Ask A Historian

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The Ask a Historian podcast is one way the Department of History gives meaning to the Wisconsin Idea—that education should transcend the walls of the classroom, and that the university’s work should benefit all those in the state and beyond. Every episode features an interview with a University of Wisconsin—Madison historian who answers a question about the past submitted by our listeners.

The generous support of the Department of History’s Board of Visitors helps make Ask a Historian possible.

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We want to hear from you! Record yourself on your phone asking a question for a historian or telling us why you love history, and send us the file at outreach@history.wisc.edu. We also welcome your comments and feedback.

Episode Notes and Transcripts

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S2E05 - How has the United States used the category of citizenship to target people for mistreatment and exclusion?

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Where did the idea of citizenship come from, and how has the United States government used the category of citizenship to target people for mistreatment and exclusion?

To answer these questions submitted by a listener, Professor Marla Ramírez explains the origins of the concept of citizenship in the United States and how access to U.S. citizenship has been—from the nation’s founding—contingent on race, class, and gender.

She also shares the history and generational consequences of Mexican American banishment during the Great Depression, when the U.S. government forcibly removed the U.S.-citizen families of Mexican laborers from the United States. As Marla explains, these Mexican Americans’ citizenship was “invalidated or ignored or not valued equally as [that of] other U.S. citizens during this time.”

Timestamps:  

02:10 The origins of citizenship in the West and in the United States

11:03 Mexican Americans banishment during the Great Depression

24:42 How the history of banishment sheds light on ongoing immigration debates

27:52 How race, class, and gender continue to shape access to U.S. citizenship today

Episode links: 

Marla A. Ramírez is Assistant Professor of History and Chican@ and Latin@ Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Her recent publications on the history of immigration and citizenship include “The Making of Mexican Illegality: Immigration Exclusions Based on Race, Class Status, and Gender” in New Political Science, and “‘The ‘Immigrant Problem’: A Historical Review and the New Impacts under Trump,” in the journal Social Justice.

Our music is “Pamgaea” by Kevin MacLeod, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Please send us your questions for a historian: outreach@history.wisc.edu

HISTORY LAB 1 - How do I know if a website is a reliable source?

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As middle and high school students across Wisconsin work on their National History Day submissions, we’re answering their questions about how to do history in our History Lab mini-series. This episode, Professor Sarah Thal talks about her criteria for a reliable website, whether Wikipedia is good source for historical research, and her favorite online history resources.

Episode Links:  

Sarah Thal is Associate Chair, Director of Undergraduate Studies, and the David Kuenzi and Mary Wyman Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Libraries and archives

Digital exhibitions and projects

Commentary or articles written by historians 

Videos

Learn more about National History Day in Wisconsin through the Wisconsin Historical Society.

UW–Madison’s History Lab offers one-on-one meetings with writing tutors and helpful online writing guides for undergraduates studying the past.

Do you have a question about how to do history? Record a voice memo we’ll answer your question in an upcoming episode. Our email address is outreach@history.wisc.edu

Our music is “Wholesome” by Kevin MacLeod, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

S2E04 - SPECIAL: Florence Robinson, Gerda Lerner, and Women's History at UW-Madison

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Gerda Lerner headshot
Portrait of Gerda Lerner. Image courtesy of the UW-Madison Archives #S05704

In this special episode of Ask a Historian, guest host Tyler A. Lehrer examines how Gerda Lerner—Holocaust survivor, feminist organizer, mother, and distinguished historian—came to establish the pathbreaking Ph.D. Program in Women’s History at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.

As Tyler explains, the history of women’s history at UW-Madison began not in the heyday of the women’s movement of the late 1970s but with the story of Dr. Florence Robinson. In the 1920s, Robinson’s family created the Robinson-Edwards Chair in American History, to be held by a woman historian at UW-Madison. Why did this professorship go unfilled until 1978, when Gerda Lerner arrived at Madison?

Through her archived oral history interviews, Gerda Lerner leads the way as Tyler tells the fascinating story of how Lerner came to Madison, how she realized her ambition to create a women’s history doctoral program, and how her feminist commitments shaped her approach to mentorship, shared governance, and teaching.

Episode links:  

Florence Robinson Yearbook photo
Yearbook photograph of Florence Robinson. Image courtesy of the UW-Madison Archives #1889 .UW.PhotoAlbum18892.i0020.

This episode was produced and edited by guest host Tyler A. Lehrer, a PhD candidate in Southeast Asian History at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.

The oral histories in this episode come from the Oral History Program of the University of Wisconsin—Madison Archives.

Learn more about the Program in Gender and Women’s History at its website.

Musical interludes in this episode are from Lobo Loco’s “Dream Softly Baby,” licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

Do you have an idea for an episode of the podcast? Send your questions for a historian to outreach@history.wisc.edu.

S2E03 - How do podcasts enrich student learning in the History classroom?

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This past summer, graduate students Maggie Flamingo and Jeffrey Guarneri each designed and taught undergraduate History courses in which they asked students to create podcasts. How did these podcast assignments enrich their students’ learning?

As Maggie and Jeff explain, they set out with the goal of engaging their students in history and pressing students to think critically about the way historical narratives are constructed. We listen to excellent examples of student work that show how the podcast format encourages students to communicate effectively, analyze and integrate primary and secondary sources, and bring their creativity and personality to their work. Finally, Maggie and Jeff reflect on how their students’ podcasts enriched their experience as teachers and gave them a sense of connection to their students in the online classroom.

Time stamps:  

3:31 Why Maggie and Jeff decided to incorporate podcasts in their course

6:45 Listening to undergraduate students’ podcasts

29:32 Tips for teachers and how podcasts changed the way Maggie and Jeff think about teaching

Episode links:  

Maggie Flamingo is a PhD candidate in U.S. history at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Her research examines the history of 20th-century evangelicalism.

Jeffrey Guarneri is a PhD candidate in Japanese history at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. His research focuses on port cities in 20th-century Japan.

Our music is Pamgaea by Kevin MacLeod, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Please send us your questions for a historian: outreach@history.wisc.edu

S2E02 - How did Egyptian feminism develop between the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring?

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During the Arab Spring, Egyptian women played particularly prominent roles as activists on Tahrir Square and in the political groups that mobilized to debate the future of the Egypt. How did Egyptian feminism develop in the decades leading up to the Arab Spring?

Professor Aaron Rock-Singer takes us through the 20th– and 21st-century history of Egypt to trace the ways in which the British colonial project, the secular nationalist state, and Islamist revival movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis sought to shape the role of women in Egyptian society. Aaron highlights the contradictions and characteristics of the project of feminism in Egypt’s authoritarian political environment. He also reflects on the possibilities and challenges for activists under the current Sisi regime.

Timestamps:  

03:05 Women in the Egyptian Revolution and the Abdel Nasser period

11:06 The British colonial project to create a quiescent population

16:08 The Sadat and Mubarak periods

22:24 Salafism, authenticity debates, and gender segregation

31:52 Comparing developments in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East

36:17 Reflections on the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the Sisi regime

Episode links:  

Aaron Rock-Singer is Assistant Professor of History and the University of Wisconsin—Madison. His first book, Practicing Islam in Egypt: Print Media and Islamic Revival, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2019. You can follow him on Twitter @AaronRockSinger.

Our music is Pamgaea by Kevin MacLeod, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Please send us your questions for a historian: outreach@history.wisc.edu

S2E01 - What does it mean to reckon with the history of racism at the University of Wisconsin—Madison?

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When millions of people across the United States took to the streets in protest following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, they ignited a racial reckoning across all sectors of American society. This episode, we talk about the process of racial reckoning on our campus: what does it mean to reckon with the history of racism at the University of Wisconsin—Madison?

Kacie Lucchini Butcher, Director of the Public History Project, explains how the Public History Project fits in to the process of confronting racism and exclusion in the past and present at UW-Madison. One year into the Project, she shares the patterns and themes researchers have identified so far: the persistence of racism and discrimination at UW-Madison throughout its history; the dogged efforts of student activists to call out and resist exclusion; and the recurring justifications employed by university administration to defend its inaction.

Kacie emphasizes that the process of reckoning involves first establishing shared knowledge of what happened in the past, and then taking action to create a more just and equitable future. At UW, she contends, this requires enacting policy measures and—more importantly—social and cultural change throughout the campus community.

Timestamps:  

05:53 The genesis and goals of the Public History Project

16:37 The process of reckoning with the history of racism at UW-Madison

19:33 Themes and patterns the Public History Project has identified so far in this history

39:40 Taking action through policy, social, and cultural change

48:11 How to get involved with the Public History Project

Episode links:

The Public History Project was created in response to a recommendation in the Report to the Chancellor on the Ku Klux Klan at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. The full report is available online through the UW website.

Learn more about the Public History Project at its website. Kacie and her student researchers also share their findings on Instagram, where you can follow them @uwpublichistoryproject.

If you have tips for the Public History Project or would like to get involved, you can get in touch with the researchers over email: publichistoryproject@wisc.edu

Kacie previously curated the exhibit “Owning Up: Racism and Housing in Minneapolis” at the Hennepin History Museum. The digital exhibit is available online at the exhibit’s website.

Our music is Pamgaea by Kevin MacLeod, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Please send us your questions for a historian: outreach@history.wisc.edu

S1E3 - Why have Asian Americans often been the target of xenophobic and racist attacks during disease outbreaks?

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by a spike in anti-Asian, especially anti-Chinese, racism. Why have Asian Americans often been the target of xenophobic and racist attacks during past disease outbreaks?

Professor Cindy I-Fen Cheng puts the past and present in conversation as she explains how Americans have historically used immigrant scapegoating to misdirect attention from larger structural issues in society. She tells us about the history of Chinese immigration exclusion, traces the development of racist ideas about Asian Americans, and reflects on the Cold War continuities she sees in the conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 virus originated in a Wuhan virology lab. Finally, she shares her hope that this moment produces increased discussion on the policies that have created structural racism, as well as a new commitment to creating policies that ensure greater equity for all people.

Cindy I-Fen Cheng is Professor of History and Director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Her book is Citizens of Asian America: Democracy and Race During the Cold War.

To read more about the scapegoating of Chinese immigrants during disease outbreaks in San Francisco, see Nayan Shah’s Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

For a history of Chinese immigration exclusion, Cindy recommends Erika Lee’s At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943.

Our music is Pamgaea by Kevin MacLeod, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Please send us your questions for a historian and/or tell us why you love history. You can record a voice memo and share it with us via email: outreach@history.wisc.edu.

S1E2 - What lessons can the history of Ebola in West Africa offer as we face the COVID-19 pandemic?

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As we face the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the past can shed some light on our moment of crisis. We speak with Professor Gregg Mitman about the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in Liberia. How did people’s faith in or mistrust of their government shape the trajectory of the epidemic? What lessons can the history of Ebola offer in the context of COVID-19?

Gregg tells us about the long history of capitalism, politics, ecology, and medicine behind Liberia’s Ebola outbreak. He reflects on the unique geopolitical challenges of our current moment and the ways COVID-19 confronts racist Western assumptions about disease. Finally, he underscores the vital importance of building trust in order to successfully stem an epidemic.

Gregg co-directed and co-produced the 2015 documentary film In the Shadow of Ebola with Sarita Siegel, which you can view on the film’s website. His article in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Ebola in a Stew of Fear,” is available on NEJM’s website.

In the episode, Gregg speaks about African scholars’ commentary on COVID-19, including David Mwambari’s article “The pandemic can be a catalyst for decolonisation in Africa,” and Robtel Neajai Pailey’s “Africa does not need saving during this pandemic.”

Burial team workers handling a casket with the human remains of an Ebola victim in Monrovia. Photo credit: Alexander Wiaplah
Burial team workers handling a casket with the human remains of an Ebola victim in Monrovia. Photo credit: Alexander Wiaplah. Click to enlarge image.

Our music is Pamgaea by Kevin MacLeod, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Please send us your questions for a historian and/or tell us why you love history. You can record a voice memo and share it with us via email: outreach@history.wisc.edu

S1E1 - Why do racist incidents come as a surprise to many Americans?

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Professor April Haynes speaks with Professor Paige Glotzer about the history of race relations in the United States. Has there been a sudden spike of racism in the United States? Why do racist ideas and incidents come as a surprise to many Americans?

To answer these questions, Professor Glotzer explains the history of the racial wealth gap in the United States, the role of racist violence in maintaining structural inequalities, and the longstanding efforts of Black activists to communicate their experiences of racism to a white public.

To read the striking language of restrictive covenants for yourself, see below for an image of a restrictive covenant created for the Roland Park Company’s Homeland subdivision in Baltimore. The race clause—categorized under “Nuisances”—is circled. Image courtesy of the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Library.

Ask-A-Historian - Homeland Restrictive Covenant
Click to enlarge

Professor Glotzer’s new book, How the Suburbs Were Segregated: Developers and the Business of Exclusionary Housing, will be published by Columbia University Press on April 28, 2020.

Our theme music is Pamgaea by Kevin MacLeod, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Please send us your questions for a historian and/or tell us why you love history. You can record a voice memo and share it with us via email: outreach@history.wisc.edu