'Ask A Historian' Forum Organized Around Topical National Issues

workers in a cherry picker next to statue
Workers prepare a Robert E. Lee statue for removal in New Orleans in May 2017. (Infrogmation of New Orleans/Wikimedia Commons)

Should Confederate statues come down? Are today’s neo-Nazis like the Nazis of the Third Reich? What about immigration, refugees and building a border wall?

Seven UC Davis historians will address these and other topical questions during a campus forum Wednesday, Oct. 18, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Student Community Center multipurpose room.

Each historian will give a five-minute TED talk-style presentation, then talk with participants in small group and one-on-one discussions.

“We want this to be interactive,” said Sally McKee, a history professor who is coordinating the “Ask a Historian” forum. “It’s going to be a real-time grappling with these issues.”

Providing context after Charlottesville

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter asked the Department of History to organize the event in response to violence that erupted Aug. 13 between white nationalists and counterprotestors in Charlottesville, Virginia. After the “Unite the Right” rally left one person dead and 35 others injured, President Donald Trump condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” an even-handedness many observers found troubling.

At the center of the torch-lit protest was a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which the city planned to remove and has since covered with tarps.

McKee said the forum is intended to provide historical context and promote civil discussions about the monuments and other issues dividing the nation.

"Not all historians — even those opposed to white supremacist activities  agree that Confederate memorials should be removed," she said. “Some think certain Confederate memorials should remain in place to remind us of our history and others believe passionately that they should be removed from view.”

Seven presenters will lead discussions:

  • David Biale, the Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History, speaking on “Nazism and Antisemitism.”
  • Gregory Downs, a history professor who writes about the Civil War and Reconstruction, on “The Civil War and Confederate Statues.”
  • Justin Leroy, an assistant professor who focuses on 19th-century African American history, on “Civil Disobedience.”
  • Susan Gilson Miller, a historian of modern North Africa and the Mediterranean, on “Antisemitism and Islamophobia.”
  • Lorena Oropeza, an associate professor and expert on Chicano/Latino history, on “Immigration and the Wall.”
  • John Smolenski, an associate professor who studies slavery and other early American history, on “Founding Fathers vs. Robert E. Lee.”
  • Cecilia Tsu, an associate professor whose research interests include Asian American history, immigration and the American West, on “Refugees.”

Ask A Historian is hosted by the Department of History in the College of Letters and Science, and co-sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs, the Office for Equity and Inclusion and the Office of the Chancellor and Provost.

Jeanette Yue, undergraduate intern in communications and marketing in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science