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Department Of History Images In History

Access Program

The History Department sponsors a reading group for Access students. The Group meets roughly once each month during the regular academic year to discuss a History book with a Department faculty member. If you are not receiving our Reading Group mailings and would like more information or to have your name added to the mailing list, please register for our reading group mailing list.

CURRENT READING GROUPS

A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812
by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Directed by Professor Richard Johnson
Tuesday, January 22, 2008, 2:00–3:30, Smith 306
This already classic study, that won its author numerous book prizes, including the Pulitzer, takes as its text the diary left by Mrs. Martha Ballard who lived on the Kennebec River in late 18 th-century Maine. From the raw fabric of the diary’s entries, Laurel Ulrich weaves a remarkable and often moving chronicle of Martha’s lifework as midwife, healer, housewife, employer of young women artisans, and active participant in the life (and scandals) of a frontier community. Through the life of an extraordinary woman, the book illuminates the lives of “ordinary” people in post-revolutionary America. But it also shows a skillful historian at work, drawing analysis out of intractable materials and revealing lost substructures of American society by showing how what women write, then and now, uncovers the history of women. We might consider both what the book adds to our knowledge of the past and how Ulrich has contrived to do this.
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The New American Militarism
by Andrew Bacevich

Directed by Professor Nikhil Singh
Wednesday, February 20, 2008, 1:30 –3:00, Smith 306
At the end of WWII, the United States never made a transition to peace.  The Cold War, which began in 1947, inaugurated an era of permanent war that contained Soviet power, but also led to the misguided, deeply destructive war in Vietnam . In this provocative new book, historian Andrew Bacevich argues that the political reaction to the Vietnam War and the end of the Cold War, rather than tempering US militarism, helped to forge new proclivities and constituencies in support of the use of military power as a solution to social ills, and as a way of imposing US norms upon an intractable and complex world. “Americans in our own time,” he writes, “have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force” (p.2). With roots in the recent American past, and broadly supported by conservatives and liberals alike, the new American militarism, today threatens to hollow out our democratic institutions, to tear our social fabric, and to isolate the US in the
world. 

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Histories of the Hanged: the Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire
by David Anderson

Directed by Professor Lynn Thomas
Wednesday, March 5, 2008, 2:00 –3:30, Smith 306
The book explores the history of the Mau Mau rebellion in 1950s colonial Kenya , examining how this conflict dominated the final bloody decade of British imperialism in East Africa .  In a compelling and well-researched narrative, Anderson portrays the deep social and economic tensions that motivated that Mau Mau rebels and how the British empire employed whatever military and propaganda methods it could to preserve an order that could no longer hold.                     
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Remembering Ahanagran
by Richard White

Directed by Professor George Behlmer
Thursday, April 17, 2008, 2:00–3:30, Smith 306
Remembering Ahanagran is a remarkable book that defies easy categorization. Part biography, part autobiography, part "revisionist" account, part loving narrative, it deals with the complicated relationship between history and memory. Richard White's story is simultaneously about immigration, about becoming an American, and about the myths we embrace to make sense of ourselves. It is about rural Ireland, 20th-century Chicago, and territory that exists only in the mind.
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Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
by Jack Weatherford

Directed by Professor Joel Walker
Tuesday, May 20, 2008, 3:00–4:30, Smith 306
The name Genghis Khan typically conjures the image of a relentless barbarian on horseback leading a ruthless band of nomadic warriors in the looting of the civilized world. This image, however, reveals only one side of the Mongols’ legacy. As social anthropologist Jack Weatherford demonstrates in this bestselling biography, Genghis Khan was not only the world’s greatest military conqueror, he was also a savvy, remarkably tolerant and wise ruler of one of the largest and most diverse empires in world history.
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PREVIOUS READING GROUPS

Galileo
by Bertolt Brecht

Directed by Professor Bruce Hevly
Thursday, December 6, 2008, 1:00–2:30, Smith 306
Brecht’s Life of Galileo is on stage in Seattle through November 18 (Strawberry Theatre Workshop, staged at Seattle University). Written by Brecht after he fled Nazi Germany for Scandinavia and first staged in Switzerland, Galileo was later revised into an English-language version and then produced in New York just after World War II. In the New York production, Brecht took Galileo’s story into the nuclear age, connecting the relationship between the scientist and political authority in the framework of early modern capitalism to the early days of the Cold War. After being called in front of a Congressional anti-Communist investigating committee, Brecht left the U.S. for East Germany. The play had only a short run.
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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation ,
by Joseph Ellis

Directed by Professor Tracy McKenzie
Thursday, May 24, 2007, 1:30–3:30, Smith 306
The author, a master wordsmith, recreates the crucial era immediately after the achievement of American independence through intimate sketches of the relationship among eight leading figures from the early republic: Abigail and John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. Each chapter focuses on a key historical moment, from a gripping recreation of the Hamilton- Burr duel and its significance for the nation to a deeply moving narrative of the reconciliation between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the twilight of their lives. Emphasizing the fragility of the infant republic, Ellis reminds us that the success of the American Revolution was far from inevitable.
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Death is a Festival: Funeral Rites and Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Brazil, by Joao Reis
Directed by Professor Adam Warren
Tuesday, February 20th, 1:30-3:30, Smith 306
This award-winning social history of death and funeral rites during the early decades of Brazil's independence from Portugal focuses on the Cemiterada movement in Salvador, capital of the province of Bahia. The book opens with a lively account of the popular riot that ensued when, in 1836, the government condemned the traditional burial of bodies inside Catholic church buildings and granted a private company a monopoly over burials.
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J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter
Directed by Professor Robin Stacey
Monday, November 13, 1:30-3:30, Smith 306
To the horror of many modernday critics, J.R.R. Tolkien has several times been selected in national polls in the U.S. and Britain as "the author of the twentieth century," beating out such worthy opponents as James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. The recent success of Peter Jackson's film version of his best-known work, The Lord of the Rings, has served to increase his popularity even further. Our reading for this session is Humphrey Carpenter's J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. I have also included a short piece by Tolkien entitled “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm’s Son” together with the Anglo-Saxon heroic poem “The Battle of Maldon” for which it was intended to serve as a sequel.

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Juan Soldado: Rapist, Murderer, Martyr, Saint, by Paul Vanderwood
Directed by Professor Adam Warren
February 28, 2006, 1:30-3:00 in Smith 320
Paul J. Vanderwood offers a fascinating look at the events, beliefs, and circumstances that have motivated popular devotion to Juan Soldado, a Mexican folk saint. In his mortal incarnation, Juan Soldado was Juan Castillo Morales, a twenty-four-year-old soldier convicted of and quickly executed for the rape and murder of eight-year-old Olga Camacho in Tijuana in 1938. Immediately after Morales's death, many people began to doubt the evidence of his guilt, or at least the justice of his brutal execution. There were reports of seeing blood seeping from his grave and of hearing his soul cry out protesting his innocence. Soon the "martyred" Morales was known as Juan Soldado, or John the Soldier. Believing that those who have died unjustly sit closest to God, people began visiting Morales's grave asking for favors. Within months of his death, the young soldier had become a popular saint. He is not recognized by the Catholic Church, yet since 1938, thousands of people have made pilgrimages to his gravesite.

In addition to extensive archival research, Vanderwood interviewed central actors in the events of 1938, and many present-day visitors to the shrine at Morales's grave. Vanderwood puts the events of 1938 within the context of Depression-era Tijuana and he locates people's devotion, then and now, within the history of extra-institutional religious activity. In Juan Soldado, a gripping true-crime mystery opens up into a much larger and more elusive mystery of faith and belief.
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Medieval Mysteries!
Meet with Author Candace Robb and Professor Robin Stacey to discuss Robb's books The Lady Chapel and A Gift of Sanctuary
January 26, 2006 1:30-3:30 in Smith 306
Candace Robb studied Anglo-Saxon and medieval literature at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. After leaving graduate school, she began writing the bestselling 14th-century mystery series starring Owen Archer.

The Lady Chapel. In summer 1365, York is glorious with pageantry for the Feast of Corpus Christi. But wool merchant Will Crounce meets his maker all too soon, his throat slit in the shadow of the great cathedral. When Crounce's severed hand is found in fellow-merchant Gilbert Ridley's tavern lodging, the Archbishop calls in Owen Archer, the Welsh archer-turned-sleuth. To unravel the murder, Owen will need his sharp mind, his bow and arrows, and even his wife Lucy's apothecary skills. For soon he will be drawn into a tangle of greed, treachery, and passion that runs from Ridley and the wool trade all the way to the royal court.

A Gift of Sanctuary. In the wet spring of 1370, a time of political unrest, a murdered man is left outside the gates of St. David's, Wales. Not far away, a wounded stranger, drenched in blood-not all of it his own-is carried to sanctuary by a wandering bard. A mystery linked to warring passions for a woman and a nation begins for Owen Archer. Owen, leaving his family behind, has undertaken a holy pilgrimage to Wales with his ailing father-in-law and his friend Geoffery Chaucer-and has agreed to carry out a mission for the English king. But he is unexpectedly moved by this return to his native land. And when asked to investigate the killing at St. David's, Owen-sharp at discerning truth from falsehood-begins to see the momentous import of a fugitive shrouded in secrecy, a lady betrayed by love, and the ties binding a man's soul, that tighten to torment his heart.

 

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
Directed by Professor Bob Stacey
December 5, 2005 1:30-3:30 in Smith 306
Set in twelfth-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The book chronicles the vicissitudes of a prior, his master builder, and their community as they struggle to build the cathedral and protect themselves during this tumultuous century, during the fight for the crown of England after the death of Henry I. The ambitions of the three men merge, conflict, and collide through forty years of social and political upheaval as internal church politics affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists.
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A Year in the South, 1865: The True Story of Four Ordinary People Who Lived Through the Most Tumultuous Twelve Months in American History, by Stephen V. Ash
Directed by Professor Tracy McKenzie
April 27, 2005 12:00 in Smith 306
The book looks at the lives of a former slave looking for freedom, a Confederate veteran's widow trying to raise seven children while battling poverty, a prominent minister and planter, and a Confederate veteran caught up in postwar guerilla war. They lived in the South during 1865-a year that saw war, disunion, and slavery give way to peace, reconstruction, and emancipation. Between January and December 1865 they witnessed, from very different vantage points, the death of the Old South and the birth of the New South. Civil War historian Stephen V. Ash reconstructs their daily lives, their fears and hopes, and their frustrations and triumphs in vivid detail, telling a dramatic story of real people in a time of great upheaval and offering a fresh perspective on a pivotal moment in history. A wonderful read, it is available from Amazon.com in paperback for a little over $10.
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Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Directed by Professor Bruce Hevly
March 31, 2005 1:30 in Smith 306
Near the end of his term in office, President Lyndon Johnson met with scientists at the White House for a National Medal of Science ceremony. During the event, he acknowledged the declining status of science as measured by public opinion polls. (The segment of the public viewing scientists "very favorably" fell to 37 per cent in 1971.) "You and I know," Johnson said, "that Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster. But it would be well to remember the people of the village, angered by the monster, marched against the doctor."

Johnson's warning continued the long-established practice of drawing upon the image of Frankenstein's Monster to address reactions to the threat of technology in society. The identity and perceived existence of the threat has varied widely from time to time: a soul-denying mechanistic science, industrialism and industrial labor, pollution, nuclear weapons, artificial people, mad scientists-all have been read into the story of the misanthropic medical student and his inhumane creation. "You are my creator, but I am your master; -obey!" says the monster to Frankenstein, providing a resonant image for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in which so often means seemed to become ends. ("Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind," Ralph Waldo Emerson observed from mid-nineteenth century America.) It's an interesting challenge to try to read the novel in the context of 1818, when it was published, and also to think about why Frankenstein's monster achieved the status of a recurring symbol.
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Harry's Farewell: Interpreting and Teaching the Truman Presidency, by Dick Kirkendall
Directed by Professor Dick Kirkendall
February 28, 2005 1:30 in Smith 306
Harry's Farewell confronts the biggest issue of Truman historiography: the historical significance of Harry S. Truman's presidency. Exploring the subject from the point of view of Truman's Farewell Address of January 15, 1953, the book begins by describing the preparation of the address itself by the president and his closest advisers. In it, they challenged the negative view of his presidency that prevailed as he prepared to leave the White House. In addition to interpreting the Truman presidency, the book also deals with the needs of teachers who must bring this subject into their classrooms. It offers documents that teachers can use in their classes and includes an essay, based on the conversations, on ways of teaching the Truman presidency. In addition to being of great value to researchers and teachers, this book provides the general reader with a clearly focused collection of informative and provocative essays on Harry Truman, a man now widely regarded as a great American president.
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Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland; with a new afterword (Harper Perennial, 1998) by Christopher Browning
Directed by Professor Uta Poiger
January 24, 2005 1:30-3:00 in Smith 306
Christopher Browning's book traces how a unit of average, middle-aged German men-men without strong ties to Nazi organizations-became cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews during World War II in Poland. This chilling and important contribution to the history of the Holocaust gained heightened attention in the mid-1990s when Daniel Goldhagen attacked Browning for underestimating and mis-interpreting the significance of German anti-Semitism in explaining the actions of the batallion. In the afterword, Browning replies to Goldhagen's critique and the international debate that ensued. The questions the book raises about military culture and racism remain highly relevant.
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On Liberty , by John Stuart Mill
Directed by Professor Jon Bridgman
November 22, 2004 and December 6, 2005 1:30 in Smith 306
John Stuart Mill is one of the few indisputably classic authors in the history of political thought. On Liberty, first published in 1851, has become celebrated as the most powerful defense of the freedom of the individual and it is now widely regarded as the most important theoretical foundation for Liberalism as a political creed. According to Mill, "The subject of this Essay is not the so-called Liberty of the Will, so unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of Philosophical Necessity; but Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. A question seldom stated, and hardly ever discussed, in general terms, but which profoundly influences the practical controversies of the age by its latent presence, and is likely soon to make itself recognized as the vital question of the future."
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Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist, by Russell McCormmach
Directed by Professor Bruce Hevly
May 17, 2004 1:30-3:20, Smith 306
Russell McCormmach is the co-author of an award-winning two-volume history of German theoretical physics from Ohm to Einstein. His short novel, Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist, written while he was in the midst of this major work, is quite different in character from the more formal historical work. While based on real events in the lives of a number of German physicists around the turn of the century, McCormmach's protagonist, Victor Jakob, is a composite character at a fictional physics institute in the midst of a dual cultural crisis: the rise of modern physics and the collapse of Germany at the end of World War I.
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Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America, by Ivan Doig
Directed by Professor John Findlay
April 26, 2004 1:30-3:20, Smith 306
Winter Brothers offers an enjoyable introduction to western Washington through the eyes of two remarkably perceptive individuals-the pioneer James G. Swan and the writer Ivan Doig. The book grew out of a journal Doig kept while spending one winter immersed in the voluminous diaries and letters of Swan. Swan's diaries and letters, from the period 1853-1900, capture much of the history of Washington during its formative years. Doig incorporates a great many of Swan's own words into his account, and also conducts research to illuminate a few things that Swan left out of his writings. Doig also tells us about his own experiences in western Washington during the late 1970s, thereby allowing us to see the parallels and differences between two western lives.
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The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
Directed by Professor Robin Stacey
March 15, 2004 1:30-3:20, Smith 306
Dan's Brown's best-selling novel (soon to be a movie) The Da Vinci Code raises interesting questions about the boundaries between history and fiction. He has himself claimed in newspaper and radio interviews that the rituals, events, documents, and organizations described in his book are historically accurate. Come talk about the book, its blending of fact and fiction, and its likely impact on those who read it.
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Making Jews Modern: The Yiddish and Ladino Press in the Russian and Ottoman Empires, by Sarah Stein
Directed by Professor Sarah Stein
February 6, 2004 1:30-3:20, Smith 306
On the eve of the 20th century, Jews in the Russian and Ottoman empires were caught up in the major cultural and social transformations that constituted modernity for Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewries, respectively. What language should Jews speak or teach their children? Should Jews acculturate, and if so, into what regional or European culture? What did it mean to be Jewish and Russian, Jewish and Ottoman, Jewish and modern? Sarah Abrevaya Stein explores how such questions were formulated and answered within these communities by examining the texts most widely consumed by Jewish readers: popular newspapers in Yiddish and Ladino.
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Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968, by Heda Margolius Kovály
Directed by Professor James Felak
December 4, 2003 1:30-3:20, Smith 306
Heda margolius Kovály's steady gaze at the lives caught up in Czechoslovakia's targic fate under the Nazis and then during the Stalin era illuminates the chaotic life of a nation. Kovály was deported to concentration camps, escaped from a death march, nearly starved in the postwar years, only to be shattered by her husband's conviction (in the infamous 1952 Slansky trial) and his execution. Resonant with lyricism, this gripping memoir is uplifiting even in the midst of horror.
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