Introduction

 

Dr. Wynn Gadkar-Wilcox

 

The Clio editorial staff usually reserves the honor of writing introductions to other members of the history faculty.  However, I have requested to write it as Clio’s advisor, because next year, I will begin the transition of Clio to What's New leadership by co-advising the journal with our medieval star, Professor Katherine Allocco.  Therefore, in addition to writing a few words about the articles in this volume, I want to say a few words about the innovative students who revived Clio from its moribund state in 2004 and who, through their dedication, have nurtured it to its current vibrancy. 

In the fall of 2004, I put up some signs and gathered a few students to begin to plan for the 2005 publication of Clio, which was to be the first in a few years.   With the guidance of Dr. Marcy May, Clio’s previous advisor, I had some idea of what was needed to be done.    We met, for some reason, in Hobbes’s Hang Out, clear on the other side of the second floor of Warner Hall from Clio’s Corner, which would seem to be a more natural place to meet.   In that meeting in November 2004, I had the good fortune of working with an eager and irreverent core of students for Clio, among them Kristin Bollas, Joanne Korniluk, Peterz Gerhard, and the inimitable John Read.  

This group of students needed little direction.   They kWhat's New what kind of journal they wanted to produce.   They wanted to push the envelope of the journal in the direction that the previous issues directed by Dr. May had already been going.  They wanted Clio to be less a kind of glorified student-run department What's Newsletter—a place for collecting papers from the previous year’s senior thesis course—and more a daring, irreverent publication designed along student ideas, based on history but welcoming contributions and ideas from outside of history.

I remember that year that when that group of students suggested that the topic for the 2005 issue be “History and Sex,” they all, almost in unison, gave me a questioning look, as if expecting me to veto this topic as of questionable taste or academic value.   I did not do so, and over the last four years, I have tried to do so to a bare minimum, only asserting myself to provide suggestions for topics or papers during lulls in the annual Clio process in which ideas did not seem to be readily forthcoming.

As I suspected, our problem with the 2005 edition was not so much with its controversial nature but with gaining submissions.   It turned out that relatively few people—surprisingly few, in fact—had written interesting papers on the history of sexuality and wanted to publish them in Clio.   After calling for papers, we realized that there were not enough papers to make an issue.  So the members of the Clio editorial board decided to spend their winter break writing essays on their own on topics related to history and sexuality that they found interesting.   These essays were not entirely polished.  They were not all the result of months of work on a senior thesis.   They were, however, entirely from the heart of the students that wrote them, and about entertaining, interesting, and controversial topics, from the oppression of the Catholic Church to affairs in the White House.    At the end of the year, though we found ourselves unable to obtain any funding either from the department or from the Student Government Association for our journal, we were not deterred.  Joanne Korniluk and I did the leg work to put the journal up on the history department’s website, and when the journal was ready, I went to the local Kinko’s and ran twenty-five copies which I paid for personally out of my own pocket to make sure that the revival of Clio was complete.

Over the last four years, it seems to me that the editorial board of Clio has run the journal with this same irreverent, pioneering, and slightly impromptu spirit.   In our 2006 journal, The Struggle for Freedom, and our 2007 edition, Globalization and History, the editorial board saw fit to publish everything from stunning images of Hmong textiles to (seemingly) rancorous academic disputes between members of the history department’s faculty.  In these issues, a certain carefree, experimental attitude remained, even as the hard work of John Read, among others, ensured that we would be given adequate funding by the SGA for meetings, publication, and rollouts of the What's New issues.   

During this time, the early core group of Clio editors largely graduated and was replaced by our current, but equally dedicated, editors, including Joshua Flores, Colleen Tarsi, Cat Jacocks, and John Coleman.  In practice, they have been led for more than a year by the steady guiding hand of John Read and of the club’s president, Kelsey Seip.    Over the years, we have moved from Hobbes’s Hang Out to our proper place in Clio’s Corner, but our spirit of inventiveness has not changed.   It can be seen clearly in the irreverent, and sometimes wacky, submissions to this year’s issue, Historical Irony and Religious Conflict.   

The amalgam of two topics as seemingly diverse as historical irony and religious conflict may seem somewhat whimsical.   Surprisingly, however, in this volume we have a number of essays that manage to be about both subjects.   Though many of the essays this year are independent contributions, several were produced out of two courses that I taught in advanced historiography: the first was a graduate course billed as “The Idea of History” in fall 2006, the second an undergraduate honors course on interdisciplinary history in fall 2007.   In both courses, students were asked to complete a creative assignment in which they applied advanced historiographical ideas in a fictional or creative writing format.    From this assignment grew an impressive body of historical fiction, some of which is represented here.   But in addition, the interdisciplinary class was required to attend and reflect on several presentations that were given in conjunction with the History Society’s “Haunted History Week” last fall.   The surprising number of contributions that combine an interest in religious history with a fictional and/or ironical approach is a result of the peculiar synergy of these events and assignments last year.  

This year’s journal begins with John Read’s musings on an unusual question: does a chair have a secret?    Though we may open our reading of Read’s article a bit flummoxed by this unusual opening query, we rapidly come to realize that Read has ingeniously selected a chair as a metaphor for the potential questions and problems that structuralist and poststructuralist literary criticism and philosophy brings to history.   We muse with Read over the fact that a chair is neither inherently a chair, nor was it always a chair, and we breathe a sigh of relief when Read exonerates our secretive chair at the end of his essay.  Accompanying Read’s essay on the chair is a creative series of drawings from WCSU art major Kristin Weinkauf depicting a number of oddly secretive chairs.   One of these illustrations graces the cover of this year’s journal.

Next, Joe Coll defends the idea that the greatness of America is based on the consumption of alcohol.   Though Coll’s paper begins as farce, we gradually see that he is making a very sober argument indeed.   Ultimately, he argues that the taboo on alcohol, far from puritanical, is a twentieth century phenomenon, and that this moralistic desire to decrease alcohol consumption paradoxically leads to alcohol abuse.

We then move on to truly ironic essays—several of which are inspired however, by religious themes.  In particular, the first two essays grew out of discussions and presentations by Professors Leslie Lindenauer of the History Department and James Scrimgeour of the Writing Department on the Salem and Hartford witch trials.  Cassandra Rowe’s short story about a night at a coffeehouse turns a little ugly with a dispute between coffeehouse patrons about the meaning of the Salem witch trials, and the consequences of commercialization.  In a story that combines fact and fiction, as well as irony and maybe a little sarcasm, Rowe gives us a What's New picture of how to view the memory of the witch trials in Salem.   Continuing on this theme, Thomas Jacob imagines what would happen if contemporary literary and historical theorists (in this case Dominick LaCapra) were transported back to the era of the witch trials.   The results are surprising indeed!

Continuing on the themes of religion, fiction, and irony, Ryan Ford rewrites Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol as a response to postmodern challenges in history.   In Ford’s interpretation, Norm Al-Historian, a scribe working in dusty archives, is faced with the ghosts of poststructural historical theorists.   The result seems to be wacky, complex, and also amusing.

Moving on to a pure consideration of religion, Gene Fox explains the role the Vatican played in the Spanish Civil War.  In this provocative piece, Fox reminds us that the Catholic Church often gets its hands dirty in political affairs, and that, far from washing its hands of its involvement in putting the Franco regime into power, it continues to beatify the “martyrs” for the fascist cause. 

As the preface says, “enjoy the mix.”   I believe that what we have created this year is indicative of the Clio that the editors have envisioned since 2004: provocative and at times controversial, but at the same time not taking itself overly seriously.  I hope it is as enjoyable for you to read as it has been for me to edit.