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Message From the Chair

Chair’s Welcome Fall 2021

Welcome to the UCLA Department of History. As department chair, I oversee the multifaceted work of the department. With nearly 50 faculty members, the department trains graduate students in a variety of fields spanning the globe; teaches thousands of undergraduates every year; and produces cutting edge scholarship on the history of many aspects of the world’s past. The department also houses The Luskin Center for History and Policy and the Public History Initiative. The many activities of the department are supported by a sizeable staff, who among other duties counsel our students, manage our budget, and keep the university’s required paperwork flowing.

 The department as a physical site has been closed since March 2020, although as I write this (summer 2021) we are preparing to return in person in the late summer. This pandemic year has been tough on the history department as on everyone: we have been physically scattered and isolated, our usual interactions limited to what could be conducted online. People associated with the history department have been ill or have lost loved ones. We all worry about what the pandemic will ultimately mean for our world, not only in terms of ill-health but also the economic challenges that follow such an unprecedented upheaval. Despite all this, however, the Department of History has carried on: meeting its classes, counseling its students, and continuing in whatever ways are possible with research and with presenting that research to the public.  We look forward to being back in person when it is safe to do so, and we will no doubt long appreciate the simple joys of being able to teach students in face-to-face encounters, to go into the library to grab a book, and to meet with colleagues to make decisions about our collective work.

As you will see from our website, despite the pandemic, the department persists in fulfilling its mission. Our faculty continue to publish, not only books on the pandemic, but also on a myriad of other topics. Our graduate students complete their dissertations, with fifteen students filing for their PhD in 2020-21, and a number of them gaining excellent positions (including prestigious post-docs) despite the pandemic. Our undergraduates finish their degrees, with 330 history majors graduating last year, including 12 members of the history honors society, Phi Alpha Theta. Students produced original research in the honors program (writing theses on a variety of topics), and some presented their research at the 5th annual undergraduate conference, this year on the theme of “Crisis, Unity and Revolution.” Staff members, having figured out how to keep the department going under remote conditions, saw to all our many needs with energy and grace. I have never been prouder of this department than during this rough last year and more.

We look ahead to the future with hope. Two new faculty, hired before the pandemic, will finally be joining our ranks this year: Roman historian Greg Woolf comes to us as the Ronald J. Mellor Chair in Ancient History, while Choon Hwee Koh brings her expertise in Ottoman history to enhance our Middle East field. We hope to complete two additional faculty searches in the coming year: The Robert and Dorothy Wellman Chair in Medieval History and The Henry J. Bruman Endowed Chair in the history of Germany. We are welcoming an incoming class of twenty-one graduate students (which includes three who deferred their matriculation when the pandemic made coming to Los Angeles difficult). We will soon be able to replace long-time Undergraduate Counselor Paul Padilla (who died unexpectedly in 2019) with a new staff person.

We look forward to the continuation of the good work performed by our Luskin Center for History and Policy (LCHP) and our Public History Initiative (PHI). LCHP inaugurated a biweekly podcast, Then & Now, which features discussions of the historical roots of current issues; it launched a new Summer Research Institute; and it released research reports on the history of recent extremism at UCLA, homelessness in Los Angeles County, and white nationalism in Southern California. PHI, under the able leadership of Professor Tawny Paul, collaborates with a variety of community partners, giving our students experience with internships related to the discipline of history; leading a research and digital humanities project on the history of street names in Los Angeles; and working with the UCLA History Geography Project and Los Angeles-based La Plaza de Cultura y Artes on how “Food Connects Us.”

The activities of PHI and LCHP are documented on our department website, as are the work of many members of the department. I invite you to explore that site and to learn more about UCLA’s Department of History. I do hope we will be able to see you on UCLA’s beautiful campus soon.

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