Chris Rominger ’08, Arab American Association & PhD Candidate at CUNY

By Drew Jacobs

I recently spoke with Chris Rominger, a History major at Middlebury College who graduated in the Spring of 2008. Chris came to Middlebury in 2004 interested in history. His first semester he took a class with Professor Burnham, which solidified his interest in the major. While he mainly studied European history in High School, he quickly fell in love with the history of the Middle East while at Middlebury. He took Intro to the Modern Middle East with Professor Armanios his freshman spring and soon declared as a History major. In 2004, Chris explained, the Middle East was quite topical and always in the news. Chris also found he loved studying a region so different from his own. He especially enjoyed the focus on discussions and writing within history courses at Middlebury. He believes this focus makes history a more interactive, fluid, and ongoing study. These beliefs have helped to shape his career post-graduation.

Upon graduation, Chris began work for the Arab American Association of New York, a non-profit organization assisting with adult education, advocacy, and social services for immigrants from the Middle East. He worked there for three years, first as an English teacher and later as Associate Director. While he thoroughly enjoyed teaching, Chris missed studying and writing about history in a college setting. As such, he got back in touch with some Middlebury History professors for advice on graduate school and a potential career as a History professor. He explained how Professor Armanios, his college advisor while at Middlebury, was especially helpful at this time. She explained how academia is a tough business to break into, but happily wrote letters of recommendation for Chris when he was applying to graduate school. Ultimately, Chris was accepted to CUNY Graduate Center and is finishing up his Ph.D. this Spring.

Chris has been writing his dissertation on migration from Tunisia around the first World War period. Specifically, he examines how the experience of travel affected one’s political beliefs, cultural affinities, and day to day life. He has researched North African soldiers, political dissidents, Tunisian Jews and more peoples. Chris even took a year off from school to travel to Tunisia to further both his research and his Arabic. Chris recently accepted a position to teach Middle East and French history at the University of North Florida starting next Fall. He credits the Middlebury College History department for helping him to discover his passion for history.

Febe Armanios: Halal Food, A History

By Drew Jacobs

I recently spoke with Professor Febe Armanios about her new book, Halal Food: A History. In Spring 2013, Professor Armanios began teaching a class here at Middlebury about food in the Middle East. There existed very few classes like this in the country. In preparing a syllabus for that class, she found many publications on Kosher food and Christian conceptions of food as laid out in the bible. Yet, no extensive work had been completed on the Islamic food rules. One year later, an editor reached out to her about writing a potential book on food in the Middle East and the book project was born. Professor Armanios began research in the Spring of 2015 with her husband and co-author Bogac Ergene, a professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Vermont. The two were awarded a Fellowship at Harvard Law School in the Fall of 2015 where they consulted a variety of legal and historical documents at the Law Library, specifically regarding conceptions of permissible (halal) and impermissible (haram) food in Islam. Throughout our conversation, Professor Armanios repeatedly mentioned the influence of Middlebury College on her work. The book was inspired by a Middlebury History class (HIST 352); several Middlebury History majors served as research assistants; and maps in the book were created by a Middlebury alum.

In short, the book focuses on the Islamic rules surrounding food as described in the Quran and other religious texts. Professors Armanios and Ergene examine how Muslims interpret these laws in their everyday lives. Most Muslims might be familiar with the basic Islamic food rules- for example the prohibition of pork and alcohol, and the insistence on the slaughter of animals in a particular, ritualistic way. Yet through their research, Professors Armanios and Ergene found various debates over the rules and regulations for Islamic diet and food preparation, in different parts of the world.

Specifically, the book highlights food rules according to various Islamic legal schools, which often vary by geography. For example, Indonesia and Malaysia have more flexible rules concerning seafood, as they are surrounded by vast bodies of water and their economies rely on largescale fishing industries. Places with less access to fish or seafood can afford to be more restrictive about the permissibility of seafood. In all, different types of seafood are either prohibited, disapproved, or permitted depending on the specific legal school, extant interpretations, and the geographic setting.

Another theme throughout the book is how developments in the modern world have changed Halal rules, particularly due to the growth of manufactured and packaged food and factory-style animal husbandry. With the rise of canned and processed foods, for instance, it is more difficult for Muslims to be sure of what they are eating and how their food was made. In fact, all religions and peoples now struggle with this dilemma. Whether one is a vegan, vegetarian, Jewish, or Muslim the rise of processed foods has made the task of abiding by strict food rules much more difficult. For example, Jell-O is made from gelatin, which is essentially broken-down cow and pig bone and cartilage. Pig is forbidden for Muslims (and Jews) to eat, yet this prohibition not immediately obvious when one looks at a package of Jell-O. Other ingredients are also considered suspect like trace amounts of alcohol in various food preservatives (e.g. vanilla extract). The question of animal slaughter also poses complications. In traditional Islamic practice, slaughter is to be done by hand, with the animal facing Mecca, and the animal’s blood must be completely drained. In the context of mechanized slaughter of chicken today, however, some Muslims—and Jews as well—are considering whether a machine-slaughtered animal is legally permissible. Additionally, questions of animal ethics, with regard to factory breeding of other animals, have raised concerns among Muslims who seek to eat halal food that comes from ethically raised and humanely treated animals.

Ultimately, Professor Armanios explained her three-year effort of researching and writing this book as challenging yet rewarding. Through her research, she travelled to the Middle East and to Europe to consult primary sources and also to see how local vendors prepare and package halal food. Halal Food: A History has quickly garnered rave reviews, while Professor Armanios is already working away on her third book.

Amanda Brickell Bellows ’08, Historian & Professor

I recently spoke to Amanda Brickell Bellows ’08, a historian of the United States in a comparative and transnational perspective. She currently teaches at Hunter College and The New School and works as a historian at the New-York Historical Society. Professor Bellows returned to Middlebury this past January to teach a survey course about human bondage, entitled Introduction to Global Slaveries: From Ancient Greece to the Present.

As an undergraduate at Middlebury, Professor Bellows was drawn to the flexibility of the history major, which allowed her to explore literature, art, and foreign language in her studies. Her senior thesis, a study of representations of Russian serfdom and American slavery in nineteenth-century literature, inspired a dissertation and finally book manuscript, Visualizations of Slavery and Serfdom in the Post-Emancipation Era, 1861-1915, currently under review for publication. Professor Bellows first noticed parallels between Russian and American bondage while studying under Middlebury professors John McCardell, an expert on the Civil War era, and James West, a scholar of imperial Russia. She remarks of her research, “My interest in serfdom and slavery developed at Middlebury, where I took courses not only about slavery and serfdom, but also about Russian and Southern literature. I noticed interesting similarities between the ways in which Russian and Southern landowners wrote about these two contemporaneous systems of bondage. American slavery and Russian serfdom were abolished just four years apart, but no scholar has yet published a monograph contrasting the post-emancipation periods in the United States and Russia. My book manuscript, examines this era through a cultural lens as the first comparative analysis of mass-oriented depictions of African American slaves and Russian serfs.” The breadth of resources that first drew her to the discipline of history are on display in her book manuscript, which draws from literature, advertisements, paintings, and illustrated periodicals.

After graduation from Middlebury, Professor Bellows entered an investment advisory firm, but soon realized her desire to return to academia. With the counsel of her Middlebury advisors, Professor Bellows considered many graduate programs, and ultimately embarked on a history Ph.D. program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, she began a post-doctoral fellowship at the New-York Historical Society, New York City’s oldest history museum, and began teaching part-time at The New School and Hunter College. This fall, the New-Historical Society will mount the exhibit entitled Black Citizenship in the Jim Crow Era, which Professor Bellows helped design. Her involvement with the New-York Historical Society has allowed her to delve into public history and explore the unique challenges of crafting historical narratives for a nonacademic audience. Having completed her dissertation just two years ago, Professor Bellows has already taught at three universities and works at a prominent history museum. She suggests that, because universities and museums are hiring more graduates outside of the tenure track, young historians tend to be contemporaneously involved at a number of institutions.

Of her passion for academia, Professor Bellows remarks, “Teaching at a university or college gives you the opportunity to study what you love and to discuss exciting ideas with colleagues and students on a daily basis. As an academic, every day is different and interesting! You might spend your time digging through centuries-old documents in the archives, debating the significance of a historical event with colleagues, speaking publicly about your research at conferences, or writing articles and books. Academics enjoy variety, flexibility, and independence.” To Middlebury history majors considering graduate school, she advises, “I would encourage students to think expansively about career options and the ways in which they can use their historical skills. Those with doctorates in history can teach at the college or high-school levels or work as consultants, editors, curators, archivists, librarians, writers, foundation directors, and so much more!”

Steve Brown ’64, U.S. Army Intelligence Analyst

By Drew Jacobs

I recently spoke with Steve Brown, a recently retired Middlebury History alum from 1964. Steve worked as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army from 1985-2008. Steve had top level security clearance and was primarily responsible for the U.S. Southern Command, an area including South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. At Middlebury, Steve particularly enjoyed European History and spoke highly of the knowledgeable professors. He wrote his thesis on U.S. Agricultural Foreign Policy. Steve felt that the valuable process of gathering information from a variety of sources, forming an argument, and coherently writing his findings to be especially helpful for his career with the Army.

In his work, Steve wrote studies on the prominent issues within his countries of expertise. Specifically, he spent a great deal of time studying Chile and Haiti. As a History major at Middlebury, Steve learned to identify patterns of conduct and development throughout time. With the Army, Steve looked for similar patterns of behavior by people in certain countries. He strove to identify what was important to these individuals, what were the chief issues in these nations, and any other significant information which the U.S. Government should be aware of. Steve worked collaboratively with Governments throughout South and Central America. When asked for any transformations in his work throughout his more than 20 years with the Army, Steve responded that the mission of the Army changed with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. No longer did the Army employ this Cold War, anti-communist rhetoric.

As such, throughout the 1990’s Steve worked largely in drug reduction work throughout the Americas. He worked in unison with the DEA to cut down on the drug trade and related crime. Steve also worked as a civilian analyst on teams that went into Granada and the Bahamas to help strengthen the national police forces in these nations. Ultimately, Steve gained a greater interest and knowledge of foreign affairs and military work through his studies as a History Major at Middlebury. He continued this interest and his studies into foreign nations during his two decades as an analyst with the Army.