Category Archives: Grad Student News

From the Archives: Ron Braasch, PhD Candidate visits The National Archives (TNA), The British Library (BL), and the Duchy of Cornwall Office Headquarters

Ron Braasch – History department PhD Candidate (Cohort 2017-18) working with Dr. Maryanne Kowaleski and Nicholas L. Paul – is currently competing his dissertation entitled: “Supporting the Fight: Combat Support Personnel in English Expeditionary Armies During the Hundred Years’ War.” In this week’s From the Archives, Ron shares some of his experiences while researching at The National Archives of England, the British Library, and the Duchy of Cornwall Office Headquarters.

Have you ever had a question that bugged you? Some topic of scholarship that made you ask, “why do scholars consider it that way?” If you are reading this, then you no doubt have, and that is precisely what happened to me when I began researching the people who made medieval armies work. You know, the people behind the scenes whose toil and labor continuously fed the engine that was a medieval army. They were not, after all, noncombatants, as described by most scholars, but they also were not combatants in way we might conventionally think (e.g., knights, men-at-arms, or archers). So, armed with the research tools Fordham had given me and a mind full of wonder, I set out on a quest to examine personnel ranging from engineers and chaplains to medical practitioners and wagon drivers.

“Hi,” my name is Ron Braasch, and I am researching Combat Support Personnel in late medieval English armies. This past summer, I was able to travel to English archives to complete my research on these amazing, if not often talked about, medieval people. To do this, I visited three archives in England: The National Archives (TNA), The British Library (BL), and the Duchy of Cornwall Office Headquarters (DCO). In this short post, I wanted to share my journey with students across the university and ensure their success during their own expeditions to the archives.

Applying for Funding: Apply for funding early and consider submitting for multiple grants. I used two funding sources to support my trip: Fordham’s Student Support Grant and a General Omar Bradley Fellowship. This was not enough to cover everything, but it certainly lightened the load.

Travel with a buddy! If you have the opportunity to travel with someone familiar with the area, it can make things go much easier. Ph.D. Candidate Patrick Debrosse was conducting research at the same time near London, so we synchronized our trips. This made it much easier to get around the city and gain access to some very cool primary documents. Having a colleague in the same archives also allows you to compare translations when you think you have found that “eureka” moment.   

Apply for a Reader Pass: If this is your initial visit to TNA or the BL, plan for extra time early in the day to get the appropriate ID Card. Some initial paperwork can be completed beforehand, but you will still have to show two forms of identification with your permanent address (a challenge for someone who moves often). Access to the DCO is tightly controlled and must be coordinated through london@duchyofcornwall.org.

Visiting the Archives: TNA was my first stop because it contained the most crucial evidence for my research: The Wardrobe Book of William de Farley, TNA E 101/393/11. This account book recorded the royal military finances of English King Edward III during his final campaign to France before the treaty of Bretigny in 1360. As Pat and I walked through the main doors, we turned left and found ourselves in the cafeteria. On our right was a bookshop. The lockers were further up to the right, where we could leave our bags, food, drink, etc. Next, we made our way to the second floor to sign in and, presenting our identification, received our passes. The second floor had numerous records, books, and other documents, but the score I was after was in the third-floor map room. A sprawling open space greeted us, scattered with large tables to handle oversized documents. We made our way back to the left to submit our request (Tip! You must request your document online ahead of time and ensure you include several items at once, so you have plenty of material for the day). At the counter, I received a dusty box with the appropriate designation. Then, finally sitting at the table with my prize, I removed the cover, and behold, there was Farley’s book, first penned in 1359.

Next, we traveled to the BL. An enormous building greeted us, and once inside, we followed the signs back and right to the waiting area to sign in. We arrived early, quickly received our library cards, and were off to the reading room on the other side of the building. Here I was able to examine two documents critical for my research: The Wardrobe Book of Robert Ferriby, another financial account concerning Edward’s campaigns in Scotland 1334-1338 (BL Manuscript Cotton Nero C VIII), and a collection of medical treatises by the famous fourteenth-century surgeon, John of Arderne (BL Sloane 3548) (Tip! Make sure you save time to visit the treasure room, which holds some of the world’s most impressive historical documents).

Our next excursion took us to the DCO across from Buckingham Palace. This took months of coordination—it is, after all, the London headquarters for the Duke of Cornwall—but the effort was entirely worth it. Upon ringing the bell, we were promptly greeted and led into a lush office on our left. As we entered the room, displayed before us was the object of my interest: the Account Book of John Henxteworth, 1355-1356. It is the only extant document containing detailed military finances from Edward, the Prince of Wales’ 1355 and 1356 military campaigns in France. Pat and I initially marveled at what treasures the document (pictured with the author) might hold, and we worked together to find entries for men such as William Blackwater, the Prince’s Physician. The DCO is worth the effort if you think they have documents to help your research. 

One final note is to plan an extra day for research. I first heard this recommendation listening to a plenary lecture with Professor Geoffrey Parker at the Annual Symposium of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University, and I put that advice to good use here. On the first day, I could not review all the material in Farley’s account, so I returned to TNA and completed my research. I also took photos of several other documents that had escaped my initial investigation. This extra day also allowed us to visit the sites of London (such as the British Museum!) and soak in the culture of such a historic place.

During our trip, we certainly faced challenges, such as a train strike which, at one point, forced us to walk an hour back to our lodgings. Overall, however, visiting the archives in England was a wonderful experience, and I hope these notes will help as you plan your own research journeys.

If this post has sparked your interest further, please check out some of the findings in my forthcoming article “Military Engineers as Combat Support Forces in the Armies of Edward III” Journal of Military History 87:2 (April, 2023) and on Twitter @r_braasch.

Author pictured with the Account Book of John Henxteworth located at the Duchy of Cornwall Office Headquarters, London, England

From the Archives is a special series for the Fordham History blog which highlights the research experiences of members of the history department in an effort to both showcase their work and provide insight for future researchers preparing for their own archival projects.

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From the Archives: Garret McDonald, PhD Candidate visits the Archives and Special Collections at University of Virginia’s Law School in Charlottesville

Garret McDonald – History department PhD Candidate (Cohort 2017-18) working with Dr. Asif Siddiqi – is currently completing his dissertation, entitled: “The Delusion of Reform: Soviet Law, Forensic Psychiatry, and the Fate of Dissent after Stalin.” In this week’s From the Archives, Garret shares some of his experiences while researching at the Archives and Special Collections of University of Virginia’s Law School in Charlottesville.

What is your current research on?

My current research examines the intersection between law and medicine in the Soviet Union, focusing specifically on the issues surrounding social repression and involuntary psychiatric hospitalization. This topic is the basis of my doctoral dissertation as well as a drafted article I hope to submit to a peer-reviewed journal in the coming months.

What archive(s) did you visit and can you describe the archive a little?

The Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict necessitated more domestic research that I had originally envisioned. As a result, the majority of my research over the past year has been undertaken at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. The repository at the Hoover, which includes nearly 12,000 microfilm reels of official Soviet state documents, is particularly invaluable since the collections are identical to those in Moscow. Most recently, however, I visited the Archives and Special Collections of University of Virginia’s Law School in Charlottesville. It is a very small operation, with only a single reading room. Their collections are quite large though, and housed off-site at the University’s various library storage spaces. The collections are primarily those which have been donated privately to the University. 

What was the purpose of your trip? What type of documents did you plan to look at? What makes those documents interesting/unique/important for your research?

Over the course of researching and writing my dissertation, I discovered that several members of a United States delegation to the Soviet Union on the so-called “political abuse of psychiatry” (the practice of incarcerating dissidents and other social undesirables involuntarily in psychiatric hospitals) had donated originals and copies of all of their papers to the University of Virginia’s Law School collections. I originally intended to view these documents in the hopes of finding private correspondence, personal records of the delegation’s trips to the USSR, and information on Soviet reforms targeting involuntary psychiatric hospitalization in the 1980s. 

I found all of that and much more, including information passed to the delegation from the Soviet government, individual Soviet psychiatrists, and local human rights activists. 

The papers were significant because they contained copies of documents that are still classified in Russian archives today or are otherwise inaccessible. Like all historical documents, each came loaded with their own problems. For example, the papers contained statistics passed on to the American delegation by the Soviet government on precisely how many people were involuntarily hospitalized in the Soviet Union. The statistics, however, are not elucidated beyond a caption that reads “Number of Involuntarily Hospitalized Patients in the Special Psychiatric Hospitals.” It was left up to me to piece together from the prior correspondence whether or not this referred to all of the Special Psychiatric Hospitals or just those under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health (as opposed to those under the Ministry of Internal Affairs).

Further, I had to grapple with the very serious possibility that the Soviet government was actively lying to the U.S. delegation in their correspondence and being very selective in the information passed on. Regardless, the delegation actually got to be the first foreign visitors into otherwise deeply classified psychiatric facilities housing prisoners. These facilities are at the center of my dissertation, and the ability to get first-hand information on the inside of these facilities that was not from a former patient was truly invaluable.

What was the most exciting part of your archival trip? 

The most exciting part of my trip was getting to meet some of the surviving members of the delegation. Most notably Richard Bonnie, who is a professor at the Law School. He was very patient with my numerous questions about the delegation’s activities and what he thought about the issue now with the benefit of hindsight. I also got to meet Lena Protsenko, a Ukrainian attorney who focuses on mental health. Lena is currently compiling another delegation member’s private papers for the University as well as a series of interviews she conducted with the members of the delegation and some former patients. I’m extremely grateful for the time and energy she so willingly spent to discuss my dissertation and the work she is doing. I am also very excited to return again soon to view those papers and interviews.

What was an average day in the archives like?

I have found that a day in the archives is pretty similar regardless of where you are. Whether I think back to my time in Russia’s state archives in Moscow, the Hoover Institution, or the recent trip to University of Virginia, the systems for getting and examining documents are relatively standardized. The big difference at the University of Virginia was the size. Massive collections were not manned by numerous archivists or spread across multiple reading rooms, instead there was really one archivist (with some support staff) and the one small reading room, which was quite comfortable. I felt really bad when I realized that the archivist, a lovely woman by the name of Cecila Brown, had carted over some 20 boxes of documents for me all by herself. Cecilia was as nice as could be though and always had a smile on her face.

The archive was open from 9am to 3pm. Each day I showed up at 8:55am to meet Cecilia at the door. She would let me into the reading room and cart out my boxes. Like most archives, I could only view one box at a time, so I generally sat there leafing through folders while taking notes and scans or photos of significant documents for the entire period. Occasionally, when Cecilia went to lunch I would head out to the University’s lawn to sit out with food, but most of the time I spent every second in the reading room combing through the thousands of pages I had requested. Writing this, I realize that sounds like a somewhat dreadful or dull experience, but anyone who is passionate about their topic will know that there are few things more exciting than examining new and unexpected documents in the archives.

Was there anything surprising you found in your research?

I was surprised that I found a series of patient files in the collections I viewed. Psychiatric patient files are notoriously difficult to access in the Russian Federation (and in most countries for more recent periods), and I was shocked to find copies here. That said, I did have to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements for each collection and have to navigate how to discuss files and cite them while not giving away any identifying information. The patient files I did find were especially interesting for their diversity. The delegation had unofficial patient files produced by dissident psychiatrists, they had official accounts given to them by Soviet authorities, and they had their own interviews and diagnoses of the patients they visited while in the USSR. Taken together, each is great for chronicling change-over-time and the various shifting approaches to questions of mental illness and criminality.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing historical research?

I would advise someone interested in pursuing historical research to follow every lead. We all start with a question, or set of questions, that  lead to even more questions more often than not. While trying to answer them you’ll come across so many different people, places, and organizations. Each represents a thread spreading out from and made up of your research interests. Follow each of them through to the end. Some will dead-end early, you will find out that a particular person left no papers behind or that an organization’s archives are still classified. Likewise, you will discover that places were destroyed in upheaval and conflict or that the archives you need are currently closed indefinitely. By following each lead you have though, you may also uncover that someone tangentially related to your topic did leave papers behind that may be useful or that your subjects had friends or relatives you can still get in touch with. You may even discover an archive or collection you didn’t even know existed. According to Cecila, I am the first researcher to ever examine those documents at the University of Virginia and the only reason I found them was because I followed my leads. I knew there was an American delegation, I had to track down the delegates, then their organizations, and finally what they left behind. 

That amount of detective work may seem daunting, especially for a beginner or documents that may only comprise a fraction of your research. The delegation’s documents, for example, are only for the final chapter of my dissertation. We live in a world that is more connected and digitized than ever before though. All you have to do is put in the effort to look and reach out. There also is no shortage of kind, experienced scholars who would be delighted to help guide you or put you in touch with others who may be able to help.

From the Archives is a special series for the Fordham History blog which highlights the research experiences of members of the history department in an effort to both showcase their work and provide insight for future researchers preparing for their own archival projects.

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Dr. Bruce and PhD Student Ben Bertrand publish their article entitled “Ex sanctorum patrum certissimis testimoniis: Reading the Greek Fathers in Latin in Early Medieval Monasteries” in the Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies

Dr. Scott G. Bruce, Professor of History, and Benjamin A. Bertrand, PhD Student in History, co-authored their article “Ex sanctorum patrum certissimis testimoniis: Reading the Greek Fathers in Latin in Early Medieval Monasteries” which was published in the Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies. Congratulations Dr. Bruce and Ben!

You can access their article here. Below is the abstract:

Monastic reading communities in early medieval Europe had a voracious appetite for the works of the Greek church fathers in Latin translation. This article examines the evidence for the availability of translated Greek patristics in western abbeys from the fifth to the ninth centuries through a survey of surviving manuscripts and monastic library inventories. While there was not yet a canon of officially recognized ‘fathers of the eastern church’ in early medieval Europe, this article shows how western monks favoured five of the six Greek patriarchs singled out as authoritative in the sixth-century Decretum Gelasianum. In terms of genre, they strongly preferred the homiletical writings of eastern Christian authors over their polemical works, because sermons and biblical homilies had greater utility as tools for teaching and preaching. Lastly, this article highlights the fact that the most widely copied Greek church father in early medieval Europe was also the most notorious and suspect thinker in the eastern church: Origen of Alexandria, whose skill as an author of biblical commentaries outweighed his notoriety as a condemned theologian in the eyes of western monks.

Cover of the Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies

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PhD Student Matt Mulhern publishes his article “Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Arc of Crisis and the Origin of U.S. Involvement in Afghanistan” in The Graduate History Review.

PhD Student Matt Mulhern publishes his article “Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Arc of Crisis and the Origin of U.S. Involvement in Afghanistan” in The Graduate History Review. Congratulations Matt!

Below is the abstract:

Zbigniew Brzezinski misrepresented Soviet motivations in their Afghan invasion to pursue his own geo-political agenda in the “arc of crisis” region that became a primary focus for the shift in strategic planning during the Carter administration. Based on State Department documents released in December 2018, in addition to former Soviet-era primary sources from the Cold War International History Project, the article describes how Brzezinski misread Soviet intentions and facilitated a response that later metastasized into something the U.S. could not control once the Reagan administration continued Carter’s arming of the most radical elements of the Afghan rebellion. Despite Brzezinski’s efforts to increase the U.S. footprint in the Middle East having such a consequential impact on American foreign policy during the past 40 years, scholars are only beginning to understand the full weight of these moves during the final years of the Carter administration.

Cover image of the Graduate History Review featuring the side profile of a woman at a desk reading a book
Cover image of The Graduate History Review

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Former Fordham History student offered Harvard-Newcomen Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Former undergraduate student Melanie Sheehan (class of 2017) has been offered the Harvard-Newcomen Post-Doctoral Fellowship for the 2022-2023 academic year. She is a current PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Melanie Sheehan
(Rose Hill, class of 2017)

Melanie is currently finishing her dissertation, titled “Opportunities Foregone: US Industrial Unions and the Politics of International Economic Policy, 1949-1983,” which demonstrates the critical but underexplored role of trade union leaders in shaping US international trade and investment policy. The project draws on research from business archives at Hagley Museum and Library and labor archives at the Walter P. Reuther Library, the George Meany Memorial AFL-CIO Archive, Penn State University, and the International Institute of Social History, as well as several presidential libraries.
Congratulations, Melanie!

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PhD candidate Glauco Schettini is awarded The Ellis Dissertation Award

Fordham PhD candidate Glauco Schettini was awarded the 2022 John Tracy Ellis Dissertation Award by The American Catholic Historical Association for his “promising, but not-yet-completed” dissertation “The Catholic Counter-Revolution: A Global Intellectual History, 1780s–1840s.”

According to the prize committee, consisting of Robert W. Shaffern (Scranton University), James McCartin (Fordham University), and Mary Dunn (St. Louis University):
“We are delighted to bestow the John Tracy Ellis Award 2022 upon Glauco Schettini, a graduate student at Fordham University. His dissertation, ‘The Catholic Counter-Revolution: A Global Intellectual History, 1780s–1840s,’ examines the Catholic responses to the intellectual turmoil released by the enlightenment and French Revolution in Iberian Europe and the Americas, regions that until now have received little attention in the historiography. Schettini plans on using the award to visit the archives of Augustin Barruel, a key antirevolutionary polemicist, and Henri Gregoire, a bishop in the French Constitutional Church.”

Glauco Schettini

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PhD Student Spencer Tompkins to participate in Society for the History of Technology’s 2021 Conference

PhD Student Spencer Tompkins will participate in the Society for the History of Technology’s Annual Conference (“SHOT”) on November 20, 2021, from 4:30–5:30pm (CST) online. Spencer will give his presentation, “From Autonomous Electronic Data Processing to Statewide Information System: Lockheed Missiles and Space Company’s Analysis of California’s Earthy Problems”, as part of a panel titled “Computational Infrastructures”.

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PhD candidate Glauco Schettini receives the Farrar Memorial Award of the Society for French Historical Studies.

PhD candidate Glauco Schettini is the winner of a Farrar Memorial Award of the Society for French Historical Studies. The award, which consists of a prize of $5,000 and recognizes outstanding dissertations that deal with French history broadly conceived, will support research for Glauco’s in-progress dissertation project, titled “The Catholic Counterrevolution: A Global Intellectual History, 1780s-1840s.” In his dissertation, Glauco looks at networks of counterrevolutionary Catholic intellectuals spanning from Europe to Latin America to trace the emergence of Catholicism as a new, distinct ideology in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Glauco’s “exciting doctoral research,” write the members of the Society’s Award Committee, which included Profs. Daniel Sherman, Rebecca Spang, Robin Mitchell, and Paul Cohen, “will change how we teach both the history of ideas and the history of religion.”

You can follow him on Twitter at @GlaucoSchettini.

Glauco Schettini

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Graduate Student Lisa Betty is Featured in the Fordham Ram, discussing Veganism, and White Supremacy.

Fordham University undergraduate Abby Delk wrote the featured piece. Delk writes in part: “Lisa Betty, a Ph.D. candidate and teaching fellow in Fordham’s history department, has put a great deal of time and energy into her research on modern health and wellness movements and their ties to colonialism and white supremacy. Much of her research focuses on critiquing the modern veganism movement for its inherent racism.”

You can find Lisa Betty’s full article in the Medium here.

You can follow Lisa Betty on Twitter @almostdrlisabetty

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History Graduate Student Nicholas DeAntonis Publishes Op-Ed in the Washington Post.

On March 11, 2021, Nicholas DeAntonis, a Ph.D. candidate, published, “Joe Biden is making clear that Saudi human rights violations won’t be ignored,” in The Washington Post.

You can follow him on Twitter at: @NDeAntonis

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