2019-2020 Seminar Schedule

Spring Semester 2020

The Black Death and Medieval Medicine

February 7, 2020, 9am-2:30pm

Anthony di Battista, Lecturer, Department of History, Rutgers University

The Black Death was the most devastating pandemic to strike medieval Europe, ultimately killing at least one third of the population.  Without a modern scientific explanation, the population reacted to the crisis in ways that often seem unfamiliar, and in fact, irrational, to the modern reader. This seminar will examine the Black Death within the context of an understanding of medieval medicine and the medical profession. We will examine contemporary accounts of the plague, medieval cures, and the artistic, theological, literary and economic responses to the devastation. In addition, the seminar will also examine another disease, leprosy, and its unique place within the medieval consciousness.

Communism in Eastern Europe: Myths and Realities

February 21, 2020, 9am-2:30pm

Melissa Feinberg, Professor of History, Rutgers University

For those looking at it from the outside, Eastern Europe has often seemed a mysterious place, backward, savage, and unknowable, hidden behind the veil of what Czech novelist Milan Kundera called its “strange and scarcely accessible languages.” This sense of Eastern Europe’s strangeness was at its height during the Cold War, when the region was isolated from the West by militarized borders and travel restrictions. This workshop will examine the world behind the Iron Curtain. While some might imagine it only as a totalitarian hellscape, the reality was much more complicated. The socialist states of Eastern Europe were dictatorships, but they were also societies in which people built meaningful lives. Instead of concentrating on whether state socialism was “good” or “bad,” we will try to understand it as a world with its own values, routines, and modes of being. Why, even thirty years after its fall, is Communism’s legacy still felt around the region?

Baseball History as American History

March 13, 2020, 9am-2:30pm

Norman Markowitz, Associate Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

This seminar will examine America’s “national pastime” as a microcosm of a changing American society and culture. Through the study of baseball in U.S. History, the seminar will examine player individualism in conflict with team effort, and player solidarity in conflict with owners’ control. Historic segregation and ethnic discrimination will be examined as they conflicted with the egalitarian and democratic ideals celebrated in the early years of the game. The development of baseball from its first inceptions as an amateur “gentleman’s game” in the pre-Civil War era to its present role as a multi-billion dollar transactional business will be the primary focus of the day.

Republic of Spin: Teaching the History of the White House Message Machine

March 27, 2020, 9am-2:30pm

David Greenberg, Professor of Journalism & Media Studies and History, Rutgers University

David Greenberg’s talk, based on his award-winning 2016 book, Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency, will recount the development of the White House spin machine from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama. It tells the story about the rise of a new conception of the presidency in the 20th century focused on influencing public opinion though the new mass media. It explains how president and their aides—a new breed of political operative trained to traffic in words, images and symbols—established tools and techniques, institutions and practices, to lead the nation by leading public opinion. It also looks at the ideas of the last century’s most provocative political critics, as they grappled with the advent of spin in politics and its inherently ambiguous role in a democracy.

Piracy in World History: "The Greatest Pirate in History"

April 24, 2020, 9am-2:30pm 

Johan Mathew, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

Pirates were some of the most depraved and horrific individuals in human history. And yet they are also somehow beloved characters fit for Disney cartoons; for some reason they make “rape and pillage” sound like a birthday party game. How do we reconcile this disturbing contradiction? This workshop takes three figures from across the globe who have a claim to be the world’s greatest pirate. In understanding their stories and their historical contexts we seek to explore issues of race, gender, imperialism, inequality, and the long history of globalization. In the workshop we will be introduced to different eras and locations of piratical activity and we will learn what these instances reveal about their societies and how we can use these exciting stories to explore important historical concepts and debates.

Why Europe? Why Not China? The Ottomans or India? Teaching the Early Modern Origins of the "Great Divergence"

May 1, 2020, 9am-2:30pm

Michael Adas, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Rutgers University

Among the many challenges of teaching world history in the post-1500 era, tracing the factors that led to Western European dominance in the half-millennium that followed poses far-ranging and complex challenges, among them distortions due to an overwhelming focus on Europe. The debate over the “Great Divergence,” the processes that fundamentally transformed human history, and ultimately led to the dire state of planet earth more generally, also poses problems due to the recent, often-strident disagreements over the timing of these watershed developments. The workshop will focus on an approach that that that traces the beginnings of these global transformations to the 15th and 16th centuries. To counter the potential Western-centrism of this time frame, we will discuss ways to meaningfully cover Middle Eastern and Asian rivals. The rise of the European’s global dominance cannot be understood apart from their extensive borrowing from overseas civilizations (including those in the Americas) whose superiority in many fields was a major impetus for Western global expansionism.