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Connecting to the past with bread soup

IMG_8916 IMG_8920Last Sunday it was cold and snowing in Bowling Green. The weather invited to stay inside, savor a cup of hot cocoa and fill the house with the smells of a stew or a soup. I’d been thinking a lot about soup in the last couple of months. A student in the History-Spanish dual MA, Nanosh Lucas, is writing a thesis on food culture and social distinctions in 19th-century Mexico under my supervision. As he started his research on cookbooks, one family of recipes stood out: the sopa de pan or bread soup. There were many variations; in some early cookbooks virtually all soup included bread—often old bread. In its most common form, sopa de pan was one slice of bread covered with vegetables (probably boiled), and covered with a cup of hot broth. The word soup, in fact, originally meant bread dipped in broth. A mix of expensive spices and toppings, or just fresh bread, made this an appetizer on the table of the wealthy; but newspaper articles often described it as a poor family’s everyday meal.

The sopa de pan doesn’t sound very enticing for our present-day taste, but Nanosh and I have joked for a while about trying out the sopa de pan. And last Sunday it was the perfect storm: I had plenty of vegetables and chicken leftovers to make a broth from scratch, a day-old loaf of bread, a bag of spinach that was screaming to be cooked right away, and a couple of mozzarella balls that I bought impulsively from the supermarket’s new “olive bar.” Add to the mix the actual snow storm outside.

Some hesitation ensued. I can do my own variant of sopa de pan, but is it going to be authentic? I had some ingredients that often pop up in the sources I consulted in my research on food supply: carrots, onions, parsley, tomatoes. My bread was day-old, whole-wheat and homemade. Not your typical Mexico City bread, which was bought in bakeries. (The added tablespoon of chia seeds in the dough do not make up for its lack of Mexican authenticity.) Ovens were a luxury, and there were no communal bread ovens as in the Middle East. And finally, spinach and cheese. I have not found any mentions of spinach in the sources I’ve worked with. In the wonderful online collection of 19th-century newspapers run by Mexico’s National Library, the term spinach (“espinaca”) appears only very late in the century, and I suspect it wasn’t a popular fixture in produce markets. Cheese was more frequent, although I suspect only a few consumed it regularly. Mexico City residents bought a quantity equivalent to an ounce (the weight of my mozzarella ball) every five days, according to trade statistics of the eighteenth century. Sopa de pan was defined not by the ingredients, but by its simplicity and flexibility. To me it was a sort of edible compost of leftovers. What is more historically authentic than the constant adaptation of the old to new circumstances?

As I put the pot to boil and then simmer for a couple of hours, I couldn’t help thinking of that other element of modernity in this sopa de pan: the gas burner. In these two hours at low heat I burned close to 15,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units). And I did not care. Gas is an abundant and relatively inexpensive fuel today. But in the nineteenth century, this was certainly a different calculus. To generate this heat, a cook would burn almost one pound of charcoal. The cost of fuel was a major consideration in working-class families. This use of energy represented up to 5 percent of the budget of a working-class family in Mexico City. It is no surprise that meals in a pot (such as beans, soups and stews), and the quick heating of tortillas on a flat clay or iron pan were the typical ways of cooking. Mexican cuisine was optimized for a relatively high cost of fuel. Today cost is not such a major consideration in our American life and gas (or electricity) is instantly available, but excess use of fossil fuel contributes to global warming. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe I cooked my broth too much; maybe 90 minutes was enough. A family cook in 19th-century Mexico City would have optimized their methods to deal with a scarce world, burned the coals slowly to maximize the heat output; I feel that I (and others like me) should recover that ability.

How did the soup turn out? While the ingredients were my own unique mixture, I preserved the format. On a flat bowl I placed a crunchy slice of day-old bread, topped it with sauteéd spinach and the mozarella balls, and served a soup laddle of broth on top of it. The bread did not lose its consistency, but I found myself using a spoon and a fork. I figured, if this was served in a house of no means, the bread was probably dipped in the broth to save on utensils. It tasted OK; better than I expected. The little amount of broth made a good contrast against the bread, and the layer of spinach and mozzarella added flavor (and nutrients). In all it was a good experiment: a simple, humble meal that connected me to the past.

Dr. Amílcar E. Challú, Associate Professor, History Department, BGSU. Dr. Challú studies the history of living standards and nutrition in Latin America. Some of his publications can be publicly accessed via and 

Passion for Scuba Diving Meets History

Some time ago we asked, “Where will history take you?”  In our map in Williams Hall, students and faculty have marked tens of places in four continents. This post, by Mike Horton, a History M.A. student, shows us how sometimes history takes us well beyond the beaten path.

Diving PhotoOver the course of this semester I have been involved in developing a historical narrative for the production of a television show. Titled “Pirates & Privateers The Quest For The Mother Lode,” the show is set to premiere on the Discovery Channel in 2017. I became involved in this project through a chance meeting with the show’s producer over the summer and learned that they’re searching for lost Spanish shipwrecks in the Caribbean dating back to the 17th century. This show was sparked by the desire to tell the story of the 1985 discovery of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita. These two ships were part of a Spanish treasure fleet which sank in 1622 during a fierce hurricane. The two ships were discovered off the coast of Key West, and the show begins by telling this story before launching the topic of lost wrecks.

PhotoThe work being conducted for this show combines two of the greatest passions in my life: history and scuba diving. During the course of my graduate studies, European colonization of the Americas has become a focus of my research, so this show peaked my interest immediately. I am also an avid scuba diver; I’ve been been diving for nearly twelve years now, earned my instructor certification and spent a year teaching people to dive in the Florida Keys.

The combination of these two passions led me to become a part of this show. It has been my job to create a general outline narrative explaining the rise of the Spanish empire in the Americas in order to set the stage for 17th century life in the Caribbean. During the rise of the Spanish empire, the stretch of ocean between the Florida Keys and the Bahamas became the main travel route for ships to and from the Caribbean. Thousands of ships traveled this route and those that have sunk now litter the ocean floor. This area has been the principal location for my research: its history and prime location for the search for shipwrecks. I have also been involved in the research of other potential shipwreck locations and developing the backstory of famous shipwrecks throughout the Caribbean. Conducting this research has been a rewarding experience and I have really enjoyed it. Ever since my chance meeting back in May, I have wanted to get out there on the water and dive in search of these lost wrecks. In December, I’ll finally have my chance, when we travel to the Bahamas to investigate three potential shipwreck locations. Our goal is to locate and identify these wrecks as well as recover any cargo that might have survived. During this expedition we will record our search and develop the story of these wrecks to inform viewers why these ships are here and possibly discover how they were lost.

Written by Mike Horton. Mike is a History M.A. student and an alum of our undergraduate program, who is writing a thesis on Christopher Columbus and intends to pursue a PhD in history.

Grad students present at University of Toledo’s History Colloquium

By Allison Nelson. Allison is a second year student in the M.A. in History in Bowling Green State University doing research on the history and ethics of post-WWII scientific warfare and policy. 

MA students at UT's ColloquiumUsually on an unseasonably warm November day you would find students outdoors, not inside talking about war, slavery, women’s rights, Alcoholics Anonymous, and numerous other heavy subject matters. A little over a week ago, eight BGSU M.A. history students traveled to the University of Toledo on November 18th to present at the annual Phi Alpha Theta History Colloquium. The first set of BGSU presentations were not until 12:30, At 12:30, Dr. Walter Grunden, policy and science historian and associate professor at BGSU, led a panel  entitled “Reexamining World War II.” The four presenters were: Kaysie Harrington, first year M.A. student who spoke on the novel and intriguing “The Voices of War: An Analysis of WWII Oral Histories;” Josh Holloway, first year M.A. student, who gave a lively presentation on “American Responses to General George S. Patton Jr.’s Publicity Gaffes, 1943-1945;” Allison Nelson, second year M.A. student, who divulged information on the debate concerning “A Call for Reexamination: A Comparative Historigraphical Analysis of Wernher von Braun and Arthur L. Rudolph;” and, Nichole McCrory, first year M.A. student, who educated the audience on a touching narrative about “Haven or Hell? The Journey to America of Nine Hundred and Eighty-Two European Refugees.”

Although the colloquium was being held in an exceptionally overheated room, a substantial audience turnout was consistent. The next BGSU presenter was Zack Burton, who enlightened his listeners on the topic of “Not Infinite, Not Absolute, Not God: A Historiography of Alcoholics Anonymous and Religion.” The panel that Burton participated in concerned topics surrounding Judeo-Christian Theology and welcomed other interesting and unique presentations by two other academics. BGSU students enjoyed a small break while a panel presented on “Imperial Influence and Ideology.” Then, Nanosh Lucas, a dual History and Spanish M.A. student, presented on “Children in the Atlantic Slave Trade: 23 Vessels Recaptured by the British, 1819-1850.” This panel on “European Perspectives” also heard presentations on medieval European royalty history and the Russian émigré community, 1928-1930. Both Burton’s and Lucas’ talks were received with wonderful inquiries which made for a great discussion for the whole room.

The final panel of the day was made up of only two presenters, Lindsey Bauman, second year M.A. student, and Alyssa Kapelka, first year M.A. student. These panelists created quite a reaction with their captivating topics. Bauman talked about “Suffering in the Voice and Representation of Slaves in 1950s U.S. History Textbooks,” and Kapelka on “Taking Back the Night: Second Wave Feminism and its Effect on Bowling Green State University.” This final panel, as those that preceded it, brought on wonderful questions from the audience. And, each of the questions were met with complete and purposeful answers by the panelists.

There was a plethora of nerves on the day of the colloquium, many of the students feeling the pressure of wanting to bring their best to each of the panels. Others were calm and helped to encourage their fellow colleagues. Two first year M.A. students, Kyle Penzinski and Chris Lause, came out to show their support by attending several of the panels, sitting in the very first row. Dr Grunden stayed well past the WWII panel to encourage other students and offer very appreciated admiration to the BGSU history scholars. Dr. Ruth Herndon, who has had many of these students in her seminars, also came out to carefully listen and demonstrate her consistent efforts in promoting the success of these individuals. Both professors sent out an email verbalizing their positive responses to the colloquium. Dr. Grunden shared that, “as for the presentations I was able to attend, I would have to say that they rank among some of the best graduate presentations I have ever witnessed. There is some real talent among our students, and they represented our program and BGSU as well as anyone could hope.” Dr. Herndon echoed that she was “impressed with the way our students have bridged the first and second year divide that sometimes separates cohorts,” and ultimately the “important take-away is that our grad students did a wonderful and very professional job of presenting.”

BGSU represented the largest cohort at the colloquium, followed by 8 UT students, 2 OSU students, 3 students from Miami University, as well as students representing Michigan State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Kent State University. The BGSU students left with a smile on their face, deservingly proud of the work they had done and the chance to share it with others who appreciated their efforts.

Graduate Students Blog About Oxford Bibliographies Online

oxbib5carouselThis semester, Oxford Bibliographies Online offered the BGSU History Department’s graduate students free access to this exceptional on-line resource in exchange for the students’ keeping a blog (click here) describing their experiences with OBO. OBO contains hundreds of scholarly articles, each one focused on a particular historical topic and featuring an up-to-date annotated bibliography of relevant publications.  These articles are organized into “series,” such as African American Studies, Atlantic History, Chinese Studies, Jewish Studies, Latin American Studies, Medieval Studies, and Military History. Prof. Ruth Herndon contributed the article on “Childhood” to the Atlantic History series and proposed the idea of getting access in exchange for blogging. OBO editor Ben Leonard was “thrilled” with the plan, which will provide OBO with useful feedback for promoting OBO on its home site and in social media.



Oxford Bibliographies Online:

The graduate students’ blog:

Written by Professor Ruth Herndon

The Top Seven List of Past Presidents, According to Millennial Falcons

Last month we created a poll with the question of which past president you would have picked as your nominee for this election. We got the idea from an open question that Dr. Herndon asked one of her classes to name the person living today or from that past that they would most like to see elected as president this fall. For this poll, we limited the choices to the twenty top-rated presidents according to presidential scholars surveyed by the Washington Post. In total we received 199 votes.

And, without further ado, here are the top five past presidents that our students and community would like to see elected in 2016…

7. Dwight Eisenhower

Ranked 7th in both our poll and the scholars poll, we kinda like Ike (1953-61), but not that much.

4-6. Abraham Lincoln, George H. W. Bush, and George Washington

This varied group of presidents shared the same number of votes: seventeen. Lincoln (1861-65) and Washington (1789-97) are the highest ranked presidents in the Washington Post’s scholars poll; Bush the forty-first (1989-93) ranked seventeenth.

3. Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy (1901-1908) is a favorite not only in our community with twenty votes, but was also ranked in the fourth place in the scholars pool.

2. John Adams

With twenty-one votes, John Adams (1797-1801) was the second-most popular. He ranked #16 among presidential scholars. Please comment if you have any idea why he’s so popular in BGSU…

Reagan in BGSU, 1984

See the gallery of photos of Reagan’s visit to BGSU in 1984.

1. Ronald Reagan

Reagan (1981-89) received most votes in our poll (26). Presidential scholars ranked him eleventh. Perhaps his visit to BGSU in 1984 still lingers in our falcon imaginary?

The survey was just meant as a funny exercise. Still, it may have some value in an election both characterized by the negative image of the major candidates and by the apathy of young millennials. Most of the votes came after an email sent to majors and minors. The majority of the votes for Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt came in this last wave of votes. In an election in which millennials do not see themselves represented in the major candidates, these colorful leaders may remind them of political leaders who expanded the bases of American politics.

Prepared by Dr. Amílcar Challú, Nicole Farley (History senior) and Zack Burton (History M.A. student)

History Major Explores Costa Rica’s National Archives

20160724_084820During this past summer, I participated in a study-abroad program in San Jose, Costa Rica where I studied Spanish and explored the local culture. I conducted research at the Archivo Nacional (National Archives) in San Jose, Costa Rica, sponsored by BGSU’s Center of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. The primary focus of my research concerned the racial inequality in the New Spain army during the eighteenth century. The research required reviewing historic military recruitment records at the Archivo Nacional called filiaciones.

Before arriving in Costa Rica I had two concerns. First, I was not confident that the archives would have the military records I required. Second, reading and interpreting the historic records would be difficult since my Spanish is not very strong. I have found that as a researcher, there are times when you’re lucky, and other times unlucky. Fortunately, in this case, I was lucky that the support staff at the Archivo Nacional spoke fluent English and was very helpful. The Archivo Nacional retained and made available to me nearly two hundred individual soldier filiaciones. The records that I analyzed were over three hundred years old. I spent several days at the national archives reviewing the documents, and collecting and analyzing the data.

For anyone who has considered conducting research at a foreign archive, I would highly recommend it. The administrators and staff at the Archivo Nacional de Costa Rica were anxious to share their history with me, especially as it related to my academic research project. Not only did I learn a lot inside the Archivo Nacional but also I learned a lot outside of the archives by simply talking to the Costa Ricans. My advice for history students is to explore the world and learn different types of history from different sources. Each country holds their own history, and it is up to you to explore it.

Matthew Wright (History senior). Edited by Nicole Farley (History senior)

Carter Historic Farm, a place to see in Bowling Green

The following is a brief introduction to Carter Historic Farm written by Michael Kopchu, a freshman in the History major who just visited the place as part of his freshman seminar, BGSU 1910, “Are We What We Eat?” The farm is a recent endeavor in the region and is managed by Wood County Parks. Nicole Farley, History senior contributed with editing the piece. 

Carter Historic Farm is a farm dedicated to the farming practices of the 1930’s. It focuses on the average farm during the Great Depression and farming techniques of that era. When you first pull up it does not seem like much, but with a closer inspection it is a lively place full of history. It has buildings from the 1930’s that are in original condition, and the house exhibits many donated artifacts. Interestingly, the house itself is not original to the farm. The Carter Family moved it from a different location after the first one burnt down. This farm has many small details that make it worth visiting.

Main barn in Carter Historic Farm

Tim Gaddie, the site coordinator, is trying to recreate the old ways of making food at Carter Farm and plan on letting people taste test the food people made in that period. When I visited the farm with my freshman seminar, the site coordinator already had a few jars of food including pickled watermelon rinds. They have programs on preparing maple syrup, and other forms of family food production characteristics of the food traditions of northwest Ohio farmers. In the next few years they plan on reintroducing some farm animals including chickens, goats, and sheep. In the next ten years they want to also bring cows, pigs, and work horses back. They want to use the horses to help them farm the land in the ways used in the 1930’s.

Carter Historic Farm is a great historic farm to go visit with a rich history and many ambitious plans for the future that will make it even more amazing. This farm is worth going to and learning the history of it and in the future many people will be able to learn how people in the Great Depression era lived and worked. I would recommend it to any fan of American History.

(From the advisor’s desk: Carter Historic Farm welcomes interns and volunteers. If you are interested, please contact Dr. Mancuso, coordinator of internships, at

Trustee Bruce Nyberg Meets the History Department

On Thursday, September 29, National Trustee Bruce Nyberg visited the History Department.  Mr. Nyberg is a retired banker  and philanthropist from Michigan who graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1968 as a Business and History double major. In his last year he worked closely with Professor Gary Hess and other history faculty. In his biographical note after his appointment as a trustee, Mr. Nyberg emphasized how critical his history training was in shaping his attitudes. (An informative profile of Trustee Nyberg here.)

The morning started with Nyberg and other trustees sitting in on Dr. Benjamin Greene’s course on the Vietnam War. After the class, Nyberg walked to Williams Hall and had coffee with a group of about fifteen undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty members.  It was a lively exchange that ranged from the Vietnam War, to the role of the humanities in the present-day higher education landscape.  As a former student, Nyberg shared stories of his experiences at Bowling Green State University during the late sixties, a time of strong political activism on campus.  Citing his background in business and history, Nyberg reinforced that both economics and the humanities can benefit an overall world view and inform a successful career.  We all appreciated Nyberg’s passion for a liberal arts education and this opportunity for a fruitful dialogue.

This contribution was written by Lindsey Bauman, second year M.A. student, and Amílcar Challú, Associate Professor of History.

2016 Excellence in History Awards

President Joe Lueck initiates this year's group of inductees into the Gamma Upsilon chapter of Phi Alpha Theta.

President Joe Lueck initiates this year’s group of inductees into the Gamma Upsilon chapter of Phi Alpha Theta.

Joe Lueck presents research that won the Outstanding Graduate Seminar Paper award.

Joe Lueck presents research that won the Outstanding Graduate Seminar Paper award.

Dr. Amilcar Challu presents senior Elizabeth Hile with the Outstanding Senior in History award.

Dr. Amilcar Challu presents senior Elizabeth Hile with the Outstanding Senior in History award.

Dr. Rebecca Mancuso presents senior Allison Francis with the Undergraduate Research Excellence in History award.

Dr. Rebecca Mancuso presents senior Allison Francis with the Undergraduate Research Excellence in History award.

On April 22, the History Department held its annual Excellence in History awards presentation the Bowen Thompson Student Union.  The event celebrates the excellent work done by undergraduate and graduate students in the department.  In addition, the department’s chapter of the honor society Phi Alpha Theta initiates new members at this event.  Allison Francis, who received the department’s Undergraduate Research Excellence in History award, gave a presentation based on her senior capstone research paper, “The War Against the High Cost of Living:  How a Community of Polish-American Women Fought to Better their Lives,” while Joe Lueck, the recipient of the Outstanding Graduate Seminar Paper award, presented “Hog Wild:  Shifting Livestock Control Policies in 17th-century New England.”   Other award recipients included Dillon Barto, of the John Schwarz Essay award, Elizabeth Hile, of the Outstanding Senior in History award, Lindsay Bauman, of the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award, and Joe Lueck, of the Outstanding Departmental Citizen award.  Lueck, who is also the president of the department’s Gamma Upsilon chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, inducted eleven new members into the Society:  Lindsey Marie Bauman, Zachary Burton, Danya Marie Crow, Amanda Catherine Dreyer, Heather Hines, Michael Horton, Grant Calvin Joy, Brandon J. Leal, Amber Lewis, Daniel K. Rossignol, and David Staub.  After the awards, students, family members, and faculty enjoyed a reception in the History Department.  Congratulations to all the honorees, and thanks to the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, faculty, and Tina Thomas for organizing the event and reception.




Annual History Professional Day 2016

Dr. Becky Mancuso led a discussion of Canadian connections to U. S. history.

Dr. Becky Mancuso led a discussion of Canadian connections to U. S. history.

On Friday, April 8, 2016, the History Department held its History Professionals Day, an annual event that brings approximately 30 history and social studies teachers to BGSU for a morning of workshops and lectures on the latest developments in a variety of historical fields and topics. Dr. Nicole Jackson presented on “Civil Rights in the US: From Reconstruction to the Present,” Dr. Becky Mancuso on “The Underground Railroad’s Canadian Connection,” and Dr. Amilcar Challu on “Environmental History.” In addition, BGSU’s Director of Pre College Programs and College Credit Plus Coordinator (and BGSU History MA alumnus) Michael Ginnetti reported on new initiatives to aid teachers gaining the graduate credit hours in History required for College Credit Plus certification. The teacher-participants responded well to all of the presentations. “Love the diversity of topics,” noted one teacher, “and the collection of primary sources that I can definitely use in the classroom.”

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