Message from the Chair

Matthew Avery Sutton
Matthew Avery Sutton

The Department of History had a great 2023–2024 school year, thanks to our wonderful students and faculty. Once again, 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 71 undergraduates earn their bachelor’s degree in history, and we inducted 6 students into Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honors society. Additionally, four students earned master’s degrees in history. The student-led History Club provided many opportunities for students of all interests and majors to come together for movie nights, trivia contests, and discussions with faculty on current events. This year the club also hosted two visiting scholars for research talks and discussions, Joseph Lenti from Eastern Washington University and Dale Graden from the University of Idaho.

A highlight of the year was a fieldtrip for students in Professor Ryan Booth’s History 285: US-Indian Wars course. The trip was funded through the generosity of our donors. Our undergrads came back ready to take another history trip! You can read more about it at the Spokesman-Review.

The department is overseeing multiple ongoing projects to engage with the public and demonstrate the relevance of history to real-world issues.

Professor Jeffrey Sanders ran the College of Arts & Sciences’ Seattle Experience once again this year. The cohort of twelve students from across five campuses kicked off their spring break in the Emerald City, where they spent five days exploring Seattle and receiving real-world insights from field research and connecting with industry, government, and non-profit organizations. This year’s Seattle Experience focused on the theme of resilience, and students engaged with organizations to learn about how they define resilience in practice. Additionally, students considered how individual fields of study within the College of Arts & Sciences helped contribute to achieving a more resilient society. 

Professors Jesse Spohnholz and Brenna Miller won a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The two-year grant, “Writing History Curriculum for the 21st Century,” supports efforts by WSU history faculty to turn existing or new lessons for History 105 courses into two-week teaching modules for History for the 21st Century, a project led by Spohnholz and Miller. The project operates in coordination with the World History Association to produce student-centered, inquiry driven, active learning teaching materials for introductory world history courses by commissioning expert authors, interviewing non-expert faculty instructors, and surveying students based on their learning experiences. All History for the 21st Century materials are free for faculty and students through the project website. 

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. The latest focus of the project is on the racial histories of East Pasco and connections to the Manhattan Project, the civil rights movement, and Latinx migration. WSU students are working on several projects for this initiative (2023–2026). They are writing short essays illuminating this era and region that draw on primary sources housed at WSU, constructing a digital walking tour of East Pasco, and a digital story map, all to be featured by the NPS on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park app and website (available on iOS and Google app stores). In addition, several Hanford History Project interns are assisting in the move and inventory of the Hanford History Project collections to a new repository, the White Bluffs Storage and Archives Facility (WBSAF) at 3251 Port of Benton Blvd. in Richland, WA. In the summer of 2024, student interns will also be assisting in archival processing and digitization as well as providing research and assistance to a new NPS Podcast project (2024–2026) focusing on Tribal and community stakeholder stories. Digital collections are on the Hanford History Project website.

The history department sponsors a major research project, now in its seventh year, led by Professor Ray Sun and a team of students. This year’s project is called “Fallen Cougs,” and involves the group diving into the archives, pouring 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 on the WSU-WSC WWII Commemoration Project website.

This year we hired Professor Sabrina González, a historian of modern Latin America with a focus on twentieth century Argentina. She teaches at the Tri-Cities campus. Her first book manuscript Schools as Laboratories: Science, Children’s Bodies, and School Reformers in the Making of Modern Argentina (18801930) examines the history of nation-making in Argentina from the perspective of women schoolteachers. González is particularly interested in how women used education as a tool for children and women’s emancipation that challenged state-sponsored education and built a transnational school reform movement. González’s second book project will explore feminist organizing in South America in the first half of the twentieth century. 

Before coming to the United States to pursue her PhD, González worked in the human rights organization Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo, taught at multiple universities in Buenos Aires, and volunteered for Bachilleratos de Educación Popular (secondary education alternative schools to the state for working class adults). 

We also hired a new postdoctoral teaching associate, Professor Jodie Marshall. She specializes in the history of migration and women’s social labor within the transnational community of Omani-Zanzibaris in the Western Indian Ocean. She is the author of “‘Mama didn’t go’: Social networks of Post-Revolution Zanzibar-Oman Migration, 1964–1985,” forthcoming in the Journal of Eastern African Studies. Currently, Marshall is in the process of revising her dissertation, “(Im)mobility in a Sea of Migration: biographical histories of transnational families in Zanzibar and Oman, ca 1850–2019,” to prepare it for publication as a monograph.

Once again, faculty published important and pioneering research that will shape their fields moving forward. You can read more about our publications, including books on Latinx history writing, the use of medieval history for modern propaganda, Reformation era-Dutch refugees, and religious law in early America. Faculty also received some major honors and awards. You can read about all of our faculty’s awards and achievements.

Faculty continue to speak to the public about the ways in which history can help us understand the present. Andra Chastain was interviewed about the recent Argentine elections for El Regionalista, an online news site based in Chile. Lawrence Hatter continues to publish a regular column in the Inlander. Ryan Booth appeared in the PBS documentary What’s Driving Greater Idaho? Matthew Sutton commented on religion in the Middle East conflict and the Trump religious “revival,” both in the Nation.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we completed renovations on one of our old conference rooms, transforming it into a meeting space and student lounge, where our history students (and their friends from other departments) meet, study, and hang out. We filled it with old photographs highlighting WSU student activism as well as reprints from counter-culture era student underground newspapers. If you’re interested in supporting similar projects, learn more about the Department of History Excellence Fund.

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 2023–2024 record of achievement indicates, this help is having a positive impact. 

Interior of the newly renovated student lounge.
Newly renovated student lounge
Interior of the newly renovated student lounge.