This Man Is History

Adding to the cover story’s praise of David Hackett Fischer [“History Lessons,” Fall 2012/Winter 2013], I would like to point out how supportive Dr. Fischer, who was my dissertation adviser at Brandeis, has always been of women scholars. This encouragement may be taken for granted now, but it was not always the norm. When I began my studies, the Brandeis history department had no women teaching American history. Yet Dr. Fischer continually supported work about women and by women. I would never have been able to finish my PhD — while raising two children and moving around the country for several professional jobs — without his enthusiastic and unflagging support.

Dr. Fischer also has always understood and valued what students brought from outside the academy, whether it was work experience, life experience or family ties. In addition, he was intrigued by my interest in museum work as a career, without seeing it as a second-rate choice, as many academic historians still tend to do. I have made my career in the emerging field of public history, which I now teach as an adjunct at the University of Louisville while living out a career dream as executive director of Historic Locust Grove, a history museum that serves a broad public.

Fischer’s masterwork, “Albion’s Seed,” seems more and more brilliantly observed as I live in or spend time in the distinct cultural areas he identifies in the book. Dr. Fischer’s work is accessible to a public audience as well as to scholars — the ideal of public history.

Carol Ely, PhD’99
Executive Director
Historic Locust Grove
Louisville, Ky.

Recently, Historic Locust Grove director Carol Ely, PhD’99, handed me the Brandeis Magazine issue with my hero, David Hackett Fischer, on the cover. In 1991, I was the Kentucky Derby Museum’s curator, increasingly bothered by the fact that there was no accurate history of the track’s 100-plus years. I discussed writing such a book with George Yater, a Louisville historian, who told me about a book I had to read — “Albion’s Seed.” I found a copy on the shelf at a local bookstore.

The book stunned me. In it were all the answers to questions about why Americans adopt such radically different regional horse sports. My own research proved that the actual historical details matched the big picture Fischer outlines. My book made waves in Kentucky racing circles.

My original copy of “Albion’s Seed” looks like a porcupine, bristling with notes upon notes. Over time, I began to notice how many genealogists reference “Albion’s Seed.” Again, with Fischer’s big picture for guidance, their research became much more detailed and accurate.

Lastly, the photos taken at his home make me feel good about the, relatively speaking, few books I own and stack everywhere!

Lynn Renau
Historic Locust Grove
Louisville, Ky.

As an American history major in the Class of 1967, I don’t think I ever realized that my favorite professor, David Hackett Fischer, was nearly as new to the university as I was. A real highlight of my academic life was the junior tutorial with Professor Fischer. All the history members in the junior class (and one senior who became a well-known political analyst on TV) would meet in the Fischer home in Wayland. I remember how very special we felt to be welcomed into his home and served sherry.

And I remember the books we read. Each month, we viewed the historian in a different light: historian as participant, through Arthur Schlesinger’s then newly published “A Thousand Days”; historian as novelist, through John Barth’s “The Sot-Weed Factor”; historian as psychologist, through Erik Erikson’s “Young Man Luther.”

Imagine my delight many years later when my son was in classes and seminars with Professor Fischer, and later wrote a senior honors thesis under his supervision. Or my pleasure at reintroducing myself to Professor Fischer at my son’s commencement and having him remember me, 38 years after I sat in his living room, sipping sherry and discussing history.

Diane Lowe Bernbaum ’67, P’04
Berkeley, Calif.

Courage and Grace

I look forward to reading your Turning Points stories. The last two, “Breaking the Glass” [Fall 2012/Winter 2013] and “It’s Gonna Be a Long, Long Time” [Summer 2012] are especially good examples of the varied issues each writer has faced.

Whether dealing with the paradox of joy and pain, as Michael Appell, MA’79, P’12, did when his wedding coincided with news of his melanoma, or rediscovering humor in the midst of war, as Benari Poulten ’99 was forced to do, these turning points remind us of lessons learned at Brandeis. By choice or by circumstance, our lives give us moments to be faced with courage and grace.

Joan Shapiro ’56, P’89, GP’12
South Windsor, Conn.

A Ticklish Problem

As Weston, Mass., residents, we read with interest Eric Olson’s article, “Hunting for an Answer” [Perspective, Fall 2012/Winter 2013]. The key question our town’s conservation commission and selectmen should be asking is: If there is an overpopulation of deer and if it is creating problems, is bow hunting the solution?

After carefully researching this issue, we believe the answer is no. We strongly oppose bow hunting on Weston public lands for the following reasons:

Bow hunting is ineffective in managing deer populations. Research indicates that deer hunting in towns like Weston can actually cause an increase in the deer population, through what is known as the compensatory rebound effect. A hunting program creates a sudden increase in plant growth, which causes increased fertility in does to compensate for a decline in population.

Bow hunting may actually increase the incidence of Lyme disease in humans. The explanation is simple: There are three stages in a tick’s life — larva, nymph and egg-laying adult. To go from one stage to the next, ticks need blood meals. As larvae, they take their first blood meal from the white-footed mouse (the principal reservoir of the bacterium that causes Lyme disease), and get infected. As nymphs, they take a second blood meal from mice or other small mammals. Finally, to lay the eggs, the adult female takes the third and last blood meal from deer, dogs, horses, humans or other large mammals. Deer only provide a blood meal for the adult tick; they do not carry or transfer Lyme disease. When deer are culled, ticks look for other hosts — humans, dogs and other mammals — and the incidence of Lyme disease increases. In addition, deer eat the brush where the mice and ticks live. Fewer deer mean more brush for mice and ticks.

Bow hunting is dangerous and cruel. An arrow can travel the length of a football field. What if an injured deer runs into a backyard — bringing a hunter in pursuit? Hunters do mistake dogs (and sometimes even people) for deer. Often, deer hit by arrows suffer and linger for days. Does bow hunting match the values of our community? When there are humane alternatives, why would we choose the most inhumane option of them all?

Diane Anderson
Alicia Primer
Sonia Zighelboim
Members of Weston Deer Friends
Weston, Mass.

Eric Olson responds:

Many points are raised here. Re the “compensatory rebound effect”: Though it’s often cited by hunting opponents, a careful read of the literature finds scant evidence that it’s important. A 2012 review of deer impacts and management reports unhunted deer populations can reach 100 per square mile, even in a modest-quality habitat. Hunted densities can be kept to around 35 deer per square mile. Unfortunately, harm to forests begins to occur well below this number, and is much worse at higher densities.

Will more ticks bite us if deer are not available? Although the tiny nymphs are the usual culprit for transmitting diseases to humans — not the rarer adult ticks that feed and breed on deer — fewer deer may mean fewer breeding adult ticks, over time reducing the number of ticks at every life stage. In fact, a new state special commission report on Lyme disease endorses bow hunting as a means for combating tick-borne illness.

Lastly, is bow hunting cruel? This is a matter of opinion. Hunting of all kinds is a venerable American tradition.

The long-term studies under way in Weston aim to shed light on the complex ecological relationships that have become so critical to both human and forest health, and citizens’ enjoyment of natural areas.

What's in a Name?

Reading in the Fall 2012/Winter 2013 issue about the death of benefactor Ruth Shapiro, I remembered when I first saw another name, Abraham Shapiro, written over the entrance to the sports center. It was spring 1954, and my parents and I were making our first trip to Brandeis.

If you didn’t have a relative who left a Ukrainian shtetl in 1911 for New York City, you might not understand my father’s excitement at seeing a very Jewish name written in large letters on a university building. Having had many unsatisfactory clashes with academic administrations that didn’t welcome New York Jews (my brother never was accepted to a medical school, though he finished a PhD in clinical psychology), my father took it as a sign that his long struggle for acceptance into American society had finally paid off.

Maybe some of my classmates used attending Brandeis as proof that they were “members of the tribe,” but my family didn’t see it that way. People like Abraham Shapiro and Ruth and Carl Shapiro proved that there were others like us.

Marcia Bialick Grossman ’58
Kiryat Ono, Israel

All-Around Thumbs-Up

The Fall 2012/Winter 2013 Brandeis Magazine is a fabulous issue: interesting topics, well-written, informative, aesthetic. Thanks!

Ronnie Levin ’73
Boston, Mass.