Cornel West is threatening to leave Harvard

Harvard offered the 67-year-old public intellectual an endowed chair, a ten year contract, and a pay raise, but Cornel West is holding out for tenure. I can’t read the Boston Globe story because I don’t have subscription, but here is Bob Brigham at Raw Story:

Harvard University may lose Cornel West for the second time in two decades according to a new report from the Boston Globe.

“Harvard University professor Cornel West, the well known philosopher, progressive political activist, and outspoken social critic, is threatening to leave Harvard University after he said the administration disrespected him by denying his request to be consideredfor tenure,” the newspaper reported. “If West follows through on the threat, it would be his second departure from the university, where he teaches in the law school, divinity school, and Department of African and African American Studies. West first departed in 2002 after a public spat with then-president Lawrence Summers over the quality of West’s scholarship and West’s complaints about the depth of the university’s commitment to affirmative action.”

The newspaper interviewed West on Thursday.

“It is once again this issue of just not putting up with being disrespected,” West explained.

Read the rest here.

The new director of Harvard’s Warren Center for Studies in American History talks public history


The Harvard Gazette is running an interview with Tiya Miles, the new director of the Warren Center for Studies in American History.

Here is a taste:

GAZETTE: What first drew you to public history?

MILES: When I began my journey in the landscape of public history, I didn’t even know I had taken the first steps. As a middle schooler, I had two favorite pastimes. Unbeknownst to my parents, I would let myself into the abandoned 19th-century houses in my downtown neighborhood in Cincinnati, examine the rubble around me, and imagine who had lived in these structures. I also grew up listening to my grandmother’s stories on her front porch as I helped her snap the green beans or clean the collards that she grew in her side yard. When I heard her describe the family farm back in Mississippi that was lost when a group of white men tricked my great-grandfather — who could not read — into placing his X-mark on a document, and her move north with several children in tow in the 1940s, and the challenges of urban life, I felt the urge to write it all down. I still have the scribbled notes. I was conducting a rudimentary form of oral history, a key method of public history, back then.

Public history has multiple definitions in part because it is a boisterous, crowd-sourced endeavor. The key trait of the field is an engagement with history beyond the walls of the campus or classroom. Because public history meets people where they are and affects how they make sense of their lives, it is a field complicated by public memory, emotional investments, and competing group aims. All of this makes the work thrilling and satisfying, but also vexing, time-intensive, and difficult.

Read the rest here.

How fast did news of American independence spread?

Declaration spread

I just ran across this Smithsonian piece from 2017. Fascinating:

It was the breaking news to end all breaking news—the fledgling British colonies of North America were committing treason and declaring independence. But in an era long before smartphone push alerts, TV interruptions and Twitter, breaking news broke a lot slower. How slow, though? Last year, a Harvard University project mapped how quickly the Declaration of Independence spread through the colonies based on newspaper archives.

A fascinating animation breaks down the dissemination of the news. The full text of the Declaration of Independence was first published in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on July 6 in Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress had been meeting to compose it. Other Philadelphia newspapers reprinted the document, including a German newspaper that translated it for the area’s large immigrant population, in the following days. (The same German-language newspaper also holds bragging rights for being the first paper to report on the Declaration of Independence.)

Read the rest here.

What John Quincy Adams Thought About His Pastors and Schoolmates


This is a great post from J.L. Bell at Boston 1775. A taste:

promised more cattiness from John Quincy Adams as a college student.

In his diary for the year 1787, Adams inserted several profiles of his classmates and other people he met at Harvard. Often he was complimentary, understanding of people’s weaknesses and attempts to improve, and frank about his own flaws. But that’s no fun, is it?

Sometimes it’s clear that Adams really didn’t like a fellow student, or a faculty member. And he really didn’t like his time being wasted in church. Here are some choice comments from early in the year.

Here is my favorite passage. I assume Mr. Hilliard was preaching from Ephesians 6:11-18:

Mr. Hilliard entertained us all day, with a couple of Sermons, upon the whole armour of god. The shield, and the helmet, the sword and the arrow, afforded subject for description, and application. The improvements which might result from these two discourses, are wholly concealed to me; that it is the duty of man, to avoid Sin, is a self evident maxim, which needs not the assistance of a preacher for proof; yet it was all Mr. H. aimed to show: how barren must the imagination of a man be, who is reduced to give descriptions of warlike instruments, to fill up a discourse of 20 minutes!

Read the rest here.

Cornel West’s Commencement Address at Harvard Divinity School

This resonates with me on many levels:

Read the transcript here.

A taste:

As I look at myself, I can see the white supremacy in me. But oh, when I was at Charlottesville, looking in the eyes of those sick, neo-Nazi white brothers, gangsters, thugs, I didn’t lose sight of the gangster in me. I just try to reconquer it every day, and they need a little more work. But they’re still made in the same image of the god that I serve, and they can kill me as they kill so many others in my tradition—talk about me, trash me, misunderstand me, but I’m not going to stoop so low that I lose sight of their humanity, and they’re still on the same continuum. That is a fundamental challenge for the younger generation, because in these Balkanized and polarized times, it’s so easy to go off in your corner, in your own silo, and think somehow you are so empowered and enabled and able to engage in serious, effective work on the battlefield when you yourself have spiritual emptiness. So, it’s hard for you to be the change you’re talking about. That’s what is required of all these various traditions, as deep human challenges.

Last but not least, in celebrating you, I want you to never, ever forget that you have the capacity to preserve your revolutionary joy. We live in a culture with a joyless quest for insatiable pleasure. Whole lot of titillation and stimulation possible, but when it comes to that which endures—the deep stuff, the joys that are beneath the pleasures—don’t let anything or anybody take your joy away. I told the undergraduate class at the Black graduation yesterday, I said: Don’t let anybody take your funk away. They want to deodorize you and sanitize you and sterilize you and make you just another example of Harvard graduate and success. No, don’t confuse success with greatness. 

Somewhere I read: He or she that’s greatest among you will be your servant, and if you’re servant, you have to be bold. You’re going to have to take a risk, you have to pay a cost, you’re going to have to cut against the grain. It’s not going to be fun, but there’ll be joy in that kind of struggle, joy in your intellectual courage exercise, joy in your moral and spiritual witness enacted even as you fall on your face. As Samuel Beckett always reminds us: We try again, fail again, and fail better.

As you embark on the next stage, fail so much better. Fail with all of your revolutionary joy. Fail with that subversive piety. Fail with your intellectual humility and with your spiritual intensity. Class of 2019, are you ready? Are you ready? Let me know! Are you ready? Are you ready? Are you really ready? Then let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!

Read the entire speech here.


“Till the stock of the Puritans die”


Harvard University has changed the lyrics of the school’s alma mater.

Goodbye Puritans.

Read about it at The Boston Globe.  Here is a taste:

The lyrics “Till the stock of the Puritans die,” the last verse in the 181-year-old song, will be replaced with the line “till the stars in the firmament die,” according to the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, a university group that launched a competition last year and solicited suggestions for revisions from faculty, staff, and current and former students…

“Fair Harvard” was first written in 1836 by alumnus Samuel Gilman for the school’s bicentennial celebration.

The stand-out sentence to replace Gilman’s lyric was submitted by Janet Pascal, a graduate of the class of 1984. The updated version of the alma mater already appears on the school’s website, along with a notation about the revision.

Read the entire article here.

Ghost Dissertation Advisers

harvard history
I am thankful that I had an excellent dissertation adviser who cared about my work.  Katrin Schultheiss, the current chair of the Department of History at George Washington University, did not have the same experience.  She described her experience (at Harvard) in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article.

Here is a taste:

Back in the late 1980s, I applied for admission to various doctoral programs in history. A couple of months later, I was shocked to receive a phone call from an internationally renowned scholar. He congratulated me on being admitted to his university’s program and invited me to the campus to talk with him in person.

When I arrived at the appointed spot, a young woman introduced herself as one of Professor Famous’s graduate students, apologized on his behalf, and said he could not be there after all but she would be happy to talk with me. Far from being offended that I had been bumped from his schedule, I was flattered that I had made it onto his radar at all.

I ended up matriculating at the university, though I eventually switched to another male adviser (for intellectual reasons and not because Professor Famous tended to schedule advising meetings during walks to his car to feed the meter). My new adviser — I’ll call him Professor Prominent — was well regarded but not a superstar like Professor Famous. Professor Prominent was an excellent teacher and my conversations with him were always pleasant, and sometimes even inspiring.

I accepted as “bad timing” the fact that he had a secretary put a pink “While You Were Out” message in my mailbox informing me that he would be out of town for my comprehensive oral exams. But maybe that was a sign of what was to come. When it came to providing guidance and feedback on my dissertation, I remember clearly the downward slope of his engagement with my work: I received a page of comments on my first chapter, a postcard of comments on the next two, and an efficient “looks good!” on the remaining three.

Read the rest here.

Slavery at Harvard

Faust and Coates

Drew Gilpin Faust and Ta-Nehisi Coates

I just came across this article Lydialyle Gibson’s essay in Harvard Magazine titled “A Vast Slave Society.”  It is a report on a one-day conference at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute on slavery at America’s first institution of higher education and other colleges and universities.  Speakers included Drew Gilpin Faust, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lizabeth Cohen, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Adam Rothman, James T. Campbell, Craig Steven Wilder, Vincent Brown, Natasha Trethewey, Annette Gordon-Reed, Sven Beckert, Julian Bonder, Daniel Coquillette, Alexandra Rahman, Alejandro de le Fuente, Hilary Beckles, Max Price, Christiane Taubira, and Daniel Carpenter.

Here is a taste:

OTHER SPEAKERS, including Faust, echoed that same sentiment, though with less specificity. “We cannot successfully move forward as a university, as a nation, or as citizens, without acknowledging this history and making it important to the understanding of our present,” said Harvard’s Beckert. “And to be meaningful, that acknowledgement will have to have economic and political consequences; it cannot be purely symbolic or rhetorical.” Stanford historian James T. Campbell, who a decade and a half ago led Brown’s effort to research its own past, said, “There has to be some response in the present to what you know about the history.” Conceding the impossibility of any full remedy, he added, “Nothing you do in the present even approaches the significance and scale and scope of the crime. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.” Adam Rothman, a Georgetown historian involved in that university’s archival effort, asked how many in the audience thought his university ought to help subsidize the education of people descended from slaves that it had owned in the early 1800s. Most hands went up.

As schools move forward in their efforts to reckon with centuries-old questions that have suddenly become urgent, Coates offered a few bits of advice. For one thing, he said, “Do not limit the study of enslavement to slavery.…Recognize that the plunder of enslavement does not end with enslavement.”  He also counseled them to “listen, and don’t be self-congratulatory, and don’t get too mad.” People will be angry with them, he warned, and with good reason. “The worst thing you can do is retreat into your shell.…You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to listen, and you’ve got to hear that anger. It comes from a deep, deep place.”

Read the entire article here.


Harvard Law School Removes Crest Linked to Slavery. Annette Gordon Reed Dissents

Harvard Law School has decided to abandon the crest of the Isaac Royal family, a slaveholder who helped endow the school because it does not represent “Harvard values.”


Harvard Law School has abandoned this crest

Not everyone at Harvard Law School agrees with the decision.  One of them is the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed.  Here is a taste of an Re:

In her dissent, Ms. Gordon-Reed wrote that erasing the Royalls would also extinguish the memory of the slaves whose labor contributed to the founding of the law school. “People should have to think about slavery when they think of the Harvard shield; but from now on, with a narrative that emphasizes the enslaved, not the Royall family,” Ms. Gordon-Reed wrote. She was joined by one other member of the 12-member committee, Annie Rittgers, a law student.

Ms. Gordon-Reed said sheaves of wheat had also appeared on American pennies and did not have the visceral associations of a Confederate or Nazi flag. Besides, she said, since it was designed in 1936, the shield had taken on its own meaning, separate from the Royall family, honoring the law school graduates. Her opinion acknowledged the complexities that universities confront in dealing with these issues and was a rare departure from the cautious approach of many campuses…

Bruce H. Mann, a Harvard law professor and the chairman of the committee, said Friday that the rest of the committee had agreed that the history of slavery had to be remembered, but disagreed about how to do it.

In an email Friday, Ms. Gordon-Reed said she had been influenced by her scholarship on Hemings. “This is my life’s work,” she said. “I sincerely believe that we owe it to the enslaved to work through those feelings and think of ways to carry their stories forward. And we should do that in a way that shows the inherently entwined nature of the good and bad of our past, using written text and symbols like the sheaves and, even, buildings like Monticello.”

Read the entire article here.

The Eugenics Movement at Harvard


Charles William Eliot

Adam S. Cohen  is the author of Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. It will be released this month with Penguin Press.

Over at Harvard Magazine, Cohen shows how the prestigious university’s professors were once promoters of scientific racism, immigration restriction, and the suppression of “the unfit.”

Here is a taste of Cohen’s article about this ugly chapter in the history of Harvard University:

In 1912, Harvard president emeritus Charles William Eliot addressed the Harvard Club of San Francisco on a subject close to his heart: racial purity. It was being threatened, he declared, by immigration. Eliot was not opposed to admitting new Americans, but he saw the mixture of racial groups it could bring about as a grave danger. “Each nation should keep its stock pure,” Eliot told his San Francisco audience. “There should be no blending of races.”

Eliot’s warning against mixing races—which for him included Irish Catholics marrying white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, Jews marrying Gentiles, and blacks marrying whites—was a central tenet of eugenics. The eugenics movement, which had begun in England and was rapidly spreading in the United States, insisted that human progress depended on promoting reproduction by the best people in the best combinations, and preventing the unworthy from having children.

The former Harvard president was an outspoken supporter of another major eugenic cause of his time: forced sterilization of people declared to be “feebleminded,” physically disabled, “criminalistic,” or otherwise flawed. In 1907, Indiana had enacted the nation’s first eugenic sterilization law. Four years later, in a paper on “The Suppression of Moral Defectives,” Eliot declared that Indiana’s law “blazed the trail which all free states must follow, if they would protect themselves from moral degeneracy.”

Read the rest here

The Colonial North American Project at Harvard University

Harvard is digitizing its archival and manuscript collections related to 17th and 18th century North America.

From the website of the Colonial North American Project:

When complete, the project will make available to the world digitized images of all known archival and manuscript materials in the Harvard Library that relate to 17th and 18th century North America. Scattered through twelve repositories, these documents reveal a great deal about topics such as social life, education, trade, finance, politics, revolution, war, women, Native American life, slavery, science, medicine, and religion. In addition to reflecting the origins of the United States, the digitized materials also document aspects of life and work in Great Britain, France, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico. The ‘Essays’ on this website are the work of a Summer 2015 Arcadia Fellow, Alicia DeMaio, who was one of the first researchers to connect thematically related material from among the images digitized to date.

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