Meet the Historians who Present and Preserve America’s Stories
From the American colonial heritage to World Wars I and II to modern business, the Department of History brings together some of the nation’s most recognized scholars to examine the grand narrative—and individual stories—of the United States.
The scholars have built a top-ranked history department and, last year, the university launched the Institute for Historical Studies, which builds on the historians’ impressive publication record and competitive research funding from national agencies and research institutions.
In addition to the faculty members’ national book awards and fellowships, the department includes Jacqueline Jones, a Mcarthur Fellow and Bancroft Prize winner; David oshinsky, a Pulitzer Prize-winner; and seven current and former Guggenheim Fellows.
During his 2006 installation address, President William Powers Jr. identified the Department of History as a strategic priority for the university, committing $1.3 million in new, recurring funds that will support research, teaching and the new Institute for Historical studies whose inaugural pro¬grams will focus on “Global Borders.”
“In the great universities throughout civilization, the teaching of history has always been fundamental,” Powers says. “Historians and history teachers not only preserve the past, they enrich the long narrative of events and human interaction, so that we better understand who we are now and what the future holds. “Every UT student, no matter his or her major, should study history in order to enjoy the full range of the intellectual experience.”
The Wizard of Oz as a Parable of Populism
When Michael Stoff began teaching the survey course, “U.S. History Since 1865,” the Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor of History faced the challenge of making the late 19th-century Populist Party relevant to students. The often-overlooked political movement grew out the collapse of agriculture prices in 1873 and farmers’ opposition to the gold standard, which kept them perpetually in debt.
To bring the story of the Populist Party to life, Stoff uses the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” which is based on L. Frank Baum’s children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” to illustrate the movement.
“Few people know that ‘The Wizard of Oz’ can be interpreted as a political allegory: each character and place represents an issue in the Populist view of the American political landscape,” says Stoff, who is director of the Plan II Honors program. “Students love discovering hidden meanings and symbols in the beloved film from their childhood. It helps them connect to history in an innovative way that conventional textbooks can’t duplicate.”
Decode the Wizard of Oz with an historians’ primer
Dorothy: An every-person character, she represents the literary convention of a seeker who goes on a journey and learns something of value to us all.
Uncle Henry and Auntie Em: Ordinary farmers struggling to survive on the Great Plains.
Scarecrow: Populist farmers, animated but without the brains to understand that panaceas such as free silver can’t solve all their problems.
Tin Man: Industrial laborers, who like the Tin Man himself, have been transformed from humans into machines, cogs in a vast and growing indus¬trial empire. They have no hearts left.
Cowardly Lion: William Jennings Bryan, Democratic and Populist candidate for the presidency in 1896 and a staunch anti-imperialist. His magnificent voice helped him win the nomination, but many regarded him as a coward for his opposition to American empire.
Wicked WItch of the East: Eastern bankers, who Populists believed were oppressing them (similar to her oppression of the Munchkins). But they are susceptible to the vagaries of fate and the boom-and-bust cycle of the economy.
Wicked Witch of the West: Malevolent nature. Like the droughts that plague farmers, she can be overcome with water.
Yellow Brick Road: Gold, the monetary standard that Populists believed kept them perpetually in debt and paying high rates of interest.
Dorothy’s silver slippers: The magic shoes, made of the “democratic” metal Populists believed would rescue the economy, have the power to rescue Dorothy and send her home. (In Baum’s original novel, Dorothy wore silver slippers. The filmmakers changed them to ruby to take advantage of the new Technicolor film process.)
Emerald City: Like the greenback paper currency in circulation earlier, the city is a symbol of inflation and false hope.
Wizard: Any of the conventional politicians (maybe even the presidents) who manipulate the levers of power but really have no power at all to make good on their promises.