Upcoming Book Talk – March 29, 7-8pm

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Upcoming Book Talk – March 29, 7-8pm

Paradise Destroyed – Interview with Alejandra Bronfman of the New Books Network

Christopher Church, “Paradise Destroyed: Catastrophe and Citizenship in the French Caribbean” (U. Nebraska Press, 2017)


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Paradise Destroyed – Interview with Alejandra Bronfman of the New Books Network

Lee and the Commemoration of Slavery

Let’s unpack Lee’s so-called distaste for the institution of slavery.

Lee was a “progressive” slaveholder, which doesn’t mean what you might expect. While Lee saw slavery as regrettable, his misgivings revolved around slavery’s inefficiency and messiness rather than out of any benevolence toward “the black race.” He also absolved himself of any responsibility of the institution’s existence, believing that divine providence had ordained slavery as natural. And he never challenged the notion that the white race was superior to the black.

I’ll let him explain: “the relation of master and slave, controlled by human laws, and influenced by Christianity and enlightened public sentiment, [is] the best that can exist between the white and black races.” [1]

In Lee’s oft-cited 1856 letter, so frequently used to whitewash his legacy because it refers to slavery as a “moral and political evil,” his objection to slavery was that the institution was more injurious to whites than blacks, who were “immeasurably better off here than in Africa.” He never wavered in his belief that the wholesale emancipation of black slaves would be a violation of god’s will. In Lee’s view, the end of slavery would come not at the meddling of abolitionists, but when god deemed it time. As Lee stated, “let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day.” If Lee had his way, emancipation would have been a long way off. And though Lee did indeed manumit the slaves of his father-in-law, he did so out of legal obligations as the executor of his father-in-law’s will and not out of any recognition of slaves’ humanity or rights. In fact, after the war, he opposed blacks’ enfranchisement and civil rights and refused to condemn lynchings and other forms of violence against black Americans. [2]

As historian Elizabeth Pryor summed it up, Lee “could embrace the need for justice, but it was a justice defined by unjust principles. His racism and his limited imagination meant that he never admitted the humanity of the slaves with whom he lived. In avoiding that truth, he bound himself to slavery’s inhumanity.” [3]

This is why, just one month after Lee’s death in 1870, Frederick Douglass fought against his lionization as a Southern saint:

“We can scarcely take up a paper that comes to us from the South that is not filled with nauseating flatteries of the late Robert E. Lee … It would seem from this that the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian… [It is reported that Lee] died being sadly depressed at the condition of the country, that he could stand it no longer. From which we are to infer, that the liberation of four millions of slaves and their elevation to manhood, and to the enjoyment of their civil and political rights, was more than he could stand, and so he died!” [4]

Granted, Lee was a complex man, one who held notions about slavery seen as “progressive” by white Southern society at the time, and he was a general who could have potentially fought for the North if circumstances had been otherwise. But they weren’t, and Virginia decided to secede from the Union over slavery. As W.E.B DuBois rightfully underscored in 1928, “Robert E. Lee led a bloody war to perpetuate slavery. …Lee followed Virginia. He followed Virginia not because he particularly loved slavery (although he certainly did not hate it), but because he did not have the moral courage to stand against his family and his clan.” [5]

Confederate statues perpetuate the darkest legacy of Lee, namely the exploitation and intimidation of black people and the elevation of a deeply racist belief in their inherent, divinely-ordained inferiority. Such statues were primarily constructed during two periods–1900 to 1930 and the 1960s–when black empowerment threatened white supremacy, at a time that witnessed first the resurgence and then the burgeoning of hate groups like the KKK. Such statues were built not to remember Lee, but to intimidate black southerners and convey white dominion. [6]

I’ll end with a recommendation that comes to us from DuBois, who wrote at a time when, four years after the construction of the Lee statue in Charlottesville in 1924, American society faced an eerily similar dilemma: “Today we can best perpetuate [Lee’s] memory and his nobler traits not by falsifying his moral debacle, but by explaining it to the young white south. What Lee did in 1861, other Lees are doing in 1928 [and today in 2017]. They lack the moral courage to stand up for justice to the Negro because of the overwhelming public opinion of their social environment. Their fathers in the past have condoned lynching and mob violence, just as today they acquiesce in the disfranchisement of educated and worthy black citizens, provide wretchedly inadequate public schools for Negro children and endorse a public treatment of sickness, poverty and crime which disgraces civilization.”[7]

No historian would say that we should erase our nation’s history. To the contrary, it is imperative that we remember and learn from our history, to ensure that we don’t perpetuate the inequities and prejudices of our forebears. To that end, I propose we move Confederate statues out of our parks and statehouses and into museums, where historians can meaningfully explain the racism and violence such monuments embody. Not doing so would be to willingly obscure any lessons we might learn from Lee’s mistakes and our nation’s past misfortunes.

[1] Lee’s letter to his wife on slavery, December 27, 1856

[2] Lee’s private letters, date 1865, cited in Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters. (New York: Penguin Books, 2007), 151; Interview with “Eric Foner: White Nationalists, Neo-Confederates, and Donald Trump.” The Nation, August 16, 2017.

[3] Pryor, Reading the Man, 154.

[4] Frederick Douglass, “Bombast.” New National Era. November 10, 1870. Accessed on August 8, 2017 at  http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026753/1870-11-10/ed-1/seq-2/

[5] W.E.B. DuBois, “Robert E. Lee,” Crisis, 35 (March 1928): 97.

[6] Interview with Eric Foner.

[7] DuBois, “Robert E. Lee.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Lee and the Commemoration of Slavery

To My Students Regarding Charlottesville

To my students,

Like you, I am currently grappling with the shocking revelations and events from this past weekend’s neo-fascist rally in Charlottesville, and I write to you in the hope that my words can help in some small way as we navigate this difficult time.

As historians, we know there are multiple sides and perspectives to every issue, and we also know that human society has been and continues to be rife with problems. Exploring various perspectives challenges us to look at our own blind spots and prejudices, to learn from the past in order to improve the present. They should never lead us to entertain or replicate the vitriol that the past often contains. As I said frequently in our class, there are multiple right answers to the questions we ask, but there are also multiple wrong ones. The conclusions drawn by participants in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville are as wrong as they get. Such ideologies (white supremacy, white nationalism, and neo-nazism) are hateful and loathsome, and they rely on pseudoscience, falsified evidence, and fear. They are baseless, but nonetheless dangerous. In the discipline of history, we read and analyze multiple perspectives, even the abhorrent ones, to understand why events happened and why problems persist so we can grow as a society. Let us work to understand what happened this weekend so that we can work to prevent it from happening again.

Our class last term dealt with important issues plaguing modern society since 1789, with the overarching theme being France’s struggle with human rights, inclusion, and the meaning of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Such issues continue to animate our public discourse, and as many of you rightfully stated last term, the unfolding of the French Revolution seems all too pertinent to recent events.  Like all nations, France was and is an imperfect nation led by imperfect people, and in our class, we saw how the French fell under the sway of the Terror, authoritarianism, and fascist ideology, and we saw how many refused to grant freedom to slaves, dignity to colonized peoples, and assistance to the poor. In this, the rally-goers in Charlottesville have emulated the worst history has to offer. But we also saw how despite all this, many fought on in order to give truth to liberty, equality, and fraternity–not only in mainland France, but in the distant colony of Saint-Domingue, where slaves pushed the boundaries of what French revolutionaries meant when they proclaimed that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.” Today we should see France’s failings as a cautionary tale from which we can learn, and its successes as a model to emulate. Just as French society, at the behest of slave revolutionaries, committed intellectuals and social critics, and women authors and activists, expanded the meaning of “man” to include people of color, women, and even the “questionable professions,” so too should we do the same. And we must remember that white nationalism, beyond a shadow of a doubt, represents the polar opposite of liberty, equality, and fraternity, standing as a repudiation of the ethical values on which the sister republics of France and the United States were founded.

Like you, I am blindsided and upset. In last semester’s class, we read multiple voices from the oppressed, examined the terrifying allure of authoritarianism, saw how hard it was to create and keep a republic, and directly discussed the dangerous rise of the far right and what fascism does to liberty, equality, and fraternity. Now witnessing the vilest spectres of human history haunting Charlottesville, I would like to say I cannot comprehend how individuals can come to such hateful and wrong-headed conclusions. Unfortunately I cannot say this, because as we saw together, it happens time and time again. However I can say that when one knows history, as we do, there is simply no excuse worth abiding.

In conclusion, I ask you to continue to listen to the voices of those targeted by hate and oppression; understand the motivations of oppressors in order to resist them; speak out in defense of our fellow humans; and champion sound logic, reliable evidence, and empathy in all that you do. As a community of scholars and as engaged citizens, we must challenge anyone who would claim the ability to solve society’s complex problems with “simple” answers like violence, hatred, and jingoism.

If you would ever like to talk in person, my door is open. You are not alone.

Dr. Church

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on To My Students Regarding Charlottesville

Paradise Destroyed (Pre-Order Available Now)

Paradise Destroyed

About the book

Over a span of thirty years in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe endured natural catastrophes from all the elements—earth, wind, fire, and water—as well as a collapsing sugar industry, civil unrest, and political intrigue. These disasters thrust a long history of societal and economic inequities into the public sphere as officials and citizens weighed the importance of social welfare, exploitative economic practices, citizenship rights, racism, and governmental responsibility.

Paradise Destroyed explores the impact of natural and man-made disasters in the turn-of-the-century French Caribbean, examining the social, economic, and political implications of shared citizenship in times of civil unrest. French nationalists projected a fantasy of assimilation onto the Caribbean, where the predominately nonwhite population received full French citizenship and governmental representation. When disaster struck in the faraway French West Indies—whether the whirlwinds of a hurricane or a vast workers’ strike—France faced a tempest at home as politicians, journalists, and economists, along with the general population, debated the role of the French state, not only in the Antilles but in their own lives as well. Environmental disasters brought to the fore existing racial and social tensions and held to the fire France’s ideological convictions of assimilation and citizenship. Christopher M. Church shows how France’s “old colonies” laid claim to a definition of tropical French-ness amid the sociopolitical and cultural struggles of a fin de siècle France riddled with social unrest and political divisions.


“With a timely focus on environmental disaster and its political ramifications, Christopher Church has given us a highly original and multidisciplinary view of an understudied period in Caribbean history.”David Geggus, professor of history at the University of Florida and editor and translator of The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History

“Christopher M. Church offers compelling short narratives of the various disasters that struck the colonies, and his analysis of the politics of relief is sophisticated and informative. . . . It is a book that will interest scholars in a wide range of fields, including French imperial studies and Caribbean history. It is also a welcome and significant contribution to the history of disasters.”Matthew Mulcahy, professor of history at Loyola University at Maryland and author of Hubs of Empire: The Southeastern Lowcountry and British Caribbean

“Christopher Church offers a richly researched, well-told, and insightful account of the political, economic, and social impact of natural disaster in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth century French Antilles, profoundly deepening our understanding of these societies.”Laurent Dubois, Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke University and author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

“Trouble in paradise! In this engaging, innovative, and well-researched study, Christopher Church uses the history of disasters to explore interactions between environmental, colonial, and political history in the French West Indies. . . . Paradise Destroyed adds an important new dimension to the history of modern empire, showing how France’s ‘colonies of citizens’ could be both exotic and familiar, colonial and French at the same time.”—Tyler Stovall, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of Transnational France: The Modern History of a Universal Nation

Posted in Publications | Comments Off on Paradise Destroyed (Pre-Order Available Now)

Chapter 4: “The 1928 Hurricane in Florida and the Wider Caribbean” – Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South


The 1928 hurricane arrived during a time of change for the Gulf South and the wider Caribbean. Slavery had ended, to be replaced by poorly-paid industrial and agricultural wage labor and supplemented by inequitable state practices and institutionalized racism. The so-called American Century had begun, with the United States flexing its muscles in the West Indies and looking to develop the Floridian peninsula for economic gain. At the heyday of American expansionism and on the eve of the Great Depression, therefore, the 1928 hurricane intersected with ecological terraforming, short-term economic gains, social and racial inequity, and the development of the sugar industry. By tracing the hurricane’s entire path of destruction and its consequences across the Gulf South and Caribbean rather than focusing solely on Florida, this chapter provides a clearer picture of the peculiarities of the region in the 1920s, a greater appreciation of the ecological risks that framed everyday life in the Greater Caribbean Basin, and a better understanding of disasters and their transnational consequences.

Book Description:

Environmental disasters—including hurricanes, floods, oil spills, disease, and disappearing wetlands—trouble the Gulf South, an area of the United States that includes Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The contributors to Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South explore the threat, frequency, and management of this region’s disasters from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Scholars from the fields of history, sociology, and anthropology examine the underlying causes of vulnerability to natural hazards in the coastal states while also suggesting ways to increase resilience.

Greg O’Brien considers the New Orleans Flood of 1849; Andy Horowitz, the Galveston Storm of 1900; and Christopher M. Church, the 1928 hurricane in Florida and the Caribbean. Urmi Engineer Willoughby delves into the turn-of-the-century yellow fever outbreaks in New Orleans and local attempts to eradicate them, while Abraham H. Gibson and Cindy Ermus discuss the human introduction and long-term impact of invasive species on the region’s ecosystem. Roberto E. Barrios looks at political-ecological susceptibility in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward, and Kevin Fox Gotham treats storm-and-flood-defense infrastructures. In his afterword, Ted Steinberg ponders what the future holds when the capitalist state supports an unwinnable battle between land developers and nature.

Posted in Publications | Comments Off on Chapter 4: “The 1928 Hurricane in Florida and the Wider Caribbean” – Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South

UC BERKELEY: Computing and the Practice of History, April 13, 4:00PM TO 5:30PM


Visualizing Empire in the Age of Big Data: A Distant Reading of French Imperial Conquest, 1870-1914

APRIL 13, 2017 –
4:00PM TO 5:30PM

Lecture by Christopher M. Church, PhD, assistant professor, Department of History and co-director, Nevada Center for Data and Design in the Digital Humanities (NDAD), University of Nevada, Reno

Democracies have flexed their imperial muscle the world over since the onset of the nineteenth-century, when the French, and Europe more broadly, focused on empire-building as a way to achieve national glory and international security, shaping international relations into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Liberal ideology and the communication revolution have simultaneously enlarged the empires of Western democracies while serving as their most vocal critique. Consequently, it is incumbent upon scholars to investigate the historical relationship between empire and modern democracies, particularly between public policy, the press, and the populace in order to fully understand contemporary developments in these relationships.

To this end, this presentation will explain how creating interactive cartographic visualizations by text mining historical periodicals can enable scholars to analyze how cultural imagination informed political conquest. By performing “distant reading” on the popular French weekly, the Journal des Voyages, we can unearth the imperial narrative targeted not only at the reading public, but most interestingly the one endorsed for use in French schools. While visual text analysis holds great promise for gaining insights into how French newsprint portrayed colonized peoples and locales throughout the new imperial period, effective implementation requires interdisciplinary collaboration focused equally on data visualization, text analysis, machine learning, and humanities research questions. Therefore, this presentation addresses both the opportunities and challenges involved in performing a “distant reading” of historical periodicals in French, including maximizing insights from cleaned OCR data, aptly performing natural language processing on non-modern, non-English languages, and creating easy-to-use data visualizations that grapple with their source material’s inherent biases.





download pdf

Posted in Presentations | Comments Off on UC BERKELEY: Computing and the Practice of History, April 13, 4:00PM TO 5:30PM

Caribbean Earthquakes, 1840-1900 – BRGM Data

View Full Screen | Code and Data | Data Scraper

Posted in Digital Humanities | Comments Off on Caribbean Earthquakes, 1840-1900 – BRGM Data

Re-sizing a virtual drive without losing data in Linux

If you’re like me, sometimes you create a virtual machine without planning ahead with regard to space needs. If you aren’t like me, and all 4 partitions aren’t used up on your particular VM, you could easily add an additional partition without having to enlarge an existing one. However, if you are like me, your virtual hard-drive already has 4 partitions and it’s impossible to add another one. In this case, the easiest solution is to resize the drive and reformat. But what about all the data! If reformatting isn’t feasible for you, do not fret! It’s still possible to resize your virtual Linux drive without losing your data!

  1. Resize the virtual drive in VM management software; once this is done, you’ll notice that it doesn’t yet translate into a larger linux drive — this is because although the new drive has grown, the filesystem hasn’t grown to match it.
  2. fdisk -l (see what your drives are)
  3. fdisk /dev/sda (or whatever the virtual disk’s ID is — main disk, not an individual partition)
  4. p (print the partition table and take note of the 4th partition’s starting sector)
  5. d then 4 (delete the 4th partition)
  6. n then 4 (should default to 4 — create a new partition over the old one)
  7. p (make it a primary partition and make sure the first sector matches; the last should default to the new last sector of the “drive“)
  8. w (write the new partition table)
  9. resize2fs /dev/sda4 (re-size the file system to match the partition table for the 4th partition)

And poof! You’re all done! You should now have re-sized the underlying file system to match your new virtual drive’s size.

Posted in Digital Humanities | Comments Off on Re-sizing a virtual drive without losing data in Linux

HIST462: French Revolution

Echoes of the French Revolution

Professor Church
Department of History
University of Nevada, Reno

liberty By tearing down centuries of political and cultural tradition in the span of a few decades, the French Revolution ushered in the modern age and created the ideals of citizenship and national identity we know today. For over two centuries, the Revolution sent reverberations throughout France, Europe, and, vis-à-vis its empire, the entire world. By analyzing primary sources and path-breaking historical monographs, this course explores the political, cultural, and social repercussions of the French Revolution to the present day. The first half of the course will explore the Revolution, both in France and in the Atlantic World, and its demands for the satisfaction of three universal ideals: liberty, equality, and fraternity. The second half of the course explores the aftershocks of the French Revolution in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as France built a global empire in which subjects employed France’s own revolutionary values to overthrow imperial subjugation.


20% — Weekly Participation
10% — Leading Discussion
15% — First Paper
15% — Midterm Exam
20% — Final Exam
20% — Final Paper

Required Texts to Purchase

(other texts noted in Schedule available on ARES)

  • Jeremy Popkin. 2009. History of Modern France. 4th ed. Pearson.
  • William Doyle. 2001. The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Lynn Hunt, ed. 1996. The French Revolution and Human Rights. Palgrave-MacMillan.
  • Laurent Dubois. 2004. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Duke.

Selections Available on ARES

  • J.P. Daughton. 2008. Empire Divided. Stanford.
  • Eric Jennings. 2002. Vichy in the Tropics. Stanford.
  • Joan Scott. 2010. Politics of the Veil. Princeton.
  • Franz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks.
  • Jeremy Popkin, Facing Racial Revolution: Eyewitness Accounts of the Haitian Insurrection

Student Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to explain the causes of the French Revolution: Enlightenment values, absolutism and royal privilege, debt, taxation, and famine.
  • Students will be able to evaluate the legacy of the French Revolution, particularly as it relates to colonial and political struggles of the nineteenth
    and twentieth centuries.
  • Students will be able to read, interpret, and analyze primary source texts with attention to content, historical and cultural context, genre, and


note: this schedule may change at the discretion of the professor

The French Revolution

  1. Introduction: The Old Regime (1/19 + 1/21)
    1. Lynn Hunt, “Introduction: the Revolutionary Origins of Human Rights,” The French Revolution and Human Rights, pp. 1-33.
    2. Doyle, “Echoes”
    3. (text­book) Popkin, chs. 1-5, pp. 1-35
  1. The Values of the Republic | Origins of the French Revolution (1/26 + 1/28)
    1. (Hunt) Sieyes, “What is the Third Estate?” (1789)
    2. (Hunt) “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, 1789,” pp. 71-79.
    3. (ARES) Decrees Abolishing the Feudal System (1789)
    4. Doyle, “Why it Happened”
    5. (textbook) Popkin, ch. 6, pp. 36-41
  1. From Constitutional Monarchy to Democracy (2/2 + 2/4)
    1. (Hunt), “The Poor and the Propertied,” pp. 80-83; “Religious Minorities and Questionable Professions,” pp. 84-101.
    2. (textbook) Popkin, ch. 7, pp. 42-51.
  1. From Terror to Empire (2/9 + 2/11)
    1. (Hunt), “Women,” pp. 119-139.
    2. (textbook) Popkin, chs. 8-9, pp. 52-69.
  1. Revolutionary Rights: the Haitian Revolution (2/16 + 2/18)
    1. (Hunt), “Free Blacks and Slaves,” pp. 101-118.
    2. Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World, pp. 1-151.
  1. Haitian Revolution (2) and Napoleonic Wars (2/23 + 2/25)
    1. (ARES) Jeremy D. Popkin, Facing Racial Revolution, 59-92
    2. Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World, pp. 152-301.
    3. (textbook) Popkin, ch. 10, pp. 70-82.


  1. Ending the Revolution: from the Restoration to the July Monarchy (3/1 + 3/3)
    1. (ARES) The French Constitution, 1830
    2. (textbook) Popkin, ch. 11-12, pp. 82-101.
  1. Midterm (3/8 + 3/10)
    1. (ARES) Schwartz, Very Short Introduction


Echoes of the Revolution

  1. First as Tragedy, Then As Farce: 1848 to the Second Empire (3/15 + 3/17)
    1. (textbook) Popkin, chs. 13-14, pp. 102-124.
    2. (ARES) Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Chapter 1, 1852

SPRING BREAK (3/22 + 3/24)

  1. Third Republic (1870-1940) (3/29 + 3/31)
    1. (textbook) Popkin, ch. 17, pp. 142-150.
    2. (ARES) John Leighton: One Day Under the Paris Commune, 1871
    3. (ARES) Léon Gambetta (1838-82): The Belleville Manifesto, 1869
  1. Republican Empire-Building and the Civilizing Mission (4/5 + 4/7)
    1. (textbook) Popkin, chs. 18-19, pp. 151-178
    2. (ARES) Law on the Separation of Churches and State. 9 Dec 1905
    3. (ARES) Daughton, Empire Divided, pp. 3-58
  1. Republican Ideals and Nation-Building: 1870-1914 (4/12 + 4/14)
    1. (ARES) Ernst Renan, “What is a Nation?” (1882)
    2. (textbook) Popkin, ch. 20
    3. (ARES) Daughton, Empire Divided, pp. 227-266
  1. A New Revolution: Vichy and Decolonization (4/19 + 4/21)
    1. (ARES) Franz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks, ch.1 and 5
    2. (ARES) Jennings, Vichy in the Tropics, 1-30, 199-230
    3. (ARES) Ho Chi Minh, “Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam”
  1. The French Revolution Today (4/26 + 4/28)
    1. (ARES) Scott, Politics of the Veil, Intro
    2. Doyle, “Where it Stands”
    3. (textbook) Popkin, ch. 37



FINAL EXAM (Tuesday, 5/10 from 5p-7p)

Posted in Courses | Comments Off on HIST462: French Revolution