Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • How Water Became Public in Progressive-Era New York, 1883-1917

    Author:
    Gwynneth Malin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    History
    Advisor:
    Thomas Kessner
    Abstract:

    Four distinctive features of this historical period prompted the City of New York to undertake water management. First, the severe drought of 1881 forced the city to expedite construction of the New Croton Aqueduct in 1883. While the city was building the new aqueduct, the urban public began to spend their leisure time at the High Bridge, which monumentalized the Old Croton Aqueduct and raised awareness of public water. Second, the cholera scare of 1892 prompted the city to protect the Croton watershed from pollution. Third, the high-profile derailment of an intricate scheme of graft, in 1899, drove city officials to begin to eliminate private water companies and to increase vigilance about municipal corruption related to water. Fourth, the consolidation of Greater New York increased city and state power and improvements in municipal finance facilitated a new public water bureaucracy, which allowed the city to build, manage, and pay for its own water system, marked by the completion of the Catskills system in 1917. The management of water serves as an early example of government intervention in New York, which began before public schools, before the subway, and before government regulation of private gas and electric companies. Support for the idea of public water emerged as early as 1835 when the public voted in favor of building the city-run Croton water system, but public water was not on solid ground until much later. In fact, the idea of public water preceded the necessary infrastructure, bureaucracy, and finances required to make it possible. While no municipal operation is ever wholly public or private, between 1883 and 1917, the notion of public management of water triumphed in New York. It was during this long historical moment that city officials and New Yorkers began to think of, and to treat, water as a public resource. By providing a new synthesis of the cultural, economic, political, and social history of water in New York during this critical period, this study emphasizes the complexity and contingency in the story of how New York's water became public.

  • Eating Soviet: Food and Culture in the USSR, 1917-1991

    Author:
    Anton Masterovoy
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    History
    Advisor:
    Cynthia Whittaker
    Abstract:

    This dissertation argues that the best way to understand the nature of Soviet history is through the prism of food. Soviet citizens were encouraged to see the availability of food as the main measure of success for the construction of a new, Soviet civilization. The disappointment with the inability of the Soviet government to provide the quantity, quality and variety of food that the Soviet consumers expected was one of the major causes for the collapse of the USSR. The first chapter addresses the reasons why and how so unlikely a food as sausage became and remains the primary Russian symbol of economic abundance. Unlike the similarly symbolic goods in other socialist regimes, the Soviet craving for sausage has not been resolved and remains a point of tension in the post-socialist era. The second chapter argues that in a society of scarcity it became necessary to possess heroic status in order to be rewarded with better food in greater amounts. As a result, the heroic claims of the primary beneficiaries of the system, such as the Communist Party, became highly contested. The third chapter deepens the understanding of the successes and failures of the attempts to construct a uniquely Soviet ethnic identity. The two attempts to create a Pan-Soviet cuisine show how even food choices became highly politicized and reflected the fates of the Soviet nationalities policy. Yet, the continued popularity of multi-ethnic dishes demonstrates the continued personal engagement of many consumers with the Soviet past. The fourth chapter unravels a commonly held view by demonstrating that the arrival of McDonald's and other Western food innovations to the late USSR were a continuity of Soviet modernization policies rather than their disruption. The importation of Western-style fast-food into the USSR was supposed to resolve Soviet inefficiency, ease the double burden of working women, and rationalize the process of eating. Soviet culinary reforms faltered and while trying to create the New Soviet Man and Woman, they have given rise to the Nutritionally Dissatisfied Man and Woman instead.

  • The Biological Engineers: Health Creation and Promotion in the United States, 1880-1920

    Author:
    Kate Mazza
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    History
    Advisor:
    Martin Burke
    Abstract:

    At the turn of the twentieth century the emerging field of professionals called "biological engineers" proposed individualized, prescribed physical training and health guidance based on physical examinations. They wanted to apply higher standards of health to people of all classes because they recognized that the college-educated as well as the unskilled, the immigrant as well as the native born, adults as well as children were subject to physical ailments and neurasthenia. Urbanization, the division of labor and intensive schooling contributed to these health problems for the majority of Americans of all classes. Dr. Dudley Sargent's system of physical training aimed to institutionalize biological engineering at schools and colleges. As Physical Director of Harvard University, he conducted anthropometric measurements and medical examinations to prescribe exercise on pulley-weight machines of his own creation. His system was suitable for most people, in contrast to competitive sports, which were increasingly popular on the college campus. However, Sargent's system was too costly and time-consuming for most public primary and high schools. To fill the void in health supervision, biological engineers supported school hygiene initiatives. While first focused on the school environment, by the early 1900s school hygiene programs shifted to examine children for communicable disease and "remediable defects." These programs were popular and widespread, but the endeavor never proved to be as organized, as standardized or as thorough and extensive as they wanted. Negative reactions from the subjects of the programs, internal conflicts and a lack of unified opinions weakened the field. Additionally, there were tremendous difficulties in applying such a comprehensive program on a large scale. Even as physical training and hygiene laws were passed in many states, by the late 1910s physical education became demedicalized, the biological engineering vision became diluted and the role was fragmented into other specializations.

  • Race and Real Estate: Interracial Conflict and Coexistence in Harlem, 1890-1920

    Author:
    Kevin McGruder
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    History
    Advisor:
    Judith Stein
    Abstract:

    From 1890 to 1920, the northern Manhattan community of Harlem changed from a village dominated by white middle class merchants and professionals, with a small settlement of black residents, to a densely built urban community that was called the Black Capital of America. Although the dramatic change in Harlem is often described as one of "invasion" by black newcomers and "resistance" by white Harlem residents, details of the real estate trans-actions of the period indicate a more complex reality which challenges some elements of the "ghetto formation" model used by many historians to describe similar changes taking place in many northern cities in the first decades of the 1900s. Blacks were intent on forming a perm-anent, thriving black community in Harlem and therefore they sought to own residential, religious, and commercial property in Harlem. Many whites did resist blacks' movement into Harlem, but others facilitated this movement by assisting them to finance purchases of properties. White residents and investors in Harlem were a diverse group whose actions regarding race were influenced by length of residency, social class, ethnicity, and personal world views. Most other northern cities experienced variations of the changes experienced in New York City. On both sides of the color line class, ethnicity, politics, and economics dictated a range of strategies to either facilitate or forestall racial change in Harlem. The ownership and occupancy of real estate, long the symbol of citizenship in the United States, was a critical element in implementing and understanding these strategies.

  • The Color of Cancer: Disease and the Measure of Race in the United States from the 1920s to the 1990s

    Author:
    Leyla Mei
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    History
    Advisor:
    David Nasaw
    Abstract:

    This dissertation analyzes the ways in which cancer researchers in the United States understood, measured, and defined race between 1920 and the turn of the twenty-first century. Shifting interpretations of its relationship to carcinogenesis forced doctors to confront multiple definitions of race as they struggled to untangle the medical significance of various racial traits and explain epidemiologic patterns. At different times, race stood for nationality, culture, skin tone, physicality, genetics, socioeconomics, and biochemistry. The measurement of race moved from a bodily notion early in the century, to a postwar assessment which increasingly incorporated external characteristics, to an internal schema in the 1990s. In the 1920s, cancer's designation as a disease of civilization structured the search for etiology in ways that affected groupings of whites and nonwhites, as researchers compiling statistics on cancer rates in different populations rationalized and naturalized racial categories. Case studies of four cancers with racial associations examine how disease identities resulted from patterns of incidence, and in turn shaped research agendas and consolidated racial and ethnic borders. Skin cancer's stark racial disparities were poorly understood until the discovery of the carcinogenic nature of ultraviolet light, prompting researchers to classify subjects according to changing combinations of race, ethnicity, and skin color in their search for its causes. Varying associations of risk, race, and behavior marked studies into the etiology of cervical cancer; because of the disease's links with economic status and the correlation between race and class, race became a risk factor in that it appeared to determine the sexual practices which could affect incidence. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma's characterization as a disease of ethnic Chinese led scientists to pinpoint the specific traits which defined an individual as such, a list guided by racial ideology, stereotypically Chinese habits such as opium smoking, and a disregard for regional variations in Chinese culture. Finally, an examination of how prostate cancer became a "black" disease in the postwar U.S. reveals how new diagnostic technologies promote the illusion that race has an inherent biological basis, unsettling the prevailing social constructivist framework of race in ways that will have profound effects during the twenty-first century.

  • Sephardic Family Life in the Eighteenth-Century British West Indies

    Author:
    Stanley Mirvis
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    History
    Advisor:
    Jane Gerber
    Abstract:

    Spanish-Portuguese Jews of eighteenth-century Jamaica and Barbados sustained an Iberian rooted Converso heritage through their patterns of family life. While in other parts of the eighteenth-century British Atlantic Sephardic society and culture was in a state of decay, it flourished in the West Indies. Spanish-Portuguese Jews settled in the British West Indies as extended families, actively promoted traditional marriage patterns through near exclusive endogamy, addressed the place of their children of color through distinctively Sephardic concerns, and asserted a sense of Iberian patriarchy in opposition to communal interference in child rearing. In exploring the private and familial lives of Spanish-Portuguese Jews, this dissertation reveals the long-term social-historical consequences of the rejudaization process.

  • Female Learning in Early Modern Europe: Advocates and Institutions

    Author:
    Victoria Mondelli
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    History
    Advisor:
    Margaret King
    Abstract:

    Schooling for girls begins in the early modern West as intellectuals make the case that women possess the same human characteristics as men; that they are capable of rational thought; and that they can and should be educated. Religious and civil officials, founders of schools, teaching orders, school masters and mistresses accept the new characterization of women, finding girls to be worthy of education and apt pupils. They create day and boarding schools for girls across Europe, announcing them as ideal training grounds for literacy, academic training, domestic skills, and quite importantly, religious and moral training. The founding of the first schools for girls follows after more than a century of discussion of women's worth, carried on in a querelle des femmes, a “debate about women,” that raised questions about the nature and capacity of women, commonly characterized as the “weaker sex.” In large part, a double-edged fear about endangering female chastity by exposing girls to ideas contained in books and removing them from the home to attend schools was addressed by humanists and other authors to allow for a greater acceptance of female learning, and soon after, girls' schooling. Influential figures, like Juan Luis Vives, Desiderius Erasmus, Johannes Amos Comenius, and others wrote against the traditional view that barred women from learning, strongly advocating education for girls and women highlighting many benefits for the individual and society. Many of the first founders of girls' schools and teachers recognized and credited the earlier advocates for their works and ideas, which they implemented in the classroom. This dissertation examines both the intellectual tradition of the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries that opens the way to the schooling of women, and the emergence of the first schools, both religious and secular, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

  • Safe Distance: U.S. Slavery, Latin America, and American Culture, 1826-1861

    Author:
    Paul Naish
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    History
    Advisor:
    James Oakes
    Abstract:

    This dissertation argues that in the thirty-five years before the Civil War, people in the United States used discourse about Latin America as a way to discuss slavery in the U.S. Through outright comparisons or implicit metaphors, they employed the Latin American context to say what was literally unspeakable when talking about slavery at home. Politicians stifled by Congress's gag rule, Northerners wary of offending their Southern neighbors, even proslavery partisans who countenanced no whisper of criticism of their own peculiar institution, all analyzed slavery south of the border without fear of censure. At the time of Spanish-American independence, achieved just as the U.S. celebrated its fiftieth jubilee in 1826, many Americans looked forward to a future of shared republicanism and beneficial commercial relations. But during the widely-publicized Panama Congress debates of that year, Southern politicians insisted on the racial difference that characterized their neighbors to the south. By the 1830s, `40s, and 50s, U.S. citizens saw Latin America, however much it shared a history of European colonization and a population that included whites, blacks, and native peoples, as unquestionably the Other. With chapters considering the work of early U.S. archaeologists, the fiction and drama of the antebellum period, William Hickling Prescott's The Conquest of Mexico and The Conquest of Peru, and proslavery analyses of Cuba and Brazil, this dissertation explores the purpose served by the perception of Latin American otherness during a period when open discussion of U.S. slavery was highly charged and polarized. Though proximate in geography, Latin America was remote in culture, language, and customs--a combination that allowed people in the U.S. to comment on conditions in their own country without appearing to do so. At the same time, the disparagement of Latin America proved to be something about which everyone--Northerners and Southerners, Whigs and Democrats, scholars secure in their libraries and settlers vulnerable on the Mexican frontier--could agree. By creating a safe space onto which to displace anxieties about racial tensions, servile rebellion, miscegenation, and emancipation, discourse about Latin America helped to unify and reassure a nation whose sectional fissures were growing deeper.

  • Quadrivial Pursuits: Case Studies in the Conceptual Foundation of the Mathematical Arts in the Late Middle Ages

    Author:
    Daniel Newsome
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    History
    Advisor:
    Joseph Dauben
    Abstract:

    The quadrivium, the four mathematical disciplines of the Middle Ages, described the structure of the medieval cosmos, both macrocosm and microcosm. Arithmetic and music were the mathematics of Platonic counting numbers. Geometry and astronomy were the mathematics of continuous magnitude. All four disciplines worked in concert to describe a cohesive and harmonious universe, which in the late Middle Ages incorporated everything from Aristotelian elemental theory to astrology. This dissertation describes the early philosophical formulation of these disciplines from Pythagorean and Platonic roots and the foundation of the quadrivium itself in the mathematical writings of Boethius in the early sixth century. This dissertation then examines the mathematical philosophy of three late medieval authors who were proficient in the quadrivial arts: Nicole Oresme (ca. 1320-1382), Prosdocimo de' Beldomandi (ca. 1375-1428), and Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472). All three demonstrate that the Boethian quadrivial philosophy continued to be relevant in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, but all three studies point to a significant fault line in the metaphysical structure of the quadrivium itself - the distinction between discrete and continuous, the quadrivial distinction between arithmetic and geometry.

  • Dangerous Grounds: The American GI Coffeehouse Movement, 1967-1972

    Author:
    David Parsons
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    History
    Advisor:
    Joshua Brown
    Abstract:

    The 1960s witnessed an unprecedented level of antiwar organization in the United States, as a movement to end the war in Vietnam grew to include millions of Americans who participated in a wide range of protest activities. Beginning in 1967, antiwar activists opened GI coffeehouses in the cities and towns outside U.S. military bases, designed to serve as off-base refuges for the growing number of active-duty soldiers resisting the war. This dissertation examines three representative coffeehouses (the UFO coffeehouse in Columbia, South Carolina; the Oleo Strut coffeehouse in Killeen, Texas; and the Shelter Half coffeehouse in Tacoma, Washington) as nodal points of culture and politics that provide a fresh perspective on the complex relationship between the civilian antiwar movement and U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam era. The coffeehouse story reveals soldiers and activists working together, planning antiwar actions, printing underground newspapers and, more often than not, defending the coffeehouses themselves from unsympathetic citizens and concerned military authorities. Using radical publications, Congressional testimony, private letters, organizational records, military and government archives, and oral histories from key participants, this study analyzes a unique and thinly researched component of the antiwar movement and situates it within the larger history of late twentieth century American politics. The GI coffeehouse movement constituted an important institutional component of the GI movement and the wider landscape of antiwar resistance and political activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As fundamentally cultural institutions with explicit political goals, GI coffeehouses bridged the often wide gap between the civilian antiwar movement and the American military, and in doing so ignited a significant amount of controversy that included many incidents of violent retaliation. The study concludes by examining the deep shifts in military policy that took place during the period immediately following the Vietnam War, contextualizing the impact of the era's social, political, and cultural turmoil on both the nation's military and the society it serves.