Christine Kelly, a PhD candidate in History, recently published an article titled “Folk as the Sound of Self-Liberation: The Career and Performance Identity of Odetta,” based on her dissertation research. Christine shared with us the abstract for the article:
Odetta Felious Gordon Holmes – commonly known by her stage name, “Odetta” – played an instrumental role in the rise of American folk music as a mouthpiece for dissent during the social movements of the post-war era. She abandoned a life she planned in opera and oratorio for a career as an interpreter of African American slave songs and spirituals, material originally recorded by song collectors John and Alan Lomax in travels through the Mississippi Delta region. Odetta has claimed that while a life in oratorio would have enriched her vocally, its musical lineage had “nothing to do” with her experience. In contrast, a new repertoire of songs she gathered – songs derived from slave laborers, prison chain gangs, longshoremen, and church congregations – allowed her to shape her identity as a performing artist in crucial ways throughout her fifty year career. As a folk singer, Odetta co-constructed a cultural movement which drew inspiration from song writers of the past – composers of “freedom hymns” – to seek liberation in the present. For Odetta, such liberation was, at first, primarily for herself. As an African American woman who suffered the indignities of segregation, she felt she carried a “dragon” inside, one that hated herself and others. With a broad, black body of which she was ashamed, on stage Odetta tried to conceal and neutralize herself as a racial and gendered subject as she donned long, dark clothing, and threw herself fully into the material she performed. Through an act of self-abnegation, she performed the music, often of black men, who insisted on affirming their existence, the validity of their subjectivity, despite the oppressions that came with circumstances they faced involving humiliation and forced confinement. As an arbiter of the folk tradition, Odetta offered her body as bridge to connect a new generation of listeners with marginalized experiences of the past. As such, Odetta became a cultural broker of a folk tradition of dissent. She relied on a common method among performing artists – benefit concerts – to raise substantial funds for civil rights causes. Odetta’s life in music became a site of self-emancipation as she transformed from a suffering artist who often behaved subserviently to one who invented an identity which insisted on her own personal dignity. Furthermore, the exposure she gave her listeners to a nearly forgotten black cultural heritage enabled them to empathize with the experience of past singer-songwriters, seeing injustice in the present as more pressing than before. Odetta’s appeal to the idiom of folk and the benefit concerts she held directly supported the civil rights movement and related social mobilizations through the 1960s and 1970s as she helped to inspire not only political and legal change, but freedom in the arena of culture and emotion.
Esther Liberman Cuenca, PhD candidate in History, recently published an article in Urban History (Cambridge University Press) titled “Town clerks and the authorship of custumals in medieval England”. Below is her abstract and a link to the article.
This article examines the expertise and duties of clerks in medieval English towns, particularly their roles in creating custumals, or collections of written customs. Customs could regulate trade, of ce-holding, prostitution and even public nuisance. Many clerks were anonymous, and their contributions to custumals understudied. The careers of relatively well-known clerks, however, do provide insights into how some clerks shaped custumals into civic repositories of customary law. By analysing their oaths and known administrative practices, which involved adapting material from older custumals, this article argues that town clerks played critical roles in transmitting customary law to future generations of administrators.
Town clerks and the authorship of custumals in medieval England
This past month, Graduate Student Sal Cipriano published an article in The Scottish Historical Review, called “The Scottish Universities and Opposition to the National Covenant, 1638”. Below is a link to the journal’s website and his abstract. Continue reading
In February, Dr. Elizabeth Penry, Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies in the History Department, participated in an international symposium, titled “Unsettling Resettlement: Forced Concentration of the Native Population in the Colonial Andes.” This international symposium co-sponsored by the Japanese National Ethnology Museum, Osaka and Vanderbilt University brought together a dozen scholars, including archeologists, anthropologists, and historians from Japan, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and the US to meet at Vanderbilt University for three days. The multi-disciplinary project is re-examining and digitally mapping the sixteenth century resettlement by Spaniards of upwards of 1,500,000 indigenous Andeans. Continue reading
Tuesday, February 27th, the History Department celebrated the launch of Dr. Yuko Miki‘s new book, Frontiers of Citizenship: A Black and Indigenous History of Postcolonial Brazil. Dr. Miki, an Assistant Professor in the History Department, is an expert on Brazil and teaches classes on Latin America at the Lincoln Center Campus. The event was sponsored by the O’Connell Initiative on the Global History of Capitalism. Dr. Miki’s book, published by Cambridge University Press, demonstrates that to understand modern Brazil one must understand the histories of the African Diaspora, as well as those of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Dr. Rosemary Wakeman’s recent book, Practicing Utopia: An Intellectual History of the New Town Movement, has been featured in the Global Urban History Project’s blog. Dr. Wakeman is a professor of History at Fordham and Coordinator of Univerity Urban Initiatives. For more information regarding her research and process throughout this project, Dr. Wakeman was interviewed by the History Department, in March of 2017.
Dr. Saul Cornell, the Paul and Diane Guenther Chair in American History, the author of A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America, and a recognized authority on the Second Amendment, has recently published two online articles about the gun debate: “Gun Anarchy and the Unfree State, the Real History of the Second Amendment” in The Baffler (October 3), and in Salon (October 22), “Five Types of Gun Laws the Founding Fathers Loved: Were muskets in 1777 better regulated than assault rifles in 2017?”
Dr. Asif Siddiqi’s highly regarded book, Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945-1974, was quoted in a recent New Yorker article. The article, “Remembering Laika, Space Dog and Soviet Hero” (November 3, 2017) quoted Dr. Siddiqi’s description of the stringent requirements that Soviets followed in choosing dogs for the space mission.
Dr. Steven Stoll’s forthcoming new book, Ramp Hallow: The Ordeal of Appalachia (Hill and Wang) received an in-depth review in Washington Monthly, published jointly with ProPublica (October 30). As described by the reviewer, Stoll, “has set out to tell the story of how the people of a sprawling region of our country—one of its most physically captivating and ecological bountiful—went from enjoying a modest by self-sufficient existence as small- scale agrarians for much of the eighteen and nineteenth centuries to a dreary dependency on the indulgence of coal barons or the alms of government.” Dr. Stoll will discuss his new book at The New School on November 13.