Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Record Update First

EIHS invigorates intellect through lectures, organizers say

As the world looked on in disbelief at the recent audacious pirate hijackings of oil vessels off the east coast of Africa, many members of the media were unable to adequately address the complexities of these events, a visiting professor says.

Michael Watts, professor of geography and development studies at the University of California, Berkeley, will place the events into historical and contemporary context in his lecture “Economies of Violence: Some Thoughts on Oil Insurgency and Petro-Pirates.”

The lecture, which will take place at 4 p.m. March 19 at 1014 Tisch Hall, is one of several historically grounded yet interdisciplinary and contemporarily relevant lectures organized every semester by the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies (EIHS), organizers say.

“The idea behind these lectures is to invigorate intellectual life into the department and promote our department to the larger University community,” says Kathleen Canning, director of EIHS and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of History.

The lectures, and the imposing modern façade of the EIHS office on the second floor of the Angell Hall lobby, are the most visible elements of the institute. However, Canning and a faculty steering committee oversee a litany of different programs and initiatives under the auspices of EIHS. In addition to the Thursday lecture series, which caters to a larger audience, EIHS sponsors Friday seminars for graduate students to have the opportunity to engage in discussions with visiting scholars. “We try to take our students out of their immediate field and their comfort zone and introduce them to new ideas,” Canning says.

EIHS also plays a role in contributing to the regional community by assisting K-12 teachers in conforming to changing state expectations for history education. After state education standards changed in 2007 to reflect a more global approach to historical studies, Canning organized workshops to better prepare local teachers for these new expectations. “In some sense we have an obligation as the premier academic institution in the state to help teachers meet the new educational demands of the state,” Canning says.

Likewise, she works to expose U-M graduate students to these new global approaches to historical studies so they are better prepared to be educators. EIHS will hold a series of seminars in global history for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in May. “There is an idea ingrained that we have to be competitive with the world, so we have to produce students who reflect this.”

EIHS has come a long way since its inception in 2004. EIHS is primarily supported by donations from U-M alumni Kenneth and Frances Eisenberg, including a $5 million gift in 2006, the largest ever to the Department of History. This donation allowed for the institute to expand support for graduate and post-doctoral fellowships, solidify its status on campus with a separate office, as well as arrange for faculty guest speakers. “The Generosity of the Eisenbergs has allowed us to become what we are today,” Canning says.

The end of this semester will mark the finish of Canning’s three-year term as director of EIHS. Ronald Suny, the Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of Social and Political History, will succeed her in this role.

“We have a lot to owe to the contributions of faculty and the Eisenbergs in bringing the academic vision of this institute to life,” Canning says.