Letter from the Chair

Matthew Avery Sutton
Matthew Avery Sutton

The Department of History had a great 2022-2023 school year, thanks to our wonderful students and faculty. We all returned to campus after the summer break eager to participate in class discussions, dive into ambitious research projects, and, of course, cheer on the Cougs!

This year we were thrilled to see 93 undergraduates earn their bachelor’s degrees in history and we inducted seven students into Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honors society. Six students earned master’s degrees in history, and three completed PhDs. The History Club has provided many opportunities for students of all interests and majors to come together for movie nights, organized discussion sections with faculty on current events, and hosted trivia contests.

The department is overseeing multiple projects to engage with the public and demonstrate the relevance of history to real-world issues. The Hanford History Project, led by professors Bob Bauman and Robert Franklin, in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), is a multi-year, multi-faceted undertaking. One aspect of the project focuses on the pre-World War II history of the Hanford site. WSU students write short essays illuminating this era and region and drawing on primary sources housed at WSU. They draft reference documents that the NPS uses in its digital content featured on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and an app that can be found on the NPS Apps page (available on iOS and Google app stores). In addition, several Hanford History Project interns are digitizing a large donation of records from the Hanford-White Bluffs Pioneer Association, including 13 scrapbooks of historical pictures from the Pre-Manhattan Project towns of the Hanford Site. These records are being made available at Hanford History Project.

The history department is continuing to sponsor a major multi-year research project led by Prof. Ray Sun and another team of students. Called “Fallen Cougs,” the group is diving into the archives, poring over old newspapers, and studying military records to learn the fate of approximately 200 WSU students who gave their lives for their country during World War II. Their stories are available to the WSU community.

We are pleased to announce that two of our former postdoctoral teaching associates are now joining the permanent history faculty. Brenna Miller earned her PhD from the Ohio State University in 2018. Her research focuses on 20th century Southeastern Europe and her current book manuscript examines the emergence of an officially recognized, secular Muslim nation in Tito’s Yugoslavia. The project situates Muslim communities in a broader European context and considers the ways this and alternative understandings of Muslim identity were shaped and articulated during the socialist period.

Eugene Smelyansky earned his PhD from the University of California, Irvine in 2015. His research interests focus on the history of religious persecution and marginalization in medieval Europe and the history of urban culture, society, and environment. He is the author of Heresy and Citizenship: Persecution of Heresy in Late Medieval German Cities (Routledge, 2020) and a primary source collection, The Intolerant Middle Ages: A Reader (University of Toronto Press, 2020). His current research explores key uses for the Middle Ages in Imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet Russia, trying to explain why the medieval past – often mythologized – remains influential in animating Russia’s nationalist and imperialist sentiments, including its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. 

We also have a new postdoctoral teaching associate on the faculty, John Finkelberg, who specializes in the history of menswear and modern capitalism in France. Finkelberg received his PhD last year from the University of Michigan. He is the author of “Dressing the Part: King Louis-Philippe I, Tailoring, and Fashioning the July Monarchy,” which was recently published in the journal Dix-Neuf. He has also co-authored “Fashion in the Life of George Sand,” published in Fashion Theory. Finkelberg is currently working on revising his dissertation, “Becoming a Man in the Age of Fashion: Gender and Menswear in Nineteenth-Century France,” for publication as a monograph. 

Once again, faculty published important and pioneering research that will shape their fields moving forward. Faculty also received some major honors and awards. Sue Peabody (Vancouver) won a prestigious and highly competitive National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend. Ryan Booth (Pullman) has been named to Humanities Washington for a three-year team by Governor Jay Inslee. Shawna Herzog (Pullman) won the 2023 Excellence in Online Teaching Award. You can read about all of our faculty’s awards and achievements.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we are going to be working over the summer to turn one of our old conference rooms into a student lounge, where our majors (and their friends from other departments) will be able to meet, study, and hang out.

Last but not least, I want to acknowledge the crucial role played by our donors, alumni, and friends. Your support is critical to the success of our programs. Without it, we would have a harder time supporting and rewarding the fine teaching, learning, and scholarship for which the department is known.  As the 2022-2023 record of achievement indicates, this help is having a positive impact. 

Best regards,

Matthew Avery Sutton
Professor and Chair