Tag Archives: Natalie Fingerhut

  • March Round-Up

    Highlights from the month of March.



    • Mark Thompson, acquisitions editor, represented the press at the annual meeting of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies.
    • Natalie Fingerhut (acquisitions editor) and Suzanne Rancourt (executive editor) attended the annual conference of the Renaissance Society of America in New Orleans, LA.

    Media Highlights:

    New Releases:

  • 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

    *  *  *

    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.

  • Shared Values: A Partnership between UTP and the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre

    upweek2016_LogoSmallToday marks the start of University Press Week. The goal this week is to highlight the extraordinary work of nonprofit scholarly publishers and their many contributions to culture, the academy, and an informed society. In 2016, our theme is "Celebrate Community," which is meant to include a range from academic or campus communities, to communities of readers across North America, to the very geographically-based communities in which we are based. To kick off the discussion as part of the UP Week Blog Tour, our history editor, Natalie Fingerhut, offers the following thoughts on how the Higher Education Division of University of Toronto Press has found a role for its authors in a like-minded community of seniors in downtown Toronto who are eager to learn more about why history matters.

    Besides being the acquisitions editor in the Higher Education Division of University of Toronto Press, I also sit on the Board of Directors at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (MNJcc) in downtown Toronto.

    Several years ago, I helped conduct a needs assessment of the MNJcc’s “Active 55 Plus” demographic. I asked them: “What kind of programming do you want the Jcc to provide to you?” These are the answers I received:

    “We want stimulating lectures!”

    “We want history and politics and current events and book clubs!”

    “We want to learn. Just because we are in our 70s doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything new!”

    “Our bodies may hurt, but our minds are intact!”

    “We are lonely. We want to be with people learning!”

    I kept their voices in my head.

    In the fall of 2015, I collaborated with Lisa Roy, the dynamic programmer for our Active 55 Plus group, to launch a new series called “Why History Matters Today.” The series features authors I have published through University of Toronto Press. They come to the Jcc and lecture on historical events that remain relevant today.

    HistoryMatters_flyer_v3_Oct26Our first lecture in fall 2015 attracted about 80 people. It featured Steven Bednarski, a professor of medieval history at the University of Waterloo, who spoke about the relationship between climate change, the plague, and medieval anti-semitism. Next was award-winning Renaissance lecturer Kenneth R. Bartlett from the University of Toronto who spoke on Andrea Palladio and Palladianism, demonstrating to listeners Palladio’s influence on Venetian villas as well as on Toronto condos. The final lecture of fall 2015 was a Canadian Jewish historian, Professor Franklin Bialystok from the University of Toronto, who spoke about the history of the Jews of Canada.

    At all lectures, the audiences were alive with questions and curiosity. The “Question and Answer” periods went into overtime. Project evaluations were all 10 out of 10.

    The following spring, we had Trent University’s Dimitry Anastakis, who energetically dispelled the common perception that Canadian history is boring. Professor Harold Troper from the University of Toronto shared his vast knowledge of a shameful event in Canadian history, the participation of Canadian athletes in the Munich Olympic Games.

    This past September, we welcomed back Kenneth R. Bartlett and Franklin Bialystok and asked them to focus on the theme of historical demise. Kenneth spoke about the demise of Renaissance Florence at the hands of a fiery populist preacher, Savonarola, and warned the audience that we were facing another fiery populist south of the border. Frank took on the contentious and emotional issue of the demise of one of Canada’s major Jewish organizations, the Canadian Jewish Congress.

    After every lecture, people came up to thank me for helping to put this series together.

    “Well,” I said. “I think history is important. It is a good teacher for anyone at any age.”

    This belief in the value of history as a teacher is both my motivation for being a history editor and for engaging the Active 55 Plus group at the Jcc. As Steven Bednarski said in his inaugural lecture, it’s not that historians believe that if we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it. It’s more that history can help us predict outcomes: climate change leads to disease which results in scapegoating, and often scapegoating minorities.

    History is also a warning bell. Kenneth R. Bartlett, in his lecture on Savonarola, outlined a list of factors that contributed to the rise of a religious populist—some of which contributed to Trump’s recent victory. History can also dispel popularly held beliefs about the past. Franklin Bialystok, for example, implored the largely Jewish audience to know their stories better to understand that Canadian Jewish history is not simply about anti-semitism, but rather a proud history of contribution and accomplishment.

    I believe that knowing one’s past makes us more caring, more curious, and more critical citizens of today. And no one is too old to be caring, curious, or critical!

    The “Why History Matters Today” series at the MNJcc is an example of two organizations sharing the same values and then working together to put those values into action. The Higher Education Division at University of Toronto Press believes in sharing knowledge by publishing accessible books for generations of students. The MNJcc believes in providing accessible programming for older generations. Together, these two communities have joined forces to provide accessible programming devoted to the sharing of knowledge.

    Natalie Fingerhut
    History Editor, Higher Education Division

    For more great content during University Press Week, follow the hashtag #UPWeek on Twitter. And don't forget to check out other stops on today's UP Blog Tour, including Fordham University Press, Seminary Co-op Bookstores, Athabasca University Press, and the University Press of Florida

  • Why History Matters Today

    In the past few years, I have become fairly passionate on the topic of whether history matters today. Of course, my job reinforces that point daily, but I find that the constant knee-jerk reactions to events on social media, the immediate rush to panic about anything that happens in the Middle East, and the inability to celebrate when positive change occurs (because we either don’t know or don’t care about what a situation looked like previously) have made me even more committed to publishing accessible history for today's students.

    But not just to students. Recently, at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto, three of my authors participated in a new series called Why History Matters Today. This series, a partnership between the JCC and the Higher Education Division of University of Toronto Press, offers stimulating lectures on fascinating historical issues to the Active 55 Plus demographic. Steven Bednarski, author of A Poisoned Past: The Life and Times of Margarida de Portu, A Fourteenth-Century Accused Poisoner, talked to the audience about the relationship between changes in the environment and pogroms against Jews during the Middle Ages. Franklin Bialystok, who is in the process of writing a history of Canadian Jewry, introduced a series of key Canadian Jewish personalities and explained how each settled and adapted in their own diverse way to Canadian society. Kenneth Bartlett, author of several Renaissance books on my list, spoke about Palladianism and its impact on today’s world. The audience, mostly people over fifty, hung on their every word.

    Each author began his talk by considering “Why History Matters Today.” For Steven Bednarski, history shows us that we haven’t changed much over the centuries. Sometimes we are good to each other and sometimes we are not. Personally, I find that comforting. I believe that knowing history stops the knee-jerk overreaction because you can look to the past and say: “I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen Sunni/Shiite conflict, I’ve seen Donald Trump before. I’ve seen millions of refugees fleeing in unseaworthy vessels before.” Knowing that we have been here before should calm you down and then you can begin to ask the important questions: What did the world learn from that experience? What can I learn from it now?

    History as a calming influence was reinforced by Franklin Bialystok who chided those who angrily opposed the recent Iranian arms deal and who offered up the comparison to 1938 when England and France appeased Hitler by allowing Germany to seize the Sudetenland. As a teacher of the Holocaust, Bialystok could rely on his knowledge of European history to remind his audience that today’s Iranian leaders are not yesterday’s Nazis and that twenty-first-century Israel is not twentieth-century Czechoslovakia. History, then, prevents one from making weak comparisons and the resultant hysteria.

    For Kenneth Bartlett, the continued existence of buildings constructed according to the principles of Palladianism shows that we remain connected to our past, and so knowing something about that past enriches our present not just in the areas of current events but in art and architecture as well.

    Who Is the Historian?Given my preoccupation with the importance of studying history, I was thrilled when Nigel A. Raab from Loyola Marymount University sent me his manuscript entitled Who Is the Historian? which we recently published. This essay-length book had its debut at the recent American Historical Association meeting in Atlanta. In his book, Raab provides a thoughtful response to the question often expressed by students: “How is taking a history course going to help me after I graduate?” Raab explains what historians do, the skills that history courses impart, examples of people who use their historical education in other environments, and demonstrates how history enriches our present experience. Given the book's success at the AHA, it has clearly struck a chord with history professors.

    History matters very much today. As individuals, we are aware of our upbringing, our genetics, our childhoods. Our past informs our present. Why would we ignore our society’s history, our country’s history, or our community’s history? Their pasts inform their present too.

    For 2016, we should commit to reading more history books. If we have extra time, we should take a history course or attend a lecture at a community centre. History is a teacher, albeit an imperfect one. We should listen to it more often.

    -Natalie Fingerhut, History Editor

  • From Management Consulting to Medieval History: How I Became a History Editor at University of Toronto Press

    By Natalie Fingerhut

    I didn't see this career coming. It wasn't on my radar after completing my MA in History at the University of Toronto. It wasn't on my radar after I left the PhD program in Genocide Studies at Concordia University either. From there, I took all of my sharply-honed reading and writing skills and set off on a totally different career path. First, I became what was then called a Technical Writer. I wrote computer manuals to help people use complicated software programs. My background in communicating complicated events in Cambodian history to a less-knowledgeable audience was surprisingly helpful. From there, I moved into the area of Business Analysis where the interviewing skills I had learned during my MA evaluating settlement programs for newcomers to Toronto came in handy. Business analysts interview people on what they need to do their job and then communicate those needs to computer programmers who try to create useful tools to help these people. (It’s not so different from what I do now as an editor in Higher Education where I ask people what they need for their courses and then work with others to deliver useful materials.) From Business Analysis, I moved into Management Consulting where I helped senior-level professionals strategize on how to improve their hospitals, government ministries, and insurance companies. Here, I used my toolkit of reading, writing, and analysis: skills that I had learned through studying history. In this position, I improved my people skills, taught others how to give effective presentations, and learned how to project manage—all of which are necessary in my current position.

    But something was missing. I felt like I wasn’t contributing. I wasn’t making the world a better place. Jews have a phrase for this: Tikkun Olam—the improvement of our world. As a Jewish child, the obligation of Tikkun Olam was central to my religious education. And here I was in my mid-30s not fulfilling my mandate.

    After I had my first child, I decided that I needed to revisit that mandate. I went to a career counsellor who assessed my skills. I had originally considered teaching, public relations for not-for-profits, or human rights law. After three sessions, the counsellor wrote in big red letters on my file: Editor!

    I went back to school to take courses in publishing. Not since graduate school had I been so focused and so engaged. I was privileged to be offered an internship at Random House Canada where I learned the ropes. I enjoyed trade publishing and became known as the intern who would read all the non-fiction manuscripts. Soon after, a dream job appeared: History Editor at Broadview Press, which later became the Higher Education Division at University of Toronto Press. The rest, as they say, is history. My job is the perfect marriage of my history background, my business skills, and my fulfillment of Tikkun Olam.

    History BooksMy first ever author meeting was with the late Jill N. Claster at NYU. We were discussing her upcoming book with us: Sacred Violence: The European Crusades to the Middle East, 1095-1396. Jill impressed upon me my obligation to create materials that help undergraduates understand the past to create a better present. History is a teacher, she told me. And like all teachers, it isn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean you don’t listen to it. Those words from a decade ago are a daily reminder to me of my obligation as a history editor.

    Our recently published political history, The Assassination of Europe, 1918-1942 by Howard M. Sachar, shows students how the voice of extremism can silence those of moderation. Our upcoming reader, Muslim and Christian Contact in the Middle Ages edited by Jarbel Rodriguez, illustrates a history of conflict but also—and this may surprise students—a history of co-existence. I recently received a timely proposal for a microhistory about a businessman caught in the crosshairs of religious violence in France. Not last week, but in the sixteenth century. We need to read these books, learn the lessons that are contained in their pages, and communicate them to future generations. As educators, this is not just our job, but our responsibility.

    Every morning, I look up at all the books I have published over the years (Jill Claster’s book sits front and centre) and I think about their dedicated authors, who are a constant source of inspiration. I also think about my colleagues, whose dedication, competence, and mutual love for our books transform “work” into “pleasure” and allow a moment of gratitude to pass before I open my inbox.

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