside preparation. At the same time, the new schedule will also mean less awkward maneuvering for athletic and other extra-curricular student pursuits. I hope the results will live up to our aspirations, but it will take a commitment from all of us to make it happen. I promise to do my part.

While the summer is still upon us, I contemplate this from a distance. I still have those summer commitments to finish. Maxx has learned to sit, stay, and lie down! He does not see the necessity of learning "Come!" I think he's just adopted the Champlain islands attitude: no worries, mate, the sun is shining!

Obedience school may be next, but in the meantime I am working on my tan......

Have a safe and happy rest of the summer!

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Location:Alburgh, Vermont, United States

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Faculty Summer Research

This summer I will not be doing research in Italy, as I was doing in the fall semester of 2010 during my last sabbatical (the photograph of me on a bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice was taken in October of that year). Rather, like most of the my colleagues in the department, I will be writing at home this summer. In my last post I described the senior thesis presentations, awards, and festivities that come at the end of the academic calendar in May--these are the graduation events that mark the culmination of the year for the History major. After we faculty members congratulate and sadly say goodbye to our students (as we did on May 16), we begin to devote ourselves exclusively to research, writing, and to preparing for our classes in the coming fall semester. The three and half months between Commencement in May and the first day of classes in September are among the most productive periods for faculty scholarship. Dr. Susan Ouellette has already carefully outlined in her blog the nature of her work during her sabbatical on a new manuscript, and she will continue this writing project during the summer. All other faculty members in our department are equally engaged, exploring the variety of historical problems that intrigue them most. A few examples demonstrate this quite well. Dr. Purcell is currently in Britain doing research for her new book on an aspect of twentieth century British popular culture and gender (she will also be presenting at a conference). Dr. Slaybaugh, our twentieth century US historian, is beginning his sabbatical (second half of 2011) this summer, which he will devote to the research and writing of his next book. For the first part of the summer, however, he will be supervising a student, Mary Farnsworth, in her summer research project (funded by the Vice President for Academic Affairs). This is a survey and study of Ms. Farnsworth's family papers that go back to the time of the American Revolution. My main set of tasks this spring and summer is to complete three essays and deliver them to the editors who have requested them. One essay has to do with the history of the idea of Purgatory and is entitled "Purgatory and Modernity." Another essay outlines the history of the Church in the Florence (Italy) at the time of the early fourteenth century poet, Dante Alighieri. The third essay will interpret the development of church lordship in the European Middle Ages and is meant primarily for an audience of professional scholars and advanced students of medieval Christianity. So, as you can see, during the spring and summer months after Commencement and before classes begin on August 29, the members of the History Department are doing what they love to do: explore the past, write about it, and make their discoveries available to other historians and to the public by publishing their findings. And in the fall, they will bring and share what they have discovered and their enthusiasm for their research into the classroom with their students.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The end of my sabbatical!

My sabbatical projects are almost finished. I've got one more chapter to finish and a bit more polishing on my manuscript before I send it off to the readers. Then I will start thinking about the fall teaching.

It has been a productive sabbatical. I polished and sent out an article for publication in the Dublin Seminar Proceedings, wrote a review of a new book for Vermont History, and wrote six chapters for my book. The most interesting thing was my experience with filming a TV interview. I don't know how that came out, but we'll see this fall.

Finally, my major sabbatical project, Max, has been coming along nicely. He's house-broken and knows how to sit and lay down. He understands when I ask him if he wants to go for a walk; he gets excited and jumps around so much I now have to spell w-a-l-k if I want to make it to the door before him. Unfortunately he does not seem to want to learn what "Come, Max!" means, so he has to be restrained when outside, but we're working on that. I

I am getting excited about the fall. The new curriculum should be interesting and I have missed teaching this spring! But, I don't want to get ahead of myself, I still have a bit of summer to enjoy..............

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Location:somewhere on Lake Champlain.....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Senior Presentations and Graduation, 2011

Since Dr. Susan Ouellette is currently on sabbatical leave, completing the manuscript of a book, I have been filling in for her as interim Chair until the end of her term on July 1. After that date I am excited to start a fresh three-year term as Chair of the History Department. This is my first blog post, and it will be one of many in the coming months. We have a lot of news to report, but I want my first posting to focus on our senior thesis presentations on April 29 and the graduation festivities of the past week.

Graduation is always a very bittersweet time for both the History Department faculty and our graduating seniors. Thirty-two of our majors graduated on a very rainy Monday, May 16, and began (or "commenced") a new phase of their lives as Saint Michael's College graduates with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. It is bittersweet because while we faculty are happy to see our students complete their degree, we also fondly remember the many exciting moments of intellectual exchange and learning that we shared with them, both in the classroom or on academic study trips. I for one still recall precisely where many of our graduating History seniors sat in my classroom almost four years ago, shortly after they had first arrived on campus. And though they have left the campus physically as new graduates, many of them will remain in contact with us faculty as they develop their careers as lawyers, secondary or elementary school teachers, college and university professors, museum curators, businessmen or businesswomen (among many other professions).

The History Department celebrated the graduation of our seniors with our annual ice cream social on Baccalaureate Sunday, and one of the highlights of that event for me was the ability to meet and talk with the families of our students over vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. Another highlight of every annual ice cream social is the announcement of the winner of the Pfeifer Prize for the best quality senior thesis from the previous calendar year. This year's (2010) winner was Thomas E. Bradley, a double major in Political Science, whose thesis, "The Right Man in the Right Place: John Hay, the Open Door, and Sino-American Relations," was cited for its "skillful use of primary and secondary sources marshaled in the form of a systematic and convincing argument."

Tom Bradley was not the only History major to win an award at graduation. Our recipient of departmental honors at the Baccalaureate Honors Ceremony was Shelby Superneau, a double major in Secondary Education and member of our local Phi Beta Kappa chapter (Gamma of Vermont). The Father Prevel Memorial Award at Commencement, given to the male student who maintained a high academic level of achievement while making "numerous and exemplary contributions" to the college community, went to Matthew Seklecki. This is the most prestigious award, along with its equivalent (the Fairbanks Award) given to a female student, that a graduate can receive at Commencement. A member of the History Department faculty was also honored at the Senior Brunch. The Student Association of the College awarded Dr. George Dameron the Reverend Gerald E. Dupont Award for his dedication to the ideals of the college and "in recognition of his outstanding contributions" to the college community.

About two weeks before graduation the History Department hosted one of the principal and key events of every spring: the oral presentations by seniors of their senior thesis research projects. We always accompany these presentations with as much pizza and coffee as our seniors and faculty can consume. This spring eleven of our seniors took about fifteen minutes to tell us about what they had discovered in their research. Each faculty member works with up to four students as a thesis advisor, and I advised four students this semester. The topics chosen by my advisees, for example, included the origins of the Robin Hood legend, the role of the theme of "cunning" in Viking sagas, the socio-economic origins of medieval cities in Belgium, and possible ties between bandits in sixteenth century Italy and the emergence of the modern mafia. I can speak for all of my colleagues when I say that the quality of these presentations has been improving steadily over the past few years! This spring was certainly no exception. We congratulate these as well as all our seniors on their graduation, and we wish them the very best as they begin a new phase in their lives.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My sabbatical projects: an update.

Since the new semester has begun, I have been working away at my sabbatical projects, but I sure have been missing everyone at Saint Mike's!

I am currently working on several projects at once: my book project, project work for our teacher institutes through the Turning Points in American History grant, and training my new puppy Max!

My book project is going well and I am on schedule to complete my manuscript by the summer. I am looking forward to finishing this work because I am already thinking about the next research/writing project!
The grant project is also going well with two teacher institutes already under our belt. As the project historian I have been developing reading lists and consulting with the project managers on their web site.
But the most fun has been hanging out with Max!
Max is a cairn terrier, six months old, and, as you can see here, he loves the snow! I believe he thinks he's Nanook of the North! It's a good thing he likes the cold with all the snow storms we've been getting. I'm getting nostalgic for spring flowers myself......

Monday, February 14, 2011

Exploring Vermont History with Professor Judy Peitscher

Vermont Women Lead the Way

With Judy Peitscher and Fifteen Seminarians

Excitedly, I plodded behind one of my students, slipping easily into the snowy footprints. Ethan and Fanny’s Place, the Ethan Allen Homestead, loomed in the dusk. Surprisingly I did not mind the cold, and realized the rest of the group was equally absorbed. So this was where Fanny’s garden was? Here they had grown the flax to become linen for their clothes in the 1780s, and the Three Sisters, beans, corn, and squash, saved them from starvation as the Abenaki had taught the early settlers. Soon we were in the house gazing at the hearth where Fanny and her daughters had labored before the fire. If only we could feel the warmth of that fire now! Dan O’Neil, director of the Homestead, gave us a thorough examination of artifacts from a yoke to a tick, helpful to students in recreating Ethan and Fanny’s Estate Document. And he sweetened the deal with hot chocolate in the “Tavern” afterwards!

“Vermont Women Lead the Way” is my new baby, an outgrowth of my experience teaching and studying American History. Along the way I met Clarina Howard Nichols, an editress of the Windham County Democrat, who crisscrossed Vermont in the 1850s fighting for the right of women to vote in school elections. To my delight I uncovered a connection between Nichols and two of the giants of the 19th century: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Hailing originally from Rochester, I was familiar with Anthony and her quest for the right to vote, and had visited her parlor where she was arrested for voting, but I did not know that these women knew each other. It made sense. After the earthquake of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, where Stanton had the audacity to demand the right to vote, seconded by Frederick Douglass, reverberations were felt up and down the Erie Canal, to Worcester, MA, and the Green Mountain State. I decided to introduce Vermont’s outstanding women and their contributions to interested students allowing us to visit their homes, learn their stories, and make connections with the national movement.

The Reform Era prior to the Civil War lured women out of their homes to fight initially the evils of slavery. Rachel Gilpin Robinson believed fervently in abolition and supported her husband’s efforts in the Ferrisburgh and Vermont Anti-Slavery Societies. We visited her home, Rokeby, in North Ferrisburgh on February 8. “How different Rokeby is from the Ethan Allen Homestead,” one student commented as we gazed at the large farmhouse built originally in 1789, augmented by an eight room addition in 1814. It appeared luxurious compared to the primitive abode of Ethan and Fanny Allen. Treated to an interesting talk by director, Jane Williamson, students found the many Rachels and Rowlands over 200 years of family history to be confusing, since the Robinsons liked to repeat names. However, it was helpful to see the artifacts, pictures, drawings, and books from a family well educated and involved in the Underground Railroad. Rachel Gilpin Robinson was our focus (1799-1862), as she led a boycott of slave produced goods and did her part in the abolitionist movement, despite ill health and four young children. We read a letter she wrote to Rowland in 1839 from Philadelphia in which she described meeting Lucretia Mott, one of the leaders of the anti-slavery movement. Quaker women enjoyed a more liberal education than most women of the time plus they were used to running their own monthly Quaker business meetings, developing skills that would be useful as the reform causes developed.

What is the next stop on our journey? Next week students present their creative primary sources and artifacts for one of Roxana’s children, a project based upon Bonfield and Morrison’s Roxana’s Children, The Biography of a Nineteenth-Century Vermont Family. And in the time of maple sugaring we venture to the Shelburne Museum to find the stories of Louisine Havemeyer and Electra Havemeyer Webb as the fight for women’s suffrage heated up in 1917.