It is my great pleasure to present the latest issue of the Princeton Historical Review for the academic year 2022-23. The pieces brought here all contain impressive, creative, and well-researched undergraduate research completed over this past academic year, each showcasing different ways of asking and investigating historical questions.
For students about to commence their own independent work, and for faculty charged with advising them, I hope these articles may be instructive. But let me also make a brief appeal to the engineer, the recent graduate, and the odd stranger, who may have come across this issue.
These articles can hardly be considered quick reads. They tend to deal in details, at times obscure ones, most often without reference to the political agendas of today or the burning questions of tomorrow. Instead, they offer an opportunity to think slowly, to journey into the past, and engage in issues of interpretation and re-interpretation of the historical record. And, as you will see, each of them does so with great variety, crafting different kinds of historical arguments from different source bases.
In her paper, Annabelle Duval reminds us that great historical questions can emerge from moments of seemingly lackluster politics. Her paper, “Testing the Limits: Radical Feminist Approaches to Child Care in the Early Seventies,” begins with what may be considered a failure, namely, the inability of second-wave feminism to see through federal childcare legislation in the 1970s. Duval peeks behind the veil of this “failure” to recover a colorful landscape of diverse visions for modern childcare unfolding in radical feminist circles. By focusing on moments of experimentation and debate, she argues that the lack of legislative change was not caused by disengagement, indifference, or disorganization among feminist activists; rather, she points to internal disagreement over who bore responsibility for children and, ultimately, the rejection of this burden by many feminists as powerful explanatory factors for this outcome. In taking the time to explain an outcome that we may in hindsight think of as politically insignificant, Duval’s paper demonstrates that the question of why something didn’t happen the way it was anticipated and hoped to offers fertile grounds for historical research.
In similar ways, Robin Park takes as his starting point a moment of absence. His paper,
“Culling Ancestors: Selective Remembrance of the Achaemenids in Sasanian Iran,” asks how it could be that the Achaemenid Empire appears to be missing from succeeding Persian historiography. He argues that this absence was the result not of historical amnesia but rather Sasanian strategic filtering and re-writing of history to fit a state-sanctioned account that gave the Sasanian Empire a distinctly urban and Zoroastrian past with a specific ethnic and geographic origin. This argument is enabled by a rather delicate analytical move, in which Park compelling suggests that two issues were of special importance to Sasanian legitimacy-building. First, by analyzing how urban reforms overturned previous feudal societal structures, he proposes that Sasanian emperors would have been occupied with building support for new city-based models of rule. Second, employing linguistic-literary analysis, he shows how the Sasanians saw the new Iranian identity as tied to a contained Zoroastrian, geographic-ethnic background. Park suggests that in seeking to ground statecraft in a "mythical past", the Sasanians strategically overlooked parts of the historical record, including a fair amount of Achaemenid history, which appeared out of line with a new urban landscape and changing identity politics. In addition to its impressive array of primary sources, the paper excites by working from situational contexts to fill in the gaps of the missing.
In complete contrast, Grace Chung’s paper, “His Cosmic Ministry: John Stout, Aerospace Ministries, and the Lunar Bible Project,” begins with a wonderfully curious object: the lunar bible. Her paper entertains the personal and institutional history of the lunar bible project to reveal an intriguing overlap of American Christian, military, and scientific ambitions during the Cold War. On the one hand, Chung suggests that this ideational mix of frontier settlement, geopolitical contestation, and Christian evangelism helped facilitate the growth of American Evangelical Christian networks during the space race. At the same time, she highlights how the Lunar Bible Project often relied on individual members’ personal beliefs and private belongings to acquire NASA’s quiet approval of its doings, despite the official separation of church and state. Employing an exploratory style, Chung demonstrates how accounting for the strange can be a stimulating way of posing new historical questions.
Miguel Gracia-Zhang also begins with the appearance of a curious historical object, though his paper, “Money in the Łódź Ghetto 1940-1944,” takes a slightly different analytical route. By tracing how different people made different use of currency in the Łódź ghetto over time, Gracia-Zhang recovers stories of agency and economic strategy in conditions of extreme deprivation, as materially represented in the Łódź scrip. Against the notion that the existence of the scrip meant that life in the ghetto could be considered normal in any way, he shows how the currency at times served as an indirect means for expropriation and control but also as a short-lived lifeline for profit-generation, sustenance, and survival of the everyday. Moreover, he argues that fluctuations in exchange value, inflation, and purchasing power of the scrip should be interpreted not only as an indicator of off-the-books commercial activity but also as a barometer of the changing status of the ghetto, recording waves of deportation, degree of separation from the formal Nazi economy, and pace of transformation of the ghetto towards ever further extermination. His paper thus alerts us to how focusing on everyday objects in extraordinary times allows us to see the pulls and pushes of broader historical processes.
I am very proud on behalf of the authors to introduce this issue to you, and I hope you will enjoy reading and discussing these papers as much as I have. This issue would not have been possible without the hard work of the editorial team and the kind support of Judie Miller, Jackie Wasneski, and the rest of the History Department; for this, I am immensely grateful.
Johanne Kjaersgaard '23
Sam Bisno '24
Jane Burdick ‘23
Daniel Burgess ‘23
Sarah Drapkin ‘23
Jamie Feder ‘23
Mary Alice Jouve ‘23
Margaret Murphy ‘23
Robin Park ‘23
Shireen Waraich ’24
The Center for Collaborative History of the Princeton Department of History