Alexis Dudden Contributes to the History in Focus Podcast

In a recent podcast episode from the American Historical Review series, “History in Focus,” UConn History Professor Alexis Dudden looks to soil of Okinawa, Japan as a site of memory, struggle, and persistence. Professor Dudden joins graphic artist Kim Inthavong to tell a visual story of the politics of ecology and military intervention. You can listen to the full episode on the American History Review website.

Stay tuned for more information about a September 27 event on Okinawa.


Alexis Dudden Featured in The New Yorker

The July 8, 2022 tragic assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe sent shockwaves throughout the world. UConn History Professor Alexis Dudden reflected on the life and legacy of Shinzo Abe, whose tenure in office transformed the role of East Asia in international politics. In one of the first interviews about the impact of Shinzo Abe, Prof. Dudden reveals to journalist Isaac Chotiner that:

“It is the irony overlaying his career because, at its fundamental core, making Japan “beautiful” is quite anti-American. And yet, on the surface, he’s seen as the person who tried so hard to make Japan’s alliance promises to the United States stronger. But these are solely in security terms, and have led to greater insecurity in the region. The standoff with Korea, the increasingly frozen ties with China are a result of Abe’s determination to make Japan great again. And it therefore really comes down to: What is the meaning of “great” for Abe, and for the legacy of Abe? Because, again, most Japanese have come to have a different understanding.”

Below are several articles in which Prof. Dudden has continued to explain the influence of Shinzo Abe on history and diplomacy:

UConn Today has also highlighted the contributions that Prof. Dudden has made to news coverage on Shinzo Abe. For more on Shinzo Abe, Japanese politics, and national identity, please browse the work of Prof. Dudden throughout these news outlets.


Manisha Sinha Honored with Pennington Award

Manisha Sinha, professor of historyProfessor Manisha Sinha is a 2021 awardee of the James C. Pennington Award, which will be formerly bestowed upon her during the 2022 award ceremony, taking place on June 1, 2022.  The James C. Pennington Award, awarded by Heidelberg University’s Heidelberg Center for American Studies and Faculty of Theology, remembers James Pennington, a formerly enslaved pastor from the United States who received an honorary doctorate from Heidelberg University, the first known person of African descent to earn one from a European institution. Sinha, a scholar of abolition, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, receives this award alongside Dr. Carol Anderson, a historian of 20th century Black freedom struggles.

The award ceremony will be marked by a discussion with the two fellows on “The Unfinished Work of Reconstruction: The Long and Ongoing Civil Rights Struggle in the United States.” The ceremony will be live tweeted from the Heidelberg Center for American Studies account. More information is available on the Heidelberg University website. Congratulations!


Undergraduate Research Honors Jason Chang with Mentorship Award

Jason Chang, associate professor of historyThe University of Connecticut’s Office of Undergraduate Research celebrated Jason Chang, Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies, with the annual Mentorship Excellence Award. This award, based on undergraduate student nominations and a selection committee, recognizes the faculty who go above and beyond to support and encourage students in their academic journeys. According to Karen Lau’ 25, Professor Jason Chang inspired them to be “unafraid of the unknown, to dig deeper to learn about my home state’s impact on Asian Americans, and to be bolder in my advocacy in my education reform.”  For a professor as committed and compassionate as Jason Chang, this award is well-deserved. We look forward to the continued work that you will do to show students the power of advocacy, representation, and visibility. Congratulations!

Professor Chang received this award alongside Sarah Knutie, Assistant Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Mia Kawaida, a Ph.D. student in Animal Science. Please read the full article that details the tremendous impact of these three educators.

Prof. Manisha Sinha Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

Manisha Sinha, professor of historyOn April 7, 2022, the Board of Trustees of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced the 180 recipients of the Guggenheim Fellowship. Established in 1925, the Foundation intends to “further the development of scholars and artists by assisting them to engage in research in any field of knowledge and creation in any of the arts, under the freest possible conditions.” The Foundation honored UConn History Professor Manisha Sinha, the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair in American History, as one the scholars whose work exemplifies this promise. We celebrate this momentous accomplishment! She is the fifth UConn History faculty member to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship, following Richard D. Brown in 1998, Frank Costigliola in 1995,  Thomas G. Paterson in 1991, and Karen Spalding in 1988.

Professor Manisha Sinha is an expert on the history of slavery, abolition, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. She is currently working on a book on the “Greater Reconstruction” of U.S. democracy after the Civil War, a follow up to her previous award-winning works on slavery in South Carolina and the history of abolition.

We encourage you to read the full press release and list of new Fellows, which spans across 51 academic and artistic disciplines and 81 institutions. UConn Today profiles Professor Sinha, her research, and this fellowship in their latest issue.


Walt Woodward Reflects on the Past and Future in UConn Today

Walter Woodward, Associate Professor of History at the University of Connecticut and State Historian for ConnecticutConnecticut State Historian and UConn History Professor Walter Woodward announced his retirement last fall. As 1 of only 5 CT state historians, Woodward has contributed to a new history of how educators and students imagine, remember, and study the stories of the past. In a UConn Today article written by writer Kimberly Phillips, Woodward reflects on the immersion, creativity, and dedication that characterize the work of the State Historian. He describes his mission to “connect the people of Connecticut with the fascinating and fabulous history of this state in ways that don’t come naturally in our educational system.” He achieved this mission through podcasting, outreach initiatives,  K-12 engagement–activities grounded in communication, collaboration, and commitment.

Woodward’s interview, titled “State Historian Walter Woodward Considers the Past as He Looks to the Future,” is insightful, enriching, and illuminating read.

Dexter Gabriel Interviewed by UConn Magazine

Dexter Gabriel, History Department, University of ConnecticutUConn History Professor Dexter Gabriel is also known as speculative fiction author P. Djèlí Clark.  How does a scholar of slavery and emancipation pen novelettes, short stories, and novellas? How did his academic path led to a double career in fiction writing?  Explaining to writer Christine Buckley in “The Secret Life of Dexter Gabriel – aka P. Djèlí Clark,” Gabriel explains that speculation is the bridge between the two worlds. “I was just immersed in the things historians think about, and it came out on the other side. In history we speculate when we don’t know things,” he elaborated. 

His pen name P. Djèlí Clark blends family history, perhaps an ode to how Gabriel merges the worlds of science fiction and history in his writing. Although writing outside of the academy is usually a cautionary tale for academics, Gabriel has disrupted the boundaries between the separation of “academy and public.” As his identity as a Black man, immigrant, and a first generation college student informed how much he would self-present as a fiction writer and academic, Gabriel continued to teach by day and write fiction by night, often accompanied by a 2 a.m. late night coffee. His latest work, Ring Shout, blends fiction and historical realities as it traces a band of resistance fighters who combat white supremacist demons in the early 20th century. 

UConn Magazine carefully details Dexter Gabriel’s “travels” between fiction writing and academia. For more on P. Djèlí Clark’s work, please see: 

Prof. Manisha Sinha Reflects on Teaching Black History Month

Manisha Sinha, professor of historyThis Black History Month, the legislative and political attacks against teaching the histories of race and racism have forced history educators to reckon with what and how they teach in their classrooms. In an Axios article, journalist Russell Contreras zooms into the legal terrain that restricts teachers from teaching students about the complex and violent realities of the past.  35 states have taken legal steps to limit how teachers discuss racism and sexism, according to Contreras. In some states, Contreras points out, teachers “may introduce Malcolm X, but not read his speeches” or “point out Rosewood, Florida or Tulsa, Oklahoma,” but “not talk about the racial atrocities that occurred there.” Many educators will still go forward with their Black History Month lesson plans, while others decry anything related to critical race theory as a departure from the core tenets of morality that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. espoused.

Much of the criticism against critical race theory, which began as a legal framework for understanding patterns of systemic racism, relates to concerns around white students’ affective responses to the histories of slavery.  Axios turned to  UConn History Professor Manisha Sinha, a scholar of slavery and abolition,  to describe the influence of these laws on student learning. Sinha explains that “there is no reason why a white student can’t identify with the abolitionist or the civil rights leader rather than a slaveholder.” “These laws supposedly protecting white students from guilt say more about the authors of the law than the students,” Sinha elaborated.

Black History Month began as Negro History Week in 1926, partially as a strategy for teaching Black history in public schools. Carter G. Woodson, the historian behind this celebration of Black history, created Negro History Week as his organization, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, responded to the need to expand political and cultural consciousness about Black experiences. In 1976, Negro History Week became Black History Month in response to the wide-sweeping cultural and political movements that advanced the causes and goals of freedom. Fore more on teaching Black History Month within the current contested landscape, read “New Rules are limiting how teachers can teach Black History Month,” where Professor Sinha contributes her thoughts alongside those of analysts and educators.


Faculty Spotlight: Nancy Steenburg on Venture Smith

Venture Smith ImageFrom February 4 – February 27, the Stonington Historical Society will debut a new and permanent  exhibition on slavery. Thanks to the dedicated research of two members of the UConn History community, Professor Nancy Steenburg and former graduate student Liz Kading, the story of Venture Smith will shed light on the multifaceted landscapes of slavery and freedom in 18th century New England. The exhibition, entitled, “My Freedom is a Privilege that Nothing Else Can Equal,” will mark the re-opening of the Lighthouse Museum. Admission will be free throughout the month. Below, Nancy Steenburg shares some insights into the research process and what she hopes the exhibition will achieve. 

    How did you become involved in research on slavery in New England, and specifically the life of Venture Smith?

    I first learned of Venture’s amazing life in the early 1990s while a graduate student in UConn’s Ph.D. program, taking a class on African-American history with Professor Donald Spivey. He had assigned Arne Bontemps book Five Black Lives, and I read Venture’s narrative as a part of that assignment. After I earned my Ph.D. at UConn, I continued to teach both at Storrs and at Avery Point, but I’ve taught only at Avery Point since about 2003. When I taught classes at UConn Avery Point, starting in 1996, I included Venture’s narrative as an assignment in US history classes and in a class on the history of the family. I love to use field trips for my classes, and I took my HIST 231 class (the current HIST 1501) to the Hempstead Houses in New London. As the students listened to the docent explain early American family cooking, I stepped back into the small “store” and saw a family genealogy for Joshua Hempstead and suddenly realized that one of my 4X great grandfathers was a grandson of Joshua Hempstead, a slaveowner who lived in New London.

    I’m not much into genealogy, but I knew that another of Hempstead’s grandsons was Hempstead Minor, one of the whites who enslaved Venture for a short time. In 2005 I set out to research Venture’s life in Stonington, CT, starting with the land records to try to confirm the truth of Venture’s narrative. With the assistance of Elizabeth Hannan Kading, a graduate student in UConn’s History Department, we combed through thousands of deeds in the town hall deed books, reading literall7 thousands of deeds in cramped and sometimes nearly illegible 1th-century handwriting. We found two deeds – Venture’s purchase of 26 acres in 1770 and his sale of that same land in 1774. We then searched for the actual location of that land. Eventually we ran into a dead end. The owner of the land that had been Venture’s had lost the land in 1854 to The Washington Trust in a mortgage foreclosure – one of over 150 foreclosures that year. It was impossible to identify the land when the bank sold it.

    Here serendipity entered the picture. Peg Stewart Van Patten, a fellow UConn employee at Avery Point, saw me one day when I was looking very discouraged and asked me what the problem was. I explained my dilemma, and she said that her grandparents had owned the land once owned by Venture as a part of a 400-acre farm in the Barn Island Area of Stonington, land that had been sold to the State of Connecticut in the 1960s. Eventually (it’s just too convoluted to go into detail) we located the plot of land that included a foundation of what had been Venture’s dwelling in the early 1770s! Ever since that discovery I have been adding to my research of Venture’s life and the African community in 18-century Stonington. In 2019 Liz and I received grant funding from the Stonington Historical Society to research Venture’s time in Stonington and the lives of other members of Stonington’s African and African-descended community. That research is the basis of the new permanent exhibit on Venture.

    What were some of the most surprising findings?

    One of the most surprising findings was that the records of people of color in Stonington were so challenging to tease out of the documents. In some cases, some people had sought to obscure the records by removing references to people of color – whitewashing the records, in effect. Another surprise was how legends of Venture had persisted in publications about Stonington into the early 20th century, making it a challenge to separate legends from the actual facts.

    What were the challenges to this work?

    The challenges to completing this work included the intense of amount of detailed research needed to tease out the evidence – reading every real estate deed over a fifty-year period, reading all the probate records, justice of the peace records, court records, diaries, merchants’ book accounts – all of the minutia needed to reconstruct the past while Liz and I were both working at other jobs. I was working as a full-time academic advisor at Avery Point while also teaching history as an adjunct, and Liz was working as an interpreter at Mystic Seaport. Our hours for research had to fit in when we could find the time.

    What do you hope that patrons take away from this exhibition?Venture Smith Exhibit photograph

    What I hope patrons take away from the exhibit is an understanding of the integral place the Africans and their descendants had in colonial and early national Connecticut. When Liz and I stood by the sign in the Barn Island Reserve, back in 2005, I said that someday I wanted Venture’s homesite to be on the Connecticut Freedom Trail so people could understand the contributions made by enslaved and formerly enslaved people to Connecticut’s development.
    The exhibit makes it possible for people who can’t make the hike out into the woods to the site of Venture’s former home to visualize the life that Venture and other enslaved people in Connecticut had to endure. The lesson of Venture’s life is that formerly enslaved people could become successful members of society despite rampant racism and discrimination if he or she had a fair chance to make a living. Actually, I think that’s a lesson that still needs to be learned.

    Nancy Hathaway Steenburg is currently an adjunct instructor in History at the University of Connecticut, Avery Point. She earned her A.B. in History at Radcliffe College, Harvard University and then went on to earn her Master’s in American History at Trinity College. She pursued her Ph.D. in United States History at the University of Connecticut. She has worked in higher education since returning to school at UConn in 1991 to complete her Ph.D. in history. She served as the Program Coordinator for Maritime Studies and American Studies at UConn’s Avery Point campus; she was the Director for the General Studies program at the Avery Point campus from 2007 to 2020, and the Associate Director for campus advising from 2013 to 2020. She was awarded the UConn Outstanding University Advising Award for 2018-2019.

    Nancy has won several outstanding teaching awards. She teaches an array of courses that include Constitutional History of the U.S., Europe in the 20th Century, Social and Cultural History of Connecticut and New England, History of the Family, and History of Connecticut.

    Outside of UConn, Nancy has served on numerous non-profit boards in the field of history, including serving as president of the Association for the Study of Connecticut History, president of the New London County Historical Society, and president of the Connecticut Coalition for History. She also served as book review editor and interim editor for Connecticut History Review, the only scholarly journal of Connecticut history.


    February 4: New Exhibit on Slavery in Stonington

    Venture Smith ImageFrom February 4 – February 27, the Stonington Historical Society will debut new and permanent  exhibition on slavery. Thanks to the dedicated research of two members of the UConn History community, Professor Nancy Steenburg and former graduate student Liz Kading, the story of Venture Smith will shed light on the multifaceted landscapes of slavery and freedom in 18th century New England. The exhibition, entitled, “My Freedom is a Privilege that Nothing Else Can Equal,” will mark the re-opening of the Lighthouse Museum. Admission will be free throughout the month.  For more information: