2019 History Publications And Grants

*Indicates student co-author

Bjornlie, Shane. "Beowulf and the Textual Exclusion of Vikings in the Carolingian World." Inclusion and Exclusion in Mediterranean Christianities, 400-800, edited by Yaniv Fox and Erica Buchberger. Brepols, 2019, pp. 69-93.

Abstract:  in the late eight century, Carolingian emperors of the western European continent and Anglo-Saxon kings of England came into increasing contact with visitors from non-Christian Scandinavia. These encounters of 'Vikings' with Christian realms had been preceded by centuries of the more or less regular forms of contact (trade, piracy, and settlement) that characterized the cultural zone of the North Sea. The intensification of contact in the eighth century initiated alternating patterns of conflict and accommodation that would extend well into the eleventh century and that were far more complex than a straightforward 'invasion' narrative. Sources indicate that Scandinavian Vikings were a regular feature of the early medieval political landscape: sometimes as antagonists but often as participants. Nonetheless, by the eighth century, the world view of people living in the former Roman provinces of north-western Europe had assumed a Christian perspective of political community, and the early medieval Christian imagination was quite capable of envisioning Vikings as the 'other' from beyond a political, cultural, and religious frontier. Within this same period, sometime between the late-ninth and tenth century, when Christian polities of the Carolingian continent and Anglo-Saxon England were developing strategies to assimilate the 'heathen' Scandinavian, an anonymous writer composed, transcribed, or translated over 3000 lines of verse in the dialect of the West Saxon court of Alfred the Great. The poem, now well known as Beowulf, recounts the deeds and death of the eponymous hero who leads a band of warriors against the monster Grendel on behalf of the beleaguered household of the Danish king Hrothgar. The poem has attracted a steady flow of scholarly attention as an exemplar for early medieval culture. Set in the pre-Christian landscape of sixth-century Scandinavia, the poem has been understood to represent a memory of the Germanic ancestry shared in common by peoples of post-Roman and northern Europe. Interpretations of Beowulf have elaborated on elements of early medieval kingship, the gendered norms and aesthetic tastes of early medieval nobility, the importance of memory and lineage in early medieval society and the peripatetic nature of elite military culture. The distance of the poem's temporal setting (the sixth century) from that of its audience (late ninth or tenth century) and the fantastical nature of its narrative have additionally encouraged interpretations of the poem within the context of elite entertainment. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxon dialect of the poem's extant manuscript and its content as a tale set in pre-literate and pagan Scandinavia have made it difficult for assessments of the poem to move beyond the context of Anglo-Saxon literary culture. This essay will attempt to broaden the scope for understanding Beowulf by considering it as a response to anxieties about cultural conflict, real or imagined, within early medieval Anglo-Saxon society. The essay proceeds in this direction first by focusing on the paradoxical role of the other in Beowulf as a figure capable of mediating cultural conflict. Thus, the central conflict between the monster and the mead hall, or Grendel and Heorot, may be understood as a means by which an Anglo-Saxon audience transposed the dilemma of Viking settlement in England onto earlier Scandinavian society. The Anglo-Saxon formulation of this particular dilemma also seems to be mindful of the previous (or possibly contemporary) Carolingian experience with Vikings. Removed from the political reality of Viking settlement, the poem allowed its Anglo-Saxon audience conceptual space within which to contemplate the historical role of the heathen other. This essay will suggest that where the Danish mead hall is analogous to both Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian royal courts, the monsters of Beowulf figure as Vikings.

Bjornlie, Shane. “Cassiodorus.” The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Revised Edition, edited by Sander Goldberg. Oxford University Press, 2019.

Bjornlie, Shane. Review of Rome Resurgent: War and Empire in the Age of Justinian, by Peter Heather. Studies in Late Antiquity: A Journal, vol. 3, no. 4, 2019, pp. 624-629.

Bjornlie, Shane. The Variae: The Complete Translation. University of California Press, 2019.

Abstract: This volume is the first full translation into English of the Variae, a collection of 468 letters written and assembled by Cassiodorus in the middle of the 6th century. The Variae are our best witnesses to the dramatic transformation of Italy from a Roman seat of imperial government to a medieval kingdom. Cassiodorus' work as a Christian exegete secured his reputation throughout the Middle Ages of western Europe, but his earlier role as a high-ranking public official for the Ostrogothic rulers of Italy produced a text in many ways more valuable to modern historians of Late Antiquity than any of his later scholarly works. The letters known as the Variae are both sensitive and elusive witnesses to the many interactions of the so-called barbarian court of Theoderic and his heirs with eastern emperors, western kings, bishops and senators, military commanders and private citizens, scholars and loyal taxpayers, criminals and oppressive landlords. The collection represents thirty years of Cassiodorus' work in civil, legal and financial administration during the twilight of the late-Roman state and provides insights into aspects of the 6th-century society of Italy rarely seen in such detail in other bodies of evidence. For the modern student and scholar of Late Antique and Early Medieval Italy, the Variae are an indispensable resource for understanding political and diplomatic culture, economic and legal structure, intellectual heritage, urban landscapes and religious worldview, and the evolution of social relations at all levels of society.

Bjornlie, Shane. "Virtues in a Time of War: Administrative Writing, Dialectic and the Gothic War of 6th-Century Italy." The Collectio Avellana and Its Revivals, edited by Rita Lizzi Testa and Giulia Marconi. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019, pp. 425-462.

Abstract: Ostrogothic Italy has a particular Janus-like quality. Janus governed beginnings and endings and his image, rendered enigmatically as a two-faced bust, gazed in opposite directions to the past and future. Many historical "periods" share Janus' temporally ambivalent disposition, particularly as manufactures of the modern historical mind, and this is especially true of the Ostrogothic period in Italy (493- 535), when successive members of the Amal family ruled the peninsula and its neighboring provinces. Although the period represents perhaps the longest span of political stability in Italy since the reign of the last Theodosian emperor, Valentinian III (d. 455), this perspective prevails primarily in comparison to preceding and subsequent decades. Prior to the arrival of Theoderic and the Goths, the relative success of Odoacer's rule in Italy (476-91) certainly contributed to political conditions under the Amals, but Odoacer's government suffers from poor documentary attestation and tends to be associated with the previous generation (455-76) of abortive imperial reigns and arriviste warlords. The period following Amal rule, initiated ironically by Justinian's attempt to extend eastern imperial authority over Italy (the Gothic War), experienced a rupture of social, political and economic fabric that would last almost two decades (535-54) and ultimately resolve in the tessellation of the Italian peninsula into disputed zones of Byzantine, Lombard and Papal influence. As a result, modern scholarship often views the roughly four decades of Amal rule in Italy as both a resurgent period of stable government and as the final period in which Italy enjoyed continuity with Roman imperial traditions. In a sense, it may be said that Ostrogothic Italy, much like Janus, looked ahead to the disarticulation of the western Mediterranean from imperial rhythms and backward toward the maintenance of those rhythms. In other words, Ostrogothic Italy represents both the final stage of antiquity and the beginning of the early Middle Ages. Of course, these characterizations depend upon the representational quality of the available sources and whether scholars read these sources as actual indices of regional culture and state practice, or as textual rhetoric. One area where the impression of continuity with imperial habits is particularly persistent is in the administrative style of Ostrogothic sources. Sixth-century Italy offers a rich fund of administrative sources drawn from legal, fiscal, diplomatic and ecclesiastical contexts. A potential peculiarity of these sources is the varying degree to which the vocabulary and ideals of moral and political philosophy inform administrative writing. The source that reveals most vividly the confluence of administrative and philosophical literacy is the collection of letters that Cassiodorus assembled and revised as the Variae sometime during the early stage of the Gothic War. Earlier scholarship has assumed that Cassiodorus assembled the Variae between 538 and 540, by which reckoning the capture of Ravenna figured as the terminus of his political aspirations. More recent analysis of the political context suggests that Cassiodorus may have produced the Variae later in the 540s, in response to the vacillating fortunes of the Gothic War and the troubled circumstances of Justinian's reign. Regardless of the precise date and location of "publication," the Variae are a product of the Gothic War, a period in which colonization by an eastern imperial administration threatened to challenge social and political norms in Italy. The engagement of administrative writing in the Variae with ideas attached to a long tradition of moral and political philosophy suggests the rhetorical maintenance of an antique tradition as a direct response to rupture in social and political norms caused by the conflict. This becomes particularly evident in comparison to other sources of administrative writing circulating in Italy both before and during the Gothic War where such an attachment to philosophical language is lacking. The following essay will outline features of Cassiodorus' administrative style through an examination of his engagement with the vocabulary of political and moral philosophy and furthermore contrast Cassiodorus' development of political ideals using traditional philosophical vocabulary to other products of public literacy contemporary with the Gothic War, including Justinian's Novellae and the papal letters of the Collectio Avellana. What emerges from this examination is a perspective of how sources appropriated the rhetoric of philosophy in response to political and military conflict in 6th-century Italy.

Ferguson, Heather. “Letter from the Editor.” Review of Middle East Studies, vol. 52, issue 2, 2019, pp. 245-248.

Ferguson, Heather L. “Ottomans, Ottomanists, and the State: Redefining an Ethos of Power in the Long Sixteenth Century.” Political Thought and Practice in the Ottoman Empire, Halcyon Days of Crete. Crete University Press, 2019, pp. 19-43.

Ferguson, Heather, and Zoe Griffith. "Language, Power, and Law in the Ottoman Empire." Ottoman History Podcast, episode 441, December 13, 2019,


External Grant: National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Research Stipend. “Sovereign Valedictions: ‘Last Acts’ in Early Modern Habsburg and Ottoman Courts.” 2019, FT-265424-19.

Abstract: The NEH 2019 summer stipend will support my venture into new territory to map one of the most dramatic stories in early modern Ottoman imperial history--the masked death of Süleyman outside the besieged fortress of Szigetvár in 1566. Intermittent military ventures and constant frontier skirmishes define the well-traveled Ottoman campaign trail from Constantinople toward the mirage of Vienna. While the intermediary voices and structures cultivated in order to manage administrative control over a dispersed empire is vital to my research, I have never physically traversed one of the most significant frontiers of Ottoman-Habsburg rivalry. Beyond a research commitment to the notion that ethnographic experience adds depth to historical inquiry, this lack of exposure to the regional network of fortresses that defined early modern sovereignty in a "brokered zone" (see Ch. 5 in the Proper Order of Things for this argument) subordinates the province to the imperial archive. Hence site visits to the cities, libraries, and archives of Plovdiv, Sofia, Niš, Belgrade, Szeged, Székesfehévar, Vác, and Győr will allow me to interrogate court-centric approaches as a tactic for exploring imperial fragility. As I posit that the "last acts" of sovereigns reveal the vulnerability of early modern administrative power based in part on record-keeping, regional archives provide a counterpoint to the imperial textual "gaze." Anxiety over Süleyman's death invoked a masquerade of faked correspondence, staged ceremonies, and executions meant to disguise his demise, silence rumors, and preserve the Empire. Falsified records and misinformation demonstrate the need to pivot from the truth claims of the imperial archive. Moreover, as Süleyman opted to end his life on yet another quixotic quest for a triumphant victory in Vienna, the summer stipend will allow me to explore this powerful symbolism from within the frontier zone. I would further continue documentation projects of key regional palaces, fortresses, mausoleums, cathedrals, and mosques that endure as architectural commemorations of past patronage.

Cebul, Brent, Lily Geismer, and Mason B. Williams, eds. Shaped by the State: Toward a New Political History of the Twentieth Century. University of Chicago Press, 2019.

Abstract: American political history has been built around narratives of crisis, in which what “counts” are the moments when seemingly stable political orders collapse and new ones rise from the ashes. But while crisis-centered frameworks can make sense of certain dimensions of political culture, partisan change, and governance, they also often steal attention from the production of categories like race, gender, and citizenship status that transcend the usual break points in American history. Brent Cebul, Lily Geismer, and Mason B. Williams have brought together first-rate scholars from a wide range of subfields who are making structures of state power—not moments of crisis or partisan realignment—integral to their analyses. All of the contributors see political history as defined less by elite subjects than by tensions between state and economy, state and society, and state and subject—tensions that reveal continuities as much as disjunctures. This broader definition incorporates investigations of the crosscurrents of power, race, and identity; the recent turns toward the history of capitalism and transnational history; and an evolving understanding of American political development that cuts across eras of seeming liberal, conservative, or neoliberal ascendance. The result is a rich revelation of what political history is today.

Geismer, Lily. “Democrats and Neoliberalism.” Vox, June 11, 2019,


Geismer, Lily. “Let Them Eat Tech.” Dissent, vol. 66, no. 4, 2019, pp. 48-57.

Geismer, Lily. Review of Kitchen Table Politics: Conservative Women and Family Values in New York, by Stacie Taranto. Journal of Social History, vol. 52, issue 3, 2019, pp. 1014-1016.

Hamburg, Gary. Review of Prince George E. L’vov: The Zemstvo, Civil Society, and Liberalism in Late Imperial Russia, by Thomas Earl Porter and Lawrence W. Lerner. Slavic Review, vol. 78, issue 2, 2019, pp. 580-581.

Kumar, Nita. “The Curriculum, and the Hidden Curriculum, in Indian Education, 1985 to the Present.” The Impact of Education in South Asia: Perspectives from Sri Lanka to Nepal, edited by Helen E. Ullrich. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, pp. 245-269.

Abstract: In my chapter, I focus on various curricular practices of Indian schools. By curriculum I mean the experienced, taught and learnt curriculum, or what may be observed by an ethnographer sitting for the whole school day in various classrooms as the sum total of the processes that are going on under the school roof. Then the "hidden curriculum," as the name implies, includes the non-explicit, implicit, unstated things that are also being taught children in school along with the explicitly stated curricular (and so-called extra-curricular) subjects. This hidden curriculum is always present and relies on the structures and processes of schools, including spatial layouts, language use, inter-relationships, rituals and symbols. It is the hidden curriculum that I highlight to show how education reproduces the very hierarchies in society that it claims to override, and that keeps the 'rich' and the 'poor' in their respective places. I introduce the new analytical lens of the family-school relationship. Schools would not be what they are, and their work would not be accomplished in the way it is, if the family was also not totally complicit in the culture and politics of the school.

Livesay, Daniel. Review of Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World, by Katharine Gerbner. Itinerario, vol. 43, issue 2, 2019, pp. 377-379.

Livesay, Daniel. Review of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: the Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grace, in the Building of a Nation, by Daina Ramey Berry. Civil War History, vol. 65, no. 2, 2019, pp. 194-195.

Livesay, Daniel. Review of Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean, by Randy M. Browne. The American Historical Review, vol. 124, issue 4, 2019, pp. 1480-1482.

Livesay, Daniel. Review of Victorian Jamaica, edited by Tim Barringer and Wayne Modest. The Historian, vol. 81, issue 2, 2019, pp. 320-321.

External Grant: Anthony E. Kaye Fellowship, National Humanities Center, 2019.

One-semester residential fellowship at the National Humanities Center in Durham, NC, in which I completed research and began writing my second book manuscript entitled, "Endless Bondage: Old Age in New World Slavery."

Choi, Stephen, Kira Donnell, Theodore Hughes, Albert L. Park, Alyssa Park, Evelyn Shih, Serk-Bae Suh, and Christina Yi. “Korean Studies in the Global Humanities: A Roundtable Discussion.” Journal of Korean Studies, vol. 24, no. 2, 2019, pp. 393-410.

Blei, Daniela, and Tamara Venit-Shelton. “Vaccines Save Lives. But Stricter Laws May Backfire.” Washington Post, August 30, 2019,


Venit-Shelton, Tamara. Herbs and Roots: A History of Chinese Doctors in the American Medical Marketplace. Yale University Press, 2019.

Abstract: Chinese medicine has a long history in the United States, dating back to its colonial period and extending up to the present. Well before mass emigration from China to the United States began, Chinese materia medica crossed the oceans, in both directions: Chinese medicinal teas and herbs came west while Appalachian ginseng went east. Beginning in the 1850s, Chinese immigrants came to the United States and transplanted their health practices, sometimes quite literally by propagating medicinal plants in their adopted home. Chinese doctors established businesses that catered to both Chinese and non-Chinese patients. Although acupuncture is the modality most commonly associated with Chinese medicine in today's medical marketplace, up until the 1970s, Chinese healers in the United States typically specialized in diagnosis by pulse (or pulsology) and prescriptions derived from mineral, zoological, and botanical (or herbal) sources. They struggled during the Great Depression and World War II, but conditions that seemed to precipitate the decline of Chinese medicine in the United States in fact laid the foundations for its rediscovery in the 1970s. This book chronicles roughly two hundred years of Chinese medicine as a dynamic system of knowledge, therapies, and materia medica brought to the United States and transformed by immigrants, doctors, and patients as well as missionaries, scientists, and merchants. Over time, Chinese medicine - along with other medical knowledge systems deemed "irregular," "alternative," or "unorthodox" - both facilitated and undermined the consolidation of medical authority among formally trained western-style medical scientists.

Venit-Shelton, Tamara. “Nature’s Own Remedies: Chinese Medicine in Progressive Era America.” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 88, no. 3, 2019, pp. 378-409.

Abstract: This article examines American perceptions of Chinese herbalism as natural medicine in the Progressive Era. In doing so, it uses the lens of environmental history to consider three meanings of nature for Chinese medicine in the United States: First, as a material, trans-Pacific environment where medicinal ingredients were procured, distributed, and consumed; second, as part of the evolving distinction between modern, scientific “regular” medicine and anti-modern, unscientific “irregular” medicine that reached a moment of crisis at the turn of the twentieth century; and third, as a reflection of the racialization of Chinese health practices co-created by Asian practitioners and their American patients, who were conditioned by Orientalist stereotypes to perceive Chinese culture as close to a pastoral or primitive nature. The close association between herbs and nature enabled Chinese doctors to thrive as “irregular” or “alternative” practitioners in the American medical marketplace. While American patients may have perceived Chinese medicine as closer to nature, the many meanings of nature reveal the extent to which the association was a deliberate strategy for survival and success adopted by Chinese doctors in the United States.

Venit-Shelton, Tamara. “Nature’s Remedies: The Environmental Impact of Chinese Medicine in the Global Medical Marketplace.” Yale University Press Blog, November 25, 2019,


Venit-Shelton, Tamara. Review of This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent, by Daegan Miller. Journal of American History, vol. 105, issue 4, 2019, pp. 1003-1004.

Venit-Shelton, Tamara. “T. Wah Hing, Chinese American Herbalist and Abortionist.” Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era Blog, September 24, 2019,


Wang, Chelsea Zi. “More Haste, Less Speed: Sources of Friction in the Ming.” Late Imperial China, vol. 40, no. 2, 2019, pp. 89-140.

Abstract: This article examines the ideal and reality of the Ming (1368-1644) postal system. As revealed in early-Ming regulations, the Ming founder and his advisors sought to create a postal system that delivered mail quickly, securely, and at low costs. Yet sources from the mid and late Ming suggest that few postmen met the speed requirement set out in official regulations. Although some Ming officials blamed such failures on the perceived laxity of postmen and their supervisors, a closer analysis of the evidence indicates that the problem stemmed rather from the state's inability to create appropriate risk-reward incentives for these underpaid postmen. By examining the discrepancy between how the Ming state sought to incentivize postmen and how postmen behaved in practice, this study shows that the effectiveness of Ming bureaucratic management depended not only on the familiar strategies of vertical supervision, but also on certain less-studied dynamics of lateral cooperation.

Wang, Chelsea Zi. “Taiwan Kokka Toshokan [National Central Library of Taiwan]. Sekai No Toshokan Kara: Ajia Kenkyū No Tame No Toshokan, Kōbunshokan Gaido [From the Libraries of the World: A Guide to Libraries and Archives for Asian Studies], edited by Uehiro Project for the Asian Research Library. Bensei Shuppan, 2019, pp. 45-48.

Abstract: A guide on resources for China Studies at the National Central Library of Taiwan. Written in Japanese.