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It’s not even past.” 

William Faulkner
Requiem for a Nun

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September 25th, 2018

  • Sep
    , 2018
    Candid - Admission Slideshow (52) UC Alumni Addressing Inequalities - What should Matter to Me?
    Olin Auditorium
    A panel of alumni with careers that address inequalities in healthcare, education, etc. Alumni will explain their work, discuss why it matters to them, and how they came to realize its significance. Brownies and ice cream served!

October 25th, 2018

November 8th, 2018

  • Nov
    , 2018
    Victoria Szabo Contested Histories, Cultural Heritage And The Digital Archive
    Philip And Muriel Berman Museum Of Art
    Victoria Szabo is an associate research professor of digital media studies and director of the Wired! Lab for Visualizing the Past and the Digital Humanities Initiative at Duke University. She will discuss her work archiving popular culture and regional and urban history.

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From the History News Network 

  • On Thursday I was honored to speak to 23 new American citizens, at a naturalization ceremony aboard “Old Ironsides” in Boston Harbor, as they swore allegiance to the United States of America.  As the son and grandson of immigrants, you would have appreciated the drive, determination and ambition of these new Americans.  Like you and your family, they will be an engine of growth and prosperity and within a generation their families will be indistinguishable from those that have been here for 300 years.

    Of course, “Old Ironsides” is the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship in the world, and named for the sacred document that these new Americans had just sworn to defend and uphold.  

    I was invited by Rya Zobel, a federal judge from Boston who presided over the ceremony and administered the oath to our new fellow citizens.  Judge Zobel began her remarks by addressing the new citizens as “Fellow Immigrants” – she came to the United States as a refugee following World War II.  She spoke little English at the time, and didn’t know much about life in America.  But like so many immigrants before and after - like your own family, Mr. President - she worked very hard to make the most of the opportunities she now enjoyed.  She graduated from Radcliffe, then Harvard Law School, and went to work as an attorney in private practice.  In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, where she has worked ever since, and distinguished herself for fairness and decency.

    As I listened to Judge Zobel welcome these new Americans, and exhort them to vote and participate in our democracy, I thought also about my own family’s path to citizenship.  My great grandfather arrived in the same Boston Harbor where I now sat aboard the Constitution, and went to work as a shoemaker in Charlestown, not half a mile from where “Old Ironsides” is moored.  His son, my grandfather, got some education and became a foreman in a machine shop.  His son, my father, was a surveyor who started his own business and did very well.  His son - me - was able to attend university and became a United States Ambassador.  

    As our new fellow citizens came forward to receive their certificates of citizenship, I wondered if such a steady path of upward mobility – the American dream – would be possible for any of them back home.  Probably not.  That’s why they’re here.  They’re here to work and to educate their children, in the hope that their children and grandchildren will have access to the same American dream that has benefited us, and which has especially blessed your own family, Mr. President. 

    Five of these new citizens who took the oath were in uniform.  Four were members of the United States Army and the fifth was a sailor, a member of the crew of the Constitution.  His shipmates let out a mighty roar when his name was called, and his Captain, sitting next to me, grinned from ear to ear.  There was no prouder person on earth than that young sailor, unless it was his mother, sitting behind him.

    Mr. President, as the son and grandson of immigrants, who is married to an immigrant, I think you would have been just as moved as I was by the ceremony.  These 23 new citizens weren’t born Americans.  They became Americans by choice.  To work, to raise and educate their children, and to perpetuate the fundamental precept of the American experience – the American dream.  I suggest you start hosting naturalization ceremonies in the White House.  Then you’ll know what the rest of us have known for over 200 years:  That immigrants bring us their vibrancy, innovation and sweat equity, are one of the great engines of our prosperity, and all they want in return is opportunity.  That, Mr. President, is what separates us from almost every other country in the world.

  • Click inside the image below and scroll down to see tweets.
  • Of the various revelations to emerge from Bob Woodward’s bestseller, Fear: Trump in the White House, the veteran journalist’s new book about the chaotic current administration, the president’s reported dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a “dumb Southerner” and “mentally retarded” in a conversation with then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter is one of the least surprising. More than suggesting the staying power of tired put-downs about the region, by equating southernness with stupidity, these epithets establish Trump, who relies heavily on white southern voters for his support, as part of a long tradition of Americans (typically non-southerners) beating up on the South. And yet the South has been—and remains—more than a favorite punching bag. Throughout US history, another set of attitudes about the southland has competed in the American psyche: one in which the region is envisioned as the guardian of the country’s traditions, its most unaffected and authentic locale. 

    This love/hate attitude is hardly of recent origin. It is nearly as old as the Republic itself. The 1960s and 1970s, though, were an especially critical moment in imaginings of the South, particularly the white South. That the South’s supposedly positive qualities often outshone its perceived negative characteristics during this period reveals the desperation of Americans to simultaneously make sense of and escape a messy and confusing cultural and political landscape. 

    Consider the cultural diversity of some of the purveyors of this imagined South of the long sixties. Novelist Harper Lee, segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace, country-rock artist Linda Ronstadt, and JFK and LBJ presidential aide Richard Goodwin would seem to have little in common at first glance. But during the tumult of the sixties and seventies, these individuals dreamed of the white South as a refuge from America’s problems. What were these problems? They ranged from anomie to suburban malaise to presidential deceit to racial discord to empty consumerism. These diverse and hard-to-solve dilemmas lent Americans a feeling of rootlessness, a regrettable condition explored by pop sociologist Vance Packard in A Nation of Strangers, his 1972 book about the breakdown of the bonds that had traditionally linked Americans together. Certainly, Lee, Ronstadt, Wallace, and Goodwin did not all view the white South in the same way, but they were united in their belief that there was something about the region that could help to rescue their beleaguered, rootless nation from ruin. 

    For Lee, the Alabama native and To Kill a Mockingbird author, the South was a place that, while suffering from the blot of racism, contained the close-knit sense of community that came from small-town living, as well as forward-thinking whites who might eventually eradicate black-white divisions. Goodwin, a Jewish Bostonian, was similarly hopeful, positing that the South had maintained its rural roots and the human connectedness that he saw dissolving all too quickly around “modern man.” The Arizona-bred Ronstadt, though no ideologue herself, covered classic country tunes, rooted in the traditions of the rural South, frequently for a countercultural audience eager to tap into the alleged authenticity of rural white southern living to bolster hippies’ critiques of the Amerikan technocracy. Like these others, Wallace and his supporters envisioned the white South as an oasis in an environment of unsettling changes, but unlike Lee, Ronstadt, and Goodwin, he embraced a South woven from the interconnected strands of white supremacy, “law and order,” and unapologetic masculinity as a bludgeon for batting down the progressive agendas of feminist, antiwar, and civil rights protesters. The imagined South of the 1960s and 1970s, then, clearly transcended partisan boundaries and proved useful to Americans of all political persuasions.

    There was of course a great irony in Americans looking to the South, especially the white South, during this period. This was, of course, during the civil rights era, a public relations disaster for white southerners. But even in this moment, when white southerners were routinely lambasted—often rightly—as pariahs, southernness was a highly malleable concept suitable for addressing a host of cultural and political needs. In part, these imaginings in the 1960s and 1970s were distinguished from earlier constructions of the South because they happened in the midst of a revolutionary racial transformation in the region. Notably, at this controversial time, the South could still function in myriad ways: as a bigoted wasteland, as a region on the mend and learning to repair its racial schism, and finally, maybe even as a racially reformed locale, a model for others to emulate. In this final vision, observers deemed the South capable of teaching the rest of the country a thing or two about the United States’s failures to secure true equality for all of its citizens. This state of affairs was unprecedented, as it gave Americans license to think about the white South as both a malevolent and a redemptive force, with its racial meaning enjoying a similar flexibility.

    At the same time, such imaginings, which regularly portrayed white southerners in anachronistic terms as wise, familial-oriented rustics, occurred as the South continued its dizzying movement toward political and economic integration with the nation at large. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was still commonplace for cultural and political figures to cast white southernness in largely—and appealingly—rural terms, from Linda Ronstadt smiling amusedly while lounging in a pig pen—a barefoot hippie chick down on the farm—on the cover of her 1970 album Silk Purse, to presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter, in his 1975 book Why Not the Best?, comparing his Depression-era boyhood in the Georgia countryside to the “farm life of fully 2,000 years ago.” Out-of-time fantasies of the South were out of step with much of the actual lived experience of white southerners in the sixties and seventies, but that was beside the point. They were nevertheless powerful symbols of traditionalism and stability at a time when so many Americans felt that their country had lost its way politically, socially, and spiritually. 

    This imagined South, then, operated in the realm of myth. The purpose—and power—of myths, the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss explained, is contained in their ability to seemingly address and perhaps symbolically resolve problems that in reality have no solution. This is precisely why an outmoded white South appealed widely to a variety of Americans during and immediately after the civil rights era. With racial and cultural hierarchies in flux, it should come as no surprise that a region known for its traditionalism (and less charitably, its backwardness) should see its stature as a national myth worthy of emulation grow. Apparent paradoxes did not necessarily matter. In the 1970s, for example, one could dig the interracial sounds—and lineup—of the southern rockers in the Allman Brothers Band while also singing along to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” a song that the Florida band repeatedly played against the backdrop of an enormous Confederate flag. These groups, to some extent, depicted very different versions of white southernness. Still, they were united in their endorsement of white southern masculine rebellion as an antidote to what contemporary reactionary forces bemoaned as the “feminization” of US society. 

    While receiving ample psychological succor from the imagined South in the 1960s and 1970s, Americans’ reliance on its myth was ultimately problematic. On balance, even in its most positive forms, like the character of Andy Griffith’s folksy southern sheriff on his hugely successful TV show (1960-1968), fantasies about white southerners too often presented them—dubiously—as the keepers of lost values rather than as real, three-dimensional people. Such condescension remains with us today, in both negative and positive commentaries on white southernness. In the minds of some pundits and politicians, white southerners are an essential part of the “real America,” antithetical to the purported inauthenticity and permissive liberalism of blue state America. 

    On the other hand, they are easily disregarded as “dumb southerners,” whose homeland always marks them as an easy joke when needed. No matter the circumstances, imagining the South remains an ultimately selfish endeavor. It requires a person to reinforce and exploit stereotypes about the region in a questionable effort to assuage their personal apprehensions about the state of America. For someone so notoriously thin-skinned and concerned about others’ opinions of him, it is far from shocking that Donald Trump would spout hoary clichés about white southerners to alleviate his deep-seated insecurities while, at other times, broadly praising that group. Americans—the president included—cannot help but love and hate the South at the same time; it is one of their favorite, most essential, pastimes.

  • Presently, we have the oldest first term inaugurated President of the United States, Donald Trump, who was inaugurated at 70 years and a bit more than seven months old in January 2017.

    Only two other Presidents have been in office in their 70s. Ronald Reagan was inaugurated a few weeks short of age 70 in 1981, and left office a few weeks short of 78 in 1989. Dwight D. Eisenhower reached the age of 70 in October 1960, leaving office three months and six days after his 70th birthday.

    Now, however, in 2020, there is the potential for up to four candidates for the White House who would, if elected, reach the age of 80 during the term of office from January 20, 2021 to January 20, 2025.

    One potential candidate, seen as certain to run again, is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who fought Hillary Clinton all the way to early summer in 2016. An Independent Socialist, who allies with the Democratic Party, Sanders has given very strong hints of trying again, and he would be 79 years, four months and twelve days old on Inauguration Day in 2021. So he would reach the age of 80 in the first year of his term. Sanders has had an extended career in Congress, as the longest serving Independent in history in the House of Representatives for sixteen years from 1991 to 2007, and is now seen as an easy victor in a third term bid for the US Senate. He also served as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont from 1981 to 1989. He has a lot of support, particularly among young people, who flocked to his campaign in 2016. He will certainly be a major factor in the 2020 Presidential election cycle.

    The second potential candidate, flirting with the idea of running, is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who served three terms from 2002-2014. Bloomberg was a Democrat before the Mayoral years, ran for office as a Republican, and then became an Independent in the midst of his second term in office in 2007. He is seen as a man who avoids clear party identification, but could certainly run as a Democratic competitor. He is the 8th richest person in America and the 11th richest in the world, and has unlimited funds to mount a campaign for President. He flirted with the idea of running as an Independent in 2008 and 2012, and after some thought of running finally in 2016, he endorsed Hillary Clinton. He is now spending $80 million in the midterm elections of 2018 to support Democratic congressional candidates, to help flip control of the House of Representatives. He has long engaged in philanthropy, and is seen as a “wild card” who might finally run for President after earlier decisions not to do so. If he were to become President, he would be 78 years, 11 months and six days old upon taking the oath of office, and therefore, would reach the age of 80 a little more than a year after becoming President.

    The third potential candidate, seen as certain to announce for President, and the front runner in many polls, is former Vice President Joe Biden, who served eight years under President Barack Obama, and had a 36 year career as a Senator from Delaware from 1973-2009, including service as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee from 1987-1995, and also Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2001-2003 and 2007-2009. Biden was in many ways the most active and engaged Vice President in American history, even more than Walter Mondale under President Jimmy Carter. 

    Biden tried for the White House twice, in 1988 and 2008, doing poorly each time, and was forced out of the earlier race after he plagiarized a speech by a British politician. He also suffered a serious health crisis as a result of an aneurysm of the brain, which his son Beau Biden later endured, and who then died of cancer in 2015. Biden had been planning to run in 2016, but backed off after his son’s tragic death. It is believed by many observers that he would have been able to overcome Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016, win the Democratic nomination, and defeat Donald Trump, by winning the white working class vote of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. This has motivated Biden to run, and many people of all political stripes, even those who would work against him, feel he is qualified considering his 44 years in government service. No other person who has run for president has a longer record of public service. Biden would become 78 years of age two weeks after the election, and would be 78 years and exactly two months old on Inauguration Day 2021, so he would reach the age of 80 after one year and ten months in office. 

    Also, John Kerry, former Democratic Senator, Secretary of State, and 2004 Presidential nominee, has now promoted his new book on his career, and rumors are flying, which Kerry is not discouraging, that he might enter the race for President in 2020, despite the fact that he ran for President nearly a generation ago.

    Considering that Kerry lost his race to George W. Bush, due to a contested result for the Ohio electoral vote, which had it switched would have given him the Presidency despite losing the national popular vote, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Kerry might actually announce for President after the midterm election results of 2018 are completed. Kerry would reach the age of 80 in December 2023 during the next Presidential term. He would be the “youngest” of these four potential Democratic Presidential candidates in 2020.

    One can be certain that both Sanders and Biden will compete in 2020, but with the possibility that Bloomberg and Kerry might join. It is conceivable that all four will compete, along with a large slew of much younger candidates, including a list of seven potential candidates, who if inaugurated, would all be younger than our youngest President, Theodore Roosevelt, and our youngest elected President, John F. Kennedy.

    In 2020 therefore we may see an election pitting candidates at both extremes of the age range. 

  • Related Link Nixon, Trump and the Strange Career of the Madman Theory By Jeff Kimball

    Am I the only one who thinks there is method in Donald Trump’s madness? Madness it certainly is, on several levels, but in some instances it is purposeful madness.

    This madness takes form in President Trump’s approach to governing, what can be called “the Chaos Theory of Governing.” Coming from a background of business where disruptive forces (e.g. new technologies) can have a profound effect on the way business is conducted, Trump has adopted a business model to the business of governing. President Trump’s chaos theory allows him to play a different, unorthodox game, and as he is the President, others must respond to and play Trump’s game. Just what do we mean by “chaos theory”?

    It is often said that chaos is “the science of surprises.” These surprises are non-linear and therefore, unpredictable. Surprises…surprise us; they throw us off. We like the expected, the predictable that to which we are accustomed, the sure thing. Chaos theory would have us “expect the unexpected.” We don’t like that. Ambiguity causes stress. It defies reason. But all is not lost. Perhaps we can achieve some “deterministic chaos.”

    Science is grounded in the predictable…gravity, one plus one equals two, up is up. But chaos upends certainty. Weather, clouds, the stock market, are impossible to predict with precision, they are complex, interrelated, and changing. Does that mean all is hopeless? No, we can still predict, even understand, develop new insights into the nature of things. And while absolute certainty eludes us, in seeing the connections between say, ecosystems, social systems, and human behavior, and how they interrelate, we might be able to offset catastrophes and develop sound policies for dealing with unfolding perils.

    These systems may appear to be chaotic, but there is method to this seeming madness. Random or chaotic behaviors can be defined by mathematical formulae and are thus not as chaotic as they may appear. 

    In nature as in managing a complex organization, chaos may be used to pursue desired outcomes. Individuals as well as organizations must learn to live with uncertainty and change, and the more adaptable, the greater the chances of success.

    Chaos theory is useful in examining various forms of leadership, political and otherwise. In this formulation, a leader impacts the behavior of others, quite often in random or unpredictable ways. The when and how of leadership may be a function of the would-be leader making a choice to introduce something new, behave in a different manner than expected, break from the confines of expected norms or create new coalitions and patterns. Others, then, must respond to the leader’s input. The goal is to always keep ‘em guessing, keep ‘em off balance, shake things up. This gives the leader the advantage.

    Enter Donald J. Trump, the master of applying chaos theory to presidential leadership. Trump is unconventional by temperament and by design. Expect the unexpected. The unusual becomes the usual. If he is busting norms he is also busting expectations, and throwing adversaries off balance and contemptuous of process. And his adversaries often react dysfunctionally to Trump’s provocative actions.

    Donald Trump’s chaos theory was evident in a number of his business ventures. His efforts to build a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey is but one of numerous examples of Trump playing one lender off against another, one potential partner off against another, and one investor off against another. In a world where chaos reigned, where the left hand of investors did not know what the right hand of the banks knew, only Trump saw the big picture, and only Trump could play one off against the other. In the end, Trump was able to build his casino only because he was able to juggle several balls in the air at once, and keep one ball from knowing what the others were doing. Thus, chaos led to Trump pulling most of the strings.

    Trump is a wrecking ball who can tear down, but leadership also involves building up. He can tear down Obamacare, take a sledge hammer to our immigration policy, trash NATO and the Atlantic Alliance, or threaten to withdraw from NAFTA, but when they are reduced to rubble, what is left? He can repeal, but has not been able to replace. This is one of the obvious limitations on applying chaos theory to governing. Government by temper tantrum has a short shelf life. Throwing a hand grenade into a room can certainly disrupt the norm, force others to scramble, but what is left after the grenade explodes?

    Take North Korea. Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and incendiary threats seemed to force the hand of Kim Jong Un. But after the shakeup, and after the historic summit meeting, North Korea seemed not to have made any real concessions, and nothing of real substance emerged from this. It was big on optics but not results. Chaos, but no resolution. 

    Donald Trump’s acknowledged model from past presidents is Andrew Jackson, another outsider who served as a disruptive force in national politics. Jackson once said that “I was born for the storm, and a calm does not suit me.” So too with Trump. He tries to reshuffle the deck so as to gain the advantage. But can he actually govern this way?

    His “nanny cabinet” of minders may try to keep the spoiled child in Trump contained, but in the end, he is the boss and can do as he chooses. And inflicting chaos gives this president a sense of being in command, wielding power, being strong.

    A word of caution: decision making involves a complex web of factors, and no single theory encompasses every aspect of this process. No individual can be reduced down to one, narrow element. No simple formula applies to all. President Trump also exhibits a range of other attributes that go into the process of decision making. He is a narcissist, relies on lessons from his past, rarely reads and knows little of history, and he exhibits misogynistic personality traits. All these factors, and more, go into the decisions the president makes.

    Additionally, no president is an island. A vast institution surrounds and sometimes hems in a president. Advisers and cabinet officials, often attempt to temper Trump’s instincts with evidence and arguments designed to control the grosser manifestations of the Trump psyche. But try as they might, this nanny cabinet cannot always house train the alpha dog in the White House, or conversely, coax the president referred to as “Putin’s poodle” to be less of a lap dog to our adversary.

    Is a chaos theory of governing suitable to leading a system of separation of powers and checks and balances? It does throw political opponents off kilter, but it also confuses and dismays our allies as well. Plus, you can’t actually lead when all you are doing is disrupting. Leadership requires cooperation, and it is hard to get others to follow you when the would-be leader sends out confusing and conflicting messages. Donald Trump tears down but he does not build up. That is demolition, not leadership. 

“The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”

James Baldwin
The Price of the Ticket