Greg Grandin to present Cornell Becker Lecture Series

Greg Grandin

Three Lectures, Three Days

Statement: The History Department is an intentionally diverse community

The History Department is an intentionally diverse community

of scholars whose presence and perspectives are critical to our work as historians and to our understanding of the past. We stand together as historians; we stand together  as well, as  members of a diverse  community composed of different racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds, and of different religious beliefs and sexualities.  We are fully committed to defending that diversity and we stand in solidarity with our colleagues, our students and our staff who may be feeling particularly vulnerable at this time.

©Cornell Department of History

Why the Trans-Local Present Matters by Prof. Mostafa Minawi

Why the Trans-Local Present Matters

Reminder: The Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative Presents “Ethiopia: State of Emergency” A Roundtable Discussion today, Nov. 11 at 12:15, Myron Taylor Hall, 285.

“Trans-local,” “trans-national,” “trans-imperial,” all seem like academic buzz words or fads that come and go. However, as a member of the department of history faculty here at Cornell University, these terms are taken very seriously, and they are here to stay. In fact, they define much of what many of the faculty here have in common, a truly trans-local approach to thinking about historical question. For me personally, those terms are not even simply methodological approaches to conducting research or thinking about academic questions; they are (wait for it) a way of life. Though we centrally isolated in Ithaca, NY, I and many of colleagues in the history department are deeply involved in a project of border-busting through our scholarship and the life we lead.

As researchers that work across the world, in countries whose languages we learn, their food we become accustomed to, whose cultures change our own way of life, and whose peoples’ lives mesh with ours, they are never far from our thoughts, even when we are thousands of miles away. So when those places whose history we are so deeply interested in, face turmoil in the present time, we can’t turn a blind eye and maintain “an academic distance.” Those countries have given our lives so much meaning and purpose, that the least we can do is stand by them in times of Emergency.

In my case, as a historian of the Ottoman Empire, I have made it my mission to be engaged in both the past and present of this empire, which stretched across three continents, and like most empires, was in a constant state of intimate engagement with other polities, on the cultural, economic and political levels. The geographic area which the Ottoman Empire also include many of the world’s hot spots. From Aleppo to Istanbul, and from Jerusalem to Mosul.

I strongly believe that as a scholar who enjoys the luxury of safety and relative freedom of expression, I share my voice to talk about current issue affecting those regions. That is why I write Op.Eds, I try to advocate for refugee rights to education, I invite scholars and experts on and from the region, I organize roundtable discussions, not only about academic research, but also about current issues that we, as a trans-national community here at Cornell, need to be aware of. The latest event I organized was on Nov 4th, when, through the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative, I put together a cross-disciplinary roundtable on war crimes in Yemen and Syria — both successor nation-states of the Ottoman Empire.

My latest project involves researching the diplomatic relationship between the Ottoman Empire and Ethiopia in the late 19th century, which is what first brought me to Addis Ababa a couple of years back. Unfortunately, much like the Middle East, Ethiopia is experiencing its own political crisis that is affecting the lives of thousands, yet we rarely hear about it here in the United States. As a scholar working on this region and a concerned citizen of the world, I have initiated a conversation to turn the spotlight on the state of emergency currently underway in Ethiopia.

The main event will bring together scholars from across the university who will discuss the history, the political crisis, and human rights abuses that are currently taking place in Ethiopia. I believe that the more we know about what is taking place in the rest of the world, the better global citizens we can become, and perhaps more importantly, the better we can learn to recognize the signs of what to look out for in the next four years here in the USA.

The Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative Presents “Ethiopia: State of Emergency” A Roundtable Discussion today, Nov. 11 at 12:15, Myron Taylor Hall, 285.

Dr. Mostafa Minawi is Assistant Professor of History and the Director of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative (OTSI). He is the author of The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz.

OTSI Roundtable 21 March 2014-9

“Medieval Plague, Modern Ebola, Invisible Africa: Genetics and the Framing of Global Health History”


Monica H. Green to speak on November 7, 2016 @ 4:30PM in McGraw Hall, Room 165 .  Free and open to the Public.

Monica Green to speak at Cornell Nov 7

Monica Green to speak Nov 7, McGraw Hall, Room 165 at 4:30PM.

“Medieval Plague, Modern Ebola, Invisible Africa:  Genetics and the Framing of Global Health History”

Monica H. Green is Professor University, where she teaches medieval European history and the history of medicine and global health.  She has published extensively on various aspects of medieval medical history and recently edited the volume Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death (2014). She is interested in bringing new work in genetics and bio-archaeology into dialogue with traditional historical work in documentary sources, and is now expanding her work into the field of global health history, which uses the narratives of infectious diseases from leprosy to HIV/AIDS to tell of common threats to health that humans have shared the world over.

This event is co-sponsored by History, Medieval Studies, Anthropology, Africana Studies and Research Center, Space and Technology Studies, DNS Global Health Program, and Becker House.

THE GHA Second Annual Speaker Series: Michele Louro at Cornell on Nehru, India and the Interwar-World, October 24th

Michele Louro : Second Annual GHA Speaker Series

Michele Louro : Second Annual GHA Speaker Series

“Histories of Capitalism 2.0” on the Cornell campus from September 29-October 1st

Histories of Capitalism 2.0

“Histories of Capitalism 2.0” will take place on the Cornell campus from September 29-October 1st.  Building on the success of the first conference, “Histories of American Capitalism,” put on by Cornell’s History of Capitalism Initiative in 2014,  this conference will feature more global and interdisciplinary perspectives. The conference will feature five plenary addresses and dozens of papers by scholars in law, government, economics, history and many other fields.  The program can be viewed if you click on the link that says “Preliminary Program Is Now Available.”

Please see the event site for more details.

Please register if you want to attend the event. Registration includes a reception on Thursday evening after the first lecture and all meals and coffee breaks on Friday and Saturday, including the closing reception on Saturday evening. There is a special graduate student rate.

My Summer of Brexit by Rachel Weil

In which a historian finds herself living through a much more dramatic piece of History than she had bargained for.

The European Union took up maybe three minutes of the final lecture in my introductory European history survey course last May. As one aspect of the search for continental peace after the horror of the two world wars, or as a barometer gauging the always-shifting answers to the question “what is Europe?” the EU mattered a lot to my story. But how it actually works day-to-day, its constitution, its laws and regulations…. that would be a snooze, I thought, for me and my students alike.

As for the possibility that something huge was about to happen to the EU, I didn’t take it seriously. The impending referendum on Brexit (British exit from the EU) was coming up in June, but, like the Scottish referendum on independence the year before, it was a pretty sure bet that the sensible British people would opt for the status quo. Did not Edmund Burke praise that nation precisely for its averseness to radical change? So the “Leave” campaign got a brief mention; I spent much more time on the recent election of Sadiq Kahn, the first Muslim mayor of London, about whom my students were treated to something of a fangirl gush.

When classes ended, I headed off for a research trip to London. How fun, I thought, that I could see this Brexit vote up close. In the spare hours when I was not rifling through seventeenth-century documents in the archives, I happily walked around taking pictures of all the advertising on both sides. The “In” signs were especially cheerful. More fun yet for me as a historian was the juicy fight about history itself that was breaking out around Brexit. Each generation argues about the past, and those arguments are inevitably shaped by the politics of the historian’s present. Some pro-Brexit luminaries of the historical profession had started a group called “Historians for Britain.” And that had provoked some others to form “Historians for Britain in Europe,” as well as yet another group with the best name of all, “Historians for History.” What a delight to find, though, that it was not just professional historians who were fighting to create a vision of a past that could support their cause in the present. Two blocks from my rented flat,  righty on Ladbroke Grove, I found a passionate debate about history, written in magic markers,  right on top of Winston Churchill’s face! I could not wait to show it to my students.

The referendum took a darker turn, though. My first clue came as a NY Times  push notification on my iphone. “MP murdered” and a name that I did not know at the time: Jo Cox. But soon Jo Cox was heartbreakingly familiar: Images of her, smiling and spunky; her work with Oxfam, her advocacy for refugees and immigrants. The converted barge on the river Thames where she lived with her husband and two kids. Just a few days after the murder my research took me to the Parliamentary Archives, which are located inside the House of Lords. I spent a long time looking at the makeshift memorials. Candles, flowers, written messages. It was raining. I was crying.
And the man who shot and stabbed Jo Cox? He had been heard to shout “Britain First,” or something along those lines, as he attacked her.  Jo Cox was known as a strong supporter of staying in the EU. Was this really about Brexit?



Or to ask another question, what was the Brexit vote, the Brexit debate, really about? Yes, duh, it was about the EU. But was the EU actually worthy of murderous rage? I was confused.

In the days that followed Jo Cox’s murder, and when the news broke that Leave had unthinkably and actually won, I was still asking myself and anyone else I knew what people voted for when they voted for “Leave.” Judging from the leaflet that was pushed through my mail slot the day before the vote (pictured here), they voted for anything and everything under the sun: the Leave campaign promised jobs, safety, prosperity, saving the National Health Service, democracy and in general “taking control.” But I’m not sure the content of those promises mattered that much. Many people voted for Leave in the parts of the country hit the worst by industrial decline, where people cannot feel the benefits of global economic integration and can’t afford to buy any private insurance to cushion them from cuts to the National Health Service. The vote seems not so much a choice for a particular course of action or set of policies but a howl of anger, a demand for change, gambling on an unknown future rather than accepting a miserable present.

Future historians, and indeed myself in future lectures, will make Brexit part of a lot of narratives. It may well figure in a story about the breakup of the United Kingdom, as it has given Scotland new reasons to secede. It could be read as a symptom of rising anti-immigrant nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic. It will probably lead to some creative rethinking of the famously unwritten British constitution, as those who want to stop Brexit from actually happening cast about for ways to define the referendum as illegal, not binding, or subject to veto by Scotland—all of which ideas, whether they persuade anyone or not, will enliven the study of British constitutional history for years to come.  Students of democratic institutions will mark it as a watershed moment when the wisdom of democracy was called into question in a leading Western democracy. It is part of a long story about the rise and fall, and rise again, of the nation state as an organizing institution.

For now, I am trying to think about what I have learned as a scholar and a teacher from my summer of Brexit. Here are some answers.

First, Brexit stirred up many feelings, and it made a difference to my understanding of it to feel it, and feel it in real time. The anxiety, rage, and sense of loss on both sides were palpable and contagious. Let’s start with anxiety. I could not sleep the night of the vote. I’ve lain awake other nights since, wondering if the London I know will be here when I come back next summer: my favorite Italian-run  cafe, or the little Polish groceries that have sprung up all over London, unappealing at first sight but (as I now know) within which one can find  sausages, blintzes, pierogis and brilliant things done with cucumbers. And I am not really directly affected. My friends are worried about their colleagues, their jobs, their neighborhoods, and the falling value of the pound.  Younger people who had plans to travel or work for a while in Berlin, Paris, Rome – that door is now shut.  England,

this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall….
It could come to feel like being in jail. (That was Shakepeare, by the way)

Even if everything eventually gets settled to everyone’s satisfaction, the wait to find out is agonizing, and each day brings its turn of the screw, some new rumors, more alarming predictions. It is downright tiring to always be that worried, to be always guessing. Someday, when this is told with hindsight, it will be easy to fast-forward through a few months or even years of uncertainty and cut to the chase: here is how it turned out in the end. But you don’t know what it is like to live it day by day until…well, until you live it day by day.

QueenThe other feeling is rage. I have already spoken of the vote to Leave as a howl of anger. There was anger on the other side too. Following the vote, I watched English friends who voted for Remain barely able to restrain themselves from spitting on their fellow citizens. There was a palpable desire to see someone punished, from David Cameron who had foolishly called for the referendum to the “stoopid stoopid Little Englanders” (as one friend put it) who voted to Leave. The Brexit vote may have severed Britain from Europe, but it has also severed Britain from itself. “We don’t recognize this country anymore,” was the common refrain on both sides. This seems like the most depressing thing about it.

I’ve also been challenged by the Brexit vote to call on one of my most important skills as a historian, the ability to try to see things from the position of someone who isn’t me. Full disclosure: if I could have voted I would have voted to Remain, my friends voted to Remain, they are angry and I am angry alongside them. But just as I ask my students in European History to try to imagine why someone might vote for the Nazis, I can ask myself why someone would vote for Leave. And I can at least see that Brexit looks different depending on your experience and perspective. Personally, I have loved the ways that the England I know has become more integrated with Europe. I am old enough to remember when salads were served with a white gloop known as “salad cream.” Now I get extra-virgin olive oil at my Sainsbury’s Local. I can take the fast train to Paris or Brussels for the weekend. The British universities where I hang out attract brilliant professors and students from the continent. But my England is basically London, which overwhelmingly voted to remain. What if you lived far away from that, or were too poor to enjoy any of that? And then being told by smug experts of how disastrous it will be to lose these things which the experts get to enjoy but you don’t… well, rage is not so hard to understand. And I sincerely believe this is the strongest case I can make for studying history: that thing that History professors do and try to teach students to do — to understand feelings we don’t share, to recognize that our perspectives are not universal– is the only way to get past rage, and we have to do this not just as teachers and students but as citizens and humans.

The other thing I’ve learned from living through the Brexit vote is how important it is to ask the right question. It has been tempting to say (among those who think Brexit is a disaster) that democracy failed because the people are stupid. But maybe it is not the people, but the question they were asked, that was stupid. “Remain or Leave” was an unclear and even deceptive choice, because “Leave” could mean so many different things. Some imagined that a post-Brexit Britain would have close ties to Europe enabling fairly free trade and travel, much in the way that Norway currently does. Others dreamed of a wall and mass deportations of EU citizens.  In fact, no one could possibly predict what a post-Brexit world would look like, because all of the key decisions about trade and migration between Britain and EU members would be made by the EU, not Britain. The simple ‘yes or no’ question asked in the referendum did not reveal the will of the people; it just muddled the debate and made it impossible to know what people really wanted. When it is said that “the people have spoken,” let’s not forget that the people had no control over the question they were asked.

And so, as a teacher, I’ve come away from my summer Brexit experience more determined than ever to teach my students that asking the right question matters even more than giving the right answer. So, to those of you who will find yourselves in my classes: if I ever ask you a question that seems too vague to understand, or ask you to choose between two alternatives that seem equally wrong, don’t try to dutifully answer me. Just tell me it is a bad question. Then tell me why, and tell me what a better question would be. Because that would mean you are learning something. And then I would be learning something too.

Oh, and there’s a final thing I definitely learned. I will have to rewrite that final lecture next year. Three minutes on the EU is just not enough.

Rach photo

Professor Rachel Weil is a specialist in early modern English History. She will offer History 1511 (the Making of Modern Europe) again in the Spring of 2017. She will be talking about Britain, Scotland, and Europe — the deep background to Brexit — in her course on Britain in the Eighteenth Century (History 3050) this fall.




Rachel Weil is the author of A Plague of Informers: Conspiracy and Political Trust in William III’s England (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History)

Professor Weil will teach Britain 1660 to 1815 and on this linked blog post, she answers questions about her course.

HIST 3050 Britain 1660-1815 FA16 - Flyer


Bones Around My Neck, The Life and Exile of a Prince Provocateur coming soon

 Bones around My Neck The Life and Exile of a Prince Provocateur by Tamara Loos will be out this Fall, stay tuned.

Bones around My Neck The Life and Exile of a Prince Provocateur by Tamara Loos will be out this Fall, stay tuned.

Congratulations to Professor Mary Beth Norton

AHA President 2018

Excerpt from The Cornell Chronicle

Mary Beth Norton to lead American Historical Association

Mary Beth Norton, the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History, has been elected president of the American Historical Association (AHA), the principal umbrella organization for the profession. Her one-year term as president will begin in January 2018.

She will become the fifth Cornell professor to lead the AHA, whose first president was Cornell co-founder Andrew Dickson White, in 1884. Cornell historian Carl Becker served as president in 1931. The more than 130 AHA presidents have included two U.S. presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.


Ray Craib awarded funding from Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future

Congratulations to Historian Ray Craib!

Craib  is part of a team awarded an  Academic Venture Fund (AVF) from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.  ACSF’s is an incubator for the next generation of sustainable solutions. The AVF seeds original, multidisciplinary research that is not likely to find funding elsewhere because the projects are novel, risky, need early data to establish traction, or involve new teams working together. The projects have real potential to involve external partners in industry, government, and nongovernmental organizations.


AVF2016-Davis-Piscinao3-900x900Big Pool, Little Pool

2016 AVF pool Flooding in urban areas is a growing problem, as the world’s cities expand and storms become more intense and variable. Piscinões (big pools) are São Paulo’s primary strategy for reducing flooding. While often effective for flood control, these single-purpose basins also divide neighborhoods, concentrate pollutants, and require costly maintenance. With officials and experts in São Paulo, this team will create landscape-based design guidelines for piscinões that can work at large and small scales to enhance human communities and urban ecosystems. These multifunctional pools offer a new model for urban living with water.

Investigators: Brian Davis, Landscape Architecture; Raymond Craib, History; Tammo Steenhuis, Biological and Environmental Engineering; Thomas Whitlow, Horticulture

Professor Oren Falk’s “Barbaric Beauty” is on the cover of this month’s History Today

Professor Oren Falk’s “Barbaric Beauty” is on the cover of this month’s History Today.

“What makes a Viking? We might applaud the tall, blond, handsome Norsemen of popular culture but authentic engagement with the past requires more than just convincing hair and make-up. And, as Oren Falk argues in this month’s cover story, looking for authenticity in material culture is a fool’s errand.”

What Makes a Viking?

What Makes a Viking?

Tonight the History Channel begins its Four Part Series: Barbarians Rising

Professor Barry Strauss appears in three of the four episodes which begin today, Monday, June 6 @ 9P.M.

Link to the Cornell Chronicle article below and to the series site here

Strauss quote from the Cornell Chronicle~ “Although some of the subjects of the series were hardly barbarians – Hannibal, for instance, came from a peer polity of Rome – they all went up against the greatest and most durable empire of the ancient world,” notes Strauss. “They also all included among their soldiers men whom the Romans considered uncivilized. So, besides being entertaining, the series offers food for thought in today’s era of asymmetric warfare.”

History Alum 2014: ‘Many fellowships & opportunities … for recent graduates’

TimeInquiring History Majors Asked: Cornell History Alumni Answered: #11 in the Series~


Michael Perry, Class of 2014

Current Job: Youth Programs and Initiatives Associate at Coro New York Leadership Center, small nonprofit in NYC, I educate teenagers in policy and leadership.

1.How have the history skills of analysis and writing been useful in your career?

I use writing and critical thinking skills I developed as a history major daily in my work.  I am constantly reading and synthesizing information and using analytical writing skills when developing curriculum or program evaluations. My job consists of developing educational programming and facilitating experiential workshops to diverse groups of young people, so knowing the history of immigration in America, the history of African-Americans, and the history of how cities have developed is all very important to my daily work.

2.Have you used your history skills and knowledge in a field other than history: creative arts; science; journalism, for example?  If so, please describe how history has informed your work. One specific example would be very helpful. 

I work in youth development and work closely with government agencies, schools, and community based organizations.  I have found that knowledge of history is critical to understanding public service and working with a multiplicity of diverse peoples.  Knowing history and having skills from studying history  helps when navigating city policies and developing programs to meet needs of people.

3.What career advice might you have for history majors wishing to work in a public forum, for example, a museum or national park?

Something I did not know at Cornell is how many pathways there are to and in public service.  You can intern at a cultural institution or in government, but there are also many fellowships (New York City Urban Fellows, Coro Fellowship…) out there and opportunities to get your foot in the door as a recent graduate.  For me personally, I joined New York City Civic Corps, a branch of AmeriCorps, and that opened me up to a bunch of jobs in public service, and I ended up working where I was originally placed through that program.

4.Students believe history is an important basis for understanding what is happening now in the world.  People draw on history to understand the present.What problems might our generation help solve using our knowledge of history?

One thing I studied at Cornell was the lingering effects of imperialism in the contemporary world.  Understanding historical systematic and institutional racism and applying the lens of imperialism allows us to look critically at issues of poverty, gentrification, de-facto segregation and redlining.  Studying history and developing critical awareness from studying history is a first step in approaching many of these issues.

5.Have you lived to see new interpretations of history, can you provide an example?

Well I’m only two years older than the current seniors, so I have lived to see many of the new interpretations that they have.  Some more recent interpretations that have been applicable in my work include, the discourse of slavery being intertwined to the foundation of USA’s economy (which Professor Baptist has been a part of) and the changing understanding of the nation-state and borders as western constructs that so not apply equally everywhere.


To read 10 other Alumni Student Dialogues, click here.

From today’s LA TIMES: History..teaches critical thinking, something America needs plenty more of


Congratulations: History Majors

Congratulations: History Majors