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.


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

Finding the Other Berlin Wall


By: Dasha Lynch

People often talk about a decisive moment in their lives in which they discovered their passion and finally realized what they wanted to do in the future. My moment came in early August, 2016 as I was working in the Documentation Center and Museum of Migration in Cologne, Germany doing research for my senior thesis. In the (very) cold office of this archive, I felt butterflies in my stomach when the librarian placed a pile of documents on my desk. I realized my future is history (pun intended).


This journey to self-discovery in fact began three years ago during my gap year in Germany as a Rotary Exchange Student. On my daily train ride to and from school I often sat next to women in beautiful Middle Eastern clothing, chatting away in languages I did not understand. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the municipality of Friedland, a stop on our ride, was home to thousands of refugees, and had been as early as 1945 when the Control Commission for Germany – British Element built a camp in the town. The camp served as a way station for evacuees, returning soldiers, and refugees, and to this day, it serves as a reception center for asylum seekers and refugees. These chance train-ride encounters first introduced me to Germany’s rich immigrant culture – and perhaps inspired my specific academic interest in Turkish immigrants in Germany, an interest which has led to studying German and Turkish history and languages.


To pursue this interest I applied for, and received, the Discover Grant and Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Research Grant. My plan was to study second language acquisition by Turkish immigrant women in Germany in the 1960s and 70s, the period of first wave Turkish Gastarbeiter (guest worker) immigration to Germany. Starting in the 1960s, the West German government brought semi-skilled Turkish laborers, mostly from poor, remote regions of Turkey, to take low paid assembly line positions in factories around the country. Generally, Turkish immigrants settled in communities made up only of other Turkish immigrants. This form of isolation, as well as the use of interpreters in the factories that employed the Turkish laborers, made German seem unnecessary, and therefore prevented proper integration of Turkish immigrants into German culture.

This problem of failed integration was particularly acute for women who joined their husbands solely as housewives and caretakers of children. As the NPR article, “Muslim Women Behind Wall of Silence in Germany,” observes, “Many [Turkish women] first met their husbands on their wedding day, only to disappear into a world ruled by rural Turkish traditions — unnoticed by their German neighbors.” As Seyran Ates, lawyer and women’s rights activist, notes, these “women [were] physically living in Germany, but psychologically living in another culture” controlled by the men in their families, hidden behind a “wall of silence.” While this “wall of silence” is clearly an urgent contemporary problem, I was planning to explore the early years of its construction, looking back to the beginning of Turkish immigration into Germany. Though, as some sources point out, Muslim men played a large role in preventing Turkish women from learning German, I hypothesized that the German government’s failure to create effective, culturally sensitive language programs also contributed to this “wall of silence” and to the growing isolation of Turkish women.

I was happy with the concept of my project, but had no idea where to begin or how to approach it. The internet was, of course, a big help in locating various agencies and offices that dealt with immigration in Germany. But contacting these organizations brought no results; they all insisted they knew nothing about the subject. I was beginning to lose hope. And then finally, a breakthrough! Just days before my departure for Germany a random email gave me a lead: Cologne’s Documentation Center and Museum of Migration, DOMiD. Flash forward and I found myself in that cold office with a pile of old papers before me – and butterflies in my stomach.

One might wonder why old documents would give an undergrad butterflies, though fellow historians will of course understand. I was no stranger to reading primary sources, but in the past they had come as scans of originals. These papers, however, contained real traces of people’s lives. As I was reading through them the focus of my project began to change. Instead of passive and silent immigrants, I encountered strong women on these pages who understood the importance of language to integration and organized themselves to demand access to education. The helpful staff at the museum, and one Stanford PhD student working on her dissertation there (and also my new role model), directed me to yet another great resource, FFBIZ, a feminist archive in Berlin, where I found even more sources to support this new image of Turkish women in Germany.

My time researching was too short, but now I know what I’m doing next summer – it’s back to Germany for me!


**Dasha is an Undergraduate History Major here at the University of Rochester.

Update from Alumni: Joseph A. Amato PhD ’70



Since leaving Rochester in 1966, a half century ago, and completing my published dissertation on Mounier and Maritain: A French Catholic Understanding of the Modern World in 1970 under the insightful and generous guidance of Professor A. W. Salomone,  Amato has had a single teaching and minor administrative career principally at one place—at Southwest Minnesota State University, in Marshall, Minnesota.  There he taught, administered, and created the History Department and a unique program of Rural and Regional Studies.

Aside from the glories and scuffles of making and keeping a small college afloat, his devotion has been his wife Catherine, a nursing graduate from Rochester (1966) and four children, while my mounting “madness”  is  writing—defining the meaning of world and self.  Amato has written, co-authored, and published almost forty books, numerous essays (most recently for Everyday Life (2016), Why Place Matters (2015) and Suffering and Bioethics (2015).  During this time, his writing has ranged, perhaps strayed, across three areas—local, family, and regional history; memoirs focused on a reflective boy in love with a future in golf and mid-life bypass surgery; and finally and principally intellectual and cultural history bannered first by studies of “Guilt and Gratitude” and Suffering” and advancing a comprehensive social cultural history of walking and a cultural intellectual history of the small.  The later, Dust, A History of the Small and Invisible, was translated into several languages.

In the last two years Amato wrote another work in cultural and intellect history, Surfaces: A History and a work of philosophy and intellectual history called Twos: The Power of Contrasts, Polarities, and Contradictions.  At the same he published his first volume of poetry, Buoyancies: A Ballast Master’s Log.

With children long on their own and retirement providing free time, he may take up new volumes of poetry and non-fiction.  March 1 of this year will see the publication of My Three Sicilies: Stories, Poems, and History (New York Bordighera); October 1, Everyday Life: A Short History (London Reaktion Press) which was intended to form a companion to my explorations of family history (Jacob’s Well) and local and regional history, Rethinking Home.

To bring a half century of writing and self-promotion to an end, Amato wishes the best to all who shared a cup of coffee and an idea, held a hand, and suffered and enjoyed a seminar together.  Gratefully and affectionately from across a half of century he wishes you well in your ways and days This after all is no great span for we historians known for long memory and stirring the incandescent embers of youth.


A Road (Somewhat) Less Traveled By


By Dr. Thomas Devaney

It’s an exchange to which I become rather accustomed during the past year. The slightly raised eyebrow. The question, “Oh, why there?” with just enough stress on the final word to signal a hint of incredulity. It was the more-or-less typical reaction when I told someone that I was spending my sabbatical year in Finland to get started on a book about late-medieval and early modern Spanish history. And yet Helsinki turned out to be a useful setting in which to develop my ideas.

Finland first came onto my radar as a potential base for a sabbatical through some friends at the University of Turku. They are all associates of the Turku Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (TUCEMEMS), an interdisciplinary collaborative of researchers from across the university that sometime hosts visiting scholars. I decided to apply for Fulbright funding to go there and, in the process of doing some background research on Finnish universities, encountered the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies’ (HCAS) annual call for applications. HCAS, an independent research institute at the University of Helsinki modeled somewhat along the lines of the Princeton IAS or the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, seemed also to have much to offer. I decided to apply for both the Fulbright and to HCAS. When, through remarkable good luck, I was offered both, my Turku friends encouraged me to go to Helsinki and take advantage of the resources available at HCAS.

collegium building

[image: Collegium building]

While I have the regrets that such a decision inevitably brings, I was somewhat able to enjoy the best of both worlds. Since Turku is only a two-hour train ride from Helsinki, I maintained my collaboration with TUCEMEMS, giving a talk there and contributing a chapter to an upcoming edited volume on Reformation-era book culture. Meanwhile, HCAS turned out to be as intellectually stimulating and encouraging an environment as one could desire. The center is home to an international group of about forty scholars working in all areas of the humanities and social sciences, ranging from history and classics to psychology and law. Although fellows devote the majority of their time to individual projects, our weekly brown-bag seminars often showcased the creative provocation that such a diverse community of scholars can offer while regular lunches and coffee hours ensured that there was a strong sense of community even while most of us focused on our individual projects.

collegium common room

[image: Collegium common room]

That kind of intellection stimulation is particularly beneficial for my current work. I’m exploring early modern affective and cognitive understandings of romerías, with the goal of determining how collective emotional experiences may have contributed to senses of community and of local identity. And I’m particularly interested in the impact of such shared emotions on the place of converts and their descendants in these communities. As a great deal of research has shown, “official” discourses about conversos or moriscos didn’t necessarily or entirely reflect the attitudes of the general public.

It’s no secret that it can be exceedingly useful to step outside the boundaries of our particular specialties in order to consider the kinds of questions being posed by scholars working on different times or places, or even in completely different fields, and that’s especially true when dealing with broad and often fuzzy concepts like “emotion,” “identity,” or “community.” The Collegium prizes such cross-fertilization, and I know that my work has been enhanced by exposure to (among many others) an artist interested in sensory perception and emotion, and a literary scholar focused on cognitive theories. But there are also other historians at the Collegium, whose topics range from early modern English travel narratives to nineteenth-century ideas of voice to early medieval Irish identity, and they too have been a regular source of inspiration, challenge, and support. Of course, HCAS is part of the wider University of Helsinki community. And this led to a number of fruitful connections—to a group of scholars working on collective emotions and the Finnish experience of World War II, for instance, and to others interested in the relationships between performance, power, and belief.

My biggest concern about working on an Iberian topic in Helsinki was access to resources. In some respects, I was well prepared. My project relies heavily on so-called “miracle books,” or histories of individual shrines that typically describe the shrine itself and its holy image, the miracles it has performed, and the annual romería. In addition to notes I had compiled about a number of these books during previous sojourns to collections in Spain and the two months I spent last summer at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany (another underutilized resource for Hispanists!), I planned also to rely on digitized copies of miracle books online, at collections like the Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico and the Biblioteca Virtual de Andalucía. I was reasonably confident, therefore, that I’d have access to the key primary sources I would need.

For me, however, the process of writing is also the process of thinking. No matter how well prepared I think I am, once I start to write, I inevitably find that I need to read more, dig deeper, and explore new lines of inquiry. And so I’ve needed to regularly locate new materials. As the University Library’s holdings on Iberian topics are thin, consisting mostly of recent and widely distributed books, I worked primarily with the Kansalliskirjasto (National Library of Finland) which, conveniently, is across the street from the Collegium. The National Library building, moreover, is an architectural gem that has recently undergone a three-year renovation project . Its reading rooms were a delightful alternative to working in my office.

national library reading room

[image: National Library reading room]

Adjusting to life in Finland was relatively painless, since the University helps international visiting scholars get sorted. I moved here with family and, after the somewhat stressful process of finding school spots for the children, it was fascinating to see Finland’s renowned education system in action. The public school day is shorter than one typically encounters in the United States, for one thing. And there are lots of opportunities for play during that time—15 minutes between lessons in addition to a longer recess at lunchtime. But there’s also a different philosophy of childhood. Our older daughter has embraced new opportunities for independence (it’s common to see seven-year-olds navigating the city on their own, for instance) and we’re wondering how she’ll adjust to the restrictions of life back in the U.S. One thing did take us by surprise—Finnish kids go outside to play regardless of the weather. Pouring rain? To the playground! Bitter cold? Let’s go outside! This cultural indifference to the weather has been great for the kids, encouraging what I think is a healthy attitude about the outdoors. I imagine that there’s also a bit of local pride at work here, but it’s not all about toughness. The day-care made it very clear that the right gear is critical—and so we had to obtain a bewildering array of outdoor clothes for the kids

kids clothing chart

[image: kid’s clothes chart].

For the most part, though, we didn’t really encounter much culture shock. Although Finnish is notoriously difficult to learn, English is widely spoken and it’s quite possible to live here without any knowledge of Finnish. Although I did have the opportunity to take Finnish courses, I’ll confess that all I managed to learn was (some of) the basics. But even that gave me a bit of cultural insight, as well as the ability to make some sense of the signs and newspapers one encounters in daily life. And, despite the Finns’ reputation for being reserved, even withdrawn, in public (common joke: “How do you tell if a Finn is extroverted? He’s looking at your shoes, not his own.”), most of the people we’ve encountered have been warm and friendly. There’s also a vibrant arts and music scene in Helsinki, a host of holiday events, and a food culture that combines the familiar and the new.

Thus far, I’ve painted a glowing picture of life at HCAS and in Helsinki. And I did have a positive experience. But it wasn’t all perfect. Finland’s universities, like many in the U.S. and other countries, are facing severe financial challenges. At the University of Helsinki, budget cutbacks this past year led to the layoff of hundreds of employees, the creation of a centralized administrative system, and a great deal of concern about the future. Even so, and although these cuts have had a huge impact on the Collegium, especially on its administrative staff, HCAS plans to maintain its commitment to free and interdisciplinary research.

For myself, I’m now back in Rochester, having accomplished my goals for the sabbatical year. I’ve made a great deal of progress on my work—I’ve submitted a couple of articles, given a number of presentations, and drafted sections of the book. I’ve been part of a great community of scholars, made new friends, and been able to experience a culture, and place, that was mostly new to me. And yet, from where I sit now, back in my role in the history department, back in familiar places and to familiar routines, it almost feels as if I’ve never left, as if the year in Helsinki was something that didn’t really happen. But perhaps the experience’s impacts simply aren’t yet completely apparent. When I next have an opportunity to take a sabbatical leave, there’s a good chance I’ll spend it in Spain, for all the obvious reasons. But, if I can, I’ll also be considering places that aren’t “traditional” destinations for Hispanists. And Finland will be on that list.


Seward Family Archive Project

The Seward Family Archive, a digital humanities project that’s a collaboration between the Department of History and the River Campus Libraries, has been awarded a two-year grant totaling over $97,000 from the National Archives Literacy and Engagement with Historical Records Program.

Thomas Slaughter, the Arthur R. Miller Professor of History and director of the project, said the grant would be used to continue and expand the collaboration with volunteers from the Highlands at Pittsford retirement community and retired University staff and librarians, and to implement the collaboration as a model for community-engaged teaching and learning. The students and volunteers began their partnership this past academic year and work to transcribe, annotate, and tag personal letters of President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State William H. Seward, his wife, Frances Miller Seward, their family, and friends from about 1820 to 1873.

The funding will support a graduate student to manage the collaboration and up to six undergraduate editors each year. In addition to the National Archives grant, the Friends of the University Libraries has provided a $3,000 gift that is being used this summer to support the work of an undergraduate transcriber and annotator and a graduate student editor of letters between Seward family members and the radical abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts.

For more information on the Seward Family Archives Project, see the March-April 2016 issue of Rochester Review or visit

First-year University of Rochester history PhD student Lauren Davis works with sophomore history and political science major Sarabeth Rambold and residents Lyn Nelson and Allan Anderson to transcribe letters for the Seward Family Papers Project at the Highlands in Pittsford, New York. (Photo by J. Adam Fenster, University of Rochester)

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Department of History

The Department of History offers programs of study for both undergraduates and graduates. We are committed to teaching and scholarship and to intellectual rigor in the context of close attention to students’ needs and interests.

We offer internship, seminar, and honors thesis opportunities to our undergraduate students; a series of distinguished outside speakers; symposia and workshops to address graduate students’ research, teaching, and career concerns; and a Department lounge near our offices in Rush Rhees Library where we gather as a community.

We hope that using this blog as a communication tool we will be able to publish the incredible work of both our students and faculty.