In The New Republic, Fordham Historian Prof. Saul Cornell argues that “Liberal legal scholars are at risk of falling into a right-wing trap.” Cornell continues to argue: “In the pending congressional impeachment inquiry, the House Judiciary Committee is charged with (among other things) taking up the question of what the constitutional process of impeachment means. To aid them in this solemn task, committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and his colleagues on Wednesday summoned an impressive list of constitutional scholars to offer authoritative interpretations of the Constitution’s impeachment clauses.”
He continues: “The present debate over Donald Trump’s impeachment has largely been framed in originalist terms. But for all of this doctrine’s supposed appeal as a settled form of legal interpretation, it would be prudent to recognize that originalism now comes in about as many flavors as the Ben and Jerry’s product line. The dominant model, for the moment, is what’s known as public meaning originalism. Champions of this approach contend that the goal of interpreting the Constitution is to identify what a competent and reasonably well-informed speaker of American English in 1788 would have thought the words of the text meant. For Republicans and many movement conservatives, public meaning originalism is the default mode of inquiry for virtually every constitutional question. The Federalist Society, the influential right-wing legal group that now effectively issues the union card for entry into right-wing politics and law, has made public meaning originalism its unofficial philosophy, arguing in essence that originalism is not simply the best, but is indeed the only legitimate mode of interpreting the Constitution.”
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments is an exploratory, experimental history of the lives of young black women in northern cities in the early twentieth century. Its author, Saidiya Hartmann, had just won a MacArthur “genius” grant for her innovative scholarship when we sat down to discuss the book earlier this month. I think that it was at this moment that the seven students in History 5410 Race and Gender in Modern America really gelled. The day’s student seminar-leaders guided us through a provocative, wide-ranging discussion about how Hartmann’s method beautifully evoked the inner worlds of women largely invisible in the historical record where they mostly appear as statistics in sociologies of the ghetto, names on police blotters, or case files of detention centers. We considered what Hartmann taught us about these young women’s lives with her method that we might not have understood otherwise and discussed whether or not this was a method that graduate students in history might want to embrace.
Hartmann’s book is
among a set of histories of race and gender in the U.S. since 1877 that the
course includes. We have read about miscegenation, farmworkers and migrants, and
women’s employment and “economic citizenship” and are moving on to
civil rights, conservative politics of the family, and mass incarceration. Katie,
a first-year doctoral student in the department, comments that “I have
never explored race and gender exclusively in a course and the well-selected
readings and discussions have forced me to re-evaluate my preconceived notions
of both of these concepts. This class has challenged me to really understand
how race and gender construct one another in today’s world.” Grace
Campagna, a senior history major, echoes the point, observing that “The
biggest takeaway from the class so far has been seeing the range of ways that
those in power have used race and gender to construct and uphold social,
political, and economic systems.”
The seminar is
based in a student-centered pedagogy. Will Hogue, a second-year doctoral
student, says that “Dr. Swinth’s commitment to experimenting with new and
more democratic pedagogical methods has been very rewarding.” He adds, “The
collaborative syllabus model gives the students not only the chance to tailor
the course to their personal needs and goals, but also the chance to practice
some lesson planning and course construction. In all, it has been helpful for
our development both as scholars and teachers.” In fact, the class just
completed a collaborative process to set the topics for the last four weeks of
the seminar, all chosen by students to reflect their interests and to pursue
questions that have arisen in the first part of the course.
At its most basic, this course investigates the ways that race and gender have shaped what it is like to live in the United States today. It draws upon the field of history and the skills, talents, and creativity of committed graduate students (and an accompanying professor) to explore the key categories and mechanisms that have made race and gender “tick” in American culture and society since Reconstruction. In many it is a traditional graduate readings seminar. Course readings analyze how these key, intersecting categories shaped American politics, economy, culture, state, and criminal justice system. But beyond that, the seminar’s deeper goal is to follow the class’s collective interests. What do class members, as individuals, and the class, as a group, want to understand better and more deeply about the history of race and gender in the U.S.? This course is as an opportunity to figure out why learning about this topic matters to comprehending U.S. history, why it matters to students (personally, professionally, as citizens/contributors), and why it matters to the larger world, future students, and other audiences we have yet to identify.
Comments Off on Exploring race and racism, gender and misogyny: History 5410 Race and Gender in Modern America
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.
Dr. Noël Wolfe (PhD, Fordham, 2015) recently accepted a tenure-track position at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York as an Assistant Professor of History and the Program Director for the Legal Studies Program. Dr. Wolfe completed her dissertation, “A Community at War: the Bronx and Crack Cocaine” in 2015.
For the past two years, Dr. Wolfe has been the Helen and Agnes Ainsworth Visiting Assistant Professor of American Culture at Randolph College. In this position, she designed a 12-credit semester-long experiential program that examines the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class and law through the lens of drug cultures in America. Through course work, discussion, travel and guest lectures, students explored the racialization and ethnicization of narcotics in the U.S. and investigated how racial and ethnic bias influenced popular opinion and drug-related public policy and law. You can find more information about Dr. Wolfe’s program at https://rcamericancultureprogram.wordpress.com. Dr. Wolfe also taught courses on incarceration, African-American history, and law while at Randolph.
Dr. Wolfe is very excited to begin her new position at Nazareth College, which will allow her to explore her research and teaching interests in history and law, as well as put to use her practical experience as a trial attorney. At Nazareth, Dr. Wolfe will teach courses in U.S. and African-American history, as well as courses on law, drugs, and incarceration.
Comments Off on Congrats to Alumnus Dr. Noël Wolfe
On November 7, 2017, Fordham students gathered for the second annual women’s liberation teach-in at Rodrigue’s Coffee House, on the Rose Hill campus. Part of Professor Kirsten Swinth’s Modern U.S. Women’s History, students in the teach-in emulated women’s liberation groups of the 1960s and 1970s. The teach-in is a valuable tool Dr. Swinth has used to move students from the pages of their textbooks into the lived experience of the subjects they study. Here’s what some of the students had to say about that experience. Continue reading →
Comments Off on Student Perspectives: Second Annual Women’s Liberation Teach-In
Dr. Kirsten Swinth enjoyed a packed crowd earlier this month as she spoke about her upcoming book, “Having it All:” Feminist Struggles over Work and Family, 1963 – 1978 (Harvard University Press, 2018). The book comments on the challenges that working professionals have faced as they have sought to build a career while raising a family from the 1970s through the present. She also discussed Continue reading →
Comments Off on Dr. Kirsten Swinth Discusses “Having It All”
History major Katherine DeFonzo in the Archives Center at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.
Earlier this summer, History major Katherine DeFonzo reached out to faculty member Christopher Dietrich about the work she was doing at her internship at the Archives Center at the American Museum of National History (a part of the Smithsonian Institution). Katherine wrote: Continue reading →
Comments Off on History Major Katherine DeFonzo on Her Internship at the Smithsonian
PhD student Stephen Leccese, who recently published two journal articles.
Students in Fordham’s MA and PhD programs produce original research of the highest quality, and are encouraged to publish this work when and where it is appropriate during their time in the program. The academic year 2016-2017 saw the appearance of articles by a number of our students in different peer-reviewed volumes and journals. We asked our students who published their work to tell us a little bit about the articles and the writing process and we’ll feature these students and their publications in a short blog series.
First up is Stephen Leccese, an American historian in the PhD program working with Professor Christopher Dietrich. Leccese has achieved the remarkable feat of publishing two journal articles virtually simultaneously. He wrote to tell us about both:
“John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil, and the Rise of Corporate Public Relations in Progressive America, 1902-1908,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 16.3 (July 2017): 245-63.
This article is a shortened version of my Master’s research paper, which Prof. Chris Dietrich advised. I became interested in progressivism in Prof. Dietrich’s American Political and Intellectual History since 1877 class, particularly on how the “robber barons” defended themselves against attacks from progressive muckrakers who exposed businessmen’s unethical practices. For a case study, it was natural to look at the Standard Oil Company, the most visible of the great trusts and the subject of muckraker Ida Tarbell’s classic The History of the Standard Oil Company. Since the Supreme Court successfully dissolved Standard Oil in 1911, historians have exclusively considered the company’s response to Ida Tarbell insufficient from a public relations perspective. Yet from what I saw, no historians had actually examined what the company did do. That was how I found my historiographical gap. I decided to go into the archives and tell the story of how Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller attempted to recover their reputations with public statements, official histories, and some of the first professional PR agents in American history. When placed in historical context, this response was groundbreaking – the field of PR was in its infancy, so Standard Oil agents were largely making this up as they went along. Going further, I tied this small study to the Progressive Movement at large. In the Standard Oil case, progressives attacked a corporation, and that corporation defended itself by developing the PR field. This started a trend of other businesses following suit, and by the 1920s the modern public relations field was largely established. Therefore, I argue that the anti-business activities of the progressives inadvertently helped big business establish itself. The editor of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era liked this provocative argument about progressivism, and it definitely helped get this article published.
“Economic Inequality and the New School of American Economics,” Special Issue – Growing Apart: Religious Reflection on the Rise of Economic Inequality, Religions 8.6 (2017): 99-110.
This article began life as my first-year PhD research paper, where I examined how a new generation of American economists argued that consumer spending was key to economic growth, breaking from previous classical economics. After some revising, I presented the paper at the Growing Apart: The Implications of Economic Inequality Interdisciplinary Conference at Boston College in March, 2016. After the conference, the organizers contacted me and said that my paper was among a group that they would like to publish in a special issue of the journal Religions (the conference sponsor was the BC theology department, hence the journal choice). I accepted and expanded the paper into a peer-reviewed piece. In the article, I examine how the various crises of the late nineteenth century – namely economic depression and increasing labor unrest – showed a group of younger economists that economic inequality was harmful to the social fabric. They argued that greater equality would create a working class that had increased spending power, which would lead to economic growth and more stable class relations. My main sources were numerous economic publications and several archival collections that these economists left behind. After establishing this new theory of consumption, I trace how the New Economists tried to put their ideas into practice. Importantly, they formed the American Economic Association in 1885 with the intention of spreading their message among the economic community. I conclude briefly by showing that by the 1890s, the New Economists were influencing public policy by working with politicians – particularly, several directly advised Theodore Roosevelt, first when he was governor of New York and later when he was president. The overall claim is that mass consumption was an aspect of social reform, something that is typically not considered in histories of consumerism.
Thanks Stephen, and congratulations on your two articles!
Comments Off on Grad Student Publications, A Summer Series: Pt. 1 Stephen Leccese