A Reflection on the 2016 Presidential Election from W. David Myers, Chair of History at Fordham University.
So it is Election Day, 8 November—Fordham and the history department are closed, and the department chair is in El Paso, Texas, to watch the scene and celebrate his mother’s 98th birthday—more on that later. For now, while everyone votes, watches, and waits, it is a good moment to note that members of the Fordham history department have been and are involved in this election, both practically and intellectually. Nick Paul and family went to Pennsylvania in October to register voters. Recently, Kirsten Swinth gave a scintillating lecture and program on the history of sexual harassment in America—not just the fact of harassment, which sadly seems not about to end, but the reaction to it and attempts to define, control, and eliminate it. The tale that emerged from Kirsten’s discussion was a century-old set of disparate campaigns with different angles and motives leading to today’s intense efforts. It’s a messy history, but what Kirsten’s presentation demonstrated is that the fight isn’t new, and sexual harassment isn’t a distraction from more important issues this election year—it IS an important contemporary political matter, one that this ugliest of campaigns has brought to the forefront.
Others have been just as active—Saul Cornell’s tireless efforts politically and academically on the Second Amendment have taken him from Cambridge, England, to Palo Alto California. For me, though, one of the most enlightening moments from my colleagues was Sal Acosta’s discussion last February of voter restriction efforts in states with a long history of discrimination against African Americans—this time targeting a rising Latino population and using the same language of fear and criminality that disfranchised the black population. As I watch from El Paso, surrounded by my Latino friends and relatives, I note that those same states in the southeast and southwest are witnessing a surge in voting from a determined Latino population infected with the “audacity of hope,” as President Obama has described it. Sal Acosta has proven to be an astute observer and analyst of American politics.
And then there is a personal note–Catherine, my mother, about to celebrate her 98th birthday. While presenting her with a rosary chosen by my students on the Camino de Santiago last June, I was struck by a number—1918. That was the year of her birth during a devastating worldwide influenza epidemic and at the very end of World War I. Focus on the year–in 1918, women could not vote, nor could they fight for their country. In 1918, patriotic African Americans could not fight alongside their white comrades in the U.S. Army. In 1918, African Americans could not play in the major leagues. And in 1918, the Chicago Cubs had already been without a World Series victory for a decade . . .
So as I celebrate my courageous mother with my equally courageous (and Hillary-deranged sisters, I must add!), I realize that in the last decade, she has proudly voted for and seen an African American man become the President of the United States. She has seen gay marriage legalized and thus been able to greet and welcome her granddaughter’s spouse. Last Tuesday she voted for a woman to become the President of the United States. And on Wednesday, the Cubs took the series—with an African American leadoff hitter.
In all of these events, the “arc of history” didn’t necessarily bend gradually toward justice in some inevitable way. None of this seemed likely just a decade ago, at least not for the near term. But human beings seized the opportunities presented to them by accident, or disaster, or just dumb luck. The audacity of hope is the element that disrupts our theoretical and scientific thinking and we frequently overlook it. But our best moments as people, and as a people, must surely depend on it. That is one lesson for history and historians today.
The 2nd Amendment in an Age of Terror
A conversation with two Fordham professors
Nicholas Johnson, author of Negroes and the Gun
Saul Cornell, author of A Well-Regulated Militia
Moderated by Eric Sundrup, S.J., of America magazine
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
4:15 p.m. | Room 2-01A
Fordham Law School
150 W62nd Street, NYC
Refreshments will be served.
Fordham’s own Dr. Asif Siddiqi recently spoke to New Books Network about his latest monograph, The Red Rockets’ Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination 1857-1957 (Cambridge University Press, 2013) in which he examines the long history of space travel in Russian culture. Click here to listen to the full interview at the New Books Network website.
Next Tuesday, Fordham Professor and Malkiel Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Institute Christopher Dietrich will deliver a talk on American diplomat and political scientist Ralph Bunche. See flyer for event details.
Left to right: Clare King’oo (University of Connecticut ) Susan Felch (Calvin College) Jamie H. Ferguson (University of Houston), and Susan Wabuda (Fordham)
Below, Professor Susan Wabuda discusses the Sixteenth Century Society Conference held in Bruges this summer, as well as her adventures in the historic Belgian city, in the latest installment of our Summer Postcards series. Read on to learn more about the city’s intellectual and aesthetic delights. Continue reading
Louisa Foroughi confers with Professor Bruce Campbell
From July 8th to 11th Fordham Professor Maryanne Kowaleski and graduate student Louisa Foroughi attended the XIIth Annual Anglo-American Seminar on the Medieval Economy and Society, held this year in Stirling, Scotland. The Anglo-American Seminar is a long-standing gathering of some of the most distinguished economic and social historians in England and America. This year’s presentations drew attention to new directions in research, while its panel discussion featured lively debate about the relationship between government policy and England’s economy in the late middle ages. Professor Kowaleski closed the conference with a fascinating paper on the political participation and consciousness of mariners in late medieval England, part of her larger work on England’s seamen and coastal communities. A highlight of this year’s Seminar was a (rainy!) walking tour of the town of Stirling, all the way from the castle at the top of the hill to the fish stews at its base, led by Professor Richard Oram, who also opened the conference with an excellent talk on the environmental history of Scotland and its neglected relationship to political history. Louisa especially benefited from the opportunity to meet and talk over her thesis with experts in their field, such as Prof. Bruce Campbell, who was also honored with the presentation of a festschrift at the conference.
Professor Magda Teter introduces school children in Harlem to the history of the book
So far our series of summer postcards has highlighted how Fordham historians used the summer months to visit archives, go to conferences, and work on projects. In this installment, Professor Magda Teter tells us about how she used her summer time to bring her knowledge and teaching skills to her community, visiting an elementary school in Harlem and teaching two classes for 6-9 year olds about the history of the book. As Professor Teter writes: “Books are more than text, they are also objects. How did book come to have title pages? Beautiful colors and eye-catching binding. The two sessions covered the history of the book, from the ancient scrolls to modern books. The book, as we know it, is a historical artifact that changed over long centuries in format and content. We looked at Jewish and Christian books printed and in manuscript, on parchment scrolls and on paper. Students touched books that were printed hundreds of years ago, even in the 1460s. Technological advancements, like the introduction of paper and the moveable type, and local contexts have influenced the way information was preserved and accessed. We looked at books as an object and examined the influence of the material aspect of the book for the transmission and access to information. The young students touched real history.”
Secretary of State Robert Lansing (far left) in Washington, D.C., no date (between 1916 and 1918), Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Greetings from the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.! I am here doing research in the Robert Lansing and Charles Evan Hughes papers. Lansing was Secretary of State for Woodrow Wilson during the Paris negotiations for the peace treaty to World War I. In his papers, I am looking at the correspondence relating to the founding of the League of Nations and the ideas of sovereignty and self-determination for oppressed peoples in Central Europe and, to a lesser extent, the former Ottoman Empire. Hughes was Secretary of State from 1921 to 1925. In his papers, I am examining what was known as “The Mandates Controversy,” which was essentially a debate in the United States about the secret treaties between the British and French governments, both during and after the war, to divide up the rich oil-producing areas of the Middle East. How would the League of Nations monitor the “trustee powers” of Britain and France, as they ostensibly managed the Mandates of Mesopotamia and Syria for their own benefit? What would be the role of the United States, which had not joined the League of Nations but still maintained its right, as a participant in the Allied victory in the war, to representation in the Mandates? How would the trustee powers respond to American entreaties to open up their economies to American, in particular Standard Oil, investment? I am finding a lot of interesting information and, as a nice surprise, also found an old friend, who has just accepted a job at King’s College in London, in the Reading Room.
In the evenings, I am taking my 7-year-old son around the Capitol Hill area and giving him contemporary civic lessons. “Look, son, there’s Congress. That’s where petty lawmakers have tried to gut education spending and prevent major social welfare advances for our most disadvantaged citizens,” and that sort of thing. I hope everyone is having an equally fantastic summer!