"DDR wall peekaboo" by Jurek Durczak from Poland - DDR. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Dialogues in Global History

History students organize conference in memory of a Tufts Professor and the field he enriched

By Ariana Hajmiragha

Joseph Ledford and Nicholas Scott, both master’s students in the Department of History, have been planning their March 5 conference, “Global History: Eroding the Barricades of Historical Interpretation,” for almost a year.  

This conference holds special significance; not only is it an opportunity to highlight the strengths of Tufts’ global history program and to spark conversations with the next generation of global history scholars, but it is held in memory of the late Professor Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, who died in June 2015 after a brief illness. Schmidt-Nowara's work in the area of global history and graduate student mentorship was foundational to Joseph, Nicholas, and all those within the graduate program.

Both Joseph and Nicholas participated in a global history seminar with Professor Schmidt-Nowara in spring 2015. They approached him at the start of the summer, before his passing, with the idea of organizing a graduate student symposium around the seminar topic. “Even though it’s under such unfortunate circumstance, we’re happy to be able to have a conference like this at Tufts because Chris was a huge supporter of graduate students,” Joseph explains. “He fostered a supportive environment, which allowed emerging historians to present their work.”

Chris was a huge supporter of graduate students. He fostered a supportive environment, which allowed emerging historians to present their work.

Joseph Ledford

Professor Schmidt-Nowara’s primary focus on slavery, colonialism, and nationalism within the Spanish Colonial Empire in Latin America provided a rich avenue towards a more global approach to historical analysis, emphasizing and utilizing transnational and global methods to complicate and strengthen a traditionally regional topic.

Both Joseph and Nicholas can point to areas within their own research where the methods and theories of global history enhance their understandings. For Joseph, the global history paradigm has influenced his study of a particular aspect of U.S. foreign policy, the Iran-Contra Affair, and the interplay between American policy and transnational anti-communist networks operating in an extralegal manner. Similarly, Nicholas’ focus remains on a specific moment of worker and shantytown mobilization within the Chilean revolution, but he grounds his examination in the larger history of global revolutions and labor mobilizations.

As a subfield, global history is fairly new, and Professor Schmidt-Nowara was at the forefront the movement. As Nicholas and Joseph explain, one of the traditional modes of historical analysis has been the nation-state, with analysis bounded by a single nation or place. With the advent of global communications and the rising prominence of 20th century history, global history as an approach to understanding histories of not only international movements but also of specific events or places has come to the forefront. “It’s becoming increasingly important to have a global focus in one’s research,” says Nicholas.

Just as global history scholars push for greater understanding of the connections linking regions, movements, and ideas, so too do they push for less rigidity of disciplinary boundaries. Nicholas describes it as “getting people to step out of their comfort zones,” and points to a specific paper on the Saharan Corridor that will be presented by a panelist as an example. He says, “they’re not doing it from traditional archival research, they’re using paleobiological and anthropological [methods], they’re using a variety of different disciplines and blending social sciences, humanities, and scientific methods. I think that will be really productive both for the conference itself and for people who are able to meet, have these conversations, and then go back to their own departments where hopefully the conversation we’ve started here will continue.”

Nicholas and Joseph are well on their way to accomplishing the goals of the conference: promoting thinking and work within the field of global history and supporting graduate student research. “This conference in its form highlights the best of Tufts: in terms of what Tufts offers academically, but also as a community,” Joseph says. “We mourn the loss of Professor Schmidt-Nowara, but also honor his work and memory through what he loved to do: history and encouraging graduate students.”

Photo Credit: "DDR wall peekaboo" by Jurek Durczak from Poland - DDR. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons