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

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:

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!

Meet our Faculty: Mike Jarvis


Michael Jarvis has had a year of multitasking and starting new projects. He divided his time between the history department and directing U of R’s new Digital Media Studies major, where he oversaw 20 DMS seniors’ yearlong six capstone projects (a videogame, a museum augmented reality app,  a national campus newspaper integrator website, a Rochester-area restaurant app, and two digital art installations). The twelve students participating in my summer 2015 Smiths Island Archaeology Field School worked on four sites and helped establish the dating of Oven Site to circa 1614 – the earliest site excavated in Bermuda. In the fall, he took my Maritime Atlantic History seminar students on an experiential road trip to Erie, Pennsylvania, and pressed them into a day’s service on the Brig Niagara, a War of 1812 warship, where they learned sail handling, naval discipline, and public history in practice. And throughout the year, he worked with independent study student researchers on my Virtual St. George’s project to create an interactive GIS layer of Bermuda’s first capital in 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution.

Through new grants and collaborations, he has grown enormously as a digital historian and archaeologist this past year. A U of R Pump Primer II grant enabled him to purchase a FARO laser scanner and build two cutting edge 3D graphics processing computers to advance his Virtual St. George’s project; this and a research trip to Bermuda in February (shooting 19,000 photos in six days) has enabled him to start digitally rebuilding the town, circa 1750. In January, he began a new digital history/archaeology research collaboration with UR’s ATHS program and the University of Ghana, focused on modeling Elmina (built 1482) and other Transatlantic Slave Trade castles and forts and training Ghanaian Ph.D. students in the use of scanning and photogrammetry reconstructions. Most recently, a UR Undergraduate Research Discover Grant enabled Nick Gresens (Religion and Classics) and him to take three UR students to Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis to photograph, scan, and try infrared and UV spectrum recording of Roman graffiti and eroded frescoes dating to the first century AD. In addition, he presented papers on Bermudian, Atlantic, and Digital History at the Universities of Delaware and Alabama, Berkeley Institute (Bermuda), the University of Ghana, and the University of Southampton (UK), and had the unique experience of being the keynote speaker for the Colonial Wars Society floating conference, held aboard the cruise ship Breakaway in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Louis XIV Class Visits Fort Niagara

Written by Kyle Robinson, PhD Candidate and Instructor at the University of Rochester


Many people know about the sumptuous world of Louis XIV’s Versailles, but few people probably know that the reach of the Sun King extended all the way to what is now Western New York. In 1678, the French explorer Robert, Sieur de La Salle stopped at the confluence of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario before beginning a long voyage of exploration that would take him through the Ohio River valley and down the Mississippi. Here, near modern day Youngstown, NY, an encampment was built that La Salle named Fort Conti, later known as Fort Niagara. The goal was trade, trade with the Native Peoples of the area and access to the lucrative beaver pelts the French provided to the European market. La Salle’s effort was part of Louis XIV’s wider mission, through the influence of his famous contrôleur général des finances Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to expand the wealth and power of the French state and its economy. Despite the lucrative trade in pelts and the importance of its strategic location, the French initially struggled to maintain a permanent presence at the mouth of the Niagara. The encampment was abandoned several times in the face of harsh winters, disease, and a tenuous supply chain that struggled to arrive from New France’s more permanent settlements along the St. Lawrence. It was not until 1726, eleven years after the death of Louis XIV, that a permanent stone structure was built, serving as a fortified trading post and France’s strategic claim to the Niagara region until the Fort was taken in 1759 by the British during the Seven Years War. After the American War of Independence, the Fort was used as an entry point for Loyalist immigration to Canada before being turned over to the United States, and was again a major arena of combat during the War of 1812.


On Saturday November 5, 2016, students from the University of Rochester’s course Rays of the Sun King: The Age of Louis XIV travelled to Fort Niagara to explore the history of the site and French activity in North America during the reign of the Roi-Soleil. After a tour of the Fort’s museum and its collection of French and British armaments, coins, and remnants of everyday life from the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, students were then led on a tour of the Fort by the course’s instructor Kyle Robinson. Robinson outlined for the students the role the Fort played in French New World expansion during the reign of Louis XIV, and how an early trading post grew into a major fortified position that utilized the mid-eighteenth century’s latest technologies in design and construction. Students were then able to watch the Fort’s staff conduct a demonstration of Early Modern French cannon and musketry, along with recreations of French drill and field hospital techniques before returning to Rochester.

To learn more about the History Department at the University of Rochester, its courses, programs, and faculty, visit