Archive for the ‘Departmental History at UND’ Category

Horace B. Woodworth at the Northern Great Plains History Conference

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Horace B. Woodworth will make an appearance at tomorrow’s Northern Great Plains History Conference in a panel called History of and History at the University of North Dakota.  He’ll be joined by Orin G. Libby (via Gordon Iseminger) and a historical cast from the Department of Social Work (via Bret Weber).  They’ll all gather at the Ramada here in Grand Forks at 9 am tomorrow (Thursday, October 14, 2010).

Bret’s paper and mine come from our efforts to document the history of the University for the 125th-aversary last year. Gordon Iseminger’s paper will come from his book project on the life and times of Orin G. Libby.

It’s nice to have papers representing the history of the University because the Northern Great Plains conference was founded by members of the Department at UND.  Here’s the text from my history of the department (it doesn’t add much):

There are several other development of note during the 1960s that demonstrate the position of the department both at the university and in the greater intellectual community. First, in 1966 the Department developed the Northern Great Plains History Conference. This conference, initially a cooperative venture with the University of Manitoba, sought to provide a venue for scholars based in the Northern Plains to present their work as it was often prohibitively expensive to attend national meetings. The initial conference in 1966 was held in the Memorial Union and attracted over 150 scholars. In subsequent years attendance grew further. While many of the papers focused on the history of the Northern Plains, it included panels on other topics as well. This conference also improved the department’s visibility in a regional context as the conference frequently attracted scholars from more prominent universities like Wisconsin and Minnesota. Over the next decade, the responsibilities for the conference were shared between the faculty of the department and other schools in the area. The conference continues to be a viable academic conference to this day.

And here’s my paper:

Caraher History Before Libby

Here’s a link (.pdf) to the full program of the conference.

Working on a New Departmental Website

October 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the last 6 months, the University of North Dakota has been working to release an updated and upgraded website.  As part of this process, every department has been asked to reconsider its web site.  The Department of History’s website is, frankly, horrible, but, at the same time, it is clear that the website functioned successfully as the main point of contact for prospective graduate students. In some sense, the site is horribly broken, but it still gets the job done.

The challenge now is to re-design the content and the organization of the department’s website without undermining its basic functionality.

First, we’ve been experimenting with some new text for the home page.  This is where we are at present (nothing is finer than a text created by a committee!):

From the earliest days of the University of North Dakota, history faculty have played an important part in preparing students to be engaged citizens of their communities, the state, and the world.  Today the department remains committed to teaching the past and developing in our students the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills necessary to take their place in an increasingly global world. Each faculty member is an active researcher in their respective fields, and brings fresh perspectives on different cultures and ideas into the classes they teach.

The department offers the B.A., M.A., Ph.D. as well as a D.A. program.  These programs are supported by a diverse faculty whose active research interests span every period in American history as well as in West Africa, the Atlantic world, Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern European history.  Faculty approach these periods with from diverse perspectives ranging from biography to the study of military, diplomatic, social and intellectual history and an emphasis on race, gender, and women as categories of historical analysis.  Faculty and student research draw upon textual analysis, the study of material culture, quantitative and data driven methods, and oral history to bring the past alive.

The department supports both undergraduate and graduate student engagement in the discipline through a strong regional archive with collections of national significance, the largest library between Minneapolis and Seattle, the history honor society Phi Alpha Theta, several annual lectures, and editorship of the Oral History Review.

We also hope to include pages devoted the faculty bios and a page with plain text descriptions of our undergraduate and graduate programs.

What Horace B. Woodworth tells us about the Academia today

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Next week is the 45th Annual Northern Great Plains History Conference.  Since the mid-1960s when a group of faculty at the University of North Dakota founded the conference, it has roamed universities across Northern Plains and assembled scholars from across the region.  My paper for this years conference will look at the career of Horace B. Woodworth.  He featured prominently in the first chapter of my history of the Department of History here at UND and is the topic of an article that I submitted to North Dakota History (but have strangely heard nothing about for the past two years; I am confident that this means that publication is imminent.)

I’ve blogged on Mr. Woodworth before, but today, I want to suggest that his career might have something to offer the academy today.  Over the past few years there has been a flurry of books suggesting that the organization of the modern American University is somehow broken.  Louis Menand’s recent book, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (blogged here) and Mark Taylor’s, Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming our Colleges and Universities have both rooted the current (and typically ill-defined) problems with the university in growth of professionalization of the disciplines and the self-serving and exclusionary rhetoric that come to ossify the departmental/disciplinary mode of university organization.  Both book (and numerous others) also saw fundamental changes in the American university as tied to changes in the organization of institutions; the traditional link between departments and disciplines must be weakened and replaced with a more integrated structure that better represents the dynamic realities of the modern workplace. In fact, as recently as last week, the president of the University of Chicago offered a similar argument noting the tensions between the need for individuals to fill highly specialized entry level positions and the need to produce people who can thrive in the higher reaches of the modern economy through their ability to manipulate and integrate abstract ideas.

What can Horace B. Woodworth teach us about these critiques?  When he came to the University of North Dakota in 1885, he had degrees from Dartmouth and Hartford Theological Seminary and had worked as a teacher, headmaster of private schools, a preacher and a farmer.  His first post was as Professor of Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy.   By 1888, Woodworth was the Chair of Didactics, Mental and Moral Sciences, and the Principal of the Normal Department. In 1890, he left the Normal Department and assumed the title Professor of Mental and Moral Science and History. By the time he retired from the University in 1904, his title was simply Professor of History.

Such a dynamic career would be impossible today, of course, as the barriers between disciplines (particularly the sciences and the humanities) are virtually insurmountable.  At the same time, Woodworth’s career path reflects a response to pressures produced both within and outside of the institution.  The emergence of professional disciplines with more clearly defined professional standards guided Woodworth to a great specialization in teaching and in his research.  This ultimately culminated in the publication of his book, The Government of the People of the State of North Dakota in 1895.

While I understand that today universities are far more complex institutions than they were in the time of Woodworth and the pressures of tenure, increasingly narrow disciplinary training, and bureaucratic ossification constrain career paths for most academics, it is nevertheless true that our 19th century predecessors were capable of dynamic changes over the course of their academic careers.  As another example was someone like William F. Allen at the University of Wisconsin where he served as the Professor of Latin and Roman History; Allen was another New Englander trained as a Classicist at Harvard, Berlin, and Göttingen, but his most important contribution to academic life was his work editing Slave Songs in the United States.

The careers of individuals like Allen and Woodworth do not provide a template for a modern scholar to follow, but certainly demonstrate that the disciplinary organization in which we now reside (quite comfortably) is not immutable.  In fact, the response of these early faculty to tensions from outside and within their institutions offers a dynamic model for university faculty today.  University faculty should be engaged in their environment and our training offers us unique opportunities to act in dynamic ways that not only can improve the educational life of our institution, but also carve out and form the basis for new disciplines, fields of study, and knowledge.  Change is not only possible, but good.

The Archaeology of Moving

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Almost a year ago this month, the Great Move occurred as the administration rooted the Department of History from its long-standing and exceedingly-comfortable space in Merrifield hall and moved us across the quad to O’Kelly.  We are now settled into what I think most of us regard as equivalent, if not superior space, at least in the case of my office.

As I was reflecting on the events surrounding our move, I stumbled on a very recent article by John Schofield (whose work I am really coming to appreciate and notice) in the journal Archaeologies called “Office Cultures and Corporate Memory: Some Archaeological Perspectives“.  He describes the archaeology of office culture and corporate memory through a study a move made by English Heritage in 2006.  The English Heritage office moved from a prestigious Savile Row address in London to a new “more modern” office space further from the city center.

The paper itself is a vivid – but not exceedingly detailed – account of the things left behind in the office of the English Heritage as well was the spaces, behaviors, and memories embedded for him the spaces so recently occupied by co-workers.  At the end of his article, he comments on the feelings associated with abandoned and empty places:

As an archaeologist I am fascinated by empty buildings and by the material culture of abandonment. One of my earliest lessons in archaeology concerned Skara Brae, a story of hurried desertion with precious objects left where they fell.  More recently I have studied and inspected military buildings forsaken at the end of the Cold War… In Malta I have studies former bars that closed abruptly with the Navy’s withdrawal in the mid to late 1960s, bars that have remained firmly locked ever since. I like these empty places and do sometimes feel something as I wander about.

As I look back on some of my blog posts from the days of the move, I think the final line of the quote captures the experience of wandering through the abandoned offices in Merrifield.  I felt something even though I did not have a particularly long history history associated with Merrifield Hall, nor did I enjoy a particular luxurious or historically rich accommodation there.

Another Thesis: American Scheherazade

Nigar Soubra, one of my M.A. students here at the University of North Dakota will soon defend her thesis. It’s entitled “American Scheherazade: Strategic Orientalism and Hybridity in the Ottoman Tales of Demetra Vaka Brown”.

Here’s the abstract:

In the academic era of Post-Colonial scholarship, the discourse of Orientalism is particularly under close observation and it is a subject for heated debates among many Post-Colonial scholars. Since Edward Said’s Orientalism identified this discourse as a homogeneous historical and political process, the subsequent field of scholarship engaged in the process of understanding and re-defining the term of Orientalism. Post-colonial hybrid personas who were actively engaging and strategically re-addressing the course of Orientalism destabilize Said’s monolithic definition and create a ground for a more complex discussion of this seemingly diverse discourse, which extended beyond Western colonial agendas. A hybrid cultural status of a Greek-American writer and an immigrant from the Ottoman Empire, Demetra Vaka, as well as her first publication, Haremlik, are the focus of this thesis, which implements a “close-reading” of the narrative in order to understand the author’s ambivalent use of Orientalism. It is argued that Vaka Brown’s culturally in-between status granted her a privilege of authorial authority and authenticity in her representations of the East to the West. Vaka Brown ambivalently not only re-addressed the previously constructed Orientalist stereotypes but also engaged in developing Orientalist knowledge through classification and representation of cultural difference. It is argued that Vaka Brown utilized Orientalism strategically in order to establish her authorial authority based on her origins, to map the cultural differences between the East and the West, and to bring an air of commercially desirable exoticism to her narrative. In the era of American material Orientalism, when American popular culture was enchanted by the allure of exotic merchandise and the idea of escapism, Haremlik represented an authentic voice of experience and a story about the “other.” In Haremlik, Orientalism is a tool for mapping of cultural differences and a hallmark for marketing. It is argued that Vaka Brown’s strategy for representing an inherent incompatibility between the East and the West was imbedded in her nostalgic idea about the timeless and unchanging Orient. The idea of westernizing Orient threatened the author expertise on the intimately familiar Orient. Not only did the westernization of the Ottoman Empire destabilize her knowledge about the intimately familiar “other,” but also the idea of the cosmopolitan Ottoman Empire’s disintegration and the rise of Turkish nationalism threatened the existence of Greek minorities in Turkey.

Congratulations Nigar!

Random Art returns to O’Kelly Hall

I’ve documented on this blog the work to renovate the second floor of O’Kelly Hall where the Department of History now resides. Most of this has come from a well-meaning, but misguided efforts to impose corporate order on a creative space. (For more see here and here and here)

So, I was ecstatic yesterday morning to see the first reappearing of public art in the newly renovated second floor of O’Kelly. It appeared above the wood “accent line”, in a little awkward space below the sloping ceiling of a stair well. It’s a modest start. I have no idea who did it. But it is fantastic to see something public and creative in the newly sanitized O’Kelly hall way.

201005130746.jpg  201005130752.jpg  

I feel myself becoming more creative and less corporate already. Now back to grading.

History of and History in the University of North Dakota

April 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Next fall, the University of North Dakota will host the Northern Great Plains History Conference. This regional conference was originally organized by members of the History Department in the late 1960 and has continued almost every year since then being hosted by various school across the Northern Plains.

It seems fitting then, that there be at least one panel that focuses on the history of the University of North Dakota and the Department of History. So, I have organized a panel of three papers for the event.

Here it is:

History of and History in the University of North Dakota

“History before Libby: University before Disciplines”
W. Caraher, Department of History, University of North Dakota

It is commonplace to imagine now that disciplinary divisions are traditional and neatly contemporary with the creation of the American university system in the late 19th and early 20th century. In reality, of course, this was not necessarily the case. Nor was it the case that the development of disciplines, such as history, took place at only an institutional level. This paper will examine the career of Horace B. Woodworth who served the University of North Dakota from 1885-1904. During the same decades when the discipline of history was reaching its professional maturity through the work of H. B. Adams at Johns Hopkins and his students like Frederick Jackson Turn at Wisconsin, Woodworth underwent his own professional development migrating from the Professor of Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy to the Professor of Moral and Mental Science to the University of North Dakota’s first Professor of History. At his retirement in 1904, he was the first University faculty member to earn a Carnegie Pension and from 1910 – 1949 the Education Building on campus bore the name Woodworth Hall in his honor. The lack of a clear disciplinary home, however, has consigned his name to obscurity and overwritten a valuable, transdisciplinary, precedent in the history the university and its faculty.

“Dr. Orin G. Libby: Campus Gadfly”

G. Iseminger, Department of History, University of North Dakota

The word “gadfly” comes from the words “sting” + “fly” and a dictionary describes the “pest” as “a purposely annoying or provoking person who criticizes others to get them to reform themselves or their institutions.” In the long history of the University of North Dakota, a period of 125 years, many faculty members aspired to be the campus gadfly. Few succeeded as well as Dr. Orin G. Libby whose tenure in the university’s history department spanned the period 1902-1945. Nothing was so insignificant that it escaped his attention nor so important that he dared not criticize it and urge that it be changed or eliminated. He chided the administration for not clearing campus walks of snow, forcing women students to drag their long skirts over the drifts and then sitting all day in class with wet skirts around their ankles. He criticize Dr. William G. Bek, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, for compromising graduation standards be eliminating the foreign language requirement for the Ph.B. degree. He was the unofficial leader of a group that attempted to remove Dr. Thomas F. Kane from his position as university president on the grounds that he was “irresponsible, inefficient, negligent, intellectually weak, morally vacillating, and wholly incompetent.” Although many felt Libby’s “sting,” he was a respected member of the faculty when he retired in 1945 at the age of eighty-one.

“History of Social Work at UND: 1983-2009”

B. Weber, Department of Social Work, University of North Dakota

In 2008 I took up the task of writing the history of the Social Work Department at the University of North Dakota: my small contribution to a larger project surrounding the school’s 125th anniversary. My work built upon Louis Geiger’s University of the Northern Plains and former department chair Professor Ken Dawes’ work covering the department up till 1982. My argument concerning the recent twenty-five years is that department chairs—despite no real managerial authority—shaped the major events.

In 1982 UND’s Social Work Department was a modestly sized undergraduate program. By 2007 it also housed the University’s third largest graduate program outside the Medical School and was administering several quasi-independent service units helping both Social Workers and the general population of North Dakota. This growth was due to multiple interdependent factors, but in the final tally the Department Chairs provided the nexus of change. More precisely, five and a half chairs operated in contexts beyond their control, dealt with controversies and dysfunction, lawsuits and investigations, and the troubling combination of academic freedom and the loose knit process of faculty governance. Yet, through example, cajoling, leadership, and luck they deserve the credit for the accumulated changes—good and bad.

O’Kelly Graffiti under Erasure

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Late Friday afternoon(always a sneaky time of day in an academic building) people from University of North Dakota facilities painted over the famed Rich2 (aka King Rich) graffiti wall in O'Kelly Hall. UND's Integrated Studies Program had originally commissioned the work and it graced the entrance hall to the program.

Unfortunately, in an interesting example of attitudes toward control, "the administration" (with all of its pleasant ambiguity) reasserted their ownership over the wall (and their control over buildings) and slated it for renovation sometime last summer. Once it was clear that the wall would be destroyed the Provost commissioned Rich Patterson, a well-known graffiti artist from New York who earned an undergraduate and graduate degree at UND, to prepare a new work on canvass to hang in the place of this work. Ryan Stander covered these developments in the fall in his blog Axis of Access. They were picked up by bloggers elsewhere.

At the same time that cash-strapped universities all across the US are beginning to liquidate their art collections, UND has thought outside the box by beginning to destroy parts of their collection while commissioning new works. This might account for why visitors to the building have asked whether these projects are being funded "by stimulus money" noting how long the projects are taking to be completed and the dubious value of their contributions to campus life. They aren't being paid for by stimulus money and I am not sure that stimulus money was designed to pay for make-work projects. The parallel between the stimulus package and various New Deal programs is amusing, though, and suggests that some of our students are using historical knowledge in a critical way. We offered U.S. History 1920-1945 in the fall.

One of the great things about Rich's work is that, first, simple primer did almost nothing to cover it. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Rich when he was on campus, and he certainly understood the ephemeral quality of graffiti art. In fact, he told me that rarely would his works last a week on the trains of New York. So, in some ways the long life of the O'Kelly wall makes it an exceptional example of the medium.


His signature seems particularly resistant to erasure.


Even when we know that fresh paint will eventually cover the graffiti, it is clear that Rich knew how to make traces of his work last. He clever extended the design to the ceiling marking the acoustic tiles and the aluminum rails that support them.



Come over and visit the wall at O'Kelly when you have a chance. Its liminal state — between visibility and erasure — captures the ephemeral essence of the medium and evokes the ambivalent reception of the art itself.

Tourists and Photos in Hesperia

October 26, 2009 2 comments

Last week, I pulled down a box full of slides that I had taken between 1997 and 2003. I was looking for photographs of Lakka Skoutara in 2001 and 2002 (and found them, for all you who doubt my filing system), but I also found my pictures of my first trip to Greece and my two years as an associate member at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. I looked through box after box of them with a combination of nostalgia and amazement as I realized the completely clinical character of my pictures. My photos focused almost totally on ancient and Byzantine monuments with almost no shots of my friends, traveling companions, or the physical surroundings. As I thought about this more, I remembered how expensive slide film and processing was (particularly for a graduate student) and how important I thought it was to produce a teaching collection of images (in the days before Google Image), and this helped me relax a bit.

It was pleasant surprise to see an article in the most recent volume of Hesperia that looked at the 19th century equivalent of my touristic perambulations and their photographic record. D. Harlan’s “Travels, Pictures, and a Victorian Gentleman in Greece” continues Hesperia‘s recent interest in articles on early travelers and tourists to the Mediterranean and the role that they played in shaping our archaeological expectations and perceptions of Modern Greece. Harlan’s article focused on the slides of T.R.R. Stebbing who traveled to Greece and Turkey at the end of the 19th century. He took a series of glass-plate lantern-slides of famous monuments and well-known scenes, like the harbor at Smyrna. These slides came eventually to reside in the archives of the Institute of Archaeology of Oxford and some of them may have contributed to a published series of educational slides distributed by Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. These slides, then, provide insights into not only the itinerary and values of a late 19th century tourist in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also the development of well-known educational collections that circulated on lantern slides widely in the the UK and the US.

The University of North Dakota has a small collection of these slides distributed by The Keystone View Company — one of the standard American firms distributing such lantern slides. Orin G. Libby, the long-time chair of the Department of History lobbied continuously for new and updated Lantern slide projectors. At the same time, Webster Merrifield the president of the University of North Dakota and, more or less, a contemporary of Stebbing traveled regularly to Europe and the Mediterranean. While there is no record of him taking slides photographs, Merrifield’s Classical training would have made it a likely possibility. After all, we know that he returned with a small number of objects purchased from across the Eastern Mediterranean and destined for a small (and now mostly lost) collection of University antiquities.

As Harlan argues, these slides served to link the tourist itineraries of the early guide books, like Murray’s, Cook’s, and Baedeker’s, to classroom instruction in the US. There is a direct parallel between these early tourist itineraries and the modern day itinerary of the American School of Classical Studies which, in turn, continues to reproduce and reinforce a standardized view of Greece as captured by the camera’s eye. (Check out this collection of images and compare them, broadly speaking, to the Stebbing’s pictures) The persistence of such structured engagements with both Ancient and Modern Greece is nothing short of remarkable. The distribution of such “tourist” photos (that is photos linked directly to a tourists itinerary) serve to condition particular engagements with the Greek landscape that, in turn, shape the itineraries of future tourists. One goes to Greece, according to this kind of structured engagement, less to see the country, per se, and more to reproduce images, vistas, and scenes burned into your memory through the wide distribution and use of images. This likely accounts for the slow rate of change in tourist itineraries (and the itinerary of the American School and other study tours to Greece) and the persistent (if slowly dissipating) view of Greece as a place of history rather than a dynamic society with its own character, problems, and potentials.

More on this exciting fascicule of Hesperia later in the week!

The Flu, The University, and the Department of History

September 28, 2009 Leave a comment

We’ve recently been barraged by university communications regarding prospects of a serious outbreak of the H1N1 Swine Flu.  This is not the first time that the University of North Dakota has had to deal with an outbreak of the flu.  In 1918, UND endured a particularly tragic outbreak of flu as the campus transformed itself into a base for the Student Army Training Corps (SATC).  Similar to our current situation, the flu crisis was managed by a new university president, Thomas Kane, who had been inaugurated just a year earlier.  Unlike our current leader, Robert Kelley, however, Kane had had a controversial first few months in office including the botched handling of a student drinking case, a flip-flopping attitude toward the tense political situation in the state, and an inflammatory inaugural address that rankled the sensitivities of many longtime university faculty members including the irascible Orin G. Libby.

Louis Geiger’s The University of the Northern Plains provides the best summary of the flu’s decent on campus in October of 1918.  The university had just re-organized itself to take on the training of over  400 army cadets who greatly outnumbered the small body of regular students on campus.  The campus moved to a quarter system, Davis Hall, Budge Hall, the dinning hall of the Commons, and the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity house were turned over to military use as barracks and headquarters for the cadets and money was allocated for the construction of an Armory

Despite what would have appeared to be significant preparations for the arrival of these new students, the university was unprepared for the influenza epidemic when it struck campus in October.  By October 9th, the university had suspended classes and placed the entire campus under a quarantine.  Training and classes for the SATC abruptly stopped as growing numbers of the corp became ill and parts of Budge Hall and the Phi Delta Theta house were converted to make-shift hospitals to serve the increasing number of sick students.  The hospitals, however, lacked proper equipment, toiletries, and bedding making them poorly suited to care for the sick.  Moreover, the Grand Forks community, an important support network for the university, suffered at least as grievously as the university campus.  By mid-October Grand Forks reported over 3000 cases of the flu and on campus 320 of the 470 cadets were ill.  Tragically, 29 of these students would die and Geiger reports that no other university campus had a worse record (p. 298).  In contrast, the Agricultural College in Fargo had far fewer cases and deaths despite having a larger number of SATC students; the quick acting Dean of the Medical School, Harley E. French, took decisive measures to prevent the spread of the flu among campus women (who were organized and housed separately from the SATC).  One died, but far fewer were ill.

The upshot of the flu tragedy on the University of North Dakota’s campus was significant. Orin G. Libby, the noted historian, had served as the chair of the University’s War Committee and had worked alongside President Kane to bring to make the arrangements necessary to accommodate the SATC on campus.  Libby, whose feathers had been ruffled already by Kane’s impolitic speech at his inauguration, placed the blame for the tragic student deaths squarely on Kane’s shoulders.   In 1920, Libby joined a group of faculty members including John M. Gillette, perhaps the most well-regarded and influential member of the university faculty during the first half of the 20th century, to call for Kane’s removal.  Kane for his part rallied support from Vernon Squires (who would later write the first history of the university) and, perhaps significantly, Dean French of the Medical School.  The precise details of this conflict have been lost, but it attracted sufficient attention from various university stakeholders to compromise in a serious way both Kane’s and Libby’s ability to serve as campus leaders.  Libby and the Department of History, in particular, suffered at the hands of Kane as they clashed repeatedly throughout the early years of the 1920s (for more the Kane-Libby clashes see my three-part series: Politics and the Presidency at UND: Reflections on the Past at the Dawn of a New Era, part 1, part 2, part 3)

Stay healthy, UND!


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