Thursday, September 30, 2010

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Michael Cahall

If you've been reading our blog for a while now, you know that we like to spotlight our faculty members and graduate assistants. These individuals are integral to our department and our academic community.

They're also just plain cool.

Dr. Michael Cahall, who used to be the Director of the Honors College, has finally re-joined the Department of History full-time. And we couldn't be happier! We think you should get to know him, too.

1.What is your favorite historical era or moment?

That’s kind of like choosing a favorite child; you’re “wrong” no matter what choice you make. I would probably choose the Gilded Age in America (1877-1917). When I taught Expansion and Reform I used to mention to the class that that course covered the shortest time span of all our graduate history survey courses, and it would have been possible, or even likely, that the period could have remembered the whole period within a single lifespan. That was the period when the United States became a “modern” nation and there was so much going on—good and bad—that it would be fascinating to observe it first-hand.

2. If you weren’t teaching history, what would you be doing?

(I assume you mean if I haven’t won the lottery or found another source of untold wealth. In which case, I’d be on a beach somewhere sipping pina coladas and wondering where I was going for dinner.) Really, I would probably be back in the museum field as a curator, working with historical artifacts and preparing exhibits. I loved doing that sort of history. Since I am fantasizing about this—it’d be the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It really has some of the coolest stuff to “play” with!

3. What is your favorite piece or event of Pittsburgh history?

My favorite “piece” of Pittsburgh history is probably the urban “renaissance” of the 1950s and 1960s. I think we are tremendously lucky today that we had a group of leaders in the city then who looked for a way out of the steel era when that was beginning to decline. Other cities weren’t so fortunate. Some of that spirit is still in Pittsburgh and can be seen in the revitalization that is going on in the downtown area with the creation of a permanent live-in population there. There are a lot of “new” areas, like Market Square, that make the downtown a fun place to be. I appreciate living in a city that knows how to redefine itself in order to deal with new realities.

4. What one book would you recommend to every student of history?

I’d recommend Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the American Civil War. It’s a massive work but exceedingly well researched and lovingly written. If you’ve seen Ken Burns’ film history of the war, you can’t have missed Foote as one of the major “talking heads” in the series. I can hear his voice telling me the story as I read along. Anything by David McCullough has the same effect for me.

5. The classic dinner question—what historical figures (up to 5) would you have to dinner? And just as important—what is the main course?

First, the meal because it’s the most important, right? I make a “killer” peppercorn steak with balsamic vinegar reduction (just ask my wife!). Prepared with excellent meat, it’d be a hit. It’d be accompanied by twice-baked potatoes, fresh asparagus, and my favorite buttermilk biscuits that my wife makes. There’d be something chocolate for dessert. Finally, we’d have a nice red wine to finish it off.

The five people (in no particular order) would be (1) Abraham Lincoln (I’d really love to know what his voice sounded like because some historians think it was high pitched. I’d also want to see his “mind” work.); (2) James Madison because I would like to know what the Founding Fathers really did originally intend when they wrote the U.S. Constitution; (3) Benjamin Franklin because I think he’d be a great dinner conversationalist; (4) Rachel Carson so she could give us her views on the current environmental issues facing the United States and the world; and (5) Madeline Albright to talk about the world scene today.

6. Does history really repeat itself?

No, I don’t believe history “repeats” itself. But I do think that ideas, circumstances, and events today have a strong resemblance to those of the past. We can learn a lot from how people reacted and dealt with them, both positively and negatively, in the past.

7. What historical location and during what time period would you have liked to live?

I think I would have liked to live in Philadelphia in 1876. The Centennial Exposition would have been amazing--to see all the “new” machinery and manufactures created for the exhibition. (Of course I would invest in Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Thomas Alva Edison’s gramophone—both exhibited at the exposition—and become “filthy rich.” See question Number 2!)

8. Who/what leader had the coolest historical costume?

I think Erik the Red or Leif Ericson probably had the coolest historical costume. Hey—animal skins, swords, spears and horned helmets! How can you go wrong? (OK. I know the Vikings very likely didn’t wear horned helmets, but it’s become an icon, right?)

9. What is the most significant historical moment you have known in your lifetime?

You’re making me admit my age. There were three that immediately came to mind: the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963, the lunar landing in 1969, and 9/11 in 2001. Having to choose one, I would probably select 9/11. I think it was a major turning point for the U.S. and continues to play into our national psyche. Many of the issues we are dealing with as a nation today were a direct result of or were strongly influenced by that experience.

10. Do you have a favorite historical quote or reference?

I had to think about this one; there are so many. I guess I would go with “Houston, Tranquility Base; the Eagle has landed.” Everyone who is my age can probably tell you exactly where they were when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. Having been a “child of the sixties” (and I do mean child!), I grew up with the American space program in all its glory. I think it, along with the American effort in World War II, is evidence of what we, as a nation, can do when we are united and dedicated to a seemingly impossible goal. I wish we had leaders who could issue such challenges to us today and lead us, like John Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt did in their day, to face and solve some of the problems we face today.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Graduate Assistant Spotlight: Samantha Keenan

We continue with our graduate assistant spotlights for this semester. You've already met Annalise and Ted. Next up, meet Samantha Keenan, a graduate student in the Public History Program!


Undergraduate Institution:
Whitworth University, Spokane, WA

Undergraduate Major:
Double major in History and English Literature

Spokane Valley, WA

Favorite Movie:
I love British miniseries—my favorite is probably Foyle’s War.

Favorite Historical Period:
First half of the twentieth century in America, particularly the 1930s.

Extracurricular Activities in College:
In addition to academic memberships like Phi Alpha Theta, I enjoyed being involved in campus and community ministry and social justice groups, volunteering at the Spokane Civic Theatre, going on a mission trip to Mexico and being secretary for the English department club. Two highlights of my college experience were spending a semester studying in Britain and Ireland and a year and a half working and interning at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture.

Little Known Fact About You:
One of my favorite places to spend time with family and friends is at the lake cabin my grandpa built in 1960 on Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho.


What area of history are you focusing on in your graduate career here at Duquesne University?
I want to become equipped for many types of positions and responsibilities in the museum world during my time at Duquesne. I am looking forward to gaining a range of practical skills in various areas in the field of Public History, while continuing to study American history, historiography and the challenges that arise in presenting history for the public.

What are some of the responsibilities you will have as a graduate assistant here in the department? Who are the faculty members you’ll be assisting?
I will be a graduate assistant for Dr. Archer and Dr. Stonge. My responsibilities will include grading objective exams, being available to cover class times periodically, grade recording and possibly some other duties that come up along the way.

How do you like Pittsburgh?
Well, I have been here for a few weeks now and really like what I’ve seen. People have been so friendly and helpful, especially as I am trying to figure out the public transportation system! I have enjoyed exploring the different neighborhoods and love looking at all the architecture. I have found a great church and cycling group and am looking forward to immersing myself more into the way of life in Pittsburgh.

What are your plans (or your dreams) for after you finish your M.A.? I would like to be a history curator in a regional museum somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, maybe in Portland or Seattle. Someday I would like to get my PhD and possibly teach some classes in addition to museum work.

What is one of the things you’re most excited to experience here at Duquesne/in Pittsburgh?
I have lived my whole life on the West Coast and am excited to experience the culture and learn more about the history of a different part of the country.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Matthew Hyland

The History Department is full of interesting and diverse lovers of History. We are so proud of those who teach in this Department and given that we have the privilege of knowing them so well, we think you should, too. This time, we have chosen to spotlight Dr. Matthew Hyland. Dr. Hyland joined the History Department last year, and we're so very glad to have him with us.

1. What is your favorite historical era or moment?
The Early American Republic--a time of new beginnings, unfinished business, and new problems. What's not to like?

2. If you weren’t teaching history, what would you be doing?
I'd be measuring, drawing, and researching historic buildings anywhere in the United States of America.

3. What is your favorite piece of or moment in Pittsburgh history?
Fort Duquesne/Fort Pitt, then and now.

4. What book would you recommend every person read?
Ralph Ketcham, The Madisons at Montpelier: Reflections on the Founding Couple (University Press of Virginia). It's about Madison and his house; need I say more?

5. The classic dinner question: what 5 figures from history would you like to have dinner with, and, just as important, what is the main course?
George Mason, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Marshall, and Alexander Hamilton. I'd like to sit down with them to a Virginia-style barbeque dinner and listen to the arguments.

6. During what historical period would you have liked to live, other than the present?
Again, the Early American Republic, especially for watching the USA defeat Great Britain in war for a second time. Good times.

7. What leader from history had the coolest historical costume?
I love James Madison's small clothes, but hats off to Kemal Attaturk's super fez.

8. What is the most significant historical moment you have experienced in your lifetime?
Electing L. Douglas Wilder as governor of Virginia, the first African American governor in the USA in 1989.

9. What has been your favorite thing about teaching/being on faculty at Duquesne University?
The collegiality of the history faculty comes to mind first, but I am also quite pleased with the many water fountains on each floor of College Hall. I don't go 'round thirsty.

10. Do you have a favorite quote? It doesn’t have to be about history:
Yes it does. "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives," James Madison.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

We're More than Just History

The History Department is filled with people who do more than just study history or help the department run smoothly. Our own Administrative Assistant, Laura Miller, was chosen recently as a Hometown Hero for the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the most elite fighter jet squadron in the nation.

Her award?

She got to fly in an F16.

In July of 2009, Laura started a project called The Secret Agent L Project, which focuses on anonymous acts of kindness. She started out as an anonymous agent of kindness, leaving little gifts for unsuspecting people to find all over Pittsburgh. She eventually recruited over 80 Affiliated Agents all around the world who participated in the project by completing their own missions of kindness and emailing their photos and narratives to Laura for her to post on her website.
After a year of anonymity, Laura decided to reveal her identity to help further her cause. She hosted a fundraiser and reveal party in late July of this year, raising more than $1,500 for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Once her identity went public, the media went crazy. She was approached by Pittsburgh's local ABC affiliate, WTAE-TV, CNN, the Huffington Post, and FOX, along with smaller media outlets, websites, and blogs.

Roughly a month ago, she received a phone call from the 911th Airlift Wing in Pittsburgh and was told she had been nominated for the USAF Thunderbirds Hometown Hero award. If she was chosen, she'd get to fly in an F16.

She received the confirmation call last week.

On Tuesday, Sept. 7, Laura suited up and hopped in to an $80 million Lockheed Martin F16D Fighting Falcon. Her pilot, Lt. Col. Derek "Tazz" Routt, gave her the ride of her life.

The plan was to do stunts including barrel rolls, inversions, and pull some serious Gs. And, just for kicks, "Tazz" would take the plane straight up to 18,000 feet at 750 mph.

During Laura's medical pre-flight briefing, her flight surgeon indicated that people who are tall and thin (the same build as Laura) have a more difficult time managing strong G forces. "I just want to warn you," he said, "that you're going to have a pretty rough time up there."

He was right. While the barrel roll and inversions weren't a problem for Laura, the intense G forces were.

"I couldn't stop throwing up," she admits. "That much force on my little body was just too much. And because of that, we had to cut the flight short, as well as nix the stunts. But I did manage to pull almost 7 Gs."

Her return to the ground was smooth, and she received quite the welcome by the entire Thunderbirds Team.

And she also kissed the ground. Rightfully so!

"Tazz" gave a heartfelt speech thanking Laura for her service to others before self and congratulated her for having the courage to get in an F16 with him.

She was presented with a VIP Thunderbirds Flight Certificate.

And she also received a beautiful framed print of the Thunderbirds flying over Chicago's Wrigley Field. All the members of the Thunderbirds signed it as well.

"It was an absolutely amazing experience," Laura said. "I will never, ever forget it...even though I did throw up for most of it!"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Graduate Assistant Spotlight: Edward "Ted" Schwab

Each fall, the History Department awards graduate assistantship positions to outstanding students, providing them with full tuition, a modest stipend, and the opportunity to engage in research and other scholarly opportunities under the supervision of two to three faculty members.

Last week, we highlighted Annalise Policicchio. Now let us introduce you to Ted Schwab, a graduate student in the Public History Program.

The Basics:

Undergraduate Institution:
The Pennsylvania State University, Main Campus

Undergraduate Major:
Medieval Studies, with a minor in History

Coatesville, PA (somewhat near Philadelphia)

Favorite Movie:
Although Lord of the Rings is certainly a strong contender, it would have to be Braveheart or Knights of the Round Table (from 1953).

Favorite Historical Period:
Currently, I am really interested in the Jacobite period in Scotland. I have always been interested in Anglo-Celtic struggles for independence/dominance, and the early 18th century in Scotland is a fascinating time period.

Extracurricular Activities in College:
I was the treasurer of the Penn State Medieval Society and was very active with the Episcopal Campus Ministry. I also volunteered at the Special Collections Library.

Little Known Fact About You:
I watched Disney’s Mulan at least a million times. I even burned through my videotape because I paused the movie so much at really cool looking shots of the Huns, drawing them and wishing I could be a barbarian.

The Nitty Gritty:

What area of history are you focusing on in your graduate career here at Duquesne University?
The early United States, after the signing of the Constitution until the Reconstruction Era (1789-1868). I am particularly interested in the Irish and Scottish diaspora, the antebellum period, the Civil War, and the Texan revolution. I will be studying archival management and museum studies for the practical portion of my degree.

What are some of the responsibilities you will have as a graduate assistant here in the department? Who are the faculty members you’ll be assisting?
I will be assisting Dr. Elaine F. Parsons, and although she has not told me exactly what I will be doing yet, she has mentioned either a digital track or a teaching track.

How do you like Pittsburgh?
I really like Pittsburgh, and as I get to know the city better, I like it more and more. I really like the Frick Art Museum and Historical Center, and downtown is really nice. I enjoy actually living in a city, as there is so much more to do and things are often open later at night.

What are your plans (or your dreams) for after you finish your M.A.?
I would like to possibly work for the NARA, or maybe as a curator/archivist for a Texas historical society. I could also see myself working directly with people as an educator or a tour guide.

What is one of the things you’re most excited to experience here at Duquesne/in Pittsburgh?
I’m really excited to experience more of the cultural aspect of the city, like the art museums, public history institutions, and the street fairs. At Duquesne, I’m super excited for my internships. I’m really looking forward to getting truly involved with public history institutions and making the history I love so much come alive for people.