Dear Students, Alumni and Friends of the Ball State Department of History,
Our current historical context continues to be very challenging for all of us, but I can assure you that we are learning to be very nimble in the Department of History, and we are learning to respond to the circumstances around us, balancing what the European Renaissance knew as the vita contemplativa with the vita activa. We have always done the first, reflecting on the past, and we are now committing to bringing those reflections beyond the classroom with greater regularity. Not only have we hired a new director of public history, Dr. Wendy Soltz; we realize that there is a world around us to which we can provide context and perspective. This was already discussed somewhat in a College of Sciences and Humanities Blogspot posting from April 29, 2020 that references the history of human interaction with pandemics. However, there remains more to say about historical reflections on pandemics. I once owned a copy of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett’s 1995 book The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. In 1995, Publishers Weekly wrote, “Garrett probes the human impact on the environment and the resulting emergence of new and mutating deadly viruses.” It may be time for me to buy another copy to remind myself that COVID-19 should not have been a surprise. There is still a place for gathering data and studying it in this world in order to generate thoughtful policy.
We try to do that at Ball State University, which has led to our current efforts to promote health safety on campus in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, on Monday evening, I taught a socially distanced graduate class on the North Quad, where we all wore masks and engaged in a lively discussion on “Witchcraft, Magic and Science in the Atlantic World.” With assigned readings and audio podcasts and PowerPoint slides provided on the course’s Canvas website, the fourteen graduate students can succeed if they, unfortunately and sadly, have to self-quarantine at some point, but we also still strive to build a sense of real human community in difficult times, as others did before us.
We are adapting to survive, and we may even continue to thrive. Our departmental student numbers remain rather healthy, given the circumstances, and we welcome three faculty members this semester.
Max Felker-Kantor has taught at Ball State as Visiting Assistant Teaching Professor of History since 2018. He received his PhD in 2014 from the University of Southern California. This fall he joins us on the tenure-line as Assistant Professor of History. He teaches courses in twentieth-century American and African American history with a focus on race, politics, and social movements. He is particularly interested in the policies and institutions of urban law enforcement and criminal justice systems since World War II. His articles and book chapters have been published in the Journal of Urban History, Journal of Civil and Human Rights, Boom California, Black and Brown Los Angeles: A Contemporary Reader, the Pacific Historical Review, and the Casden Annual Review. Dr. Felker-Kantor’s first book, Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2018. Currently, he is researching schools, inner-city policing, and the D.A.R.E. program.
This fall Wendy Soltz joins Ball State University as Assistant Professor of History and Director of the Public History Program. She received her PhD in 2016 from the Ohio State University and specializes in U.S. history, Jewish history, public history, museum studies, and digital history. In 2017, the Association for Jewish Studies Review published her first article “Just Miles Away but Worlds Apart: Examining Jewish Participation in Integration Programs at Black Mountain College and Highlander Folk School, 1933-1964.” Her work also has been featured in two PBS specials. With the Indiana Jewish Historical Society, she is completing the Indiana Historic Synagogue mapping project, and, from 2018 to June 2020, she served as Executive Director of that historical society. Dr. Soltz has curated over seven solo exhibitions in Washington, D.C. and Ohio and is now curating an exhibition to be held at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning & Leadership on the history of Jewish Chicago.
Christopher Valesey joins us this fall to teach online sections of History 150, “The West in the World.” An early modern global historian, he received his PhD in Colonial Latin American History from Penn State University in 2019. While a graduate student, he served as an editorial assistant for the Hispanic American Historical Review. He also briefly worked as a paleographer and translator for PBS’s show, Finding Your Roots. His research interests are in sixteenth-century Mexico, Nahuatl (the language of the Aztec empire), human-animal studies, and cultural change. His dissertation, “Managing the Herd: Nahuas, Animals, and Colonialism in Sixteenth-Century New Spain,” challenges the traditional narrative that livestock and other Old World animals served primarily as unwittingly destructive agents of Spanish colonialism. Dr. Valesey’s first article, “Perseverance of the Eagle-Jaguar Military Ethos in Sixteenth-Century New Spain” is scheduled for publication in The Sixteenth Century Journal.
We are here, and we strive to serve.