Month: September 2018

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Katherine Grandjean

1.         Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.

I’m working on a book that explores the violent legacies of the American Revolution, especially in the south. It follows the lives of two brothers from North Carolina, who experienced some of the worst violence of the war as boys and, later in life, became killers. Micajah and Wiley Harpe committed dozens of murders in the 1790s. I’m using their story to explore the unsettlement and the alienation, especially among white men, left behind by the founding moment.


2.         What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?

I felt, strongly, that we didn’t know enough about the aftermath of the Revolution—especially the war itself. How people carried on, how they were scarred, how they reconciled the old with the new. Then I found the Harpes’ story, which speaks to some unfortunately perennial themes in American life—violence, crime, and the political alienation of young white men. And happily, it’s also a tremendously compelling story—with a lot of twists and turns. I couldn’t resist it, as a narrator.


3.         What are you looking forward to in regard to this year at UCHI?

I’m looking forward to writing, thinking, and sharing ideas among scholars from a variety of disciplines. Although I’m mostly using traditional historical records (like newspapers and court documents), I’m also leaning on insights from other disciplines, like psychology and criminology. So, this fellowship year means I will have extra time and resources to write about this history in ways that do it justice.


4 .       Many people wonder what value the humanities and humanities research has in today’s world. What are your thoughts on what humanities scholarship “brings to table?”

 I wish I had a pithy answer to this question. There are plenty of practical reasons to study the humanities. I know an engineer who says he happily hires liberal arts majors, these days, because they think about problem-solving in the most creative and fullest ways. But more than that, I don’t think you can appreciate the richness of the human condition without the humanities—The beauty, the tragedy, the artistic heights and cruelest valleys of human behavior. Without history, or art, or literature, how do we know who we are?


News Update

In the following weeks several events of interest to early modern scholars will be taking place on UCONN’s campus.

The first thing to note is our regular events. On Wednesday, 9/26/2018, Transcribathon will be meeting in the UCHI collaborative space at 10am. We will be transcribing John Ward’s diary, but feel free to bring any thorny paleography challenges from your own research. On Thursday, 9/27/2018, at 12pm, the Early Modern Studies Cross Cultural Interactions Reading Group will be meeting in the UCHI conference room to continue its discussion of Matthew Dimmock’s Mythologies of the Prophet Muhammad in Early Modern English Culture.

On October 10th from 2:30-4:00pm in the Stern Lounge, AUST 217, Debapriya Sarkar will be giving a talk titled “‘endless error’ The Literary Methods of Early Modern Science.” This talk is part of the English Department’s Brown Bag Series. The flyer for the talk follows.


You SHOULD…Read:Orwell, Leopold, and Teale

“You should…Read: Orwell, Leopold, and Teale

But not the Orwell you think. Read  Politics and the English language to be reminded that “Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind” and Shooting an elephant for a concrete example of how “when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.”[1] Read Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac to learn that when Canada geese return north in the spring “the whole continent receives as net profit a wild poem dropped from the murky skies upon the muds of March” and the many things a poor farm can teach those willing to learn. Read Teale’s A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm to learn Leopold’s lessons in our own backyard on a farm in Hampton.

[1] And for the best first sentence in an essay: “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by a large number of people–the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.” WARNING: Descriptions in the essay would have offended many in 1936. More will find them offensive now.”


-Kent E. Holsinger
Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor,
Vice provost for Graduate Education,
Dean of the Graduate School,
University of Connecticut

You SHOULD…Watch: Diary of a Student Revolution


“You SHOULD…Watch: Diary of a Student Revolution

This documentary, part of the UConn Library’s Archives & Special Collections, portrays the conflict between the radical student movement and President Homer D. Babbidge at the University of Connecticut over ten days in the Fall of 1968.  In addition to its spontaneous takes and candid behind the scenes footage, this minimally narrated piece of Vietnam-era journalism about a very local place in America documents the range of voices, gathering places, and aesthetics of dissent at an important moment in our campus’ history.  In a period when the American invasion of Vietnam was shaken by the Tet Offensive earlier that year, the draft of eligible young men into the military continued, the lack of diversity in the student and faculty body on campus was evident, and the administration’s business as usual approach to campus recruitment for the petrochemical industry drew out students who sought to ‘bring the war home.’  Despite its brevity in timespan, this 1-hour film makes accessible a corresponding archival collection measuring roughly 30 linear feet of Administrative Records, Press Clippings, Underground Newspapers, Photographs, Student Government Documents, SDS Fliers and Posters which document the “Crisis at UConn.”

Diary of a Student Revolution poses many questions to the archive about the role of institutional memory and its power to document, surveil or reflect; its ability to share the voices held within and what they may say of the present; as well as its role in erasure and resuscitation of the historical past.  As documented, student chants of “Keep the Status Quo” mirrored those sentiments of the silent majority which would lead this country to seven more years of war and a deepening rift between parents and children, workers and students, soldiers and statesmen.  This film gives me hope for a student body to make change by clamoring for the impossible till it grows from a din to a deafening.”


Graham Stinnett
Human Rights and Alternative Press Collections
UConn Library

Diary of a Student Revolution (1969):


D’Archive Ep. 4 “Abbie Hoffman, UConn and the War in Vietnam”(2017):


UConn Archives Alternative Press Collection:




Explorations at the Folger: My Search for Tudor Coronation Manuscripts

Today’s post was written by Kristen Vitale, a PhD student in the UCONN History Department and one of this summer’s recipients of the EMSWG Folger travel award. We asked Kristen to answer some questions to introduce herself, which follow her post.

In August I visited the Folger for the first time to enhance my research on Tudor coronation practices. I had heard that the Library was aesthetically pleasing, but vocalized admiration and web images couldn’t prepare me for the view of the Gail Kern Paster Reading Room. The high trussed roof, embroidered wall tapestries, vintage table lamps, and the Seven Stages of Man stained glass window embodied England in early modernity and made me feel as though I was in the Tudor era.

This reaction put me in the perfect state of mind to research the plethora of Tudor revel documents that are housed at the Folger. These revels, or manuscripts pertaining to royal festivities in England, belonged namely to Sir Thomas Cawarden. He was the first man to receive the title of ‘Master‘ of Revels as an independent, official patent in 1544. To explore these manuscripts, I requested documents from the More Family of Loseley Park, which is a collection of revels from ca. 1489-1682 concerning the set up, wardrobe, styling, and stage management of royal festivities. I requested numerous manuscripts from the collection, but my focus was on one in particular: a large manuscript booklet titled, Anno Primo Edwardi vj, Revelles At The Coronacion of Edward the Sixth. The document contained the theatrical, ceremonial, and monetary details of Edward VI’s (1537 –1553) coronation.

My excitement at discovering this manuscript was palpable. Yet, the enthusiasm that had been building since my arrival abruptly changed to dismay as I looked over the revel’s remaining eight pages. I appreciated the beauty of sixteenth century script, but it was unlike anything I had transcribed before. Following a silent thank you to the Early Modern Study Group’s transcribathons –and a lot of help from my adviser– I was able to transcribe a portion of the document. I was in awe of what I had discovered. The manuscript outlined the differing pageants that were to be performed before and during Edward VI’s coronation, portrayed the charges that were needed to move the King’s ceremonial outfits and “Masks from Warwick Inn to the late disolved house of Black friars” and detailed the appropriate ” Masks and garments for players” in the subsequent plays. In short, this Revel presented the intricate detail, specifically concerning wardrobe styling, that went in to traditional coronation processions and pageants.

While the Edward VI revel was certainly enough to keep my attention, there were other notable manuscripts that I discovered during my stay. For instance, one document, written during the reign of King Henry VIII (1491-1547) in 1539, ordered Christopher More (1483 –1549), a Member of Parliament, to proceed to London with “6 servants honestly furnished” to serve as “guard of honor” to Anne of Cleves (1515-1547) upon her arrival to England. While only a small folio, this manuscript depicted the proper attire for ceremonial wedding occasions in King Henry’s court. This specifically was an occasion that would have been followed by a coronation procession, had he not annulled the marriage five months after the vows.

My time at the Folger came to an end far too quickly. While I could spend eons describing these fascinating Tudor manuscripts, it would be thoughtless not to take a moment to praise the kind employees at the Folger. Not only were they patient and willing to answer any questions that arose during my stay, but they were also genuinely interested in my discoveries. Their supportiveness fostered a warm and intellectually stimulating research environment that I will be sure to visit in the future. Moreover, I could not have made the trip without the generous funding from the Humanities Institute’s Early Modern Studies Working Group in the form of the Folger Travel Award. I am immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to embark on such an endeavor, and am already planning my return trip to the Folger.



What are your research and teaching interests?

Research: Early Modern Europe, specifically England. Cultural and Gender History; Monarchies; Early Tudor Pageantry

Teaching: Western Traditions 1300 — love teaching surveys!

What is your current projects?

Just finished a history grad seminar project on the pageants of Anne Boleyn’s coronation procession ca. 1533.

What is your favorite thing to teach? (ex: unit, concept, text or reading, etc.)

If I am sticking with Western Traditions Hist-1300- I love teaching the Greco-Persian Wars and the Founding of the Roman Republic through the Roman Empire (emphasis on Caesar’s dictatorship) — course usually ends ca. 1492 (at least when I’ve taught it) a tad before my period.

Who is your favorite historical figure from the early modern period and why?

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer! If I am staying in my field then Anne Boleyn. I realize Anne as a historical figure is rather streamline, but while most focus on her relationship with Henry, I find her emotional and intellectual inclinations toward humanism fascinating. As a side, I adore Matilda of Flanders.

Where are you from originally and/or where else have you taught or gone to school?

I am a native of CT. I went to Nazareth College in Rochester NY for undergrad, Providence College in Providence RI for my Masters. I’ve taught at Manchester Community College


Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Jonathan Robins


1. Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.

I’m working on a book exploring the global history of the oil palm tree and its main product, palm oil. Palm oil is probably the most controversial agricultural product being produced today: promoters see it as a sustainable way to feed a hungry planet, while detractors argue that it threatens to annihilate biodiversity across the tropics. My project looks to the history of palm oil and oil palm tree to understand how we got to this point.

The book will highlight a series of transformations in the ways that oil palms were grown and used over the last three centuries. The tree is native to western Africa, where it has fed people for centuries. In the nineteenth century palm oil became a globally-traded commodity, used to grease the machines of the Industrial era and to clean workers’ bodies as a key ingredient in soap. By the turn of the twentieth century, palm oil entered the global food system, finding its way into margarine and other manufactured foods. By the start of the twenty-first century, palm oil looked like the most promising biofuel to replace petroleum. Today palm oil is the world’s most widely-consumed plant oil, and the area covered by oil palms is still growing fast across the tropics.

A key point of the book is that this was not a story of steady technological progress. At every stage, individuals, businesses, and governments decided how and where to produce and use palm oil, and these decisions were rooted in political, economic, and cultural contexts. It’s a story about markets and globalization, but also about slavery, land-grabs, and protectionist trading regimes. It’s about science and industry, but also about personal taste, and questions about what is—and isn’t—good for our bodies or the planet. I don’t anticipate reaching any conclusions about whether palm oil is “good” or “bad.” Instead, I want to show readers how the industry has changed over time, and highlight the diversity within that industry, which includes some environmentally- and socially-responsible segments along with highly destructive ones.


2. What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?

This project came out of a long fascination with the so-called “tropical fats” (palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil). I love to cook and eat, but for much of my life I viewed these fats as off-limits: they were unhealthy, a medical consensus that has largely unraveled in recent years. Palm oil was on my mind when I worked on my first book on cotton agriculture in Africa and America (Cotton and Race across the Atlantic, 2016). I found a wealth of sources on African economic and agricultural history in which palm oil played a starring role. I also saw a real need to connect stories about palm oil in Africa with histories from southeast Asia and Latin America, the three regions where oil palms are grown today.

As I work on the project, I look forward to revisiting six years’ worth of notes, collected in libraries and archives in the US, Europe, Africa, and Asia. I am especially excited to see what the “big picture” looks like as I put the different pieces together. So far, I’ve only been able to work on single case studies, and as I start to compare across regions and across a more generous timeline, I expect to see more and more differences stand out in the ways that people and their environments have shaped palm oil development in different parts of the world.


3. What are you looking forward to in regard to this year at UCHI?

I’m not shy about saying that I’m most excited about having time and space to think. It’s a real privilege to be able to spend a year at UCHI focused on a single project. I’m also looking forward to working alongside an interdisciplinary group of colleagues. It’s important to hear perspectives from different disciplines and viewpoints, and good ideas often come from reading and listening well outside one’s own area of expertise. I know from past experience that sharing my own work—and hearing criticism about it—is the best way to develop clear and effective writing.


4. Many people wonder what value the humanities and humanities research has in today’s world. What are your thoughts on what humanities scholarship “brings to table?”

While my project is about a plant—the oil palm tree—and the things it produces, it is ultimately about people. Oil palms don’t cut down rainforests by themselves. The kinds of research done by humanities scholars helps us understand why people make some decisions and not others. It goes beyond simply gathering “qualitative data”: in the humanities, we value work that captures the textures and flavors of a place, and emotions and ideas of people, the complex and sometimes contradictory ways in which people interact with each other and the natural world. The humanities also train scholars to tell a good story. The data do not speak for themselves, and when we can craft the results of our research into a meaningful narrative, we can reach the broadest audience.


Surveying the Folger’s Surveys

The author of today’s blog post is Nathan Braccio, one of the EMSWG’s co-coordinators and a recipient of one of the Folger Consortium Travel Awards. Nathan is a PhD candidate in the History Department.

This summer I again visited the Folger with the generous support of UCONN’s Early Modern Studies Working Group. The Folger has provided invaluable sources for my dissertation, which, among other things, traces the development of cartography and surveying in New England. While my previous trips to the Folger have explored their collection of atlases and cosmographical texts, this trip focused on something far more mundane. Between 1600 and 1700, English mathematicians and surveyors made slightly more than a dozen manuals meant to teach the reader how to survey. Coming in a variety of shapes and sizes (including small versions meant to be kept in your pocket), these manuals claimed that they would teach literate readers the important skill of surveying. My hope was that by studying these manuals I could answer three questions: what activities, tools, and knowledge constituted surveying in the 17th-century? How did surveying change? And what is the relationship between surveying and mapping in the 17th-century?

While the answers to these questions existed in the surveying books, they were buried deeply within dozens of pages of geometry, tables of sin and tan values, equations, and diagrams of men shooting cannons at various angles. Perhaps what became most striking after looking through four books, all containing these elements and often mentioning each other, was the redundancy of the manuals. Of course, each author claimed a unique element, but the original parts occupied a handful of pages in what were often several hundred page long texts. Each author, after describing all the tools a surveyor needed in one chapter, would spend the largest part of the book examining how to use a “plaine table” to make plots of land. Almost all of them included chapters on the same techniques and the same tricky landscapes that required different approaches (such as a forest, a body of water, and hilly country). Two of them even gave near identical advice on how to make a survey look aesthetically pleasing after the initial drafting was done.

The formulaic nature of these manuals, several of which saw multiple printings, suggests a demand and profits to be made. One mathematician, William Leyborne, even made two surveying books in short succession. The question then emerges, why such a demand? Surveying had long been part of English culture and the first surveying manual in England was published in the 1540s. However, the manuals of the 1600s had several new elements. Technology and mathematics both saw improvement. The books spoke of new kinds of surveyors’ chains, new kinds of protractors, sextants, and of course the surveyors table. Whereas surveying before 1600 had required less math, simple instruments, and a written record, these new manuals implied requirement for higher technical skills and an ability to “plotte” (map). The confluence of a more technically rigorous surveying and a continued high likelihood of people encountering a survey in their life made at least some familiarity with the skills involved useful. While I cannot be sure, it seems likely that the redundant and dry manuals held by the Folger are indicative of and responding to this change.

Upcoming Reading Group and Transcribathon Meetings

This week the Early Modern Studies Working Group (EMSWG) kicks off two of its regular meetings. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the first meeting of Transcribathon at 10am in the UCHI conference room. As a group we will work our way through a challenging paleography project, confronting exciting puzzles in early modern handwriting. The focus of the group is transcribing the eclectic diaries of John Ward, with an eye towards the eventual publication of our transcription. Aspiring paleographers of all skills welcome!

On Thursday (12pm-1pm in the UCHI conference room-reading group members note the venue change) the Early Modern Cross Cultural Interactions Reading Group will be having its first weekly meeting discussing the book Mythologies of the Prophet Muhammad in Early Modern English Culture by Matthew Dimmock. If you are interested in joining the reading group, please contact either nathan.braccio @ or melissa.rohrer @

We welcome anyone interested in these Early Modern offerings to join us! Attend at your leisure.



You SHOULD…Read: The Sand Queen


“Ok readers: the “bad” and the truly bad humanities. The queen of “bad” is Lady Gaga The Brilliant. Am already standing in line for tickets to A Star is Born coming out in October. Am already planning to see it numerous times. If “bad” is good, she’s one of the best –the Super Bowl of 2017 proved that. Just try to deny her.


The truly bad? War. Wanna go there? Read a slew of novels and memoirs out these days or zero in on the best one in the bunch. Helen Benedict’sThe Sand Queen is a multivoiced novel of the early American war in Iraq. In one corner is a young American army woman, Kate, continuously tormented by her male comrades-in-arms as they guard an infamous prison camp (Bucca, it actually existed) and continuously tormented as well by the “enemy” male prisoners she oversees. In another corner is an Iraqi woman near Kate’s age, Naema, whose male relatives get brutally seized by American troops, leaving the family to stand at the prison camp gates with others to plead for news of all the innocent mistreated male family members held there. Be prepared: there is no redemption in this novel for either character or for the reader, no nicey-nice friendship between Kate and Naema that soothes the pain on both sides. No. it’s war, baby. Wanna go now?


See Gaga after reading Queen and imagine the anger she would unleash at those gates. ”



– Christine Sylvester
Professor of Political Science
University of Connecticut




Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Katherine R. Jewell


1. Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.

I’m working on a history of college radio since the 1960s. While on first glance this might seem like a straightforward topic, it actually is quite complex. Historians of radio and media have demonstrated how the interplay of regulation, technology, commercial interests, and cultural producers created a complex and shifting landscape for radio broadcasting—which has only grown more interesting with the rise of the internet and music streaming. My archival research focuses on the development of a distinctive culture and reputation of college radio, beginning in the shift towards FM and free-form programming in the 1960s and maturing by the mid-1980s. This culture of college radio, which stands out from the broad swath of college radio history in its myriad incarnations, had significant influence on the music industry and popular music. My goal is to both complicate and broaden that definition — which tends to focus on the genre of “indie” or “alternative” rock — to include a wider perspective of genres and communities. Ultimately, my goal is to reveal how shifting regulation, university goals, and the politics of the culture wars shaped the culture of college radio at the end of the 20th century.

2. What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?

When I arrived as a freshman at Vanderbilt University in 1997, the first quiz of my college career was not for PoliSci 101 or Inorganic Chemistry: it was on the 7 words I couldn’t say on the radio. I stumbled into college radio at a student activities fair, not really having any idea what it was or what it meant. I was from rural Vermont, and my only exposure to college radio was the commercial Dartmouth station, which had a mostly classic rock format. Little did I know that I was entering college radio at the height of its reputation and modern identity. As a student I witnessed the debut and demise of Napster, and came to appreciate the potential revolution of the digital disruption. A decade after I graduated, Vanderbilt sold its station’s signal, and the station, once a reputed broadcaster in college radio, now exists only online. My experience might suggest that my book project would promote a kind of declension narrative of college radio, arguing that technological disruptions displaced and destroyed the culture of college broadcasting that I trace in my archival research. Instead, my research explores the continually contested nature of that identity, as well as its diversity and complexity. Throughout college radio’s history, it expanded and narrowed its coverage of artists and musical sounds based on many factors from local to national. Universities sought to use stations as community outreach avenues; students sought the airwaves for personal expression; community and activist groups looked to educational stations for quality programming and representation not available on commercial stations. Musicians accessed networks of college students to expand their exposure and to facilitate touring. Each station had a unique relationship with its host institution, student body, and community and related businesses such as record stores, concert venues, and publications. My goal for this project is to dig into these relationships and explore how the national reputation of college radio emerged and declined, and to correlate that reputation to the actual diversity and perseverance of college radio.

3. What are you looking forward to in regard to this year at UCHI?

As I finish my archival research at stations across the country, I’m looking forward to my time at UCHI to put together what I have learned into an engaging and coherent narrative. The research for this project has been exciting. I’ve found so many interesting stories and people, from pioneering community deejays, to fights between students and administrators over station control, to offended listeners who find objectionable content from stations and take their complaints to the FCC. This year will be dedicated to making sense of these stories and to construct an argument that explains the origins, experiences, and role of college radio since the 1960s in a way that does justice to its influence, including its limits, as well as its diversity. My goal is to have a working draft of the manuscript by the end of the year, honed through the conversations and

4. Many people wonder what value the humanities and humanities research has in today’s world. What are your thoughts on what humanities scholarship “brings to table?”

The humanities is about looking beneath the stories we tell about ourselves and others. But humanistic study is about more than unpacking these stories and complicating them. I assert that the humanities have a liberating function.

We often talk about critical thinking as key to humanities’ classrooms. While the term is often vaguely invoked, it’s here where the study of history, of learning based in the humanities, has the power to liberate. For example, the study of history allows us to see what is present and not present in our own lives by experiencing other times and other places. As philosopher John Dewey explained, imagination is not only the pathway to creativity, to create the alternative realities explored in poetry and art, but it places imagination at the center of morality, at the center of empathy, at the center of the learning process — to create what is new, what is better.

The liberating function provided by the study of history and the humanities, receives my favorite illustration from the writer and poet Robert Penn Warren. Willie Stark, Penn’s characters in All the King’s Men, posited a pessimistic view of human nature: “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption, and he passeth from the stink of the dydie to the stench of the shroud… There’s always something.”

This view of the inescapability of man’s original sin rendered individuals’ actions meaningless. In this view, we might be able to imagine the past, and even use it — in Stark’s case, to smear our political enemies — but it’s the wrong view. Stark’s view of history, and of humanity, is indeed just that: stark. This view contributed to his assistant Jack Burden’s nihilism towards life: to his view that “all the words we speak meant nothing and there was only the pulse in the blood and the twitch of the nerve, like a dead frog’s leg in the experiment when the electric current goes through.” Our lives, our choices, to someone who viewed history and time as a burden, reflected nothing but the Great Twitch — that our actions are the mere electronic responses of our biology.

It is this view of history and information that students often come to college with — seeing a meaningless litany of dates, facts, and figures. Their education becomes yet another reflex, programmed by external forces.

Yet the kinds of questions inherent in humanistic study, in questioning received narratives and representations, endow in students to the power to shape truth, the power to shape life.

Jack Burden made this realization — as he states:

“…all times are one time, and all those dead in the past never lived before our definition gives them life, and out of the shadow their eyes implore us. That is what all of us historical researchers believe. And we love truth.”

Burden, through his own regeneration, through his own embrace of the study of history, came to accept “the awful responsibility of time”—that each present action carries future consequences and that which can, in turn, be traced back to events in the past. Armed with this sense of interconnectedness, Burden was able to finally live, to finally have the courage to face his responsibilities as a human being. In the humanities, we seek to understand truth; we seek it not just for its own sake, but so that we may continue to be active agents in the world around us, shaping our future as historical actors in the past shaped—or failed to shape—theirs.

With information access rising, the critical thinking skills of the humanities become increasingly essential: our students are barraged by information; they need the ability to question, to separate fact from fiction, propaganda from persuasive argument. They need to be able to understand how the statements of others reflect worldviews and experiences different from theirs. With polemicists charging that digital media is dumbing the younger generation, enhancing students’ critical thinking is an increasingly important task. As students of the human condition, we have a responsibility to apply not only our skepticism and our skills, but also our ability to imagine, to enter into the worldview of someone else, and to do so with understanding and compassion.