history professor

History professor H. W. Brands speaks about Ulysses S. Grant and traits he had that made him a good war general at Garrison Hall on Thursday afternoon. Brands also elaborated on the importance and effects of war.
Photo Credit: Andy Nguyen | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's Note: H. W. Brands is the father of Daily Texan Editor Riley Brands, who had no part in the assigning or editing of this piece.

On the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, UT history professors discussed different motives of the warring parties and analyzed the demographic changes that came about as a result of Reconstruction efforts. 

The Civil War ended on April 3, 1865 when Union troops invaded Richmond, Virginia, and the Confederate army was forced to surrender. Six days later, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant of the Union army met at Appomattox to agree on the terms of surrender. 

At the event, history professor H. W. Brands said Grant exemplified traits of a general who was skilled in the art of war, but nothing else.  

“The trait Grant [had] — that you see in any other great general or commander, which is admirable and appalling — is the way to know when to pull the trigger and when to decide to fight,” Brands said. “Grant went around the night before battle knowing that hundreds would die. This is admirable if you believe in war, but it is appalling in that it uses human lives as means to an end.”  

Brands said Lincoln knew the war would help end slavery, and that the issues between the federal government and the governments of the Southern states were ultimately resolved during Reconstruction.

According to history professor Jacqueline Jones, slave owners moved 125,000 to 150,000 slaves to Texas during the war, because they believed regulations in Texas wouldn’t stop them from having slaves. 

“Many white slave owners thought that the Emancipation Proclamation would be overturned someday, but even Lincoln said he thought the Supreme Court would revisit it one day,” Jones said.  “Others believed that the state of Texas was so vast the Union troops could not conquer [the state], and slavery would still exist.”

Jones said 15 percent of the freed slave population moved away from the state once the war was over because of violence, which was especially prevalent in Central Texas.

“It has been said that the South was an exceptionally violent place for black people,” Jones said. 

Associate history professor Daina Berry discussed the experiences enslaved women faced during and after the war. Berry read an account from her research about a woman who had to decide whether to stay on a plantation or move.

“[The woman] said, ‘I don’t remember being told when I was free. We just stayed right there on the farm ‘cause it was the only home we knew, and we had no reason to go,’” Berry said. 

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

While discussing his new book, “Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present,” on Wednesday, history professor Sumit Guha said the caste system continues to influence India today.

Guhu began the book 10 years ago as a way of connecting India’s history of class stratifications to the present existence of low-social groups, such as castes and tribes.

Guhu defined castes as organized community councils of defined ethnic groups, typically of an agrarian origin.

Guha said he wrote the book in order to reveal how caste systems have remained relevant to Indian life today.

“I’ve tried to achieve two goals,” Guhu said. “[I wanted] to link the social history of the present with its millennial past and to place the socializations of India as the same as those of the old world of which it has always been a part of.”

According to Guha, castes and tribes have not yet disintegrated in India, although the origins of the words have altered since their establishment by the Portuguese in the 16th century.

“[These words] were transplanted to India in the 16th century and lost [their] original connotations as being a pure group,” Guhu said.

Instead of studying the different values and ideas that separated these two groups, Guhu said he preferred looking at the physical boundaries that disconnected them.

“I wanted to look at the boundaries between these two groups rather than look at the internal values or ideas they might hold,” Guhu said.

Guhu said he has paid particular attention to social taboos in India, which have created even more barriers between the people.

“[Taboos] are not boundary-makers, but they are boundary-markers,” Guhu said.

Retired history professor Gail Minault, who attended the event, praised Guhu’s book.

“I think [Guhu’s book] is a path-breaking and fascinating study of what we call ‘caste,’” Minault said. “‘Caste’ is a lot less easily defined than anyone imagines.”

Although castes persist as a part of Indian society, for some people who have been to India, such as history graduate student Norman Coulson, these hierarchies continue undetected.

“It’s really not easy for an outsider in India to notice things like castes,” Coulson said. “As far as I could see, there wasn’t really any castes still going on in India.”

American historians prioritize World War II over World War I, a UT history professor said in a round table discussion Wednesday.

“As a culture, Americans don’t dwell much on World War I,” history professor Mary Neuburger said. “It’s not really emblazoned into our popular imagination. We don’t have a lot of films about it, and I think part of it is because World War II is much easier to depict and remember in a kind of satisfying way — in a war where there was a clear good and evil.”

History professor David Crew said historians haven’t focused their studies much on the eastern front of World War I, partly because the battles in that area were not as concentrated as in the western front.

“[The eastern front] is really still to this day the neglected front of World War I,” Crew said. “There are endless books on the western front on all the nations — there are only, sort of, two authors that I can think of who have written about the eastern front.”

History professor Philippa Levine said both soldiers and civilians exhibited racism and segregation during World War I, and nonwhite soldiers were treated much differently than their white counterparts.

“There’s a lot of non-white troops who we never hear about who served during the war,” Levine said. “Their experience in the war is remarkably different from the experience that white soldiers otherwise had during the war. [Nonwhite soldiers] were far more constrained in what they could do both on and off the battle field.”

Levine said one constraint is commanders typically didn’t give nonwhite soldiers firearms and positions in combat.

“There was an enormous fear that if you gave nonwhite soldiers arms they might be tempted to turn their arms on white superiors,” Levine said. “What we actually find is that a very large percentage of the nonwhite troops who work in the First World War are in labor rather than in combat positions.”

Levine said soldiers were separated by race in hospitals during the war, so white hospital workers were not permitted to be around nonwhite soldiers.

“They were segregated in every possible way,” Levine said. “The rule was that white nurses who were working at the hospital were not allowed to have any physical contact with the men. They were scared that if the white women touched the soldiers, then their passions would be inflamed.”

History professor Jacqueline Jones was named as one of two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in history Tuesday.

Jones said she had no clue her book, “A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America,” was even in contention for the award. Alan Taylor, author of “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832,” won the award.

“I had no idea I was even under consideration, so it was quite a surprise, and a nice one, I might add,” Jones said.

The book researches race as a social invention that has retained its power to harm the lives of Americans.

“The effects of this fiction have been devastating throughout history,” Jones said. “The idea here is that this myth or idea has been a very powerful one in justifying the exploitation of [people of] African descent and other people as well.”

Jones said growing up in a small town in Delaware and seeing the inequality African-Americans faced made her curious about this subject.

“There were separate black and white churches — black kids being bused to an all-black school, black kids not being allowed to go into the general store in town — so I was always very curious as a kid why that situation existed,” Jones said. “In a way, my interests in history have kind of grown out of those experiences.”

U.S. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wrote: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them?”

The question of “who belongs in the U.S. and who doesn’t” is a centuries-old debate, history professor Neil Foley said.

“The U.S. has been reluctant to acknowledge for most of its history [that it] has always been a thoroughly composite culture of racially blended people and it defies some normative or static understanding of what it means to be an American,” Foley said to a group of UT students, faculty and community members Monday during a roundtable discussion hosted by UT’s Institute for Historical Studies.

Foley presented a chapter from his upcoming book, “Latino USA: Mexicans and the Remaking of America,” which will be released fall 2012, to the group in order to get feedback and facilitate conversation about his new book.

The U.S. continues to struggle with issues of racism and immigration, Foley said, citing the recent 700-mile border fence between the U.S. and Mexico and treatment of migrants.

Foley argues that in order for Latinos and other marginalized groups to belong in America it would require remaking of American culture into one more egalitarian and accepting of differences and therefore “more American.”

Foley told the group that Benjamin Franklin believed only the English were “purely white” and that “swarthy” Europeans could not make good Americans.

“He would probably have a lot to say about Asian-Americans and Mexicans and other Latinos today not making good Americans either, I suppose,” Foley said.

College of Liberal Arts Institute for Historical Studies hosts biweekly discussions, inviting professors to present a work-in-progress in exchange for feedback.

“The best scholarship is not produced in vacuum,” said Julie Hardwick, director of UT’s Institute for Historical Studies. “Faculty that sit in an office and are not engaging with anyone else aren’t really very fruitful. It’s very important for faculty to get feedback on their work.”

History graduate student Sarah Steinbock-Pratt, who attended the discussion, said the workshops are an essential part of her education at UT.

“There are a lot of very, very smart people around the table who are all asking very astute questions,” Steinbock-Pratt said. “Participating in that dialogue is extremely beneficial.”

Foley, said he plans to take the feedback to heart. He said just like his book, the United States is a work in progress.

“[Americans worry that immigrants] are going to change the culture of America into something else and to that I would argue that American culture is always changing. That the United States is a work in progress,” Foley said. “To identify an American culture and go back to 1965 — it is vastly different from what it is today.”

Printed on September 20, 2011 as: 'Latino USA' addresses ethnic tensions

Most people understand the tacos they eat are no more representative of Mexico than pizza is of Italy. Jeffrey Pilcher, a history professor at the University of Minnesota, explained the globalization and global history of Mexican food in a talk called “Planet Taco” on Thursday. Charles Hale, director of UT’s Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, introduced Pilcher to his audience and said his talk today was a part of a larger series that will officially begin in fall 2011. “Through studying cuisine, we are able to enter into the history of a culture,” Hale said. Pilcher discussed the taco revolution that spread so rampantly because of U.S. companies such as Taco Bell, rather than because of the Mexican population. He also examined the underlying origins of the cuisine itself and its global history, which started with the indigenous people in Mexico, the Mesoamericans and the Spaniards. However, because so many cultures and outside influences have shaped Mexican cuisine from its initial formation, by focusing on the globalization of the taco, we are able to better reflect on its influence on cultures. Pilcher’s “Planet Taco” presentation began by introducing how the globalization of Mexican cuisine has become a recent phenomenon and compared an authentic Mexican taco to that of Taco Bell’s. “The spread of tacos around the world is referred to by sociologists as the process of ‘McDonaldization,’ the corporate process of the rationalization of food and kitchen labor for standardization and efficiency,” Pilcher said. Taco Bell’s founder Glen Bell is credited for initially franchising the taco but, according to Pilcher, was not credited for globalizing the taco itself. Surprisingly, the U.S. military and surfers are responsible for making the taco as popular as it is today. Pilcher said Bell institutionalized the premade taco shell, which allowed the chain to produce tacos much more quickly. UT alumna Amenity Applewhite attended the lecture and said that Mexican food from her home state of New Mexico is surprisingly different from the Tex-Mex so vastly available around UT’s campus. “They use more red and green chilies rather than jalapenos, and it’s over all spicier Mexican food,” Applewhite said. Pilcher said Mexican food takes on a local character in each place it is popular, which explains the difference in New Mexico’s take on Mexican food versus Texas’s approach. Pilcher travels throughout the world trying Mexican food in different countries and cities to acquire material for his Planet Taco presentation. However, he said, the best tacos are found in Mexico.