About Walter Simons

I am a medievalist working in the History Department of Dartmouth College.

Ed Miller on JFK and the Vietnam War

On NPR’s Here and Now, our colleague Ed Miller examined the significance of President Kennedy’s assassination in the context of the Vietnam War and speculated on its course millerbookjackethad JFK lived.  Audio of the interview and a transcript can be found here; the link also offers excerpts from Ed’s new book, Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2013). Miller’s op-ed in the New York Daily News, Remember Diem’s downfall: Learning lessons from the death, 50 years ago this month, of South Vietnam’s founding leader, is here.

A Lesson in Writing Acknowledgements

Composing the “Acknowledgements” is surely one of the more fun parts of a book project.   You’re exhausted but relieved, maybe exhilarated that it’s done and naturally brimming with gratitude to all those who have helped you.  After listing the friends who gave you those crucial tips or kept your spirits up in times of despair, you turn to the unsung heroes in the historical profession, the archivists and curators who slave away anonymously in dusty repositories to preserve, catalogue, and detail the sources historians use.   I’ve worked in dozens of archives in several countries, some well organized and equipped with the latest technology (the great state archives of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany come to mind), others little more than a room with a table and only a few handwritten notes as guides to sources (countless monasteries in Western Europe).  In all of them I have met wonderful, dedicated people whom I admire and remember fondly (thanks, Sister Ann Christi, for your help at the Carmel of Vilvoorde last March, you were great, thanks!).

Except, well, how shall I put it, there are exceptions.  I never quite know what to do with those in the Acknowledgements.  Leave them out?  Bury them under praise so faint or unlikely that everybody will see right through it?  It’s delicate because who knows, you may need their assistance again some day.

I just came across Acknowledgements that take care of the problem with exemplary aplomb.

The Armoire de Fer, c. 1790, at the Archives nationales de France (photo: ANdF)

The Armoire de Fer, c. 1790, at the Archives nationales de France (photo: ANdF)

Here’s the paragraph in question cited in full from Geert Van Goethem, The Amsterdam International: The World of the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), 1913-1945 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), p. 10.  Observe the firm twist of the rapier at the end:

During my more than five years of research, I visited about thirty archive centres and became acquainted with as many information retrieval systems.  I adapted to thirty different sets of internal regulations, dutifully filled in registers, applied in writing to custodians for permission to consult documents, addressed governments with requests to lift embargoes, always carried passport photos so I could instantly produce some whenever required for a membership card or pass, and paid all manner of admission fees and charges.  In my experience, keeping strictly to the rules usually earns one smooth and courteous assistance.  But there are exceptions.  In one particular instance, I had passed through all the ordeals and removed all obstacles – or so I thought.  I had notified my arrival in writing from Belgium, confirmed by telephone, had had my photograph taken for a badge and even paid an admission fee for FRF 100, only to find out that I could and would not get to see the one file that had been the sole object of all my efforts.  Therefore, my thanks to the Archives nationales de France need not be taken too literally.

I may add that the ANdF have a certain reputation in the field.  Thanks, Geert, for showing how it’s done.

Goodbye, Class of 2013

In an amazing feat of cosmic trickery, another academic year zipped by faster than you can say “culminating experience.”  Once again we’re waving goodbye to our senior majors in History.  I asked them about their immediate plans for the future and will post the information as it comes in with daily updates until graduation day, June 9.

John H. Boger:

I will spend the summer in the Balkans studying peacebuilding and conflict transformation at the American University in Kosovo and hope to spend time out West before going on active duty as a second lieutenant with the United States Marine Corps next spring.

Allison D. Bosch:

I will be moving to Baltimore in the fall to complete a pre-medical  post-bac program at Johns Hopkins University.

Colleen K. Carroll:

My experiences with the History Department have been a true highlight of my time at Dartmouth and will be one of the most difficult things to say goodbye to upon graduation. I’m especially excited to stay in touch with the Department and will remember everything from my Presidential Scholars project with Professor Lagomarsino to my seminar class with Professor Estabrook and everything in between so fondly. In response to your question: I will be in Boston working for Keystone Strategy, a consulting firm serving clients in science and technology driven industries.

Hannah C. Decker:

After I leave Dartmouth, I am going to spend the summer travelling to Turkey and the American West and hang out with my family. In the fall, I am moving to New York City to work at Bridgewater Associates, but in the next few years hope to attend medical school.

Maura A. Farley:

Next year I will be working as a Credit Analyst in the Investments group at BlackRock, an asset manager in New York.

John R. Finkelberg:

I will be spending the summer at Dartmouth participating in Professor Lawrence Kritzman’s summer institute in French Cultural Studies. In the fall, I am moving to Paris to start my Masters in History and Literature. The MA is organized through Columbia University but it is taught in conjecture with the École normale supérieure and the École des hautes études en science sociales.

Elizabeth R. Fleming:

I will be working as an analyst at Goldman Sachs next year in the corporate treasury legal group.

Grace E. Hart:

I’ll be attending Yale Law School in the fall.

Bum Sun Jun:

I will be working during the summer as a history instructor at a private academy in Seoul. Then I will be traveling around Asia during my gap year. After the gap year I plan on going to a law school in the States.

Hannah N. Kuhar:

I will be completing a Management Fellowship for Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Chicago.

Paul H. Lazarow:

I am going to attend NYU School of Law.

Soo Jee Lee:

I will be living at home in New Jersey, working on some personal projects and hopefully working to earn pocket money to cover my living expenses when I attend Columbia Law School, class of 2017.

Jennifer D. McGrew:

I plan on working in education administration before heading to get my masters in education.

C. Clark Moore:

I will be moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry as a performer and a screenwriter.

John L. Nimmo:

Next year I will be working as an Associate for The Parthenon Group, a management consulting firm in Boston.

Adam M. Pastrich:

I will be working for Boston Consulting Group in their Los Angeles office.

Elisa A. Relman:

I will be spending the next year working as a teaching fellow at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Rachel E. Rosenberg:

I will be teaching 8th grade American History as a Teach for America corps member in Dallas, TX.

Juan O. Sanchez:

I’m applying to jobs and schools in food chemistry during the summer in Hanover. After that I’ll be working at Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in the Fall.

Emma L. Smith:

I’ll be pursuing a Master of Human Rights from University College London’s School of Public Policy.

Jonathan B. Webster:

Starting in July, I will be working as a Presidential Fellow in Dartmouth’s Advancement Division.

Charlotte L. Williams:

I am going into the Marines to serve as an officer.

Know Something About Know-Nothings

Matt Glassman explains the difference between Know-Nothings and Knowing Nothing in American politics:

 I’ve detected a rise in the use of the term as a blanket charge of anti-intellectualism. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that — the meaning of words and phrases change all the time. But it’s interesting to see the process occur in real-time, and watch how a historical word slowly drifts from one meaning (the name of a party) to another (a slur based on that party’s positions) to another (a general slur based on the plain meaning, but incorrect, assessment of the party’s name).

So You Want to Be a Historian? On GRE’s and Other Headaches

Applicants to graduate programs in History, attention please!  Sister-blogger Historiann has a great post on the relative importance of GRE’s in the admission process, with excellent comments by people who have served on admission committees, applicants, and other knowledgeable parties.  Go read.

I know I am a week late to signal this, but we had an election.  Really.

Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012) and History Stardom

The death on October 1 of Eric Hobsbawm at the age of 95 marks the end of an era.  Indeed, Marc Mulholland calls him “the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Historian.”  (The Guardian‘s obituary is here; more comments here).

Eric Hobsbawm, 1917-2012 (Photo BBC) 

For those who fear that his passing also heralds the demise of Marxist history, there is comforting news from England, where reports of a young generation enthralled by Hobsbawm will certainly make many a (male) historian’s heart beat faster.

For Manhood and Empire

A short note on the Olympics, before they’re over (August 12 is the last day!): Louis Menand has an entertaining review of their history in modern times in The New Yorker (Glory Days).  He recalls the great moments, especially in athletics, like Ethiopian Abebe Bikila Imagewinning the Rome 1960 marathon running barefoot, signaling Africa’s enormous potential to the world at the height of decolonization.  (I am too young to remember that race but old enough to remember Bikila’s next Olympic marathon in Tokyo, in 1964, which he also won, now with shoes.)

Bikila’s heroics coupled with today’s marvelous win of the US team in the Women’s Soccer final, before 70,000 spectators (!), put an ironic spin on the original purpose of the modern

Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times

Olympics.  As Menand points out, when Pierre de Coubertin launched the games in 1896, he was inspired by the efforts of the British physician William Penny Brookes who had started a few years earlier the Wenlock Olympian Games in the town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, “as a means of fortifying British manhood.”  “Britain’s culture of sports,” de Coubertin maintained, “is the reason for its empire.” To quote Brookes:

If the time should ever come when the youth of this country once again abandons the fortifying exercises of the gymnasium, the manly games, the outdoor sports that give health and life, in favor of effeminate and pacific amusements, know that that will mean the end of freedom, influence, strength, and prosperity for the whole empire.

Student Dissidence at Dartmouth, Antebellum Edition

In the summer of 2010, Ore Koren (’12) conducted research in Dartmouth’s Special Collections on student life in the 1820s-1850s.  The results of his project are now available for viewing on the department’s Exhibits webpages.

Image

Newspapers, letters, pamphlets, and college catalogues of the Jacksonian era show remarkable evidence of strong student opinions on the salient issues.  As Ore comments:

Different interpretations of religious ideas and of states’ rights, of abolition and Colonization, and of personal rights, all unsettled the region. A microcosm of New England and, due to the relatively large number of students from Southern states, of the United States, Dartmouth College (and the Town of Hanover) was a harbinger of the changes that perturbed the country before, during, and after the Civil War. The College’s student body, with its growing tendency to challenge the College’s faculty and its conventions were the locomotive that drove these changes.

Of the classes of the 1820s, the Class of 1827 was worth particular examination. Its members demurred the status quo on at least two occasions. On one occasion, after believing that one of their fellow classmates has been maltreated by the faculty, the class members embarked upon a three-day rampage, in which they stoned members of the faculty, burned the president in effigy, and burned down a barn. On a second occasion, upon hearing that Edward Mitchell, an emancipated slave from the south who passed the entrance exams, was denied admission, the students submitted a petition denouncing the faculty’s decision and demanding the immediate admission of Mitchell. This petition is a unique document and the language used in it is immensely progressive, especially when bearing in mind the time and place in which it was written.

During the 1840s several student publications appeared. The most famous one, of course, was The Dartmouth, which represented the prevalent opinions of the time and place in which it was written. The Dartmouth ridiculed various minorities, from French Canadians to Native Americans, and sometimes explicitly portrayed slavery in a positive light. Nevertheless, other of its articles were unique, particularly the one defending Shakespeare’s Shylock.

At the same time other publications appeared, which were satirical in nature even if very crude. The target of these publications’ mockery was almost always members of the faculty, most notably the College President and champion of slavery Nathan Lord.

The majority of my research revolves around the Dartmouth OEstrus, a satirical publication printed by the students between 1854 and 1857. Unlike other satirical publications, the writers of the OEstrus showed rather refined writing and humor, and the ideas mentioned in this publication appear many times uncharacteristic of what is expected from an early 19th century New England institution of education. I made every attempt to contextualize this publication by providing information about the names and events mentioned in the four volumes of The OEstrus.

Another contemporary satirical publication was The Waif. Based on the writing used in The Waif, it was probably written by the same writers as the OEstrus, who were members of the Class of 1856. I also discuss The Waif in this study.

The goal of this website is to present a picture of the winds of change that blew through Dartmouth College during the first part of the 19th century. By examining student dissidence I intended to illuminate a part of Dartmouth history that is relatively less known, but that is always relevant.

Hemingway Letters Update

Back in April 2010, I noted that in the past half century Hemingway biographies have largely ignored the papers he left behind at Finca Vigía, his Cuban home, in 1961, and I reported that in 2009 copies of most of these materials had finally become available at the Kennedy Library in Boston, which houses the extensive Ernest Hemingway Collection.

Consolidation of the papers and growing international cooperation among Hemingway scholars have now resulted in a massive project, The Cambridge Edition of the Letters of Ernest Hemingway, to publish his approximately 6,000 letters, of which about 80% have not yet appeared in print.  The first volume, covering the years 1907–1922, has already been published; a dozen or more volumes are planned.

The Introduction to the edition by Sandra Spanier, the general editor (Vol. 1, pp. xi-xxxiii), has more on the vagaries of the Hemingway archives.  An interview with Spanier is here.