Dawn Peterson Receives Georgia Author of the Year Award

Congratulations to Assistant Professor of History Dawn Peterson for being named the 54th Annual Georgia Author of the Year in the category of History/Biography. Peterson received the prize for her monograph Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion (Harvard University Press, 2017). The award committee offered the following appraisal of Peterson’s work:

Indians in the Family is an important and compelling history that explores the adoption of Native American youth by whites during the period of antebellum expansion, unveiling how Natives, and the whites who ultimately sought to displace them, used adoption to achieve divergent agendas. Peterson’s eloquent account draws upon archival records to piece together the various motives that inspired this phenomenon. Indians in the Family’s readers will find stories about whites who adopted Native children, and Native families and communities—stories that uniquely illuminate how “family,” nation-building, race-making, slavery, resistance, and expansion, factor in this this little-known chapter in America’s history. In the end, Peterson concludes, “For U.S. whites, the politics of adoption in post-Revolutionary North America was a family story that sought to mask the violence of U.S. territorial expansion, Indian dispossession, and African American servitude” while “For Native people, the placement of children within white homes was a way to support indigenous families and maintain indigenous sovereignty.”

Read about other Georgia Author of the Year award winners here. Also check out a recent interview Peterson gave for the History Department website.

‘The New York Times’ Reviews Crespino’s Biography of Atticus Finch

Journalist Howell Raines published a review of Jospeh Crespino’s newest book, Atticus Finch: The Biography—Harper Lee, Her Father, and the Making of an American Icon (Basic Books, 2018). Crespino, who is the Jimmy Carter Professor of History, specializes in twentieth-century U.S. history and the history of the South since Reconstruction. Read Raines’ review, “Harper Lee and Her Father, the Real Atticus Finch,” here.

Lesser on Ancestry and DNA Testing in ‘The Atlanta Journal Constitution”

History Department Chair Jeffrey Lesser recently commented on the expanding use of DNA tests to chart an individuals’ ancestry in The Atlanta Journal Constitution. The article, titled “Do popular DNA tests like 23andMe, Ancestry actually work?” explores the motivations for taking these tests and the results they provide. Lesser, a specialist in immigration and ethnicity, asserted that “There are lots of different ways of understanding heritage. I think as historians, we’re interested in why people believe what they do, which is quite different than saying that people are something.” Read the full article here.

Johns Hopkins UP Publishes Eric L. Goldstein’s ‘On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews of Baltimore’

Associate Professor of History Eric L. Goldstein and Deborah R. Weiner co-authored On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews of Baltimore. The work has been published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Goldstein is a specialist in American Jewish history and culture, modern Jewish history, and American social and cultural history. Read more about the publication here.

New Books Series: Q & A with Ellie R. Schainker about ‘Confessions of the Shtetl’

Ellie R. Schainker, Arthur Blank Family Foundation Assistant Professor of Modern European Jewish History, published Confessions of the Shtetl: Converts from Judaism in Imperial Russia, 1817-1906 with Stanford University Press in 2016. The book won the 2017 National Jewish Book Award for Writing Based on Archival Material (JDC-Herbert Katzki Award). Below, she offers a glimpse into the making of the monograph as a part of the History Department’s series on recent faculty publications.

Books are produced over years if not decades. Give us a sense for the lifespan of this book, from initial idea to final edits. 

Confessions of the Shtetl was born during my course work in grad school from the footnotes of two articles I stumbled across.  I was part of a second-wave of scholars trained in the post-1991 era when former Soviet archives were newly open to western researchers.  I was interested in Russian Jewish history and these articles indicated that there were treasure troves of archival material—should researchers ever gain access–documenting conversions from Judaism in the imperial Russian borderlands, or the famed “shtetls” (Yiddish, small towns) of Eastern Europe that had been idealized by nostalgic modernists and post-Holocaust mourners as the last outpost of authentic Jewish culture and solidarity in the modern period.  These footnotes suggested that there was a larger untold story of interfaith encounter and border-crossing in the demographic heartland of European Jewry in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  I hoped that these stories might help us reconceptualize the religious and ethnic diversity of the empire’s western borderlands, the fluidity and permeability of boundaries between Jewish and non-Jewish worlds, and the relationship between ethno-religious groups and the state which tolerated and even sponsored religious diversity.

What was the research process like?

It was long and exciting.  It took me to Russia, Ukraine, Israel, and New York City during my dissertation years and my early assistant professor years at Emory.  Two aspects of the research stand out: 1) I thought I was fluent in Russian till I had to decipher hand-written nineteenth-century Cyrillic in the archives, and I briefly considered switching careers.  2)  I came to appreciate the Russian archival system which has researchers sign a slip of paper in each archival folio listing every person who ever ordered and read that file.  It looped me into a group of scholars whose footsteps I was following in and whose interests I shared.  It became a kind of game for me in the archives to see if I could discover new files and be the first to sign my name, and it made me feel as part of a virtual research cohort during the sometimes long, lonely days in the archives.

Do you have a favorite chapter or section?

 My favorite section is Part II, which I consider the heart of the book.  This section features many microhistories of converts, their Christian neighbors and romantic partners, and their often irate family and community members.  I love it because it brings to life the human drama of faith and apostasy, and gets at the pathos of historical phenomena that often get overlooked in social-scientific analyses of minority integration and assimilation.

How does this project align with your broad research agenda?

This project is a first step in studying toleration, imperialist critiques of native religion, and how these and other modern developments have allowed people to articulate and experience faith in new ways.

Carol Anderson Wins Guggenheim Fellowship

Congratulations to Dr. Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler Professor and Chair of African American Studies, for winning a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship in constitutional studies. In 2016 Anderson published the New York Times bestseller White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Bloomsbury). Her next book, One Person, No Vote, is slated for publication this September. Read more about Dr. Anderson and the fellowship here.