Tastes of the Indian Ocean: Indigenous Knowledge Transfers in Colonial Singapore

In the 1848 publication of Hugh Low’s travel book, Sarawak: Its Inhabitants and Productions, Being Notes During a Residence in that Country with His Excellency Mr. Brooke, the author recorded the growing, harvesting and production techniques of sago palms and other food by Dayak tribes in Borneo, Sarawak, and other Malay islands. Botanical collectors, such as Hugh Low, focused on sago palm production since the processed food meal was a staple in Southeast Asia and China, as well as a luxury export to Europe. Botanists focused on the minute details of processing palms to encourage European colonists to enter the trade and develop plantations in the region to displace tribal farming. By creating plantations, botanists argued that British men could organize and profit from fertile land, unlike the tribes who grew only what they needed for export. This blog post tracks this transfer of knowledge and the attempts by botanists to supplant indigenous growers with European style plantations a…

Women and Gender in the Civil Rights Movement: The Montgomery Bus Boycott

The story of the African American civil rights movement often gets boiled down to just a few moments featuring but a few key figures, at the expense of many who worked tirelessly to enact lasting change. For instance, the Montgomery Bus Boycott responsible for the Supreme Court ruling that segregation of public transportation was unconstitutional, is often oversimplified to the effect that many of the key participants and organizers, who were women, with the exception of Rosa Parks, were left out of the celebrated story. Many mark the boycott as the emergence of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a prominent black civil rights leader. However, there is much more to the story than these two figures reveal. Moreover, even though Parks is credited for catalyzing the boycott, she has not been given enough public recognition for many of the other ways in which she was already a stalwart militant for the cause of equal civil rights. In the past few decades, however, historians have worked tire…

The Daily Evergay, Part II

You can read Part I of this story at

A brief recap: Beginning in the early 1970s, lesbians and gay men at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington began to organize themselves into a conscious community. One aspect of this newfound community was the creation of student organization Gay Awareness (GA) in November of 1975. In Part II I detail debates about the organization's funding and its early activities. Click on the images in the article to read the issue in which they were printed.

Between November 1975 and July 1976, the WSU student newspaper The Daily Evergreen ran more than 45 articles discussing the activities of the newly-formed student organization Gay Awareness (GA). It was the first organization of its type on the Pullman campus. Many of these Evergreen articles debated whether student organization funds should be used to support a gay awareness organization. This blog post uses t…

When the Man They Called ‘Hogmeat’ Made Some Super Bowl History

On February 4, 2018, millions of people around the world will watch Super Bowl LII, even though a good many of those millions do not care about American football at all. Whether it is the hyped-up advertisements or just the desire to be at a fun party with free food and drinks, most Americans—and many fans abroad—will tune in to watch the National Football League’s championship game.

Inevitably, Chuck Howley’s name will come up during NBC’s telecast of the game, as it always does. As the big game approaches its end in the late hours of Super Bowl Sunday, modernity once again will test his relevance by asking the random trivia question: Who is Chuck Howley?

He is the only member of the losing team to win the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player Award.

It happened on January 17, 1971, as Super Bowl V ended with the then-Baltimore Colts defeating the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, on a last-second field goal by placekicker Jim O’Brien. But this game was far from “super” as the two teams combined…

The Pagan, Medieval, and German Roots of Today’s Christmas Tree

The pre-Christmas season makes us think of nicely decorated homes, ginger bread houses, family gatherings, and Christmas trees. Many people, however, do not know any of the details of the pagan origins of today’s Christmas trees. The idea of bringing trees into the house has roots going back to the pagan past of European countries. Dorothea Forstner, choir woman of the Benedictines in St. Gabriel of Berholdstein, is quoted in Pagan Christmas explaining the pagan roots of the Christmas tree. Forstner explains that “[b]y bringing branches or trees into contact with human beings, the fresh and blossoming life of nature and its fertility was transferred into them, and evil influences were warded off.” According to Forstner, the time period between December 25th and January 6th was especially important for those rituals because evil spirits were feared the most during those days. During those days, “green branches were hung, candles lit – and all these things were used as a means of defen…

Reforming the Congo Free State: Religion and Human Rights

In 1998, journalist and popular author Adam Hochschild published King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. The book sold well and introduced the Congo Reform Movement to a broad audience. Hochschild outlined the story of King Leopold II of Belgium and his brutal colonization of the Congo River Basin in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. over the course of Leopold reign from 1885-1908, millions of Congolese men, women, and children, were tortured, kidnapped, and massacred in pursuit of the region's precious commodities, ivory and rubber. He also introduced some of the players who discovered, protested, and sought to reform the administration of what Leopold II ironically named the Congo Free State. The reform movement involved an international organization based in Great Britain and the United States, the Congo Reform Association, that sought to alleviate the suffering of the Congolese under stifling European rule. Despite Hochsch…

Our Classes Need More Religion

Good graduate-level survey courses discuss how history should be taught at the undergraduate level. In one such recent conversation, the topic turned to the matter of religion’s role in the first half of the undergraduate American history survey usually covering from around 1500 to either the end of the Civil War or Reconstruction. The instructor posed the question: could one construct an entire survey of this period using religion as a primary focal lens?

Even as a historian of religion, I squirmed. It sounded repellant; what student not already interested in the subject would want to sit through fifteen weeks of overtly religious history? Who would want to force a room full of uninterested students to talk about religion for three months? Only a scholar hopelessly obsessed with their own research would foist such a burden on a 100-level class.

Yet my initial revulsion abated as I thought more on the idea. I allowed myself to consider how the lens of religion might impact a student…