Letter from the Chair

Chair, Matthew Sutton

Dear Alumni & Friends of History at WSU:

Like all of you, we in the Department of History have had an interesting year—to say the least. A few days before spring break, WSU faculty and students learned that all face-to-face instruction would be shutting down for what turned out to be the rest of the semester. Faculty and students all then learned together how to take advantage of new technologies and transitioned quickly to new modes of teaching and learning. Archives around the world also shut down, and faculty and students have been forced to restructure their research. Despite the many challenges, the semester was a success. While we all missed our in-person discussions and debates about how history informs the present, we learned there are many ways for us all to explore the past together.

Our students continue to achieve great things. Ryan Booth published “Fort Keogh’s Commissary: A Global Market on the Great Plains from 1876 to 1900” in Montana: The Magazine of Western History; Randy Powell published “Social Welfare at the End of the World: How the Mormons Created an Alternative to the New Deal and Helped Build Modern Conservatism” in the Journal of Policy History; and Brian Stack published “From Sodomists to Citizens: Same Sex Sexuality and the Progressive Era Washington State Reformatory” in the Journal of Sexuality. Our graduate student alumni have also been very active. Mandy Link (PhD, 2015) published Remembrance of the Great War in the Irish Free State, 1914–1937 (Palgrave Macmillan), and Jennifer Binczewski (PhD, 2017) published the article, “Power in Vulnerability: Widows and priest holes in the early modern English Catholic community” in the journal British Catholic History.

The department has gone through numerous changes recently. At the end of the year, Steve Hoch, who has taught for a decade on our Tri-Cities campus, and Roger Chan, who has taught in Pullman since 1994, retired. Both will be missed. Some of our postdocs are also moving on to new jobs: Ben Nobbs-Thiessen is headed to the University of Winnipeg; Sarah Walsh will be joining the faculty at the University of Melbourne; Michelle Mann will be doing curriculum development for humanities education; and Jennifer Schaefer will be joining the faculty at Carleton College.

At the same time, we are pleased to welcome JoAnn LoSavio to our department as a scholarly assistant professor. She will teach on the WSU Vancouver campus. She received her PhD from Northern Illinois University in 2020. Her book manuscript is titled Modern Mandala: A Transnational History of Southeast Asian Youth from Burma, Malaya and Thailand in Great Britain and the United States, 1950-1970. LoSavio has taught courses in Asia and world history courses at Northern Illinois University. We also welcome Leone Musgrave to WSU Pullman as a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the Roots of Contemporary Issues (RCI) program. She received her doctoral degree from Indiana University in 2017. Her dissertation manuscript is titled Social Democracies, Mountain Republics, and Shifting Jama’at: New Caucasus Solidarities and the Age of Eurasian Revolution. Musgrave has taught courses in European and world history at Indiana University.

Our hardworking faculty also continue to rack up honors and awards. Ashley Wright won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Sue Peabody was selected as a fellow to the Camargo Foundation residential program in Cassis, France, where she worked on a new book. Andra Chastain won the WSU Students’ Award for Teaching Excellence on the WSU Vancouver campus. Clif Stratton won the College of Arts and Sciences’ Mid-Career Achievement Award, and I won the College’s Distinguished Faculty Award as well as the WSU Office of Research Award for Creative Activity, Research, and Scholarship. Four members of History faculty won research grants from WSU’s Center for the Arts and Humanities: Andra Chastain, Linda Heidenreich, Ray Sun, and Jennifer Thigpen.

Once again, faculty published important and path-breaking books that will shape the field moving forward. Nik Overtoom published Reign of Arrows: The Rise of the Parthian Empire in the Hellenistic Middle East (Oxford University Press); Andra Chastain co-edited Itineraries of Expertise: Science, Technology, and the Environment in Latin America (University of Pittsburgh Press); Sue Peabody’s Madeleine’s Children: Family, Freedom, Secrets and Lies in France’s Indian Ocean Colonies (Oxford University Press) has just been published as Les enfants de Madeleine: Famille, liberté, secrets et mensonges dans les colonies françaises de l’océan indien; and I published Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During the Second World War (Basic Books).

As this newsletter is being completed, we have all been wrestling with ongoing racism and violence in this country. WSU President Kirk Schulz has noted: “We are still so far from achieving the aspirations of racial and social justice. How do we acknowledge the atrocity and pain of past and recent tragedies? How, especially, do we acknowledge and respond to the ongoing racism suffered by African American students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members when they aren’t treated with the humanity and dignity they deserve? . . . Black lives matter. Racial violence impacts our WSU family. As an intellectual community committed to learning and seeking truth, we must reflect on our own failures—individually and collectively. . . . Change starts with each of us, and we must hold ourselves and each other accountable. We must consider our own roles in maintaining systemic racism and accepting racial violence, even when it makes us uncomfortable. When our actions are informed by the truth of others, we can move forward, together, courageously and realize the aspirations of racial and social justice. Only then can we begin to create an authentic space from which to proceed.” The history faculty are committed to answering President Schulz’s call. We aim to use our research and teaching to help make positive change as we struggle against the persistent problems of racism and violence on the WSU campus, in the United States, and around the world.

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 many programs, scholarships, and experiential-learning opportunities for students. Your gifts make it possible to reward the fine teaching, learning, and scholarly work for which the History department is known. As the 2019–2020 record of achievement indicates, your help is making a positive impact today and for the future.

We hope you enjoy the rest of this newsletter with our sincerest best wishes.

Matthew Sutton