Why the University of Rochester?

Rush Rhees

There are history graduate programs all over the world. Why choose the University of Rochester? While we could just list off all of the exciting reasons why, we thought we’d let our own graduate students tell you exactly what sealed the deal for them instead.


Dan Gorman

“The department’s excellent faculty-student ratio enables students to engage in tutorial-style education. We are encouraged to customize our reading lists to fit our research interests, and we have strong relationships with other departments such as Religion, English, and Anthropology. Rare Books and the Digital Scholarship Lab allow for crucial technical training, plus internship and publication opportunities.” – Dan Gorman, PhD Candidate

Field of study: U.S. Religious and Cultural History


Katrina Ponti

“I chose the University of Rochester because it’s focus on transnational and interdisciplinary study has allowed me to travel for research and archaeology, especially in Bermuda!” – Katrina Ponti, PhD Candidate

Field of study: American and Atlantic History


Carrie Knight

“I chose U of R for its strength of faculty, outstanding research opportunities, and student support.” – Carrie Knight, PhD Candidate

Field of study: American history with research interests in culture, environment, and disease in the Early Republic.


Jim Rankine

“I chose the UofR primarily because of the sense of community within the History Department Graduate Program.  Not only were the faculty accessible and supportive, but the other students also went out of their way to be inviting and helpful during the application process and have continued to be an incredible support network during my time here.” – Jim Rankine, PhD Candidate

Field of Study: Atlantic Maritime History, Piracy, Colonial North America


Camden Burd

“I chose to attend the University of Rochester for the opportunity to work with Professor Thomas Slaughter. I was also drawn to the rich historical collections housed in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.” – Camden Burd, PhD Candidate

Field of study: Nineteenth-century American environmental history. He is also interested in the digital humanities.


Still have more questions? Check out our website at http://www.sas.rochester.edu/his/index.html or email our Graduate Coordinator at kristina.pakusch@rochester.edu. We look forward to hearing from you!


Professor Richard Kaeuper: Beyond Prowess, Piety, and Public Order

By: Tucker Million

After completing just one year of my undergraduate education I received my first exposure to the professional world of historians. While I certainly wasn’t prepared for what I saw at the International Congress on Medieval Studies back in 2014, I have made the trip every year since and am now able to look back on that experience fondly. That first conference, coincidently, included two panels in honor of Richard Kaeuper, Professor of History at the University of Rochester. I sat quietly near the back and observed as his former students presented papers on violence in the Middle Ages, a topic which interested me then as it does now. Yet each presenter started off by first acknowledging the impact of Prof. Kaeuper’s mentorship on their time at the U of R. This is the first time I can recall noticing people speaking highly of Professor Kaeuper’s prowess as a teacher although as I progressed through undergrad and, eventually, made it to Rochester myself, I noticed that it was a common theme.

Three years from that conference in Kalamazoo and a similar group of scholars, myself included this time, braved the sweltering heat and came together in June at Saint Louis University’s beautiful campus to once more honor Professor Kaeuper with a mini-conference on chivalry at the Symposium on Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Many of the panelists, this time across three panels of papers, two roundtables, and a keynote address by Prof. Kaeuper, once again spoke at length about how important Professor Kaeuper’s mentorship, as much as his scholarship, has shaped their own careers. The speech given during the presentation of Professor Kaeuper’s festschrift, Prowess, Piety, and Public Order in Medieval Society (Edited by Craig Nakashian and Daniel Franke) was particularly illuminating in terms of how much respect his former students hold for him. In my conversations with some of the other conference attendees it became clear to me that most people are only familiar with Professor Kaeuper through his scholarship. This is certainly a loss.

I know that I always look forward to our meetings – often spur of the moment as he comes in to clean out his coffee cup in the graduate lounge and asks if we can speak for a few moments – because I know that my current project will greatly benefit from talking it through with him and that I will learn a great deal from his own ongoing projects. He is always understanding, encouraging, and, above all else, willing to help. I like to think that I go to his office for work but stay for his stories, which few can parallel in scope and sheer impressiveness.

Yet, I feel as though I have stolen the spotlight here. I have spent only a single year here at Rochester and so I cannot hope to properly convey how widely Professor Kaeuper’s influence stretches and how deeply he has impacted his students. For that, I have asked a few of his most recent graduate students, specifically those at the conference in St Louis, to reflect upon the time they spent in the very room from which I write this, just around the corner from Professor Kaeuper’s office. They have been most generous in what they have supplied:


[Picture Caption: Professor Kaeuper with the contributors to his Festschrift. They, along with others, gathered from June 19-20 to present papers in his honor as well as witness the official presentation of Prowess, Piety, and Public Order in Medieval Society. From back-left to front-right: Peter Sposato, Chris Guyol, Daniel Franke, Thomas Devaney, Sam Claussen, Paul Dingman, Richard Kaeuper, Craig Nakashian, and Leah Shopkow]

Craig Nakashian (PhD 2009)

When Tucker asked me to contribute some words on my experiences under the guidance of Dick Kaeuper, I readily and happily agreed. I’ve written more fully about Dick’s role as a mentor in the foreword to “Prowess, Piety, and Public Order in Medieval Society” (buy it now!), so I hope that you will indulge a bit of self-plagiarism here. With the festschrift successfully completed, and having had the wonderful opportunity to present it to Dick after his keynote address at the Chivalry and Its Anxieties conference at Saint Louis University this summer, I think it wonderfully apt to reflect on what Dick meant to me as an historian, as a doctoral student, and as a person.

Mentorship comes naturally to Dick. I saw him model it on a daily basis both inside and outside the classroom. In class, Dick had an effortless ability to engage students and make them feel like valuable and active participants in their learning. Whether it was a new freshman taking his introductory course as a requirement, or an advanced graduate student poring over a complicated text, Dick always showed patience, disarming humor, and an infectious enthusiasm for learning and the craft of History. I watched him seamlessly move from explaining the crucial importance of perceiving texts as prescriptive and descriptive to miming medieval peasants struggling to free themselves from the proverbial muck of their existence (as caricatured by popular culture).

Outside the classroom, Dick’s door was always open (literally or figuratively) for those wishing to drop in to chat. Dick, no matter how busy he was working on his latest project, not only always had time to discuss issues of importance to his students, but he never made you feel like you were intruding. I can recall clearly an example of this during my first semester as his student. I was sitting in on his History from Myth course (which has since become the basis for one of my favorite undergraduate courses to teach), and I had not come to appreciate the value of using literature as a source for History (oh, the irony!). More than halfway through the semester, I still had not developed a research paper topic. I went into Dick’s office and proceeded to bounce ideas off of him for over three hours, and at no point did he ever grow tired of my fumbling around for topic.

Dick was also able to facilitate a true sense of community among the students working on medieval topics at UR. In the six years I was there, I went from being the only doctoral student in medieval studies to being one of seven (plus a couple of masters students and advanced undergraduates). At no point did this group become poisonous or self-destructive. Instead we became a self-supportive group of scholars and friends, sharing our professional and personal successes with each other. All of those who finished the program contributed to the festschrift, but more than that, all of them (among other UR folks- Tom Devaney, Leah Shopkow, and Tucker) made the trip to Saint Louis to be there when we presented it to Dick. I can think of no better example of our medievalist community than that, and a large part of that was a reflection of Dick’s guidance and mentorship.

I am sure that I have grossly exceeded the “few words” Tucker had in mind, so I’ll end it on the final point that I have always tried to emulate the care and organic interest that Dick shows to his students and work, and while I am sure that do not do it justice, I hope that I at least reflect it a bit.

Chris Guyol (PhD, 2013)

Dick’s fascination with medieval history is contagious, as the last two decades of my life have proven. Nearly twenty years ago, as a wide-eyed, introverted freshman, I was convinced by his seminar on medieval kingship and governance to become, of all things, a history major. I remember being hooked instantly by Dick’s ability to forge the liveliest tales imaginable out of seemingly dry histories of legal developments. His sincere affection for those willing to ask tough questions forged an environment in which even the most reticent of students could articulate their thoughts and pursue their interests with confidence. A decade later, during the halcyon days of my graduate career, Dick managed much the same for his graduate students.  Fueled by slices of pizza and a beverage or two, Dick would smile knowingly as his devoted students presented their work to one another in an atmosphere more convivial than captious. It was during this period that I taught my first classes and graded my first papers with the aid of Dick’s kind advice. His style of teaching continues to influence my own, and I can only hope to inspire my students with the same passionate love for history that Dick has always brought into the classroom.

Paul Dingman (PhD, 2012)

I had a few classes with Prof. Kaeuper back when I was an undergraduate at the University of Rochester. The way he could summon up colorful images of the distant past yet still speak so analytically about it always amazed me. I graduated (B.A. in English) and went on to make my way in the world, but I always wondered about returning to study medieval history in more depth. When I called Dick Kaeuper years later out of the blue, he remembered me right away. We met for lunch to discuss my returning to UR to study with him full-time in the Ph.D. program. He offered me no illusions about having an easy time with doctoral work or even being accepted into the program, nor with finding a job afterwards in the challenging academic market. Dick was, however, still encouraging in his own way, provided I was certain I wanted to pursue this path. I did. He made it sound possible.

Over the course of the next six years of reading books, learning languages, and discussing scholarly arguments, what I think of most is his open door and welcoming voice saying “Come in, come in, let’s talk…” Throughout many semesters, we discussed how to ask good questions and how to arrive at worthy answers, how to interpret historical sources and how to talk to historians. He always found the time for these conversations, and the positive atmosphere created by that characteristic is hard to quantify.

One of memories that stands out for me is how Dick quietly jumped into action when bureaucratic red tape threatened the scheduling of my dissertation defense. The months leading up to filing my dissertation were stressful (as one might expect), and there was also a job interview for which I had to prepare. I felt overwhelmed at the prospect of a significant delay in my defense date. Finding a time to gather all of the committee members had been a titanic effort (a single day in the whole summer was the only possibility); it was unclear whether a new date could be found in the entire remainder of the year. Dick listened quietly to what was happening at the administrative level and simply said “I’ll take care of it.” He did. A few days later I heard that the originally scheduled defense date would work after all. It was an incredible relief.

Dick Kaeuper would help actively when the situation called for it, yet he was more likely to provide counsel, advice, and encouragement as he had at that lunch with me in 2005. He was there to talk over so many topics and still is.


[Picture Caption: Professors Daniel Franke and Craig Nakashian present Professor Kaeuper with a copy of his festschrift, Prowess, Piety, and Public Order.]

Peter Sposato (PhD, 2015)

I was so very fortunate to have Richard Kaeuper as my doctoral adviser at Rochester. Dick was an outstanding mentor, combining excellence in scholarship and teaching with inexhaustible modesty, rectitude, and generosity of time and resources. He was always (and still is) prepared with sage advice and guidance. Indeed, I can think of no better exemplar for my own academic career.

Sam Claussen (PhD, 2016)

My first interaction with Professor Kaeuper was an email I sent to him before I was a student at the University of Rochester.  I had struggled to find an appropriate mentor under whom I could pursue a Ph.D. in medieval history.  Having read Prof. Kaeuper’s Chivalry and Violence in medieval Europe, I indicated my interest in the intersections of religion and violence in medieval Europe.  Across the country, Professor Kaeuper was one of the only historians who even replied to me and it very quickly became clear that he recognized my passion and potential for success in academic medieval history.  Over the course of several more emails, we discussed possible avenues for advanced research, with Professor Kaeuper recommending books and articles to read, and encouraging my own intellectual curiosity.  Even before I was formally his student, he helped to cultivate my academic abilities and interests.

As a student at the University of Rochester, seminars with Professor Kaeuper were of course indispensable.  Learning the study of the Middle Ages from a man who was not only an expert in the field but also an excellent teacher was a transformative experience.  But more important than formal classwork were individual interactions.  With his door always open, Professor Kaeuper sat down with me regularly to discuss research papers, issues in medieval history, historiography, pedagogical techniques, course design, the state of the field, and, with regular frequency, much larger issues.  We discussed what life as a historian looked like, why it was useful, and how we could help make the world just a little bit better through the study of medieval Europe.  All of these discussions helped me become a better academic and a better historian.  I truly received excellent training from Professor Kaeuper because of his passion for history and education as well as his investment of time and energy in his students.

As a faculty member today, I regularly teach my students an approach to the Middle Ages that can easily be described as Kaeuperian – the use of imaginative literature as a historical source, the sorting out of prescriptions and descriptions in historical sources, and a willingness to ask large questions about state formation, cultural norms, and mentalities.  I do this not out of blind loyalty to my mentor but because these techniques yield such fruitful results when studying medieval Europe.  And, as importantly, I attempt to emulate Professor Kaeuper’s own steady and insightful mentorship when I advise students myself.  Following Professor Kaeuper’s model, I try to keep in mind the value of education in fully developing individuals as I tailor my advice to each student.  This is one of Professor Kaeuper’s many strengths as a mentor and it has no doubt shaped the careers and lives of hundreds of students at the University of Rochester over his tenure there.


[Picture Caption: The first panel fields questions. From left to right: Peter Sposato, Sam Claussen, Ilana Krug, and Daniel Franke.]

Tucker Million (PhD Student)

While I do not consider myself in a position to comment to the extent of the above-quoted individuals, I can attest to how deeply Professor Kaeuper’s efforts have impacted those beyond his immediate sphere of influence. During my time at Indiana University Kokomo, I was guided by Professor Sposato (a soon to be Rochester graduate when I arrived), and I received much of the same treatment so popular at the U of R. If, then, the model set by Professor Kaeuper has become the standard among his students, the field of medieval history, especially at the undergraduate level, is much better off. Indeed, while Professor Kaeuper is no longer taking students, I cannot help but feel optimistic knowing that many of his former students will not only carry on his scholarly legacy of “Kaeuperian Chivalry,” but that they will provide the same care and attention for their own students. And all of this, I believe, will leave an imprint as big, if not bigger, than Prowess, Piety, and Public Order.

Professor Joan Rubin Inaugural Address as the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Director of the Humanities Center

Article as seen on @Rochester, by Kathleen McGarvey

Capping an eventful year at the University’s new home for the humanities, Joan Shelley Rubin was formally installed as the inaugural Ani and Mark Gabrellian Director of the Humanities Center in May, in a ceremony at Rush Rhees Library. Rubin is the Dexter Perkins Professor in History and has directed the center since its creation in 2015.

The directorship is named in recognition of the support of University Trustee Ani Gabrellian ’84 and her husband, Mark Gabrellian ’79. The couple also established the annual Hagop and Artemis Nazerian Lecture Series, named for Ani Gabrellian’s parents and directed by the center.

Rubin joined the University faculty in 1995 and specializes in 19th– and 20th-century American history. She says that her work with the center flows naturally out of research to which she’s long been devoted.

“I’m a historian of the dissemination of the humanities, fundamentally,” she says. A cultural and intellectual historian, she’s the author of The Making of Middlebrow Culture (University of North Carolina Press, 1992) and Songs of Ourselves: The History of Poetry in America (Harvard University Press, 2007), among other projects.

Ani Gabrellian has called Rubin’s immediate vision for the center one grounded in an experimental approach. “We like that flexibility and open-mindedness,” she says.

three people wearing medals pose for a portrait

Last October, the center moved into its Rush Rhees Library home, a bright, inviting space designed to foster conversation and collaboration among center fellows, faculty, students, staff, and the public. In the next school year, the center will also function monthly as a performance space for undergraduates, featuring music, art, dance, film, poetry reading, drama, and other activities.

The center hosts and sponsors a wide variety of activities, including seminars, public lectures, workshops, and small-group activities. It’s also building relationships with a variety of local cultural institutions. The 2017–18 theme for programs is “Memory and Forgetting,” and a companion film series is being developed with the Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman Museum, as well as related collaborations with Writers and Books, a literary center in Rochester, and the Memorial Art Gallery.

The center is also taking a role at Rochester’s East High School—a public school that the University has managed for the past two years—by including East High students in events at the center, supporting a humanities club, and sponsoring a two-week program next summer on the humanities and civic life.

And this fall, a new undergraduate curricular initiative for the humanities will launch, with the support of a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Rubin aspires to a wide reach.

“I want our center to touch the life of every University of Rochester undergraduate,” she says. “It’s a lofty goal but an important one, because I firmly believe that an appreciation for the humanities and an understanding of human culture are central to what it means to be an educated citizen.”

For more information on the Humanities Center, visit http://www.sas.rochester.edu/humanities/.

Congratulations to our Faculty and Students!

Professor Robert Westbrook has received the Riker Award for Graduate Teaching and will be accepting it at the university commencement ceremony.  Only one Riker Award is given throughout the whole university each year, so this is a signal honor.

PhD Candidate Andrew Kless has received the Ball Dissertation Fellowship for his work on his dissertation.

PhD Candidate Jim Rankine has received the university’s Curtis Award for teaching by a graduate student.

PhD Candidate Daniel Rinn has been awarded a Graduate Student Public Humanities Fellowship, sponsored by the New York State Council for the Humanities.

PhD Candidate Kyle Robinson has been awarded the Dean’s Dissertation Fellowship.

PhD Candidate Jonathan Strassfeld has been awarded the Dean’s Dissertation Fellowship.

Recent PhD Graduate Serenity Sutherland has been awarded the Susan B. Anthony Institute’s dissertation prize.

“I Was Told There’d Be Food”


Camden Burd (PhD Candidate), discusses Digital History on the podcast “I Was Told There’d Be Food.”— a show that explores the the challenges, opportunities, and realities of being a graduate student today.  Check out the podcast here.

From the podcast website:
“Welcome to I Was Told There’d Be Food – a podcast about all things academia and history!

AKA, for this week, anyway, NOT the one where Jen, Katie, and Alex are replaced by robot imposters in order to teach humans about humanities things, but the one in which we discuss the ever expanding role of digital humanities scholarship.

In conversations with our guest and resident digital humanities expert, Camden, we discuss the tools and methods of digital humanities work. We even explore the ways in which digital tech can help us encounter the ever elusive beast – collaborative work in history. Do your part – help humanize the digitals!”


Dr. Henry E. Sigerist


Professor Theodore Brown has recently been a guest in Professor Thomas Devaney’s HIS 501 course.  Professor Brown discussed Dr. Henry E. Sigerist, a topic closely related to current public debate.  Here is a brief synopsis written by Professor Brown.

In the three decades from 1925 to 1955, Henry E. Sigerist (1891-1957) was widely regarded as the world’s leading historian of medicine. In 1925, at the precocious age of 34, he had succeeded Karl Sudhoff, a German scholar of towering international reputation, as Director of the University of Leipzig’s pioneering Institute of the History of Medicine. In 1932, Sigerist succeeded William Henry Welch, the founding dean of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, as Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute of the History of Medicine, recently created on the Leipzig model. During the next fifteen years, Sigerist turned the Hopkins Institute into the leading center for the history of medicine in North America. He transferred his own research to Baltimore and arranged for exceptional European junior colleagues to join him for various periods of time. He likewise nurtured North American medical history efforts already underway and elevated scholarly standards, most notably by founding and editing the Bulletin of the History of Medicine and by considerably raising the professional tone of the American Association for the History of Medicine.

During his fifteen American years from 1932 to 1947, Sigerist also played a surprising but important public role. Welcomed as an urbane and eloquent lecturer, he enjoyed celebrity status at medical society meetings, before civic associations, and in colleges and universities. He was regularly called upon by philanthropic foundations, public agencies, labor unions, the media, and sometimes by the Roosevelt administration. Sigerist also served as a major spokesman for compulsory universal health insurance, and was much sought after as a lecturer, popular author, and radio commentator. His lecture in Philadelphia on February 19, 1939 at the Peoples Forum (advertised by this flyer) was one of his many well-attended public presentations. Sigerist’s ideas were reported in The New York Daily News and Time Magazine, and he published articles in mass circulation magazines and reviews such as Atlantic Monthly, PM, Science and Society, and the New Masses. Because of his dual reputation in historical scholarship and medical politics, Sigerist was invited to visit South Africa, India and Canada as a distinguished lecturer and health policy consultant.

Fee, Elizabeth, and Theodore M. Brown. Making Medical History: The Life and Times of Henry E. Sigerist. N.p.: John Hopkins University Press, 1997.

8th Annual Graduate Conference

We are pleased to announce that the Graduate History Society is holding its 8th Annual Graduate Conference titled, “Fashioning People: Memory, Identity, and Consumption” on Saturday February 25th from 9:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Registration for the event will begin at 8:30 a.m. The Conference will be held in the Gowen Room in Wilson Commons. Our keynote speaker this year is Catherine E. Kelly, Professor of History at the University of Oklahoma. Kelly is the Editor of the Journal of the Early Republic and the author of Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America. Her address for the event is titled, “Disappearing Acts: William Hamilton and the Cultural Politics of Loyalism in the Early American Republic”. The event is open to the public. Light lunch and refreshments will be provided. We hope to see you there!


On Friday, February 24th from 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m., Kelly will hold a Graduate Student Lunch in Humanities Center Conference Room D. The Lunch is titled “Fashioning the Article”. At the event, Kelly will discuss approaching publishing in digital and print from an editor’s perspective and will talk about weighing print/digital, figuring out where to submit your article, the peer review process, and what makes an article. The event is open to graduate students. A light lunch will be served.


We would like to thank our sponsors: Gloria Culver, Dean of the School of Arts, Science, and Engineering; Melissa Sturge-Apple, Dean of Graduate Studies; The Graduate Student Association; The Frederick Douglass Institute; The Department of History; and The Department of Philosophy.

If you have any questions about the event, please contact the Graduate History Society at: rochestergradconference@gmail.com

A Look Back at 2016

While we ring in the New Year, we wanted to take a look back at what some of our professors and graduate students have done in the past year.

fleischmanWe welcomed to the department Thomas Fleischman (Ph.D. NYU, 2013), our new assistant professor of modern German history. Tom works on industrial agriculture in East Germany and the environmental crisis occasioned by the introduction of factory pig-farming along capitalist lines in the 1970s and 1980s. Together with Stewart Weaver and Tom Slaughter, Tom will contribute to our growing strength in environmental history. He will be introducing to Rochester courses on the history of animals, one of the most                                                              innovative new areas in the field.

Many of our other teaching initiatives involved digital history. Elya Zhang used mapping software to help students visualize trade and demographic patterns along Chinese rivers. Pablo Sierra’s students worked extensively with a new database of Latin American newspapers, and Mike Jarvis used his “Virtual St. Georges” project (the creation of a digital visualization of that historic Bermuda port) to introduce undergraduates to digital history.  Tom Slaughter and his collaborators have been awarded a National Archives grant to expand his outreach to seniors in the Rochester Community, who have been working with undergraduates on the digitalization of the William Seward Archive.

Several faculty received prestigious fellowships and honors over the past academic year. Tom Devaney was offered a Fulbright for an academic year of leave at University of Turku, Finland, as well as a fellowship from the University of Helsinki’s Collegium for Advanced Studies, also for a full academic year (Tom accepted the latter). Dorinda Outram pursued her research into laughter in the Enlightenment during a one semester fellowship at the Herzog Georg Library in Wolfenbuttel, Germany in the fall of 2015. She will follow this up in fall 2016 with an in-residence fellowship from University of Gottingen’s Lichtenberg Kolleg, an interdisciplinary center of humanistic and social science inquiry. Dick Kaeuper was inducted as a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, and Pablo Sierra was awarded a fellowship from the university’s new Humanities Center to work on his book manuscript.

Stay tuned for more happenings in the History Department in the upcoming year!