Greetings from the Chair

By: Tamara Loos,  History Department
February 16, 2021

Dear Alumni and Friends,

I hope this e-newsletter finds you well. It has been an adventure to be chair of the history department during the Covid pandemic and reminds me of how thankful I am for such supportive faculty, staff, students and alumni. 

I found out just how supportive a community we have in November 2020, when we learned that one of our beloved professors, Professor Emeritus Richard Polenberg, had passed away on Thanksgiving Day. Richard was known for his excellence in teaching, gracious approach to life and commitment to students. His warm humility will be remembered by all who knew him, and his rich legacy lives on in his family, books and students. Please read more about him in the article linked with this newsletter. 

Launching into 2021 and my fourth semester as department chair, I reflect on the vital importance of evidence-based history to what is happening in our country and in the world. As historians, we not only chronicle and analyze the past, but also shape our society’s understanding of the present by providing context and perspective. One way we share this knowledge is by contributing to Cornell’s mission of engagement, which enhances the lives and livelihoods of students, the people of New York and others around the world through public service. Our department engages the public in various ways, as you can see from the work of our faculty outlined below. Please peruse these stories about our history faculty as examples of the breadth of activities supported by your generosity.

Edward Baptist and his co-collaborators have received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to support public access to nearly 30,000 fugitive slave advertisements from 18th and 19th century North America. The grant supports the long-term growth and sustainability of this Freedom on the Move (FOTM) database, the single most significant database of these advertisements ever assembled. It is accessible to the public, who can contribute to the database, and serves as a research aid, teaching tool and resource for genealogists.

Cristina Florea was honored with a 2021-22 Faculty Fellowship from Cornell’s Center for the Social Sciences to work on her book manuscript, “Crossroads of Empire: Revolutions and Encounters at the Frontiers of Europe.” Her scholarship traces the transformations of Bukovina, a province now split between Romania and Ukraine, over the course of almost two centuries during which successive regimes attempted repeatedly to remake its cultural and political geographies.

Mostafa Minawai, Associate Professor of History and the Director of the Ottoman & Turkish Studies Initiative, collaborated with the TED_Ed team to create a short primer for students interested in the history of the Ottoman Empire.  The video aims to catalyze, answer questions, and enable Professor Minawi to provide his expertise to those who seek to better understand the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East, and North Africa via Public History platforms. With 270,000 views, his goal is underway.

Historians are essential to Global Cornell’s new project, Migrations: A Global Grand Challenge, which won a three-year, $5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative. The project will bring together scholars to study the links between racism, dispossession and migration. Eric Tagliacozzo, the John Stambaugh Professor of History in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-chair of the Migrations project, was one of six lead faculty on the proposal. Research, teaching and community engagement supported by the grant will “respond to historical and ongoing nativist and racialized violence in the U.S. by turning the university into a living laboratory.”

Stephen Vider is currently working with The History Center in Tompkins County to lead six sophomores and juniors in a year-long oral history fellowship, funded by an Engaged Cornell Curriculum Grant. During fall 2020, students were introduced to the methods and ethics of oral history, and this spring they will be conducting oral history interviews with community leaders about their responses to COVID-19. The interviews will be archived as part of The History Center’s Story Vault.

Professor TJ Hinrichs continues to work with undergraduates in the Cornell Historical Society to publish Ezra's Archives yearly, even during the pandemic. The publication showcases stellar examples of undergraduate research in the field of history and advertises for submissions across the country. Each year, CHS editors select five articles for the journal, which is free to the public. Ten years of journals are available online through the Cornell library's e-Commons: Ezra's Archives e-Commons link.

Our faculty continue to publish and comment on the historical underpinnings of current events. Weekly updates are on the College of Arts and Sciences Media Link, or see a feed of our articles by following us on Twitter and liking our Facebook Page.

James Baldwin, American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist, said, "People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them." We are a department committed to engaging the public with history so that we do not remain trapped, and your gifts help make this vision possible. We hope you will enjoy perusing some of our online materials that help tell our department's outreach story.

If you would like to support us on Giving Day, here is our Unique Link.


Tamara Loos

Professor of History

Chair of the Department of History