Category Archives: Papers

The History Department’s Senior Thesis Presentations of 2018

By Gillian Reinhard ’20

Contributing Writer; History Major 

On Wednesday, May 2, thesis writers from the class of 2018 presented the culmination of their year-long research projects with topics ranging from Russian Communist influence in twentieth-century China to studies of the environment on the New England coast. Each thesis is the result of countless hours of independent study and serves as a significant achievement for a history major.

The first presenter, Elenore Saunders, introduced her thesis titled “The Bluefish, an Unsolved History: Spencer Fullerton Baird’s Window into Southern New England’s Coastal Fisheries.” This project examined the bluefish, a species of fish that has historically been tied to the disease epidemics of indigenous populations in early America. Ms. Saunders also explored the negative stigma placed on the species and historical comparisons of the fish to wolves.

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The Parliamentary Practice of the “Putting Out of the Wig”

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor; History Major

I wrote this not as an assignment but for publication here after being inspired by the mention of this practice in my Parliamentary Debate class with Professor Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre. What started as a search for an answer became an exhilerating six-hour review through the annals of British parliamentary history. 

Lord North, the Prime Minister of Great Britain during much of the American Revolution and the notorious culprit of the removal of Ellis’ wig.

On the evening prior,[1] the question was posed in a general sitting of History 270: Parliamentary Debate, a course duly held under the tutelage of one Dr. Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre, a professor of British History, inter alia, at Trinity College, as to the ambiguity of the nature of Parliamentary tradition surrounding the “putting out of the wig,” as it is so-called in the Parliamentary tradition.[2] Ergo, it stood within my earnest desires and in keeping with the general station of my inquisitive character to endeavor to establish, through scholarly review and research, the history of this unique practice. It is my hope that the forthcoming may provide an answer to this most perplexing and under-researched historical oddity in Parliament.

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The Frailty of Historical Truth: Learning Why Historians Inevitably Err

By David Lowenthal “How tiresome are the endless anecdotes about [William Best] Hesseltine, his seminar, and his students,” wrote Wisconsin editor Paul Hass.1 Yet the unsung historiographical lessons that seminar imparted to me and others richly merit recording. By scanning our mentors’ publications in skeptical depth, students learned that hidden bias always skews evidence, that secondary sources are ipso facto unreliable, and that myriad minor errors betoken major sins. Still more, they learned that even paragons do not have enough time, patience, or probity to prevent all such lapses and avoid their egregious epistemic consequences. Historians ever stumble on feet of clay. How tiresome are the endless anecdotes about [William Best] Hesseltine, his seminar, and his students,” wrote Wisconsin editor Paul Hass.1 Yet the unsung historiographical lessons that seminar imparted to me and others richly merit recording. By scanning our mentors’ publications in skeptical depth, students learned that hidden bias always skews evidence, that secondary sources are ipso facto unreliable, and that myriad minor errors betoken major sins. Still more, they learned that even paragons do not have enough time, patience, or probity to prevent all such lapses and avoid their egregious epistemic consequences. Historians ever stumble on feet of clay. At the University of Wisconsin from 1932 until his death in 1963, Hesseltine was a renowned chronicler of the Civil War and its aftermath, whose “commandments” on historical writing are still often cited. His anathemas forbade the passive voice, the present tense, designating persons by their last names only, and quoting from secondary sources. He inveighed against the rising tide of pompous impedimenta: “do not discuss thy methodology”; “write about thy subject and not about the documents concerning thy subject”; “fight all thy battles in the footnotes.” And––pertinent in today’s Wiedergutmachung spate of apology, tempting historians to turn moralist—”thou shalt not pass judgments on mankind in general nor … pardon anyone for anything.” 2 A retrospective celebrant prized Hesseltine’s “strange blend of pacifism, anarchism, Menckenism, Calvinism, and sheer naked perversity.”3”

[From The Art of History column in the March 2013 issue of Perspectives on History]