James Wald, associate professor of history, holds a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University.
His teaching and research interests include modern European history with an emphasis on cultural history from the 18th through the 20th centuries; the French Revolution; Central Europe; fascism and Nazism; and early modern Europe.
Particular research interests involve the history of intellectuals and literary life.
It is fashionable today to speak of "sustainability," but how do we understand the term in its broadest sense? Historic preservation plays a key role in researching our history, building civic identity, and creating sustainable communities. Once associated primarily with saving the elegant buildings of the elite, historic preservation today involves vernacular as well as distinguished architecture, landscapes as well as the built environment, and the stories of all social groups. Preservation and adaptive reuse of old buildings play a key role in both economic and environmental policy. Students will study general preservation theory and practice and in particular conduct research on Amherst's history and historic resources. Students will visit local historic sites, document collections, and museums.
Students and teachers spend most of their time reading and writing, but how often do we stop to think about what these acts entail, where they originated, how they have changed? Is the media revolution that we are experiencing one of degree or kind? Will the shift to electronic media mean not just the end of the book, but also the radical transformation of authorship and publishing, indeed, of the very ways that we read, research, and think? In order to situate ourselves in the present, we will turn to history, studying oral culture, the transition from manuscript to print in the Middle Ages, the rise of mass literacy in the modern era, and the rise of new media today. The comparison of past and present will enable students to understand their own situation, in the process introducing them to historical reasoning and research. Class includes occasional local field trips.
Many people have learned and are accustomed to thinking of history as an authoritative account of the past, based on indisputable facts. Scholars of history, by contrast, understand history as a matter of contested and evolving interpretation: debate. And they argue not just over the interpretation of facts, but even over what constitutes a relevant fact. This course will use some representative debates to show how dynamic the historical field is. Topics may include: Did women have a Renaissance? How did people in early modern France understand identity? Why did eighteenth-century French artisans find the torture and slaughter of cats to be hilarious rather than cruel? Were Nazi killers who committed genocide motivated by hatred or peer pressure? Are European Jews descended from medieval Turks rather than biblical Hebrews? Students will come to understand how historians reason and work. In so doing, they themselves will learn to think historically.
Although we talk readily of "postmodernism," do we really know what "modernism" was about? Never did change seem to be as dramatic and rapid as in the first half of the twentieth century. Leftists and rightists, avant-gardists and traditionalists alike, spoke of the age of the masses, characterized by conscript armies and political mass movements, mass production of commodities, and mass media. The European "great powers" achieved domination over the globe, only to bleed themselves white in wars that devastated the continent physically and psychologically, weakened the colonial empires, and undermined faith in progress itself. The real victors were two rival systems of modernity: American consumer capitalism and Soviet communism. Although the age witnessed great violence and despair, it also brought forth great hopes and achievements in social thought, the arts, and technology, many of whose effects we are still pondering.
Associate Professor of History
Mail Code SS
Franklin Patterson Hall G15
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002