De Lamar Jensen Lecture: The Ottoman Empire and How It Relates to Us

Despite what many assume, history is not just about the past. It’s about giving us the knowledge to understand the present and predict the future. This is exactly what Dr. Virginia Aksan illustrated through her presentation on October 27th.jensenlectureflyer_v4

BYU History Department Chair Eric Dursteler once said, “As historians, we look to the past to understand the present.” This served as the opening to the annual De Lamar Jensen Lecture, which is funded by and named after the esteemed former BYU professor.  This year’s distinguished lecturer was Dr. Virginia Aksan, who is a retired McMaster University History professor specializing in Ottoman History from the 1700’s to the early 1800’s. As such, her lecture was focused on that topic and how it relates to contemporary times.

History student Madelyn Lunnen attended the lecture. She says: “Dr. Aksan spoke passionately about the Turks and the Napoleonic War. Her eyes lit up as she expounded on their various rulers and changes made to the civilization.” Without a doubt, the Ottoman Empire is a very specific topic, one that will not appeal to everyone.

Modern Implications

However, that does not mean that it is not applicable to us today. The Ottoman Empire later dissolved into what is now known as Turkey and parts of several other nations. It may be argued that our relationship with the country is paramount, as they are a part of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the UN, and are being considered as a potential addition to the EU. The US State Department describes our relationship with the country thus: “The U.S.-Turkey partnership is based on mutual interests and mutual respect and is focused on areas such as regional security and stability, as well as economic cooperation.”

Map Courtesy of GeoPolitical Futures

Despite this positive depiction of our friendship with Turkey, their president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in an interview with 60 Minutes indicated the opposite: “Well, let me be very frank in my remarks. I wouldn’t speak the truth if I said I was not disillusioned, because I am disillusioned.” He spoke on the the US’s involvement in Syria. According to Erdoğan, the US’s actions in Syria have led to an increased number of refugees (almost 3 million) coming to Turkey, hindered his ability to guard his country, and created a threat on his Southern border.

Because of Turkey’s close proximity to Syria and the Middle East, the U.S. maintains military bases in Turkey. To the extent that the U.S. still actively seeks to counteract the international threat that ISIS poses as the perpetrator of 1,200 deaths, a mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey would enable the U.S to maintain its counter-terrorism efforts in that part of the world, and perhaps the alleviation of Erdoğan’s concerns regarding the number of refugees in his country.

Erdoğan, like Aksan, reveres the Ottomon Empire as one of the oldest and longest lasting in human history. He has, in fact, stated that he would like to take his country back to the time when they were the most powerful nation in the world, to the time of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand what that empire was and its significance. This will aid us in repairing our relationship with Turkey and continuing our fight against terrorism.

Did You Attend the De Lamar Jensen Lecture?

“Huānyíng” to our new faculty member, Dr. Jon Felt

felt-jonDr. Jon Felt is living the dream as a new professor in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. He says: “I get to spend my time reading, thinking, and writing about my favorite topics, and then I have a captive audience in the classroom with whom to discuss them.  And then they pay me for it!  This is what I would do for fun if I had to make a living by some other means.”

Dr. Felt teaches in the history department.  He specializes in ancient and medieval China. Dr. Felt is also an expert in Central Eurasia. After graduating high school, Dr. Felt read Keys of the Kingdom, by A.J. Cronin.  The novel tells of early Catholic missionaries in China who befriended local leaders through serving the Chinese people.  This book inspired him to study Chinese history and culture.

He could be your teacher of Traditional China or World Civilizations to the 1500’s.  In the winter semester, Dr. Felt will teach The Mongols in World History, as well as two sections of World Civilizations. He graduated from the Y with a degree in History, then went on to obtain his master’s degree in Chinese Literature at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His formal education concluded at Stanford University with a PhD in Chinese History.

Though he is fascinated with history, Dr. Felt would stay in our time period if he was given the chance to time travel: “There has never been a safer and more prosperous period in all of human history than today.  I am very happy with my global food, transportation networks, internet, free public education, health care systems, and safe streets.  Nothing in the past even comes close to being as appealing!”

Dr. Felt is a Utah native, who can be found hiking the Rockies in his spare time. He loves being with his family—his wife, Cambria, and their three children.

Welcome Dr. Felt!

Photo from New York Times

Dead Presidents’ Debate! October 5th

Saul Bellow once said, “Take our politicians: they’re a bunch of yo-yos. The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of clichés the first prize.” Nobody understands this better then BYU’s History Department, which is why they are putting on a Dead Presidents’ Debate!

Yes, you heard right. On October 5th at 2pm in the WILK’s Varsity Theater, Presidents Lincoln, Jackson, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower will duke it out over who should win: Hillary or Trump. Rumour has it Jackson’s even bringing his sword.


The dead presidents are being portrayed by faculty from the history department: Grant Madsen as Eisenhower, Matt Mason as Jackson, Rich Kimball as Roosevelt, and Karen Auman as Lincoln. The event will also feature a mediator–possibly John Lehrer (played by Edward Stratford).  Dr. Stratford said this about the debate: “We wanted to create this format to help students understand that the past is the primary dimension that informs our perception of the present.” This will be made evident by the correlations drawn between history’s presidents and the current candidates.

All students, even members of the community, are invited, so that, as Dr. Stratford puts it, we can all have an opportunity to “gain some perspective on the current presidential race in a fun and informative atmosphere.”

Watch out, he adds, for the forthcoming Dead Emperor’s Debate as well.

Which presidential candidate do you think should win?

How Can Young People Change the World? Ask Expert Rebecca de Schweinitz in FHSS Twitter Party

It may be argued that, in some ways, the racial climate of American society has shifted enough that it’s easy, especially for millennials, to forget about the atrocities of the Civil Rights movement of only a few decades ago. BYU associate professor of history Rebecca de Schweinitz, in her 2009 book If We Could Change the World, explores the relationship between youth and the civil rights movement, answering questions about how young people contributed to the movement and how conceptions about them helped to shape the black freedom struggle. These answers are especially relevant to the youth of today, as they can inform their reaction as a group and individually to ongoing racial struggles in our society. Anyone interested in discussing these subjects is invited to participate in a real-time Twitter Q & A with Professor de Schweinitz, coming up in October.

deschweinitz_ifOf her book, the Arkansas Review said: “few studies of the civil rights movement present the movement in such a dynamic…manner.” Of the Q & A, Jamie Moesser, Outreach Coordinator for BYU’s College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences said: “this will be a great opportunity to interact with Professor de Schweinitz, ask her questions about youth and the Civil Rights movement, and understand more about the important role youth have played and can play in influencing societal change. Plus,” she adds, “it’s easy, and there’s a good chance that you could win a $50 Visa gift card.” Here are the details:

Book Club Details

What: Twitter chat about the book. Click here to learn how it works. No big deal.

When: Tuesday, October 4th from 12-1 p.m. MST (2 p.m. EST, 1 p.m. CT, 11 p.m. PT)

Where: On With the party hashtag #AskAnFHSSExpert.

Hashtag: #AskAnFHSSExpert

Topic: youth and social movements, particularly the civil rights movement

Moderators: @JamieMoesser, @byufhss

RSVP: Please RSVP in the comments section of this post at any time before the party to follow and be followed by like-minded individuals who’ll be participating in the party with you! The first three people who RSVP will be receive a free copy of Professor De Schweinitz’s book (if they don’t already have one).

In-Chat Giveaway

During the chat, a random participant will be chosen to win a $50 VISA gift card.

T-Shirt Design Contest: Win $50

You can do a lot with fifty dollars. You can buy several rolls of sushi and keep them all to yourself. You can go back to a restaurant where you were stingy, find your waitress, and give her a great tip. You can purchase a used sofa, drive it up to the valley overlook at Squaw Peak, and watch the sunset with a comfortable seat. Indeed, for a creative college student, fifty dollars is the opportunity of a lifetime—and if you enter the BYU Family History Program’s t-shirt design contest this month, that opportunity could be yours!

BYU’s Genealogy program is unique—in fact, it offers the only bachelor’s degree in Family History in all of North America. The program prepares students for a variety of professions and community service, and provides valuable skills in evidence analysis, technology, and paleography.

The program’s current t-shirts (you may have seen the “I Seek Dead People” design around campus) have been around for a while, and they think it’s time for a new design. That’s why they’re offering a contest to see who can come up with the most creative idea! Details are on the flyer below—and hurry! The contest ends on September 27th



How to Dress Like a History Major

Welcome, new freshmen, to the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences here at BYU! Most of you were born in the years 1997 and 1998, and times have changed a lot since then. Here’s a little history for you:

  • In ’97, Bill Clinton was just beginning the second term of his to-date uncontroversial presidency,
  • Unemployment rates were low,
  • Apple was struggling financially,
  • Michael Jordan’s Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals.

In BYU’s Department of History, you can learn about these things and so much more. The popularity of the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which won eleven Tony Awards, attests, in part, to a possible rise in attention to historical legacies. At the very least, it asks the question: what value could the study of history provide you as a new freshman?

The author Michael Crichton, in his book Timeline, said that if you didn’t know history, you are like a leaf not knowing you’re part of a tree. Consider getting to know a bit of your history…by dressing the part of a history student! Here are a few wardrobe recommendations:

Foot Notes


Ah, footnotes. Every history student’s favorite part of a research paper. That’s why you’ve probably noticed all the students around campus with post-its stuck to their shoes. If you join this trend, you’ll always have something handy every time you need to write a quick message–and you’ll make a bold fashion statement!

Three-Cornered Hat


It’s one thing to read about the 17th century, but history students need to immerse themselves in the time periods of their choosing. What better way to do that than the famed three-cornered hat (formally known as a “tricorne”) of colonial times? George Washington wasn’t too good for it. Neither are you.

The Hope Diamond


Yes, that Hope Diamond—the one that was owned by King Louis XIV, and that currently sits in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. The Hope Diamond is one-of-a-kind and may be a little out of your price range, but if you can get your hands on it, this jewel is a must-have accessory for the fall.

Finally, don’t forget your “I ❤️ History” t-shirt. All the cool kids are wearing them.

Three-cornered hat picture courtesy of Flickr.

“Teaching Makes Me Feel Happy and Young”

Zhidan (Diana) Duan

If you happen to spot someone cruising through campus on a scooter, you may be seeing one of our college’s newest faculty hires, Zhidan (Diana) Duan.  With an extensive background on China and Southeast Asia, Professor Duan is being warmly welcomed into the History Department this fall.

Professor Duan will be teaching both Migration in Modern China (HIST 390R) and World Civilizations from 1800 to Present (HIST 202).  She says, of teaching: “My favorite part is that I don’t age when I teach.  I mean, teaching and the interactions with my students keep me updated with new ideas, knowledge, and young people.  That makes me feel happy and young.”
Being raised in China herself, Professor Duan has an interest in the migration, borderlands, and ethnic economy of China and Southeast Asia.  She received her first PhD degree in Modern Chinese history from Renmin University of China in 2008 and then received another PhD degree in Asian history at Arizona State University in 2015.
Forbidden City, Beijing, China
In addition to her academic pursuits, Professor Duan explains, “I like a lot of outdoor sports and activities.  I like to go on road trips,  watch movies, and take photographs.”  Duan was also baptized into the LDS church in 2006 in Southern California.
Concerning her students this upcoming semester, Professor Duan says:
“I expect them to read, think, and interact.  Coming to the class without reading before and after is the least efficient way of studying because you have to spend a lot of extra time to get to know what is going on and catching up.  Studying without thinking and being creative makes the whole process boring and less effective.  Coming to the class without interacting with others is an inactive way of seeking and internalizing new knowledge.  You become isolated.  You are deprived of the opportunities of team work, teaching, comparing and contrasting your own ideas with others’, and you might improve not as fast as you expect to.”
Pictures courtesy of Flickr.

BYU Professor Helps Create Doll for American Girl

Meet Melody, one of the newest American Girl dolls. She was designed in part by BYU history professor Rebecca de Schweinitz, who is helping to teach history to young girls  through her.

Photo: American Girl

Melody is no ordinary doll. She is one of a select few character dolls in the American Girl BeForever series meant to teach young girls their valuable role in history. For the past two years, Professor de Schweinitz has served on an advisory board that ensures the historical accuracy of Melody’s story.


Melody is a fictional character, but her story takes place in a very real setting. Growing up in early 1960’s Detroit at the height of the civil rights movement, she uses her singing voice to make a difference in her community.

De Schweinitz’s efforts were informed by her research into the influence of youth on the civil rights movement, published in a book titled If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality in 2011. The book was featured in a March 2016 in a  Time Magazine article meant to provide parents with tips for sparking kids’ interest in civil rights. “Children were not just observers in history,” says de Schweinitz. “Many of them were forces for change.”
De Schweinitz worked alongside other board members to contribute to Melody’s story, a copy of which is included with each Melody doll. They also worked with designers to make the doll itself more interesting and historically accurate. They ensured that the texture of her hair and the material used for her clothing were authentic to what a girl in 1960’s Detroit would have had. “American Girl works really hard to make sure their products are authentic,” says de Schweinitz. “I’ve been really impressed.”
American Girl makes dolls like Melody to help girls build a positive sense of self.

Through her research, teaching, and involvement with projects like this, Professor De Schweinitz hopes to help all children “see that young people [have been] active agents of history” and can make a positive difference in the future. She will continue working with American Girl to fulfill their mission to celebrate girls and inspire them to be the best they can be.

The doll will become available in August of 2016.


How do you inspire your children to make a difference?

How Has Childhood Changed? New BYU Course Answers That Question


How do you think childhood has changed in the last fifty years? Over the total course of U.S. history?

A new course that will be offered this fall, Growing Up in America: A History of Childhood and Youth, will answer that question as well as several others, including:

  • What political, cultural, and economic forces have changed the way we see childhood and its purpose?
  • How have children, in turn, influenced society and been agents of change?
  • What have been the experiences of young people growing up in America?
  • How do childhood and age function as categories of analysis?

Professor Rebecca DeSchweinitz will teach the course. She says: “The history of childhood is a new and exciting interdisciplinary field of study. In this seminar-style course, we’ll explore the above questions and many more as we examine a range of primary and secondary sources that testify to the importance of children as subjects and actors in America’s past and present.”

Class Details

Hist 390R sec. 3
2:00 – 2:50

DeSchweinitz is the author of several books and chapters on the history of childhood and related fields. They include:

If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality

Age in America: The Colonial Era to the Present

How to Spark Kids’ Interest in Civil Rights: FHSS Professor Rebecca de Schweinitz

You may not think that your seven-year-old would understand the concept of civil rights, much less care about it, but they can. Not only that, children can and have been agents of civil rights change in our nation’s past. So, who’s to say that they can’t be our change agents of the future? That’s a question that FHSS History professor Rebecca de Schweinitz answered in her book If We Could Change The World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality, recently mentioned in an article in Time Magazine.

“Everyday people, including children and youth, changed the course of history,” she said, in reference to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. In her book, she offers these tips to help parents spark their kids’ interest in Civil Rights:

Tell Stories

Elementary aged kids love stories, de Schweinitz told Time. Tell them stories about children like them who showed courage during the Civil Rights Movement, or others who’ve made a difference. There are plenty of stories to choose from, including:


Parents can tell the stories of the brave children who integrated into white classrooms after desegregation. That was a time that put kids “at the center of the nation’s struggle for racial equality,” said de Schweinitz.

Parents can also tell the stories of young activists like Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, who spoke on campus recently. She told the students in attendance that she recognized the harmful effects of segregation when she was just 10-years-old. At this young age, she promised herself that she would do something to help make things better when she got the chance. By the time she was 19-years-old Mulholland had participated in over three dozen sit ins and protests, including one of the most famous and violent sit-ins of the movement at the Jackson Woolworth lunch counter. She also participated in the March on Washington and rode with the Freedom Riders. Countless other children and young people were involved in the movement in one way or another.

Ask Questions

According to de Schweinitz, as kids get older, parents can start asking them questions that get them thinking about their role in society. They can ask their children about what they would change in the world today. This could also be a time of reflection. Parents can encourage their kids to think about what they have learned from stories about young people in history who have worked for change. How they can apply those lessons to their lives today?

friends girls

Have Conversations

Parents and children can start having conversations about the personal cost of fighting for change by the time kids reach high school.  They can discuss possible reasons that people are willing to sacrifice for a cause they believe in, particularly why young people might be even more willing to work for change. “One of the truly striking aspects of youth activism in movement history was how much young people were consciously willing to give up,”de Schweinitz says.


Dig Deeper

The names of key figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman likely come to mind first when thinking about the Civil Rights Movement. Though it may take a deeper look, de Schweinitz says it is clear that kids have never just been pawns or followers in the long fight for civil rights. Kids, she said, have always felt their “own determination to fight for racial equality. This was their movement, too.” Parents can help their kids look more closely at the role of children and young people in the movement and how their courage and participation made a big difference.

Have you done any of these things with your kids? How did they react?

Civil Rights Book Photo courtesy of Flickr