Category Archives: Fordham News

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

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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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

Professor Osei-Opare Featured in The Fordham Ram Article, “Professor Exposes Students to Truths of African History.”

Joergen Ostensen’s article, “Professor Exposes Students to Truths of African History,” is reproduced below:

The office of Nana Osei-Opare, assistant professor of history at Fordham University, is filled with books, and somewhere on the shelves, although not immediately at hand, he said there is a copy of “Long Walk to Freedom,” the autobiography Nelson Mandela wrote while imprisoned on Robben Island. In the book, Mandela explains his decision to abandon non-violence for the armed resistance to apartheid that made him a political prisoner for 27 years.

Mandela’s process of becoming a revolutionary is the kind of history Osei-Opare said he is trying to keep alive in his classes.

This year, his first at Fordham, he is teaching mostly freshmen, in a course called African History that fulfills the university’s Understanding Historical Change requirement. He said one of his main goals is to dispel the ahistorical narrative that social change is polite.

“I don’t recall slavery being ended because Clay, Webster and Calhoun got into a great deal and it ended,” he said. “No. I don’t physically remember this, but from what I’ve read, there was a war.”

Osei-Opare’s students are told to call him Professor O, according to Peter Wolffe, FCRH ’23, who took his class last semester. He said they read the works of revolutionary African figures like Franz Fanon, Steve Biko, Ruth First and Kwame Nkrumah.

While many of the authors on the syllabus were rebels against their governments, including First and Biko, who were killed by the South African state, Osei-Opare said he pushes back on being characterized as a radical historian.

“What is radical?” he asked. “Is radical just me saying what happened in history?”

For some of his students, the history he presents comes as a shock and a testament to the oversight of African history by America’s education system, said Rachel Lawson, FCRH ’23, who also took the class last semester.

“I didn’t even know there was a Nigerian civil war,” she said. “I didn’t know there was a Kenyan genocide.”

Osei-Opare said his goal is to force his students to confront the reality of colonialism. 

“Our president, Father McShane, in our orientation, he told us we should make our students uncomfortable, uncomfortable with humanity and their place,” he said. “I think that’s what I’m trying to do, make people uncomfortable with what has happened.”

Lawson said she can still recall specific moments in class where she felt the trauma of the content. They learned about the brutal conditions in the Congolese work force, and she said one class they watched a documentary about the Congolese genocide.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt that kind of horror before,” she said.

Osei-Opare was born in Ghana but grew up in South Africa before moving to Newark, New Jersey, for eighth grade and high school. He returns to Ghana every year for research and to visit his family. He said he tries to think from an internationalist perspective and encourages his students to do the same.

He also said he tries to help them make connections to the United States. 

According to Osei-Opare, a major research focus of his is the relationship between the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Ghanian state. He said that throughout history, colonial powers tried to delegitimize African revolutionaries by saying Moscow was telling them they were oppressed.

He said this reminds him of the discourse about Russian interference in the 2016 election where Black Lives Matter content was promoted, according to the Washington Post, in what Osei-Opare said was an effort to dissuade black people from voting.

“(The liberal media were saying) oh, they’re pushing Black Lives Matter content, we have to be careful, this is divisive,” he said. “It went back to that early 1900s narrative that black people don’t know the cause of their own oppression and that it’s a foreign power telling them they are oppressed.”

He also said he asked his students to consider the difference between the reaction to the Bundy standoff, where white ranchers occupied land with guns, and the treatment of black groups like the Black Panther Party and the MOVE organization, whose Philadelphia compound was fire bombed by the Philadelphia Police Department in 1985, according to NPR

Osei-Opare, who self-identifies as a pacifist, said Mandela’s political imprisonment speaks to the racism behind what society considers legitimate violence. 

“Unfortunately there’s a racial and there’s an ideological bent to … how the state responds to it,” he said.

Osei-Opare said he believes there are political prisoners in the United States.

The Alliance for Global Justice lists former Black Panther and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier of the American Indian Movement and the Standing Rock water protector Red Fawn Fallis as political prisoners. As the Ram reported, local Black Lives Matter activists consider cop-watcher Ramsey Orta, who filmed the death of Eric Garner, to be a political prisoner as well.

Osei-Opare said the purpose of creating this kind of discourse is to challenge students to be self-critical.

“All I want you to do is rethink what you think you know and really critique it,” he said. 

Included in the syllabus was founder of the South African Black Consciousness Movement Steve Biko’s essay about the detrimental role of white liberals to racial justice movements. Osei-Opare quoted Biko to illustrate his point. 

“A man is on the ground, he’s kicked, and the person kicking the man is telling that man how to respond to that kick,” Osei-Opare said referring to Biko’s writing, before elaborating that Biko’s point is there is no right way to respond to the violence of colonialism.

Wolffe said reading Biko was particularly impactful to him.

“He talks about how the white liberal is a huge problem,” he said. “That hit home for me because it portrayed me very well. It’s like the person who does this work to feel morally right but is not really helping the situation.”

Osei-Opare also talked to his students about how being black affects him at Fordham. Lawson said she found this particularly impactful, especially a story he told about fearing to eat fried chicken at an event on campus because he did not want to be associated with the stereotype.

“He was like, ‘That shouldn’t be a thing that I thought,’” she said.

Lawson said she appreciated his willingness to intersperse the difficult content with lessons on the beauty of African cultures. She said before every class he would play a song from a different part of the continent.

“They were all fantastic, they were all bops,” she said. “So I actually downloaded a bunch of them.”

Wolffe said he is currently working on an independent study about the implicit and explicit manifestations of racism with Osei-Opare. He said this came about after frequently going to his office hours with one question and talking to him for an hour or more.

“It’s just so refreshing to have professors like that who genuinely care about their students,” he said. “Getting to work with him has just been amazing.”

Lawson, who is planning to double major in two sciences, said Osei-Opare’s lessons will stick with her because of his energy and passion for teaching.

“This African History class is the most influential class I’ve ever taken,” she said.

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Nana Osei-Opare’s new article, “Uneasy Comrades: Postcolonial Statecraft, Race, and Citizenship, Ghana–Soviet Relations, 1957–1966,” is now out.

Osei-Opare’s article tells a new history of the Cold War, of Ghana’s early postcolonial foreign policy, and the formation of Ghana’s national identity through its diplomatic, economic, and migratory relationship with the USSR during Kwame Nkrumah’s government (1957–66). Through examining English and Russian sources from American, British, Ghanaian, and Russian archives, this article offers three arguments. First, by analyzing Soviet anxieties over its role in Ghanaian affairs, the article shows that Ghana significantly controlled the economic and diplomatic contours and pace of its relationship with the USSR. Second, that discourses of race and neocolonialism were more central to defining the terms of Ghana’s geopolitical positioning than the Cold War framework. Third, the virulent racism Ghanaians experienced in the United States and USSR helped forge a global Ghanaian national consciousness. The article illuminates an independent black state’s attempts to procure sovereignty against a white supremacist economic and political international order and calls for Cold War scholars to engage seriously with African archives alongside non-African ones to create more dynamic, representational historical accounts.

You can read the full article here.

You can follow him on Twitter at @NanaOseiOpare

Nana Osei-Opare

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Filed under Faculty News, Fordham News, Global History

The Page 99 Test of Prof. Beth Penry’s New book, “The People Are King.”

The English Novelist and Critic Ford Madox Ford argued: “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”

Prof. Penry conducted the page 99 test. Click on the links below to see the fascinating results.

Beth Penry

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Fordham History Prof. Kirsten Swinth Featured in The Washington Post.

Fordham Historian Prof. Kirsten Swinth is quoted in a The Washington Post article entitled, “Jane Fonda spent a night in jail in 1970. Her mug shot defined feminist rebellion.” Swinth states: “At the time, there was this expectation that the only way a woman could be in public was to present herself in full makeup, respectably dressed, a skirt, a well-controlled girdle,” said Kirsten Swinth, a Fordham University professor who studies U.S. women’s history. The mug shot “says you can be something different than what society has told you you can be.”

You can follow Prof. Kirsten Swinth on Twitter at @kswinth.

You can also read the full article below:

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Is the World Still Living in the Shadow of the Crusades?

The official website for BBC History Magazine interviewed our colleague, Prof. Nicholas Paul. Read Prof. Paul’s comments below:

Confronted with the message, propagated by both the European and Anglophone extreme right and Islamic jihadist groups, that we live in an age of renewed conflict between Islam and the west, many people may understandably conclude that we have inherited an ancient legacy of holy war. We have – though not in the way that many imagine.

The legacy of the crusades today is not due to the continuity over time of any medieval crusading institution. After all, the crusade indulgence offered by the church – a central element of the architecture of these holy wars – had effectively disappeared by the 17th century. Surviving crusading orders, such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, are now devoted to charitable work. And no modern state, whether in Spain, the Baltic or the eastern Mediterranean, can trace its origins to the ‘crusader states’ established by medieval conquests. Too much historical water – reformation, revolution, global exchange, the rise and fall of empires, the shock of modernity – has passed under the bridge for any modern community to still bear marks of crusading violence.

The legacy of the crusades is, nonetheless, powerful, primarily because of the passions and predilections of 19th- and 20th-century Europeans. They found in the crusades a useful past through which they sought to understand their own world of overseas empires, warring nations and rapid social change. These modern observers constructed a storehouse of popular images and stories – such as the epic encounter of Richard I and Saladin during the Third Crusade – and used them to make claims about morality and collective identity.

Western Europeans took these images and attitudes abroad – for example, in 1898, when Kaiser Wilhelm II re-enacted the conquest of Jerusalem and rebuilt Saladin’s tomb at Damascus, laying a gilt bronze wreath (later taken by TE Lawrence and now displayed in London’s Imperial War Museum). It was in this modern context that a new historical memory of the crusades was constructed – one that stripped away fundamental elements of crusading history and is easily co-opted by those who would make a ‘clash of civilisations’ seem habitual and inevitable.

To read the entire conversation, click here:

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Prof. Nicholas Paul

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Filed under Faculty News, Fordham News, Public History, This week in Fordham History

An Exciting Week at Fordham

Prof. Kirsten Swinth was cited in The New York Times’ article, “‘A Very Unwelcome Feeling’: The First Women at Yale Look Back.” You can read the full article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/30/upshot/yale-first-women-discrimination.html?searchResultPosition=1

You can follow Prof. Kristen Swinth on Twitter @kswinth

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Kisten Swinth

The students of Prof. Steven Stoll’s Environmental History of New City course, taught in conjunction with the New-York Historical Society, have been mapping and connecting NYC’s past, present, and future. You can watch and learn more about their efforts here: https://news.fordham.edu/arts-and-culture/mapping-the-past-with-the-new-york-historical-society/

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Steven Stoll

Prof. Yuko Miki, the recent recipient of the American Historical Association’s Wesley-Logan Prize for the outstanding book in African diaspora history, discussed Race & Citizenship in Latin America alongside Fordham Law Professor Tanya Hernandez. The Maloney Library’s Behind the Book Series organized this event.

Yuko Miki

Prof. Saul Cornell and Dr. Nicole Hemmer discussed the history and politics of impeachment. In case you missed it or want re-watch it, you can re-catch their fascinating exchange here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPy_rDyLfow

You can follow Prof. Saul Cornell on Twitter @SaulCornell

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Saul Cornell

Prof. Nana Osei-Opare was interviewed by Starr FM, a Ghanaian based radio station, about his thoughts on the historic Africa-Russia Summit in Sochi.

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

Nana Osei-Opare

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Filed under Department Events, Events, Fordham News, This week in Fordham History, Uncategorized

Graduate Student, Glauco Schettini, publishes in the Journal of Modern Intellectual History

Glauco Schettini’s article, “Confessional Modernity: Nicola Spedalieri, the Catholic Church and the French Revolution, c.1775-1800,” published in Modern Intellectual History (Cambridge University Press), reconsiders the Catholic reaction to the French Revolution and more broadly to the emergence of what we usually term “modernity.”

The article focuses on Nicola Spedalieri’s On the Rights of Man (1791) and on the debate that its publication sparked in Italy and beyond. The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and the polarization of public opinion between the supporters of the new regime and its relentless opponents convinced Spedalieri (1740-95), a well-reputed Catholic theologian, of the need to find a via media between these two extremes. Assuming the re-Christianization of the postrevolutionary world as his goal, Spedalieri argued that some aspects of revolutionary political culture (representative institutions, the idea of a social contract, the notion of human rights) were acceptable from a Catholic standpoint as long as the revolutionaries, in turn, agreed to abandon secularization and to uphold the traditional confessional organization of the state, recognizing Catholicism as the official state religion. It was not modernity itself, Spedalieri claimed, that should be rejected, but secularization, for a different modernity from that conceived by the revolutionaries was possible—a confessional modernity, combining revolutionary politics and confessional states. Far from gaining immediate acceptance, Spedalieri’s ideas were harshly criticized during the 1790s and then set aside by the triumph of reactionary Catholicism during the Restoration. However, they resurfaced later in the nineteenth century and ultimately played a decisive role in the development of the church’s attitudes toward modern culture, for they carved a path for Catholics to fight secularization from within and to reshape modernity accordingly.A free online version of the article is available here.


Glauco Schettini (Ph.D. Student at Fordham University)

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