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Message From the Chair

Chair’s Welcome Fall 2020

At the advent of the 2020-21 academic year, my welcome has to be virtual. Los Angeles is still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic and university buildings remain shuttered. We closed down the history office during week 10 of Winter 2020 (on Friday March 13th, to be precise), and we have not returned. All history classes are being offered remotely during fall quarter, and we expect an announcement any day extending that through winter. Who knows what Spring will bring? It is a far cry from last fall, when undergraduates streamed onto campus, and I could hardly drive down Hilgard Avenue for all the sorority dwellers jaywalking!

Although we remain in virtual mode, and are gradually becoming more adept at managing its ins and outs, the work of the history department proceeds apace. Most fundamentally, we continue to teach our students. The history department will offer about a hundred formal courses in the fall, as we usually do. These range from massive lectures, with teams of teaching assistants, to small seminars where undergraduates or graduate students gather for in-dept discussion with a faculty member. Students continue to pursue research in the honors program and in capstone seminars as well as in our graduate program. We have courses on a wide array of topics from an undergraduate survey of Latin American history through an upper level lecture course on the history of East Africa to a graduate course on Genocide in world History. First year students are meeting with history faculty in the university’s signature Fiat Lux course setting to discuss a range of topics, including the Great Plague of London and novels that imagine a dystopian future. The department remains a vibrant teaching space, even as it has become a virtual one.

Research faces new challenges during the pandemic. The Young Research Library is closed to in-person browsing, and, although the staff there is making valiant efforts to get materials in the hands of users, we all feel the loss of full access to UCLA’s magnificent collections. Despite rumors to the contrary, not everything is on the internet, and we all look forward to the day when we can return to full access for us and for our students. We anticipate that the nature of research projects may shift as a result of the pandemic—not only because what is happening in the world raises new questions about epidemic disease, crises in government, and the history of race—but also because our once comparatively unfettered ability to get to archives and call for obscure books on interlibrary loan has been replaced by trawling the internet for caches of useable resources. The department faculty has thought creatively to keep our undergraduates working on capstone research projects and has strategized with graduate students about how to move forward on a research agenda that appears stalled while travel is not possible.

In January, the department honored longtime UCLA professor and eminent French historian Eugen Weber (1925-2007) by bestowing the inaugural biennial Eugen Weber Book Award on Christine Hays, Professor of History (University of North Carolina Charlotte) for her book Our Friends the Enemies: The Occupation of France After Napoleon. We are also pleased to welcome Dr. Brian J. Griffiths, the inaugural Eugen and Jacqueline Weber Post-Doctoral Scholar in European History. Dr. Griffiths will teach for us this winter and spring, and is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Cultivating Fascism: Wine and Politics in Mussolini’s Italy which explores the relationship between viti-viniculture, fascism, and national identity in interwar Italy.

The UCLA history department remains active and engaged. Department members continue to publish and win awards for scholarship and teaching. Recent books include Soraya de Chadarevian’s Heredity under the Microscope, Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s Faut-il universaliser l’histoire, and my own The World of Plymouth Plantation. Please see our website for a range of honors and awards, including Kelly Lytle Hernández’s MacArthur (unofficially known as the MacArthur Genius Award) and Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s International Prize of History by the International Committee of Historical Sciences (ICHS). Katherine Marino’s book Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement has earned a number of awards, as has Sarah Stein's book Family Papers. In recognition of her commitment to undergraduate research, Andrea Goldman received the 2020 Undergraduate Research Week Faculty Mentor Award.

Our faculty speaks to the wider public about the most pressing issues of the day, whether it is illness, the black lives movement, police violence, or electoral access. Our Luskin Center for History and Policy issued a report on voter access in California history, and our first Why History Matters event of the year on October 1 is dedicated to discussing that issue with such public figures as Secretary of State Alex Padilla. While not being able to meet in person is disappointing, the virtual venue for the event allowed many hundreds of people to sign up for it.

We look forward to the day when we can return to the real world—I never thought I would so miss Bunche Hall!—but in the meantime, the history department carries on in this difficult period of our campus’s, our country’s and indeed the world’s history. We cannot invite you to visit in person at the moment, but please check out our website for our news, attend our virtual events, and—if you are in a position to do so—support our work with a donation.

Until we can meet again, on behalf of UCLA history, I wish you good health, financial security, and safety for you and your loved ones.

Carla Pestana
Department Chair
Joyce Appleby Endowed Chair of America in the World