Thursday, July 24, 2014

2014 SUSI is Well under Way!

Dr. Maddalena Marinari and Dr. Phil Payne are again directing one of the Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI) this summer. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department, the program brings to campus student leaders from Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela for a five-week institute on American history, government, and institutions. Here are a few photos from some of the extracurricular activities the students have done so far. Enjoy!

At the Chautauqua Institution with two of the day's speakers
At Niagara Falls
Ropes Course at Great Valley
Attending a local jazz class

Sunday, July 20, 2014

SBU History Alum Matt Zaros Discusses His Senior Thesis

Matt with Dr. Horowitz at graduation
In the fall of 2013, I was enrolled in Dr. Robbins's Colonial American history class. One of the required books was Myne Owne Ground: Race and Freedom on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1640—1676 by T.H. Breen and Stephen Innes. It's an absolute must read for anyone interested in early American history. The book depicts the lives of freed and enslaved Africans in Virginia up until 1676, which was the start of Bacon's Rebellion. Before 1676, Africans could buy their freedom, just like their white servant counterparts. Some freed Africans even became extremely prosperous citizens. I remember finishing the book in bewilderment. Why did Bacon's Rebellion change all that? Why did the process of freeing slaves halt after Bacon's Rebellion? It was these questions that I took with me into my final semester at Bonaventure. I decided that I would investigate how Bacon's Rebellion changed slave culture in America.

After countless hours in the library reading and writing, I finally got my answer. Before Bacon's Rebellion, slaves were given limited liberties. One of these limited liberties was the ability to have free time. With this free time slaves were able to gain skills such as: shoe-making, tool making, carpentry and hunting. Products made by the slaves were sold to slave owners. The money slaves made would go to purchasing their freedom.  Another liberty was the ability to associate with whites. Whites and Blacks worked in the fields together and they formed a common bond, just like any other group of workers.  

It was this common bond and the promise of freedom that unified blacks and whites under Nathanial Bacon to join together to overthrow the Virginia government in 1676 (this is a simplified explanation of the Rebellion).  Unfortunately for the Rebellion, Bacon died of dysentery and soon his Rebellion died too. With fresh troops from England and no leader the unified blacks and whites could not defeat the Government.  In order to make sure a Rebellion would not happen again the slave owners decided to racially separate whites and blacks. This ensured that  the two races could not communicate with one another. They also made slavery more brutal. Taking away the chance of freedom that they slaves once had. It was Bacon's Rebellion that caused slavery in America to fundamentally change.  

This whole project started with a simple question I had in a class. And I ran with it until I got the answers. Besides now having extensive knowledge of slavery in early America, the other thing I learned is if you have a question just keep going until you have your answer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Warren G. Harding, Private Letters, and Presidential Reputation

As my students will know from my (seemingly endless) supply of stories about Warren G. Harding, I've written Dead Last: The Public Memory of Warren G. Harding's Scandalous Legacy in which I examine his reputation as the worst president in U. S. History.  One of my arguments is that, in part, Harding's reputation was damaged by the lack of historical records.  Without records, historians had difficulty examining his life and presidency.  In the absence of papers, lots of speculation took place.  The story of Harding's papers is fascinating.  Long believed destroyed by Florence Harding, in the 1960s the Harding Memorial Association released his papers.  The available papers attracted historians leading to a wave of scholarship on Harding.  Francis Russell, one of the historians and journalist that descended on Marion and Columbus, Ohio, to do research came upon the letters that Harding wrote to Carrie Phillips, long rumored to have been his mistress.  A very public and ugly debate, including legal action, took place over the ownership and use of the letters.  Eventually, a judge sealed the letters.  However, tidbits from the letters have leaked over the years.  A couple years ago James Robenalt discovered a microfilm copy of the letters from which he wrote The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage during the Great War.  Robenalt's most startling argument was that Phillips spied for Germany during World War I.

This month the Library of Congress releases Harding's letter to Phillips, creating renewed interest in Harding's personal life.  Jordan Michael Smith wrote "The Letters that Warren G. Harding's Family Didn't Want you to See" for the New York Times Magazine.  Gayle Collins brought up Harding and his letters in a recent piece in the Times on presidential reputation and rankings.  People Magazine got into the act, reporting that "President Warren Harding's Long-Lost Raunchy Letters Go Viral".

Once again Harding's private life is dominating his reputation, this time aided by social media and the internet.  Documents long-ago sealed up and tucked away can now be seen reproduced online.  What impact will this have on Harding's reputation?  Not much, other than to remind the public of its fascination with the private lives of presidents.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Fourth of July!

For those of you who are interested in learning more about the history of the Fourth of July holiday, check out this short article by PBS. Happy Fourth of July everyone!