Winter 2016 Newsletter

Wietse de Boer
December 2016

Chair's Welcome

Dear Alumni and Friends:

Most of you already know the great commitment and creativity our instructors bring to the classroom and beyond.  As the Fall comes to a close, I am delighted to offer you some glimpses of the work History faculty have been doing with their students in the past few months.  The goal, as always, was to instill, nurture, and practice the research skills needed to probe the past and better understand the present.  This semester students visited a broad range of archives, libraries, and museums to hone these skills:  Miami University's Special Collections, the University Art Museum, the McGuffey Museum, and the Hefner Museum of Natural History, among others.  Moreover, Dr. Andrew Offenburger pioneered a new online platform to support student research into historic newspapers and other sources.

The department also expanded opportunities for students to publish the results of their scholarship.  This Fall, we launched a new online journal for undergraduate student research, Journeys Into the Past, whose first issue will go live in the coming days.  Several graduate students, as well as faculty, contributed to Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective.  This exciting journal, co-edited by Dr. Steven Conn, is supported by the History Departments of Miami University and the Ohio State University.  I encourage you to check out these publications.  Other faculty and student accomplishments are detailed below.

Historical perspective is in fact much needed in today's world, as one of our alumni, Dr. William Denney, argues in a thought-provoking reflection on the role of history in his life and career.  The historic events of the last months--including the U.S. elections and several referenda in Europe--give Dr. Denney's comments further poignancy.  They have also reaffirmed us in our commitment to our work.  The knowledge and skills students of history learn as they delve into the past will help them make sense of the present and take them far in the future.

Happy holidays on behalf of the History Department!

Wietse de Boer
Professor and Chair

Historicizing the News Class

Students in Andrew Offenburger's Historicizing the News research seminar use a new online system, Source Notes, to collaboratively analyze historical sources.

Support History

Andrew R.L. Cayton, a much beloved History professor at Miami University, died on December 17, 2015 following a long illness. To honor his legacy, the Department of History has established the Andrew R.L. Cayton Memorial Fund.

The fund commemorates Professor Cayton’s profound impact as an instructor, advisor, and mentor of generations of students in the History Department and at Miami University. The fund will support History students’ research, internships, and other opportunities to expand their education and to prepare them for a wide range of careers.

Donations can be made by clicking the link below. Please reference “Andrew R.L. Cayton Memorial Fund” in the memo section.

Make a Gift

HST 216 class visits Doty Museum

Students in Helen Sheumaker's HST 216 course enter the Farmstead House at Doty Farm on a hot September day.

News from the Classroom


Andrew Offenburger's students in Historicizing the News, a research seminar, use a new online system developed by the History Department for collaboratively analyzing historical sources. In the class, the students are parsing an early 20th century publication, Goodwin's Weekly, between 1902 and 1919.  SourceNotes will be expanded in the spring for potential use by other humanities courses at Miami.

Students in Dan Prior's HST 324 Eurasian Nomads and History course spent a week in the Miami University Art Museum doing up-close research on the Arthur M. Sackler collection of ancient bronze artifacts from the eastern Eurasian steppes.  The weapons, utensils and items of personal adornment add to their primary source base on the antecedents and formation of the first nomadic steppe empire in the first century BCE.

Students in Helen Sheumaker's HST 216 Introduction to Public History course went to the Doty Farm, operated by Oxford Museum Association, and created online exhibits (see OMA's Pinterest site) about artifacts from the collections.

Steve Norris's students in HST 375 this past spring 2016 studies foodways and then, fabulously, met at Western Lodge on campus and prepared foods from historic recipes.  The students blogged about their experiences.

Students in the History Department courses about Soviet history are also writing features for an edited student journal/blog, found at the Havighurst Center's blog central.

The goal of Aaron Cavin's Introduction to Historical Inquiry class (HST 206) is to teach students how to effectively conduct historical research.  Professor Cavin wanted to introduce his students to the historical research sources that are available right here at Miami University so he took his class to the university's Special Collections.  During the visit to Special Collections, the students were able to learn about, review, and engage with a variety of sources ranging from ancient tablets to a Soviet alphabet book.

Steve Conn’s graduate students in his history seminar focused in part on museology this fall. As a way to teach the graduate students more about museology, Dr. Conn took his seminar to the Hefner Museum of Natural History located in Upham Hall. The students were shown around the museum by director Steven Sullivan and listened to him introduce and explain the different displays. Visiting the Hefner Museum of Natural History allowed the students to engage with an actual museum director and to learn about what goes into running a museum of natural history. The seminar had previously visited the McGuffey Museum and so the students were able to discuss the differences between that museum and the museum of natural history. 

Alumni Spotlight:  William H. Denney

How the Study of History Prepares Us for Life

Since I retired, I have begun to reflect on the journey of my life.  This isn't uncommon.  We all reach a point when we wonder what we accomplished and how we got from there to here.

In my case, the "there," the beginning, was my time at Miami.  This is how I got to "here."

William H. DenneyI enlisted in the Air Force, which sent me to the Defense Language Institute and then to serve in Military Intelligence.  When I left the military, I worked as a manufacturing supervisor for Johnson & Johnson.  They moved me from a plant in Texas to a larger facility in New Jersey where they placed me in IT.  From there I moved to Texas Instruments as a technical trainer learning more about computers and technology.  After that I took a position as an IT director at Halliburton Corporate Headquarters where I developed an executive information system that consolidated data from seventeen subsidiaries.  I was promoted to Director of Quality, which involved multiple business improvement projects and training assignments in various countries.  I joined Microsoft where I managed follow-the-sun technical support at multiple locations.  My wife and I then took a couple years off to live on our sailboat in Florida and Key West.  During this period of reflection, I wrote a novel and published a number of articles about organizational improvement, human resources and business competiveness.  We returned to Texas where I took a job as Vice President of Quality at a local healthcare company.  Three years later I was asked to be the CEO of a local non-profit.  Over the years, I volunteered as an examiner/assessor for the National Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.  Eventually, I set out on my own and became an international business consultant.  In the course of all these experiences I've worked in Venezuela, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Malta, India, Dubai, England, Greece, Germany, Holland and Mongolia.

Continue reading William Denney's reflection on the Dept. of History website.

Faculty Spotlight:  Dr. Lindsay Schakenbach Regele

Lindsay RegeleAs a historian of early American political economy, Lindsay Schakenbach Regele was into Alexander Hamilton before Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash Hamilton: An American Musical made America’s first Secretary of the Treasury cool. And just like Miranda, Regele, an assistant professor in Miami University’s Department of History, sees parallels between the challenges America faced in its earliest days and those it faces in the modern day.

“We’ve always debated how much role the government does and should have in commerce,” Regele says. “How much should we promote our own manufacturing? How much should we rely upon manufacturing from other places? What is our role in the world in an economic sense? Are we producers? Are we purchasers? Are we both?”

Continue reading about Dr. Regele on OARS Research News.

Student Spotlight:  Jacob Beard

Jacob BeardJacob Beard is a second-year Masters student whose research presentation at Miami University’s 2016 Graduate Student Forum (November 4, 2016) received a Top Three Presentation Award. Jake describes his project as follows:

“My research centers on the Russian philosopher Pyotr Chaadaev and the allegations made by the Russian Imperial government in 1836 that he was mentally insane. Chaadaev was placed under house arrest after these allegations, stemming from the publication of his Philosophical Letters in the prominent Russian journal Teleskop, and remained under house arrest for some time, only ever to publish one more work – The Apology of a Madman. I am interested in assessing the purpose and validity of the claims made against Pyotr Chaadaev.

"I seek to explain the ways that medical diagnoses, in this case focusing solely on the label of insanity, contribute to the capacity of governments, in this case Nicholas I’s regime in Imperial Russia, to repress voices of dissent in their states. In my presentation at the Graduate Research Forum, I shared my analysis of Chaadaev’s life and explained that ‘madman’ was the chosen charge against him because of certain experiences in Chaadaev’s life as well as his reputation amongst his peers.”

NEH groupTeachers from Susan Spellman's packed NEH group excitedly sing an old Temperance Movement song about not consuming alcohol.

Faculty Publications and Activities

Elena Albarran’s book, Seen and Heard in Mexico: Children and Revolutionary Cultural Nationalism (Nebraska 2015), was the recipient of the María Elena Martínez Prize, awarded by the national Conference on Latin American History for the book judged to be the most significant work on the history of Mexico published during the previous year. In the book, Albarrán examines the process of nationalism as it was unevenly constructed by revolutionary elites to create a new generation of Mexican citizens, and the ways that children received, absorbed, and sometimes rejected those initiatives.  

Wietse de Boer co-edited (with Karl A.E. Enenkel and Walter S. Melion) the volume, Jesuit Image Theory, Intersections 45 (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2016), which includes his article, “The Early Jesuits and the Catholic Debate about Sacred Images.” He also published the essay, "Die Disziplinierung der Sinne. Innenraum und Religion in Italien zur Zeit der Gegenreformation,” in the journal Randgänge der Mediävistik 6 (2016), pp. 9-49.

Susan Spellman co-directed an NEH Landmarks in American History grant program, which brought 72 teachers from across the country to Columbus during July 2016. "Demon Times: Temperance, Immigration, and Progressivism" was a collaboration with Elizabeth Hedler of the Ohio History Connection. Participants did the normal NEH seminar activities, and Susan also led the group to sing Temperance Movement songs. It was a rousing success. 

Matthew Gordon (Islamic and Middle East history) is spending the year teaching at the American University of Beirut, the occupant of the Alfred H. Howell Endowed Chair in History and Archaeology. He has published a series of book reviews and essays over the past several years, dealing principally with two topic areas: (i) gender and slavery in early medieval Islamic history, and (ii) the history of the Tulunids, an autonomous local dynasty of ninth-century Egypt. Two larger projects are in production. The first is an co-edited volume entitled Concubines and Courtesans: Women and Slavery across Islamic History (Oxford University Press), to which Gordon is also contributing an essay. The second project is a three-volume translation of the works of Ahmad ibn Abi Ya`qub al-Ya`qubi, a ninth-century Muslim geographer and historian, forthcoming with Brill Publishing. Gordon is a co-editor and one of eleven contributors to the latter project.

Lectures and Talks

Dan Prior was an invited member of a roundtable on “The Oral Heritage of Central Asia: New Research Initiatives and Collaborations to Translate Kyrgyz Epics into English,” discussing his work on Saġımbay Orozbaq uulu’s Manas, at the Central Eurasian Studies Society’s regional conference in Kazan, Russia, June 2-6.

Caryn E. Neumann (affiliate, Interdisciplinary and Communication Studies - Regionals), Jana Braziel (Global and Intercultural Studies) and Lori Parks (Art History - Hamilton) at the Cincinnati Museum Center in August for a team lecture for their Da Vinci - The Genius exhibit. "The Mona Lisa Legacy: Her Power and Influence in Contemporary Visual Culture" drew good attendance and is part of a new community outreach by Miami, led by Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of History Renee Baernstein.

Helen Sheumaker’s lecture for the Miami University Art Museum, “History with Things,” featured 1950s tabletop radios, bell bottom jeans, quilts and depression-era dresses, and a discussion of the suffragist outfits of the early 1900s, on the eve of the election this November.