History professors discuss recently published books
April 20, 2017
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The history department held a talk Wednesday with three of its professors to celebrate the release of their books in the past year, ranging in topics from Latin American independence to the Industrial Revolution.
History Profs. Caitlin Fitz, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern and Joel Mokyr described their books’ historical background in front of an audience of about 45 in Harris Hall. Though they vary in subject matter, the books all “appeal to an audience far beyond scholarly colleagues” because of the human narratives they contain, panel moderator and history Prof. Ken Alder said.
Fitz said her book, “Our Sister Republics: The United States in an Age of American Revolutions,” chronicles the enthusiasm for Latin American independence fostered throughout the United States during the early 19th century.
Fitz said the book takes a deeper look at developing worldviews at the beginning of U.S. history. In her research, she found that in the age of the American Revolution, popular thought about South American politics reveals perspectives of race, equality and republicanism at the time in the budding United States, she said.
Petrovsky-Shtern co-authored “Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence” with University of Toronto history Prof. Paul Robert Magocsi. The book explores the stereotypes, misperceptions and biases that have historically sparked persecution against Jewish communities in Ukraine, he said. Petrovsky-Shtern said he hoped the book would establish greater understanding of history and the causes of oppression.
“There is as much that Ukrainians do not know about Jews as there is that Jews do not know about Ukrainians,” Petrovsky-Shtern said. “Overcoming mutual ignorance brings Jews and Ukrainians together.”
Mokyr discussed his book, “A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy,” which explores the catalysts of the Industrial Revolution and subsequent economic progress around the world. In his book, he argues that Europe’s fragmentation laid fodder for the competition, leading to technological and philosophical growth in the Industrial Revolution.
Though Alder, Petrovsky-Shtern, Fitz and Mokyr mostly write academic articles, Alder said they are able to capture a part of themselves in all of their work. Alder, who had read Petrovsky-Shtern, Fitz and Mokyr’s work before coming to Northwestern, said he felt like he already knew his colleagues well.
“I met them first through their books, in prose before in person,” Alder said about the authors. “Each of these people put some of themselves into their work.”
Alder said the books “care about their audiences” by being accessible. He said by avoiding technical jargon and incorporating human narratives, the texts could appeal to a broad readership beyond scholars, including undergraduate students.
Weinberg senior Hayley Landman said she attended the event to learn about the authors’ work flow. She said she wanted to hear about the depth of research that goes into the publication of an academic book.
She also said she thought the event would be a great way for her to learn more about history outside of the classroom.
“I’m passionate about American History, but I can’t take every class that I want to take, so this is a good way to learn more about the world of history that I wouldn’t learn otherwise,” Landman said.