Professor Westenley Alcenat Featured in CBS News on “Did you learn about Juneteenth in school? Many American history lessons fall short on black history”

The content below is reproduced verbatim from Caitlin O’Kane’s June 19, 2020, story, “Did you learn about Juneteenth in school? Many American history lessons fall short on black history.”

Westenley Alcenat, an assistant professor of History, Urban & American Studies at Fordham University, says black history curriculums in all schools are either “inadequate, inaccurate, or simply non-existent.” 
 
“I went to high school in Minneapolis, actually, exactly in the same areas that were deeply affected by the George Floyd incident,” Alcenat told CBS News. “I can confidently tell you that much of what I know regarding American history within the context of what contributions or roles black people made to it… was not something that I really learned as much about in high school as something I learned in adulthood.” 
 
Alcenat said African American history is often sequestered from the larger narrative of American history. Instead, children at all education levels should be learning about the contributions African Americans made throughout history.
 
“We are not taught enough about how black men and women put their lives on the line to create what we know today as the multiracial vision of American democracy,” Alcenat said. 
 
“Given the type of society we’re striving towards, the type of society we’d like to be, let’s let our kids know very early on what [African Americans’] particular contributions really are,” he said. 
 
In the wake of nationwide protests against racial injustice, new efforts are being made by many American institutions to advance diversity and equality and address longstanding biases. Companies are suddenly recognizing the need to rebrand products like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s due to their racist imagery, the country band Lady Antebellum changed its name, and NASCAR banned the Confederate flag.

While these changes may be welcome, some believe real progress can only be made if a fuller version of history is taught in schools. 

“Without knowledge of history, how do you put together an empathetic, humane response to horrible situations like the George Floyd murder, which we know is a symptom of the larger historical forces of racism in this country?” Alcenat said. “It’s incredibly important that we try to provide a correctness to how it’s all being taught at the moment. Or else we risk not necessarily repeating history, we risk not knowing how to deal with ourselves when these moments of history come upon us.”

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Filed under Faculty Profiles, Faculty Profiles, Fordham News, Public History

“Parallels Between Plagues Past and Present Highlighted in Partnership with Bronx Science” – Graduate Student Rachel Podd Featured in Fordham News.

This is a full repost of Patrick Verel’s June 22, 2020, story on Fordham Graduate Student Rachel Podd’s lecture at the Bronx High School.

Here is the link to the full article: https://news.fordham.edu/politics-and-society/parallels-between-plagues-past-and-present-highlighted-in-partnership-with-bronx-science/


“A slide from the presentation that Rachel Podd used in a class she taught to students of Bronx Science High SchoolIn mid-March, Rachel Podd was teaching a course on early modern history to undergraduate students at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus. A little over a mile away, Matthew Clark at the Bronx High School of Science, was preparing to teach a section of his freshman global history class that focused on the Black Death, which is estimated to have killed as many as 200 million people in Europe in the 14th century.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic upended instruction for both classes, but on May 6, the two were able to come together for a one-time collaboration that dramatically expanded the high school students’ understanding of the similarities between the Black Plague and the current pandemic.

Clark e-mailed Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies in April, which connected him to Podd, a Ph.D. candidate in history who had since moved back home to Dallas and was teaching remotely at the time.

Podd, whose dissertation focuses on how medieval people understood disease and how it affected the practice of medicine, recorded a 20-minute lecture for the high school students to watch on their own. She also assigned them reading such as a selection from Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron recounting the author’s experience of plague in Florence, and several current news articles on COVID in New York that focused on areas of commonality, such a rise in xenophobia and a breakdown in the rituals of death and dying.

She’d also taught a class at Fordham in the fall titled Plagues and Peoples: The History of Disease in Medieval Europe and was able to repurpose material for a high school audience. On May 6, she, Clark, and 50 students logged on to Google Meet for a 90-minute Q&A session.

“The major thing I wanted to highlight was that even though the Black Death seems so remote and has nothing to say to us today, with our smartphones and internet, and everything that’s so advanced, in reality communities and societies almost always respond the same way to moments of intense stress,” she said, noting that attacks and wars elicit similar responses.

“The way that societies respond is they harden boundaries that can be geographic, as with quarantines, or social. So the boundaries between who is in and who is out, and who is acceptable and who is not also become harsher. That was true for the Black Death, and it’s true for communities experiencing COVID-19.”

There other parallels as well. Doctors wore masks during the 14th century just as they do today, except theirs had a distinct bird head-like appearance.

“The point was that the beak acted like a reservoir for spices or sponges filled with vinegar, and it was supposed to keep the doctor from having to smell the bodies sick with the plague, because it was thought that that smell was one of the ways that it was transferred,” she said.

“The mask allowed him to keep his hands free while treating people. So, it’s not all that different from today.”

Clark said the idea of inviting a scholar from a local university to address his class came about as he was trying to think of ways to make remote learning more interesting for his students.

“It really was a fortuitous coupling of her expertise with where I was in the curriculum at that time, because she brings a comprehensive knowledge of medicine in the Medieval world in England, and the Black Death,” he said.

“I thought it was awesome that she was able to draw together the past and the current predicament that we’re in.”

The question and answer session on May 6 was the best attended live meeting of the semester, he said.

“It was really valuable for the students to see what a studied person can bring to a dynamic context like a Q&A session, where anything can be thrown at the expert,” he said.

Another major lesson from the plague that Podd emphasized turned out to be especially relevant. Just 19 days after the meetup, George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer ignited worldwide protests against racism. Although the Black Death was immeasurably painful, she noted that it allowed for considerable social reform, including increased female entry into the workforce and rising social mobility.

I am in no way trying to minimize the intense suffering,” she said, “but if we look for a silver lining, there really is one. And that is that these moments of extreme stress are an opportunities for a reevaluation of what our values are.”

The Black Lives Matter protests are so intense she noted, because of the justifiably intense feelings that the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Floyd, and others engendered. But it’s also worth noting that some protestors lost jobs due to the pandemic, and that gave them the opportunity to join protests they might have otherwise not attended.

“It’s kind of hard to see the good in this, but this gives us a chance to lobby for a more just, more equitable world,” she said.

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Filed under Grad Student News, Graduate Student

Former Fordham History Professor Carina E. Ray published “Could the Police Kill Me, Too?’ My Young Son Asked Me” in The New York Times.

On June 20, 2020, former Fordham history Professor Carina Rey, now at Brandeis University, published an op-ed piece in The New York Times called, “”Could the Police Kill Me, Too?’” You can read the piece on this link: https://nyti.ms/2Bma1UL

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Filed under Alumni News, Faculty News, Faculty Profiles, Fordham News

Professor Nana Osei-Opare published “Around the world, the U.S. has long been a symbol of anti-black racism” in The Washington Post.

On June 5, 2020, Professor Nana Osei-Opare published, “Around the world, the U.S. has long been a symbol of anti-black racism,” in The Washington Post. You can read it by clicking the link below: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/06/05/around-world-us-has-long-been-symbol-anti-black-racism/

You can follow him on Twitter @NanaOseiOpare.

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Filed under Faculty News, Faculty Profiles, Fordham News, Global History, Public History, Publications

Graduate Student James Smith Becomes Dr. James Smith! Dr. Smith Defends, “A Clash of Ideals: Human Rights and Non-Intervention in U.S. Foreign Policy, 1977-1988.”

We would like to congratulate Dr. James Smith on passing his dissertation defense on April 29, 2020. He becomes only the second person in the history of the Fordham’s History Department to pass his dissertation virtually.

Dr. Smith’s dissertation is titled, “A Clash of Ideals: Human Rights and Non-Intervention in U.S. Foreign Policy, 1977-1988.”

Below is his dissertation abstract:

The dissertation argues that Carter, Reagan, and other domestic and international actors deployed the ideals of universal human rights and state sovereignty as a political language. The protean meanings they assigned to the terms of that language were contingent upon calculations of political and strategic interests. The discourse of rights and sovereignty in domestic and international politics served as a means to justify or check political change, rather than as nonideological, moral, and legal imperatives. In short, Carter, Reagan, and others used morality and law as political strategy. The study proceeds from an analysis of records from the Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan presidential libraries. The personal papers of Patricia Derian, Barry Goldwater, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, and Donald Fraser provide additional context for the political uses of rights and sovereignty. So too, the papers of William Casey, Warren Christopher, and many of their contemporaries archived at the Hoover Institute enriched this analysis. The author also analyzed digital and other published collections of primary documents, interviewed and corresponded with former public officials, and reviewed memoirs, diaries, interview transcripts, and Congressional hearings and reports. While the dissertation probes the official mind of Washington in the manner of traditional diplomatic history, it also broadens that perspective by assessing how competing domestic and international actors deployed the conflicting ideals of rights and sovereignty. The dissertation builds upon the secondary literature by examining how Carter and others deployed human rights and non-intervention in the 1970s and 1980s. It connects that discourse to the history of U.S. foreign relations, domestic politics, international law, and the movement for economic decolonization. Then, after examining Carter’s embrace of rights and non-intervention as a campaign strategy and the contentious transformation of that rhetoric into policy, the dissertation employs as case studies U.S. relations with Panama, Nicaragua, and Iran. Finally, the dissertation assesses continuity and change in Reagan’s use of the ideals of rights and sovereignty in a foreign policy marked by anti-communism and democracy promotion.

You can reach Dr. James Smith at jwalkersmith511@gmail.com if you are interested in learning more about this fabulous dissertation.

Dr. James Smith

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Filed under Alumni News, Dissertation Defense, Grad Student News, Graduate Student

Fordham Medievalist Grad Student, Rachel Podd, Lectures on Pandemics to Students at the Bronx High School of Science

As students all over the world and from pre-K to graduate school experience disruption to their educational lives, Fordham doctoral candidate Rachel Podd took some time to discuss the differing ways societies respond to pandemics with some students of the Bronx School of Science. One of the great teachers there, Mr. Matthew Clark, reached out to Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies looking for a lecturer, and connected with Rachel. She crafted a twenty-minute recorded lecture, including slides, for the students to explore, based on comparing societal responses to two pandemics, the Black Death of the fourteenth century and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Students read a selection from Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron recounting the author’s experience of plague in Florence, as well as several current news articles on COVID in New York, focusing specifically on areas of commonality, including a rise in xenophobia and a breakdown in the rituals of death and dying. Students were also asked to consider how the experience of a pandemic is at least partially determined by social class and economic status.

On Wednesday the 6th, Rachel and about forty BSS students gathered on Google Meeting for a question and answer session lasting about an hour and a half. Discussion was wide-ranging and lively, as the students probed how ideas about disease causation – the miasma theory of the Middle Ages versus today’s germ theory – determined the ways governments sought to prevent or reduce the spread of disease, as well as how the medical establishment, past and present,  has responded to moments of intense stress. Finally, Rachel, Matthew and the students discussed how pandemics result in fundamentally changed societies. Though immeasurably painful and demographically catastrophic, the Black Death allowed for considerable social reform, increased female entry into the workforce, and rising social mobility, fundamentally changing the way medieval Europeans lived. How, exactly, COVID-19 will change our own lives remains, as of yet, unknown.

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Filed under Grad Student News, Teaching

Prof. Nana Osei-Opare awarded the Beacon Exemplar Certificate of Excellence Award from the United Student Government at Fordham.

The United Student Government at Fordham University awarded Prof. Osei-Opare the Beacon Exemplar Certificate of Excellence Award in recognition of his outstanding dedication to inspiring, supporting, & motivating students. The award is the highest that the United Student Government can give.

You can follow Prof. Nana Osei-Opare on Twitter @NanaOseiOpare

Nana Osei-Opare

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Graduate Student Amanda Racine receives the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship.

Amanda Racine (PhD student, Medieval History) has received a Fulbright Fellowship to France for 2020/21. She will be affiliated with Centre d’études supérieueres de civilization médiévale (CESCM) at the Université de Poitiers working with Professor Martin Aurell. Over the course of the year she plans to study extant oaths and customs  spread across several archives in France: the Société Archéologique de Montpellier in Montpellier; the Archives départementales des Bouches-du-Rhône, the Archives municipales de Marseille, and the Bibliothèque municipale d’Arles, all in and around Marseille; and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris. Amanda has also been awarded a grant from the American Numismatic Society for the 66th Annual Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar in 2020 (delayed due to COVID-19). She plans to study the text and iconography of Frankish, Fatimid, Ayybuid, and Mamluk coins from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

You can follow Amanda on Twitter @AMNerbo.

Amanda Racine

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Graduate Student Rachel Podd receives the NACBS-Huntington Library Fellowship for British Studies.

Rachel Podd  (PhD candidate, Medieval History) received the NACBS-Huntington Library Fellowship for British Studies to conduct research at the Henry Huntington Library in San Marino, California. During her time there she plans to photograph and transcribe a variety of medieval medical manuscripts, including regimens for health, medical recipes and charms, as part of her larger research project focused on medieval ideas about health management.  She will draw on these materials for her Ph.D. thesis on “Health in Late Medieval England: The Impact of Age, Sex, and Income on the Lived Experience.”

Rachel Podd

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Graduate Student Tobias Hrynick awarded a Shallek Grant from the Medieval Academy of America, co-funded with the Richard III Society, American Branch.

Tobias Hrynick has been awarded a Shallek Grant from the Medieval Academy of America, co-funded with the Richard III Society, American Branch.  The fellowship will fund travel to the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham in the UK to work on a project related to his Ph.D. thesis, on  “According to the Law of the Marsh”; Medieval Wetland Drainage, Environmental Crisis, and the Invention of the Customs of Romney Marsh.” He will be examining normative texts on marsh law, as well as the manorial records of marsh land-holders, to understand the ways medieval communities responded to environmental crisis.

You can follow Tobias Hrynick on Twitter @elmermalmesbury.

Tobias Hrynick

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