Humanities

  • One in a Thousand: One Hundred Years Later

    One hundred years ago, Eddie McKay, the WWI flying ace featured in One in a Thousand, was shot down and killed. To commemorate his life and death, and the publication this year of Eddie's story in an innovative new microhistory, author Graham Broad discusses how he was compelled to research, write, and publish Eddie's story. To learn more about Eddie McKay, you can of course get your hands on a copy of One in a Thousand, but we also urge you to check out Eddie's account on Twitter: @AEMcKayRFC

    I don’t believe in such things, but if I did, I’d say that Eddie McKay was pursuing me.

    About fifteen years ago, when I was a TA in the Canadian history survey at Western, I was asked to give a guest lecture about Canada in the First World War. It was my first lecture and I was quite unsure of myself, but I knew that the lecture would be more meaningful for the students if I told them about someone from their own university who had been killed in the war. The campus had no First World War cenotaph—it’s a long story—but I found Eddie's name in an old book about Western’s history. I looked into his story briefly. He was a rugby player who became a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. Perfect.

    I spent a few hours in the university archives looking for a picture of him to no avail. I left, stretching and yawning, rubbing my eyes, and paused to glance for a moment at a nearby display case. And there was an old and yellowed photo of Eddie McKay, wearing his rugby team uniform, looking straight back at me from the pages of a scrapbook about Western’s sports history. I alerted the archivist. “That’s weird,” she said. “I flipped to that page at random this morning.”

    Odd things like that happened again, over a decade later, when I decided to write a book about Eddie, like the time I took my laptop to the local market for a change of scenery. Sipping coffee and writing, I looked down for a moment at the top of the table. Somebody had etched “Eddie” in it. So that was weird, too.

    Again, I don’t believe in that stuff, but Eddie McKay does haunt me in a way. I can’t really claim to know him. Even if he had survived the war, it’s improbable that I ever could have: he would have turned seventy-eight the year I was born. Would I have liked him, or would he have liked me? He was athletic and a soldier. I am bookish, uninterested in sports, and unmilitary. And it would be incredible if he did not share many of the commonplace sentiments of his own age that rightly find no place in our own. Yet something about him compelled and still compels me inexorably. I’d mention him once a year when I guest lectured, and later in my classes when I started to teach. Then in 2007, I persuaded my senior seminar to do a little class project about him. Together, we gathered material about his life, at least the stuff we could get locally, and placed a commemorative marker for him on campus. I pass it often. My wife, who works at the university, can see it from her office window.

    In 2013, I hashed out an idea with Natalie Fingerhut, the Higher Education History Editor at University of Toronto Press. A biography, of sorts, of Eddie McKay. Could it be done? I dunno, I said. I’m not sure if there’s enough material. What the students and I had gathered in 2007 provided no more than a sketch. Even better, she proposed. It would really be two biographies: the story of Eddie McKay and the story of how I wrote that story—or failed to write it. A pedagogical microhistory.

    So, I committed biography, as they say. Sort of. I was able to locate only about six documents relating specifically to Eddie’s life prior to his twentieth year, for example, so the “biography” was pretty much confined to the last three years of his life when he was a student and soldier. Moreover, the experience of thinking my way through things I had taken for granted, such as how I went about doing history, why I believed the things I discovered about the past were probably true, laid me bare. Oh, back in the day I had taken the obligatory theory and methods courses, and I had wandered the thickets of “theory” over many hours of beer and argument with classmates who were convinced that there was nothing in this world that we could be convinced about. But I had always believed that, for all the interventions of the post-modernists, the core methodology of the historical profession hasn’t changed much over the years. We write about more things and often take a broader perspective, but fundamentally it seems to me that most historians do what historians have been doing for a very long time: they gather evidence to tell stories and make arguments about the past.

    My book, One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps, is the story of a promising young man who was killed in a terrible war. It is also the story about how I struggled to learn what I did about him, how I came to certain conclusions—however tentative—about him, and how I dealt with gaps in the record and the mysteries I couldn’t resolve. Where is he buried? Who was the mystery woman who inquired after him when he failed to return from his final patrol? What was in the envelope, addressed to him, that was never sent by the President of UWO in 1917? The book serves as an entry point, then, for students wanting to learn more about historical theory and method. It’s possible to skip the methodological discussions and read the book as biography alone, but it’s my hope that readers who come for the history will stay for the historiography.

    Eddie McKay was killed in action the day after his 25th birthday, 28 December 1917. For the past two years, I have been tweeting significant events in his life from @AEMcKayRFC. You can follow him there. In a future blog post, I’ll ruminate some about how I learned to stop worrying and love the tweet.

    Graham Broad is Associate Professor of History at King's University College at Western University and the author of A Small Price to Pay: Consumer Culture on the Canadian Home Front, 1939-1945 (2013).

  • A Short History of the Ancient World, Part Two: Igniting Curiosity

    To mark the publication of our new and beautifully illustrated textbook, A Short History of the Ancient World, we are featuring two back-to-back posts by the authors. Today, Heidi E. Kraus discusses the importance of using history, art, and literature together to help inspire students to ask meaningful questions and to pursue answers.

    I recently attended a session at an academic conference dedicated to undergraduate teaching. A question arose related to curiosity: how do liberal arts professors teaching an undergraduate audience inspire curiosity in our students? I have often joked that if I could find the answer to this omnipresent question, I could make a million dollars and retire. How do we reach students in today’s culture—one consumed with the instant gratification that digital technology affords—let alone inspire them? How do we ignite a fire in them to ask questions or to pursue answers to the seemingly unanswerable?

    One could argue that this is not our job as college professors. We deliver the material, we present the facts, and we facilitate the connections that might fan the flames of curiosity. Rather, this argument might go, students need to take the initiative. We cannot be responsible for making our students curious. But, while the student must be in the driver’s seat of their own education, what if we as professors worked to make the material we profess more relatable to our students? What if we were decidedly interdisciplinary and collaborative in our approach to teaching and scholarship, informed by our fields of expertise but not restricted to them? What if we modeled for our students why this material matters?

    A Short History of the Ancient World is a textbook that models this collaborative, interdisciplinary approach. With classicist Nicholas K. Rauh’s uncompromising manuscript as a foundation, I was invited to join the project as an art historian, interjecting over fifty images and art historical analysis wherever appropriate. The text is supplemented by sidebars similar to what you will find in art history textbooks: Art in Focus, Materials and Techniques, and Primary Sources. For example, Chapter 2 provides the reader with a chronological survey of Ancient Egypt from circa 3100 to 1069 BC. Framed within Rauh’s broader discussion of why ancient civilizations rose and fell, this chapter considers the character and conduct of Egyptian art by examining works like the Palette of Narmer and The Book of the Dead of Hunefer. I sought to bring the relevancy of antiquity forward to the Modern period by discussing the impact of Napoleon’s monumental Description de l’Égypte on Western culture and the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone by Champollion in 1822. By highlighting visual culture both in this chapter and throughout the book, we wanted to put forward a more complete version of history, and one that chooses to emphasize the culture and society in the creation of that history.

    While the story of antiquity is often told through the lens of Greece and Rome, A Short History of the Ancient World exposes the student to ancient non-Western civilizations in Africa, China, Iran, and the Indian subcontinent. In addition to the impact of visual culture on these civilizations, literature serves as an important thread throughout the book. Nearly every chapter contains a sidebar dedicated to a primary source. One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 4, which focuses on the Iron Age Ancient Near Eastern civilizations and includes a discussion of Phoenician and Assyrian art, an analysis of the Palace of Darius at Persepolis, as well as an excerpt from an account of the destruction of Persepolis from the ancient historian Diodorus Siculus. The passage is accompanied by Joshua Reynold’s 1781 painting of Thais setting fire to the city, giving a powerful textual and visual connection to an otherwise distant historical event. Using literature, history, and art, the book encourages students to connect to the material via multiple avenues.

    The book begs the question: what can we learn about our own civilization by studying those that came before, how they rose to power, how they functioned, and why they fell? Useful for surveys, upper-level courses, and seminars, the book’s versatility is among its many strengths. A Short History of the Ancient World does not come with a guarantee to spur the curiosity of our undergraduates or to solve the problems of our present, but it does try an exciting new way.

    Heidi E. Kraus is Assistant Professor of Art History and Director of The De Pree Gallery at Hope College.

  • A Short History of the Ancient World, Part One: The Growth and Collapse of Civilizations

    To mark the publication of our new and beautifully illustrated textbook, A Short History of the Ancient World, we will be featuring two back-to-back posts by the authors. Today, Nicholas K. Rauh provides background on his own archaeological research and how it informs the narrative of the book—particularly the book's emphasis on how civilizations rise and fall, and what we can learn from this today.

    For the past 22 years, I have conducted archaeological survey on the south coast of Turkey. Survey is a uniquely non-intrusive field activity that locates and records the remains of past human activity as it survives on the existing landscape. Typically, these remains lay hidden by dense vegetation in remote rural areas. Ruined buildings, scraps of wall, and debris fields strewn with bits of pottery, glass, roof tile, and bone help to confirm the existence of what was formerly an isolated farmstead, a village, or perhaps a small city. An underlying principle of survey archaeology assumes that the current landscape represents a palimpsest of past disturbances, the result of various energies—natural, animal, and human—that worked to transform the landscape over thousands of years. Ruined temples in remote canyons, large fortification walls hidden today by dense forests, and random sherd scatters in the middle of cultivated fields all need to be assessed within the context of a continually changing landscape. Only by analyzing things in context can we hope to determine their appearance, not to mention their purpose in earlier times.

    During the past decade, I have investigated more than a dozen ruined settlements in the remote highlands of south coastal Turkey. The extant remains of cemeteries, houses, baths, temples, inscribed dedications, and fortification walls indicate that Roman-era settlements in these highlands once sustained sizable populations. Today these same highlands support scattered villages of perhaps a few dozen inhabitants. In other words, during Roman times the rural landscape of south coastal Turkey was populated far more densely than it is today. Admittedly, modern urban centers such as Antalya and Alanya on the Turkish coast compensate for this disparity by accommodating far larger populations than anything conceivable in ancient times. Nonetheless, the results of my archaeological survey indicate that Roman-era settlement carpeted the rural landscape far more densely than today, with the inhabitants seemingly leaving no viable resource unexploited. This reminds us that in the space-time continuum, human settlements grew in size and complexity and forested terrain was cleared and converted into well-manicured landscapes. Eventually, these same settlements fell abandoned, and the landscape gradually reverted to some semblance of its natural state. Investigating the remains of 2000-year-old habitats in these remote rural hillsides helps to instill a profound sense of history in what I do.

    Nick Rauh investigating the remains of an Iron Age fortification wall on Dana Island.

    The fact that these abandoned country sides harbor vestiges of past civilizations holds important lessons for our current era of unprecedented population growth. Contemporary pursuit of economic expansion with its inordinate dependence on energy and natural resources calls to mind the inability of past civilizations to transcend unforeseen barriers or thresholds to growth. This theme is precisely what my book with Heidi Kraus, A Short History of the Ancient World, attempts to address. At several points during the ancient experience, societal, and most probably ecological disturbances, interrupted growth by setting in motion sudden epochs of societal collapse and reorganization. Recurring patterns characterized by long fore loops of societal expansion and conservation followed by sudden back loops of release and reorganization appear to have transpired during the Bronze Age and again at the end of the Roman era. These patterns suggest that from a material standpoint societal trajectories of expansion and collapse are largely unavoidable. During antiquity the duration of growth fore loops was sometimes prolonged through active lines of communication between neighboring civilizations (something referred to as interconnectivity). While interconnectivity conceivably extended growth and prosperity in participating societies, it ultimately synchronized their trajectories and rendered the inevitable back loop of collapse and reorganization all the more chaotic. While interesting in and of itself, this recurring pattern of expansion and collapse among macroregionally connected civilizations furnishes a useful bell weather for contemporary global concerns.

    A Roman-era rock-cut tomb at Direvli.

    In A Short History of the Ancient World, Heidi Kraus and I lean heavily on evidence for the inherent systems and structures used to forge ancient civilizations. We enumerate the cultural attributes of each ancient civilization according to an established set of criteria. We carefully describe the resource potential of each society’s ecological niche. We explore the ideological mainsprings employed by ancient hierarchies to justify their religious and political ascendancy. We evaluate the success with which these hierarchies utilized the fine arts to express their ascendant ideologies. Most importantly, we calibrate the growth fore loop of emergent civilizations by employing constructs of state formation, world systems, and resilience theory. As coeval civilizations achieved the conservation phase of growth fore loops, we explore the admittedly limited evidence for interconnectivity on a macroregional scale. We argue that, while initially conducive to prolonging growth, ancient globalization inevitably synchronized the back loops of interconnected civilizations during the collapse phase of the cycle. Last, we take care to observe how the influx of new peoples, cultural influences, and technologies insured that the processes of renewal would occur under modified conditions of scale and complexity.

    Much of what is stated in A Short History of the Ancient World is theoretical and open to debate. We readily concede that our interpretation of the ancient experience represents one of several ways of looking at the past. Our purpose in doing so has been to recount the history of theancient world in a manner that is as meaningful as it is relevant, as approachable as it is compelling.

    Nicholas K. Rauh is Professor of Classics at Purdue University and an award-winning teacher. He is the author of The Sacred Bonds of Commerce: Religion, Economy, and Trade Society at Hellenistic Roman Delos (1993) and Merchants, Sailors, and Pirates in the Roman World (2003).

  • Selling the Books that Matter: Experiences of a Higher Ed Sales Rep

    In our third blog post for University Press Week (running November 6-11), our Higher Education sales representative, Mike Byer, shares his experiences from the road. In particular, he explores the impact that selling books with powerful messages can have both on their intended audiences but also on those charged with the task of bringing them to a wider public. This year's theme for UP Week is #LookItUP: Knowledge Matters.

    I’ve been a book rep for University of Toronto Press since August of 2012. In the past five years we’ve published so many great books, but my favourite book is still from the fall of 2012. Feminisms Matter: Debates, Theories, Activism was the first book that I had a lot of success selling, and anyone who’s worked in sales will understand why that makes me think fondly of it. But there’s also more to it than that. This book was fundamental to helping me understand the role of gender in society; it helped change how I see myself and my relationships.

    My initial success with Feminisms Matter was mostly due to the fact that it’s a great book with a unique approach. It’s a textbook with a bit of an attitude. In this case, you can judge the book by the cover. However, as I continued to make my sales pitch on campuses across North America, I began to notice that the arguments made in the book were starting to come out of my mouth in non-work situations. It was never an intentional decision, but I began to use my own experience in my sales pitch. It just made sense to me that if this book could have this kind of effect on a 30-year-old male, then it would certainly make an impact on 18-year-olds who were still trying to figure out a lot of these questions.

    Since 2012, I’ve had countless conversations about textbooks and their value in a classroom. Recently, I’ve noticed that the questions I hear from instructors have begun to change. There are still the usual concerns about cost and student engagement, but more and more I’m hearing anxiety about inclusion and student safety in the classroom. Instructors are asking how our books can teach about diversity, tolerance, and global citizenship. They are looking for books that are more than baskets of facts and charts. They are looking for books like Feminisms Matter.

    One example of this occurred earlier this year: It’s January 2017, and the weather in the Pacific Northwest is much more comfortable than at my home near Toronto. I have a bounce in my step as I walk to my rental car because this is the first time I’ve visited this school. Days like today feel like they are full of opportunity. At familiar schools, I’ve met with most professors several times. I know who is friendly and who isn’t interested. A new campus means all new faces and new conversations. Perhaps the previous book rep has been told a half dozen times that someone is happy with their books and stopped trying. I don’t know anything about that, so I knock on every open door.

    I follow the map to the Anthropology Department. We publish a lot of anthropology books, so I can have productive conversations with most anthropologists. When I see an open door, I check the nameplate, cross-check with my course and faculty lists, knock, and introduce myself: “Hi, my name’s Mike Byer. I’m a book rep from University of Toronto Press. Do you have a few minutes to chat about books?”

    I’m invited to sit down, and based on my course and faculty info, I start talking about our new intro to cultural anthropology text. This part of the meeting is a success. They’re interested in the new text, and I agree to send them a complimentary copy to review. As sometimes happens in these meetings, the conversation moves past the immediate sales pitch to other topics. In this case, we can’t avoid discussing the elephant in the room—the quickly approaching inauguration of Donald Trump.

    This professor is feeling a lot of anxiety about the new president and the impact his rhetoric during the campaign is having on the United States. Specifically, she is worried about the minority students on campus. This campus has a diverse student body, but it is located in smaller community that is not as diverse. She knows that some of her students are undocumented immigrants, and she sees students wearing visible symbols of their (non-Christian) religion, including hijabs and turbans. She asks for my perspective as a Canadian, and I explain that Trump’s rhetoric is also having an impact in Canada—hate crimes are getting more media attention, and Trump-like ideas are being promoted by candidates for the Conservative Party leadership. Canadian and American university campuses have many of the same controversies about free speech, safe spaces and inclusive language, and academic freedom.

    Eventually, we circle back around to textbooks and the challenge of teaching a diverse audience in a time when ideas of inclusion, tolerance, and citizenship are being contested. Of course, I jump at the chance to talk about Feminisms Matter and my own experience of having my eyes widened. It’s not an anthropology text, but it’s a great example of the power of a good book. This specific book spoke to me, but any of our books could have a similar effect on someone else.

    In the North American higher education market, UTP is a small fish. We publish great books, but sometimes people don’t hear about them. It’s my job to make sure as many people as possible have a chance to consider using them in their courses. Like any job, this can get tiring and repetitive. We’ve all had feelings of banging our head against a rock that won’t budge. On the days that campus is dreary and quiet, and I’d rather be anywhere else, I try to focus on Feminisms Matter. Not just because of the success I’ve had, but because I know that the books I’m selling can make a difference. That’s what keeps me knocking on the next open door…

    Mike Byer
    Publisher's Representative

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    This post is part of the University Press Week Blog Tour. Please visit our colleagues' blogs:

    University of Minnesota Press: Interviews with a few of their favorite booksellers.

    University of Hawai’i Press: A round-up of interesting, peer-reviewed facts published by their journals.

    Columbia University Press: A post by Conor Broughan, Northeast Sales Representative for the Columbia University Press Sales Consortium, discussing making sales calls during the 2016 presidential campaign.

    University Press of Kentucky: A guest post by UK Libraries exploring the societal benefits in university presses continuing to publish and readers continuing to have access to well-researched, low-controversy, long-form published content in an age of distraction, manufactured outrage, and hyper partisanship.

  • The Power of History to Galvanize and Energize

    In honour of University Press Week (November 6-11), our history editor, Natalie Fingerhut, reflects on how she sees scholarship making a difference in her everyday world, both on and off the page, and in her day-to-day job as an editor of higher education materials for students. This year's theme for UP Week is #LookItUP: Knowledge Matters

    In my day job, I spend a lot of quality time in the fifth and fifteenth centuries, acquiring books that teach students about the Middle Ages. After hours, my personal reading is focused on the twentieth century and specifically on the territory that Yale historian Timothy Snyder refers to as the “Bloodlands”: the area of Europe that ping-ponged between Hitler and Stalin and where millions of men, women, and children, including Jews, Poles, and Russians, were massacred by bullets, starvation, disease, and gas. In Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, Snyder references the work of Jewish journalist and fiction writer Vasily Grossman, who in 1944 visited the remains of one of the death camps located in the Bloodlands, Treblinka, and wrote a searing account entitled “The Hell of Treblinka.” In a particularly graphic passage, Grossman describes final moments in the gas chambers:

    The door of the concrete chamber slammed shut […] Can we find within us the strength to imagine what the people in these chambers felt, what they experienced during their last minutes of life? All we know is that they cannot speak now… Covered by a last clammy mortal sweat, packed so tight that their bones cracked and their crushed rib cages were barely able to breathe, they stood pressed against one another; they stood as if they were a single human being. Someone, perhaps some wise old man, makes the effort to say, “Patience now—this is the end.” Someone shouts out some terrible curse. A holy curse—surely this curse must be fulfilled? With a superhuman effort a mother tries to make a little more space for her child: may her child’s dying breaths be eased, however infinitesimally, by a last act of maternal care. A young woman, her tongue going numb, asks, “Why am I being suffocated? Why can’t I love and have children?” Heads spin. Throats choke. What are the pictures now passing before people’s glassy dying eyes? Pictures of childhood? Of the happy days of peace? Of the last terrible journey? Of the mocking face of the SS man in that first square by the station: “Ah, so that’s why he was laughing…” Consciousness dims. It is the moment of the last agony… No, what happened in that chamber cannot be imagined. The dead bodies stand there, gradually turning cold.

    Around the same time I first read this essay, private sponsorship of Syrian refugees began in earnest in Toronto. Under the influence of Grossman and the horrors he had witnessed, I volunteered to do communications work for my synagogue’s refugee efforts and I am pleased to report that we managed to bring in a set of grandparents, parents, and a little boy. Five people saved from another inferno.

    This is the power of history to galvanize and energize. And while I realize that there are educators who stamp “Trigger Warning” on material such as Grossman, doing so suppresses the energy that causes those readers impacted by such horror to act.

    As a history editor at a university press, I am constantly privileged to speak with professors who are galvanized and energized to bring out the best instincts in their students—more so now than when I started a dozen years ago. I have medievalists who are trying to tell another and more complicated story of pre-modern relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims: a story that looks at cooperation rather than just conflict. They hope, I think, that if their students see that interfaith relations are more complex, that understanding will trickle into their consciousness when they look at the Middle East today and maybe, just maybe, they will spend their careers trying to repair that troubled region.

    I have authors who spend their time curating powerful primary sources related to trials in order to teach students about justice and agency and gender and superstition. They believe that the trial of a sixteenth-century literate woman who was put to death for being a witch has lessons to teach budding lawyers, judges, and leaders of women’s groups.

    In the last year, I have received brilliant proposals for projects that teach Canadian undergraduates our sordid history of Indigenous relations by emphasizing the invaluable skill of “reading against the grain.” What isn’t being said? By asking questions to reveal silences, lies, and contradictions, students learn to empathize with the silenced and hopefully take that empathy into their futures as activists.

    There has been a dramatic change in the proposals I have received in the last two years especially. I used to receive proposals for books that covered dates and personalities and events. Now, the proposals contain sections such as “Historical Skills for Students.” This is not a coincidence. We seem to be moving forward into the backwardness of the century we have just left. My authors feel compelled to do their part to put on the brakes. To ask their students to read and read carefully. To think carefully. To remember that the past is a teacher, and then ideally, to have this generation armed with the skills of the historian to act positively on the future’s behalf.

    Natalie Fingerhut
    History Editor, Higher Education

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    This post is part of the University Press Week Blog Tour. Please visit our colleagues' blogs:

    WLU Press: A post from Indigenous scholar and fiction writer Daniel Heath Justice on the importance of Indigenous literatures and scholarship.

    Temple University Press: A post about books and authors that focus on racism and whiteness.

    University Press of Colorado: A feature on the press's Post-Truth-focused titles.

    Princeton University Press: Al Bertrand on the importance of non-partisan peer reviewed social science in today's climate.

    Cambridge University Press: A post about Marie Curie and her struggle for recognition within a French scientific community dominated by male scientists.

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