State of the Department 2019-2020

         What can we say? It’s been quite a ride this year, for sure. Before we go any further, I want to say thank you, again, to Sherri Robertson for her dedicated service to the Department of History. Those of you who met and worked with Sherri know that she was the heart and soul of the Department for the roughly ten years she worked here. Sherri took advantage of the university’s offer to take a buyout and early retirement to spend more time with her family and friends, of which she has many. I think we all came to depend on Sherri, and none more than me. She was a great person to work with, but she is an even better person to know. I know we all wish her well in her future endeavors.

         We’re also saying goodbye to Dr. Stephanie Hinnershitz, who is moving on to another job this summer. Stephanie has been with CSU for only a few years, but we will all miss her energy, her intellectual rigor, creativity, and her humor. Students will definitely miss her in the classroom. We wish Stephanie good luck in her future endeavors.

         CSU’s history faculty have been busy in and out of the classroom. Drs. Kelly Wrenhaven, Meshack Owino, and Shelley Rose received a Teaching Enhancement Award to develop the new survey course, “Ancient World History” and co-authored an open textbook to accompany it. Robert Shelton received an Educator Enrichment Grant from Ohio Humanities and partnered with the Educational Service Center  of Cuyahoga County to commemorate the ratifications of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) and the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) to the US Constitution in a yearlong series of events. Drs. Shelton, Hinnershitz, and Rose created an open educational resource for the series.

In addition to these activities, our faculty members are engaged in a range of research projects.

  • Dr. Karen Sotiropoulos published her article, “Rose and James Aggrey and the Black Atlantic Gestations of African Nationalism” in the International Journal of African Historical Studies and received a Faculty Scholarship initiative grant for her next project, “The Airlift: American Racial Liberalism and the Fracturing of Black Atlantic Dreams.”
  • Dr. Kelly Wrenhaven published two new articles this year, “Slaves and Sex in Greek Art” and “The Greek Comic Slave and the American Blackface Minstrel.”
  • Dr. Mark Cole received funding for his “Cleveland German-American Oral History Project” featuring Cleveland’s Danube Swabian community.
  • Dr. Shelley Rose worked with a transnational team of colleagues to develop the Protest Spaces Research Network and participated in the  Winter Institute for Digital Humanities at New York University, Abu-Dhabi.
  • Dr. Mark Souther published articles in the Journal of Planning History and Georgia Historical Quarterly, a book chapter on Jewish suburbanization in Cleveland, and an article on urban tourism in the U.S. in the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Urban History. He received the 2019 John Nolen Research Fund Award from Cornell University Library Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections and CSU Faculty Research & Development and Faculty Scholarship Initiative grants for 2020-2021.
  • In 2019-20, the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities embarked on a plan to transcribe the 1,100-interview Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection, began work on Version 4 of the Curatescape mobile app framework, developed new history apps for the Emmett Till Memory Project, UNC-Chapel Hill, and the College of Charleston, and continued to work with CSU students to develop new stories on the Cleveland Historical app.

Our alumni and current students have also been busy.

  • HIS 299 Students created the online exhibit “Cleveland Latin American Mission Team in Context” and presented their findings at the DigitalCSU Research Showcase.
  • In fall 2019, CSU History B.A. graduate Olivia Garl enrolled on a full fellowship in the Ph.D. program in Public History at Colorado State University.
  • In September 2019, CSU History/Museum Studies M.A. graduate Joseph Wickens became the Curatorial Coordinator for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
  • In May, CSU History/Museum Studies M.A. alumnus John Horan will graduate with a Ph.D. in Public History from Arizona State University.
  • CSU History M.A. alum Stacey Fernengel received a fellowship to begin the Ph.D. program in legal history at Kent State University in Fall 2020. She is also an instructor at Stark State University.

Now, to the more serious. Nothing has tested the faculty and students like the outbreak of COVID-19. Over the course of just a few days in March this year, the university went from a traditional university filled with students and faculty to a university locked down. On a dime, faculty pivoted from teaching face to face to teaching all of their courses online. In the process, faculty maintained high standards of excellence and accommodated students whenever necessary. Students, for their part, overcame innumerable obstacles to submit work, listen or watch lectures online, and, in short, continue in as normal a fashion even while all the world was becoming something quite different than what it was.

The faculty went above and beyond the call of duty to smooth out the rough road we all had to travel. They held online meetings for students outside the normal hours of class because many students found themselves taking care of and teaching their own children, who were also at home during the statewide quarantine. Others made separate provisions for students who shouldered these additional responsibilities and now worked in difficult, potentially hazardous, conditions. They worked because their jobs were critical to the ongoing fight to limit the pandemic’s damage to our neighbors, friends, and families. And every one of the faculty set aside their own anxieties to help students make sense of their changing world, a difficult task even while they, like their students, struggled to teach, to guide, to sympathize, and to help those around them.

Others went even further. Karen Sotiropoulos met with prospective graduate students via the now ubiquitous Zoom. Shelley Rose set up a research program to see how faculty have addressed the massive, rapid turn to teaching online. Meshack Owino and Stephen Cory cut short their research trips in Kenya and Jordan respectively to get back to the United States—they are personal reminders of the global reach, and impact, of COVID-19. José Solá made it home on a flight home from Puerto Rico just as local, state, and federal governments began locking down the country. And Rob Shelton, who became Interim Associate Dean of Curriculum a year ago, kept teaching while handling the growing mountain of work needed to administer a college during a global pandemic.  

As historians, however, what we know is that we need to be cautious. In studies of previous widespread epidemics such as the poorly-named Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918-19 and of previous outbreaks of smallpox, communities that quarantined their populations quickly experienced far fewer cases of, and deaths from, disease. Those communities that waited saw a greater number of both cases and deaths. Similarly, communities that moved back to normal operations quickly saw rapid spikes of both new cases of, and deaths from, disease. We shall move on from this, but we can take care to minimize the human cost COVID-19 will take.

Where we go now is unclear. While the upper administration wrestles with issues regarding the budget, it also struggles to determine the best way forward to teach students in the Fall and beyond. That said, President Sands has committed to hiring faculty and introduced an initiative for students called “the CSU 2-for-1 Tuition Promise,” which holds that all incoming freshmen will receive full funding for Spring 2021 tuition after they successfully finish their classes in Fall 2020. But we’re unsure what instruction will look like in the fall. Whatever it looks like, however, we in the History Department, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and Cleveland State University will be here for all of our students, our majors, and our communities, ready to teach, to guide, and to help.

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