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Professor Robert Fleegler Publishes in Washington Post

Posted on: September 17th, 2020 by suneetha

On May 15, 2020, Instructional Associate Professor Robert Fleegler published the piece below in the “Made by History” section of the Washington Post.

“If President Trump loses in 2020, it won’t be because of Joe Biden”
By Robert Fleegler
May 15, 2020

Democrats are fretting as Joe Biden is unable to actively campaign because of the coronavirus, fearing it’s costing him valuable time that he needs to make the case against Donald Trump. But they need not worry. Only three incumbent presidents who have been elected in their own right — Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — have lost their reelection bids in the past 90 years and history shows that they weren’t defeated because their opponents ran stellar campaigns, even if they went on to be influential presidents themselves. Rather external events and incumbent missteps turned the campaigns into referendums on the man in the office. The challenger needed to do relatively little to take advantage of what circumstance provided.

When Hoover was elected in 1928, he was one of the most respected figures in the entire country. He had organized food relief to war-torn Europe during World War I and been an able Secretary of Commerce for Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Even a member of the opposing party, Woodrow Wilson’s assistant secretary of the Navy, Franklin Roosevelt, was moved to say in 1920 that Hoover “is certainly a wonder and I wish we could make him president of the United States. There could not be a better one.” Unfortunately for Hoover, the stock market crashed a mere seven months into his presidency and while it was certainly not his fault, he didn’t take aggressive action to rescue the economy as the Great Depression got underway. Eerily reminiscent of President Trump’s declarations that the pandemic was over just as it was beginning, Hoover repeatedly declared that prosperity was around the corner, showing himself to be out of touch with his desperate constituents. The country dubbed neighborhoods filled with unemployed people “Hoovervilles” in his honor.

While Roosevelt is today recalled as the godfather of 20th century activist government and one of America’s greatest presidents, when he ran in 1932 his campaign featured no exceptional program or clear ideology. Indeed, Roosevelt espoused contradictory themes, on one hand calling for bigger government and on another attacking Hoover for failing to balance the budget. “I regard reduction of federal spending as one of the most important issues in the campaign,” the candidate declared. Even his own advisers were left perplexed as to his governing policy. But it didn’t matter in the end, with 25 percent of the country out of work and little hope on the horizon, Roosevelt won easily in a landslide.

Jimmy Carter encountered similar problems and like his fellow engineer Hoover, did not handle them well. The unprecedented combination of high inflation and high unemployment that plagued the Me Decade — which became known as “stagflation”— intensified during Carter’s term of office in the late 1970s. Faced with these travails, Carter addressed the country via national television in July 1979 to talk not about these bread-and-butter concerns, but rather what he saw as the nation’s dangerous loss of faith in its major institutions. “The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence,” he explained, “It is a crisis of confidence that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.” To some it seemed that he was blaming the American people for the nation’s difficulties and what became known as the “malaise” speech backfired on the former Georgia governor.

Things only got worse for Carter when Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran a few months later in November, taking 52 Americans hostage. In the short term, the country rallied around the president — just as they did early in the pandemic to Trump — helping Carter push back a primary challenge from Ted Kennedy. But as the saga wore on, it crippled his presidency and by extension the whole country as it dominated the national discussion. The crisis, along with a failed attempt to rescue the hostages, made Carter seem like a weak and ineffectual leader.

While Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 is often remembered as an inevitable step in the country’s turn to the right, polls remained close as the candidates’ first and only debate approached a week before the election. Demonstrating the centrality of the incumbent’s performance to the outcome, Reagan famously asked those watching at home, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” with most answering “no” to themselves — just as they would have if Roosevelt had posed the same question in 1932. Carter’s fate was then sealed when last-minute negotiations to bring the hostages home fell through, paving the way for the Reagan landslide.

George H.W. Bush’s defeat in 1992 seemed far less likely than Hoover’s or Carter’s as his presidency got off to a roaring start. The end of the Cold War in 1989 along with the triumph in the 1991 Persian Gulf War produced record approval ratings for Bush. Prominent Democratic challengers like Bill Bradley, Dick Gephardt and Al Gore decided to forgo a race against a seemingly invincible incumbent. Only far lesser-known candidates like former Sen. Paul Tsongas and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton were willing to enter the fray.

While Clinton is now remembered as a once-in-a-generation political talent, many held profound doubts about his electability in the spring of 1992. He had nearly destroyed his political career with a disastrous speech at the 1988 Democratic convention and many saw his alleged womanizing as well as his efforts to avoid the Vietnam-era draft as potentially fatal liabilities. “We have to recognize reality,” declared Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr. in April 1992, “We are not producing a nominee who has a good crack at winning in November.” As late as June, Clinton was behind not only Bush, but also independent Texas billionaire Ross Perot — who in many ways was a progenitor of Trump — who led both career politicians at that point.

But in the end the fundamentals were almost enough on their own as the recession of 1990-91 and the jobless recovery that followed eroded Bush’s postwar popularity. Furthermore, he was seeking a fourth straight term for his party, a difficult challenge in any democracy and something that had not happened in the United States since Roosevelt and Harry Truman led the Democrats to five consecutive victories in the 1930s and 1940s. An anti-establishment mood took hold in the country, opening the door for a Washington outsider. But Perot first shockingly dropped out in July and then was not nearly as much of a threat when he surprisingly reentered the race in October. With Bush weighed down by the economy and the country fatigued after 12 years of Republican control of the White House, Clinton made “change” his mantra to win by a considerable margin in the electoral college, though he only won a plurality of the popular vote.

None of this means that covid-19 spells Trump’s defeat for sure in the fall. It just means that Biden’s chances to win will likely be determined by forces beyond his control rather than by how much he’s able to get out on the trail. And it is a reminder that in electoral politics, chance and circumstance often matter more than strategy or political skill.

The Arch Dalrymple III Department of History welcomes Fall 2020-2021 History Majors

Posted on: September 3rd, 2020 by suneetha

Professor Frances Kneupper Granted Fellowship in Budapest

Posted on: September 3rd, 2020 by suneetha

Frances Kneupper will write a scholarly study of Medieval prophets


Frances Kneupper, associate professor in the Arch Dalrymple III Department of History at the University of Mississippi, has been honored as a 2020-21 senior fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Central European University.

Founded in 2011 in Budapest, Hungary, the institute promotes scholarly research in the context of an intellectual interdisciplinary community. It annually grants up to 30 fellowships to scholars from around the world focusing on social sciences, humanities, law and art.

Kneupper, a cultural historian of religion whose research focuses on heresy, prophecy and religious dissent in the Holy Roman Empire, is scheduled to leave for Budapest in October. The first senior fellow at the institute from Ole Miss will work on her second book project, “Beware of False Prophets: The Contest over Prophecy in the Late Middle Ages.”

“Beware of False Prophets” examines how several groups of Medieval women in Europe declared themselves prophets – a phenomenon typically limited to the realm of men – and were fiercely opposed by their male contemporaries.

“This was an argument about whether women should have a voice and authority,” Kneupper said. “You can see the same dynamics still being played out today when women try to claim power in a male-dominated sphere. This is a universal issue.”

Her other scholarly works include “The Empire at the End of Time: Identity and Reform in Late Medieval Germany Prophecy” (Oxford University Press, 2016) and a digital textbook, “Foundations of Western Culture Through 1500” (Great River Learning, 2015).

“Frances is an innovative researcher and well-known interpreter of the Medieval world for both lay and academic audiences,” said Noell Wilson, UM associate professor and chair of history. “She is respected for her scholarship and teaching alike.

“We are thrilled that she has this next year to complete her current book project while also cultivating intellectual bridges with historians in Budapest and Europe more broadly.”

Professor Garrett Felber Wins Fellowship at Harvard

Posted on: August 17th, 2020 by suneetha


Garrett Felber will focus on writing two books examining African Americans and imprisonment

Garrett Felber

Garrett Felber


University of Mississippi history professor is set to begin a one-year fellowship at the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research in September.

Garrett Felber, assistant professor of history at UM, is among just 16 chosen fellows this year. Founded in 1975, the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute annually grants up to 20 scholars from across the world to perform individual research at either the predoctoral or postdoctoral level into an array of topics related to African and African American studies.

Felber will spend the year working on two book projects: “We Are All Political Prisoners: The Revolutionary Life of Martin Sostre” and “The Norfolk Plan: The Community Prison in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” Both works will focus on different aspects of Felber’s primary research topic: 20th-century African American social movements, Black radicalism and efforts to reform or abolish prisons.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Felber will be working remotely from Oregon.

“This fellowship will allow me the time to work on two important projects that I hope will advance the understanding not only of the specific topics, but of the relationship between Black people in America and the carceral state,” Felber said.

Felber is the author of “Those Who Know Don’t Say: The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement and the Carceral State” (UNC Press, 2020) and co-author of “The Portable Malcolm X Reader” with the late Manning Marable (Penguin Classics, 2013). Felber’s work has been published in the Journal of American History, Journal of African American History, Journal of Social History and Souls.

He also served as lead organizer for the Making and Unmaking Mass Incarceration conference and is project director of the Parchman Oral History Project, a collaborative oral history, archival and documentary storytelling project on incarceration in Mississippi. He co-founded Liberation Literacy, an abolitionist collective inside and outside Oregon prisons, and spearheaded the Prison Abolitionist Syllabus, a reading list published by Black Perspectives that highlighted and contextualized the prison strikes of 2016 and 2018.

Felber not only researches and writes about prisons; he teaches in them. In Mississippi, he has taught two classes at Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs.

“Garrett is an indefatigable researcher and community builder whose knowledge of the carceral state stems not merely from archival digging, but also from his volunteer engagement with prisons as a teacher,” said Noell Wilson, professor and chair of the Arch Dalrymple III Department of History.

“We are thrilled with this award because it both recognizes his national profile in the field of African American history and provides critical space for him to advance two pioneering interpretive projects.”

Professor Paul Polgar Named a Finalist for the 2020 Harriet Tubman Prize

Posted on: August 7th, 2020 by suneetha

Standard-Bearers of Equality


Congrats to Professor Paul Polgar, one of the three finalists for the 2020 Harriet Tubman Prize, which honors the best notification book on the slave trade, slavery & anti-slavery in the Atlantic World.  The winner will be announced in November 2020.




Non-US History Faculty Statement on Confederate Monument Relocation

Posted on: June 27th, 2020 by suneetha

We, the undersigned historians of the University of Mississippi, join our colleagues in American history in repudiating the plans to renovate the university cemetery as part of the Confederate monument relocation. We agree that the University must explicitly renounce the white supremacist ideology that the monument represents. The proposed plans for the cemetery perpetuate this ideology.

In keeping with the assessment of our late colleague, John Neff, a scholar of memory and commemoration in the Civil War, we particularly reject the placement of headstones at the Confederate cemetery. We support our colleagues’ statement of June 22, 2020, share their opposition to the redevelopment of the cemetery, and demand the immediate release of all records concerning the University’s decision-making process on these matters.

Jesse Cromwell
Chiarella Esposito
Lester L. Field
Joshua First
Joshua Howard
Vivian Ibrahim
Zachary Kagan Guthrie
Frances Kneupper
Marc H. Lerner
Theresa Levitt
Alexandra Lindgren-Gibson
Mohammed Bashir Salau
Isaac Stephens
Peter Thilly
Nicolas Trepanier
Jeffrey R. Watt
Noell Wilson

Former Head of Southern Studies, Ted Ownby, Receives Fulbright Award

Posted on: June 26th, 2020 by suneetha

OXFORD, Miss. – After Ted Ownby stepped down as the director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi in 2019, he wanted to do something different, so he decided to apply for a Fulbright Award.

To his delight, he received word that he will be the Danish Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark, which combines research and teaching and is the most prestigious Fulbright grant in Denmark.

Ownby, the UM William Winter Professor of History and professor of Southern studies, made his decision after attending the Southern Studies Forum in Denmark last year.

“The Center for American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark is a lively group with several scholars interested in the American South, and the university is an attractive place; I remember walking trails, bicycles and lots of birds,” Ownby said.

“The city of Odense is Denmark’s third-largest city, famous among other things as the home of Hans Christian Andersen, and I look forward to getting to know it. I’ll teach in English, but I’m slowly and awkwardly learning some Danish.”

He will teach one class to either graduate or upper-level undergraduates with class sizes of approximately 25-45 students. He also will give at least one public lecture at the University of Southern Denmark, attend faculty meetings, talk to faculty and students, and be available to travel to other European universities.

Katie McKee, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, has been a colleague of Ownby for many years.

“This Fulbright is a tremendous opportunity for Dr. Ownby, a well-deserved chance for adventure after many years of serving as center director and a real testament to the excellence of his scholarship,” McKee said.

The award was intended for the 2020-21 academic year, but the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the stay to the spring semester only, which begins in January 2021. Coincidentally, robotics researchers at the University of Southern Denmark have developed the world’s first fully automatic robot capable of carrying out throat swabs for COVID-19, so that healthcare professionals are not exposed to the risk of infection.

“I proposed two classes when I thought I would be there for two semesters: one on my current book project on ideas about innocence in 20th-century Mississippi and the other a broader class on recent scholarship in Southern history,” Ownby said.

“Now the plan is either to teach the class about Mississippi, or maybe to team teach with a couple of colleagues in Denmark. Of course, it’s hard to plan right now, because it’s possible that health conditions won’t allow international travel.”

January should be an especially intriguing time to be teaching about the U.S. because classes will begin just a few days after the presidential inauguration.

“That election, no matter what I’m teaching about, will likely be a starting point for some good discussions,” Ownby said. “More broadly, teaching U.S. history outside the U.S. is always useful – I saw this teaching in the Fulbright program in Italy almost 30 years ago – because it makes faculty think about the questions we start with and encourages us to think about making comparisons we might not have considered.”

Colleagues in the history department are especially thrilled with Ownby’s award, said Noell Wilson, chair of history and Croft Associate Professor of History and International Studies.

“It reveals the global profile of our faculty, even those who work primarily on U.S. history and not necessarily (on) international topics,” Wilson said. “We are constantly looking to build intellectual bridges with colleagues in Europe and beyond and are grateful to Ted for sharing his expertise with scholars and students in Denmark to establish collaborations in Scandinavia.”

Both the Danish and U.S. governments financially support this program. The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program offers approximately some 470 teaching, research or combination teaching/research awards in more than 125 countries.

Opportunities are available for college and university faculty and administrators as well as for professionals, artists, journalists, scientists, lawyers, independent scholars and many others. Besides several new program models designed to meet the changing needs of U.S. academics and professionals, Fulbright offers flexible awards including multicountry opportunities.


Statement by US Historians on Recently Released Confederate Monument Plans

Posted on: June 24th, 2020 by suneetha

On June 22, 2020, the Americanist faculty in the Arch Dalrymple III Department of History released a statement in response to recently obtained plans created by the University of Mississippi and approved by the Institutions of Higher Learning Board for the relocation of the Confederate monument on campus.

June 22, 2020

We, the undersigned American historians working at the University of Mississippi, strongly oppose the recently released plans to renovate and add headstones to the Civil War cemetery on campus as part of the relocation of the Confederate monument. Ideally, we believe this monument should be removed from campus entirely, given its explicitly white supremacist origins. But if it remains on campus, it should not be glorified and the university should make it clear that it rejects the racist and hateful ideology this monument represents.

We oppose the renovation of the cemetery and the addition of headstones because:

  • Cemetery renovations and headstones were not part of the relocation proposal circulated last December and the new plan was never shared with the university as a whole. The proposal falsely asserted that the new plan had “received written endorsement from various campus constituencies,” when in reality, at least two of the constituencies named, and perhaps all, were not aware of the details of this new plan prior to the release of the IHL Board’s June 18th agenda. The university continues to develop plans for the site beyond what was presented to the IHL Board, according to a university spokesman in a statement to Mississippi Today on June 19, 2020. The university has not announced who is responsible for developing these plans and has not made these plans, or those making them, available for public scrutiny. None of the undersigned historians are involved in any way.
  • Investing resources in creating and preserving Confederate symbols sends the wrong message about the university’s priorities. Confederate monuments and related symbols are coming down across the South. Adding headstones to the cemetery in conjunction with the monument relocation betrays student, faculty, and staff demands, which were aimed at removing Confederate symbols from campus, not simply moving a monument from one place to another. As the ASB’s 2019 resolution plainly asserted, “Confederate ideology directly violates the tenets of the University Creed that support fairness, civility, and respect for the dignity of each person.”
  • Beautifying and aggrandizing the cemetery during the relocation of the Confederate monument reinforces the university’s troubling pattern of making something-for-everyone compromises rather than making an unambiguous move toward justice and inclusivity. Moving the monument should be a clear stand against racism, not another embarrassing attempt to placate those who wish to maintain the university’s connection to Confederate symbols. It is especially troubling that the university appears to have misled official representatives of its current students, faculty, and staff by misrepresenting their public and deliberative actions, while secretly catering to the private fantasies of individual donors to promote a distorted version of the university’s history at the expense of its present and future.
  • Combining headstones and other cemetery renovations with the relocation of the monument turns the monument into part of a new, larger Confederate symbol on campus. We should not create new spaces that enshrine Lost Cause ideology, make our students feel unwelcome, and attract neoconfederate groups to campus. The university has no business creating a venue for glorifying the Confederacy that will, in turn, threaten students.
  • Headstones are expensive and would require costly maintenance. Time spent raising money for these renovations is time wasted. The university should direct its fundraising efforts at developing additional minority spaces on campus, renovating and finally renaming Vardaman Hall, hiring additional Black and other minority faculty and staff, and providing all employees with a living wage Even if private donations underwrite the initial installation of headstones, the university will incur a raft of ongoing expenses—everything from weather-mitigation to grounds keeping to security. Moving forward, campus stakeholders will continue wondering why university leaders accepted, raised, or allocated funds toward the cemetery when those monies could have been used to advance equity on campus and the educational mission of the university at large.
  • Headstones would distort the historical record. The cemetery itself originally functioned as a place to store the bodies of the soldiers who died at the temporary hospital created on campus after the Civil War interrupted classes in 1861. Permanent headstones were never installed and nothing that is currently visible on the site is original to the Civil War era. Rather than serve an educational purpose, headstones would misrepresent the site and its history.
  • Headstone names could never be accurate. We have limited knowledge about which soldiers were buried in the cemetery and which remain there, and we know even less about where on the site they were laid to rest. The documents we would need to do this work simply do not exist. We have no way to accurately identify the occupants of the cemetery, let alone determine their location on the grounds.
  • It would be disrespectful to the dead to install inaccurate headstones. Placing a headstone with one soldier’s name on it above the remains of an entirely different person (whose identity can never be known) would be a poor tribute to either one of them.
  • Cemetery renovations and headstones will hamper rather than enhance our understanding of this site as it connects to the role the university played as a hospital during the Civil War. The monument currently standing on the Circle is not a Civil War artifact but a Jim Crow-era monument to white supremacy. It was erected in 1906 by white supremacists to promote Lost Cause ideology well after the Civil War had ended. Its dedication speech praised Confederates for what they did to “preserve Anglo-Saxon civilization” by terrorizing Black southerners and stripping them of civil and political rights during Reconstruction. These renovations do not create a “site for educational purposes.” On the contrary, connecting this monument to a cemetery enhanced by brand new, historically inaccurate headstones implies that both the monument and the headstones are Civil War artifacts, and thus uses Civil War history to promote white supremacist Lost Cause ideology.

As historians, we know that monuments reflect the values of the people who erect them. To glorify the cemetery and the relocated Confederate monument in the ahistorical ways the university has proposed is to build a new Confederate monument in 2020, effectively reenacting the injustice that white supremacists committed when they erected it in 1906. In doing so, the university will create a new destination for neoconfederate and other extremist groups on campus, not only violating its stated values, but also jeopardizing the peace and safety of its students, faculty, and staff. We urge the university to leave the cemetery as it currently is. Further, to begin to repair the breach of trust with campus constituents that the university has committed during this episode, we demand that the university immediately make public all records of its deliberations and decision-making regarding the plans for the relocation of the Confederate monument and the redevelopment of the cemetery.


Mikaela M. Adams, Associate Professor of History
Garrett Felber, Assistant Professor of History
Darren E. Grem, Associate Professor of History and Southern Studies
Shennette Garrett-Scott, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies
April Holm, Associate Professor of History and Interim Director, Center for Civil War Research
Rebecca K. Marchiel, Assistant Professor of History
Ted Ownby, Professor of History and Southern Studies
Eva Payne, Assistant Professor of History
Paul J. Polgar, Assistant Professor of History
Jarod Roll, Associate Professor of History
Charles Ross, Professor of History and African-American Studies
Susan Gaunt Stearns, Assistant Professor of History
Anne Twitty, Associate Professor of History
Jessica Wilkerson, Assistant Professor of History and Southern Studies

You can view a PDF of this statement here.

Jessica Flach awarded Franklin L. Riley Prize

Posted on: June 1st, 2020 by atwitty

The 2020 Franklin L. Riley Prize for the best undergraduate paper has been awarded to Jessica Flach for “A Fate Worse than Death:  The Threat of Rape During the Civil War and the Southern White Woman’s Response.”

In her paper, which was produced in a history capstone seminar taught by Professor April Holm, Flach explains how the threat of rape was employed both by Union and Confederate soldiers in an attempt to control the behavior of white southern women during the Civil War. Using personal diaries, Flach demonstrates that these threats did not always have their intended effect. Some women responded by defying orders from both northern and southern men.


Matthew Powell wins John W. Odom Prize

Posted on: June 1st, 2020 by atwitty

The 2020 John W. Odom Memorial Prize in Southern History has been awarded to Matthew Powell for “How the Mighty Fell: The Decline of Generational Wealth among the Planter Elite Families of Desoto County, Mississippi, 1836-1870.” The Odom Prize is given to the best undergraduate or graduate paper on southern history.

Powell’s paper, which was written in a capstone seminar taught by Professor Anne Twitty, examines the decline of intergenerational wealth among DeSoto County’s planter elite as a result of Confederate defeat and emancipation. Specifically, he selected four DeSoto County slaveholding families—each of whom had sent at least one son to be educated at the University of Mississippi during the 1850s and then serve the Confederacy during the 1860s—and traced their financial fortunes from the county’s founding in 1836 to the midst of Reconstruction in 1870. In the end, using census, military, and University records, Powell was able to show, in a particularly concrete fashion, just how economically devastating the decision to secede was for some of the South’s wealthiest residents.

Powell, an Olive Branch native, graduated with his B.A. in history in May 2020. During his undergraduate career, he spent summers working as a park ranger at Shiloh National Military Park and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Fort Smith, Montana. He has earned a full scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in history at Northern Arizona University.