Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 13

Zachary Schrag, Professor of History

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Show notes

Zachary Schrag is the author of four books. He was the editor of Washington History and guest editor for the Journal of Policy History. Zachary has received many grants and fellowships. He is currently a professor of history at George Mason University, and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Urban History and a member of the board of the Urban History Association. You can connect with Zachary on Twitter @zacharyschrag.


Key points include:

  • 03:40: How he became a professor
  • 11:39: The Fires of Philadelphia, and the Princeton Guide to Historical Research
  • 16:53: Two different anti-immigrant movements
  • 24:14: Compiling data and the writing process

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  1. Zachary Schrag


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And it is my great pleasure to be here today with my good friend Zachary Schrag. We were roommates or senior year in college. And Zack, it is great to have you on the show.


Zachary Schrag  00:22

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.


Will Bachman  00:23

So Zack, let’s start walk us through your journey since graduation.


Zachary Schrag  00:30

Well, immediately after graduation, I edited the first edition of let’s go Paris. And that was great son had been a researcher writer for let’s go for two tours. And it was nice to be in the office and writing and editing. And then after that, I had pretty much no idea what I wanted to do with my life or even the next few months. And I thought that it would be nice to go to another country. For a while I was thinking about going to South America, I spoke Spanish. And then I got an email or a fax or something from Ian Watson, who said that I should come to Moscow, because there were some other people there who were hanging out in Moscow for no particular reason. But it was an exciting time to be there. So went off to Moscow for six months, and then did a little more travel writing again, within I was in Bulgaria and Poland. And then I tried to get a real job after that. So I spent two and a half years working for a small company that did trade press in the telecommunications business. And that was interesting enough


Will Bachman  01:33

to tell the geography, I mean, they’re still around, they’re still around, they’re still around.


Zachary Schrag  01:38

And it was a fascinating time, actually, in the telecom industry. This is when people didn’t know if cell phones would be universal. Or if you’d have a device that would switch from a landline to a cell phone as you walked out of your house. Fiber optics were everywhere, they were tearing up the streets of Washington DC to put in big fiber optics, there were new cables being laid across the ocean. And I was trying to understand some of that. And I will say that I feel a little better in retrospect, not understanding what was going on, because a lot of those companies turned out to be frauds. This was the day of Worldcom and global crossing and some of the big busts of the 1990s. So


Will Bachman  02:17

I remembered when you were doing that, and talking to me about internet telephony, and it just seems so obscure and such a niche thing that I never, you know, I never would have imagined that I’d be calling someone today on WhatsApp to call someone abroad or whatever, it just seems so remote. And it’s like such a nice thing. And then what you’re studying, you know, turned out to be like an everyday thing we use today. So


Zachary Schrag  02:45

yeah, so you know, again, maybe if I had played cards differently, I could have gotten in on the ground floor of some of that. On the other hand, I think I could have ended up in jail, given the way the industry was going. So work at WorldCom. You know, I will say one thing that was was really frustrating to me from my brief foray into the business world was the kind of lack of critical approaches to information, you had all these consulting firms pronouncing things. And then if you want to see their footnotes, that would be several $1,000 Because they called it proprietary information. And I did think that going back to school, I would have the chance to see people’s footnotes and I will say, that has worked out that I do like being in academia, where if someone makes a claim, you are allowed to look at their evidence for that claim.


Will Bachman  03:36

Okay, so All right, good. So keep going. So you were okay, so


Zachary Schrag  03:40

1996 I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. My father sits me down for lunch and says, You’ve got to figure something out here. And my father is a law professor, who really has loved his career and thought that I would like being a professor too. And, in retrospect, we were both pretty naive about this, about the prospects of academia. This was not too long after the famous 1992 reports co authored by one Neil Rubenstein saying there would be a big shortage of professors in the United States a


Will Bachman  04:21

shortage of history professors,


Zachary Schrag  04:23

a shortage of humanities professors. projection for the 21st century. So somewhat naively, I applied to graduate school in history, and was accepted a few places ended up choosing Columbia University, which was a wonderful place for me, not everyone who went to Columbia in the 90s. Enjoyed it. I know that, but I had a delightful experience working with some really fantastic faculty and fellow students there. So I was in the Ph. D. program. From 1996 to 2002, I ended up writing my dissertation as an expansion of a term paper I’ve written for John stilgoe and the US 107. I’ve written a term paper for him on land use planning around stations of the Washington Metro, and didn’t end up writing my dissertation as a history the Washington Metro. I bounced around for a couple years in one year jobs. Turns out that there wasn’t quite the shortage of humanities professors that Rudenstine had predicted. But fortunately, in 2004, I was hired at George Mason University in Virginia. Not too far, we’re from where I’d grown up in Washington, DC. And I’ve been there now since August of 2004. And live in Arlington, in the house that my wife and I purchased in 2004.


Will Bachman  05:48

Fantastic. And so you moved on from the book, the Great Society subway, a history of the Washington Metro, which everyone should buy, it’s a great book, you’ve written three more books, give us a whirlwind tour of your academic production.


Zachary Schrag  06:07

So I have not been very good at staying on theme, which has pros and cons. One of the things about my metro


Will Bachman  06:16

book was all your books are written in English. They are


Zachary Schrag  06:19

all written in English and printed on paper there, you can get them on ebook, and in one case, audio book as well. 26 characters of the Roman alphabet, all that. So as part of my metro work, I interviewed about 60 people who had worked on Metro in various capacities architects, engineers, planners, politicians. And at one point, Columbia University kind of suggested that I needed to get permission to do these interviews from something called an Institutional Review Board, which was a university office set up to make sure that human subjects research is done ethically. And this is getting complex people who are involved in psychology or medical experimentation, we’ll know what these boards are, a lot of people won’t. But it was very curious to me in a free society that I was being asked to get formal, bureaucratic permission to talk to consenting adults. And I thought I would investigate how this had come to be, maybe this wouldn’t be a little article that I would write over winter break or so. And that turned into a multi year project, not only to document the history of institutional review boards and their application to the social sciences, but also became something of an activist project, to reform the way things worked both at my university and at the federal level. And so I got into both the historical writing and some social media work and some activist work. And the upshot is that things got better at Mason, things got a little bit better at the federal level, the Obama administration ended up doing some pretty mild reforms, they started out in 2011, suggesting much bolder reforms in the system. And unfortunately, that got beaten back into pretty mild reforms that were issued on Obama’s last day or so in office. But I did get a second book out of it. And that got me promotion to full professor. So that was time reasonably well spent. I had also planned,


Will Bachman  08:36

let’s, let’s say the title here, ethical imperialism, institutional review boards and the social sciences. That is, it’s just such a bizarre thing, right? Because, okay, it makes sense. If you’re doing some, like psychology experiment, you know, like Milgram or something, right? Or medical experiment. But if you’re just interviewing people come on, right. Like journalists don’t require an ethical review board. As a consultant, I go interview experts all the time, I don’t need to get someone sign off. So it’s, it’s pretty random, that historian interviewing people about work that they did, needs to get sign off, like that special class of people. Whereas if you were just a journalist doing the same thing, there’s no such thing. So are just a writer like if you’re an independent writer writing a nonfiction book, you don’t go ask permission. So it’s pretty, pretty random.


Zachary Schrag  09:24

And that’s exactly how I work and how I encourage my students to work is to look for things that seem weird or anomalous, and explain history behind them. Because anything that exists that people made a product of choices, so how did someone or a group of people create this bizarre thing? is a good way to start a history project.


Will Bachman  09:51

Yeah. So and just kind of recap like where did things stand today? So if you’re writing, you know, doing writing History and you want to interview people today at most universities, you’d have to go get permission to do that from somebody.


Zachary Schrag  10:07

Not according to the federal government. So this was the change that I think I helped to effect. It’s a little hard to document that, though I may try to do that in the future. One strange thing about writing the institutional review board book while also being an advocate, as at one point, I’m reading someone’s email, and they start writing about me. So it was a Vonnegut moment where I became a character in my own story. But and that may happen in the future. So I can’t, you know, take too much credit for this change. But according to the new federal regulations as of 2017, history does not count as human subjects research, if you’re in sociology, if you’re anthropology, nuts to you, but historians, journalists and law professors are more or less off the hook. Does that mean that universities will actually follow federal guidance? It does not. There’s a pretty strong incentive for universities and other institutions to be overcautious, and not much of a penalty, if any, for being able for allowing their affiliates to do research. So it’s remains to be a problem, but I didn’t give it 10 years of my life. And I just thought it was time to move on.


Will Bachman  11:24

All right. Okay. So then you got two books came out last year, right. Let’s start with the fires of Philadelphia, and the Princeton guide to historical research to talk to us about the fires.


Zachary Schrag  11:39

So, back in college, since we’re doing a 90 us retrospective here, people may remember we had what in retrospect seems like a pretty little war, the invasion of Iraq in in 1990, Desert Shield and Desert Storm. And there were a number of anti war protests, then, both in Boston and in Washington, DC that I photographed for the Harvard Crimson. And it was an interesting experience for me in both cities to see pretty familiar landscapes suddenly became places of contention, where you had crowds of people where you had big displays of force. If you’ve ever seen 60 or 100, Boston police officers motorcycle on formation or revving their engines to intimidate a crowd, it’s quite something to see. In Washington. We saw the Capitol police come out in their riot gear with helmets and fields, and gas masks on their hips in case they needed to shoot tear gas. So I was quite interested by that I ended up writing my senior thesis on the Boston police strike, in part to try to understand what happens to a city when it descends into disorder.


Will Bachman  13:02

You might want to mention what what year was that Boston?


Zachary Schrag  13:04

Oh, that was the Boston police strike of 1919. Right.


Will Bachman  13:10

I missed that one. So that was what did they call out like the Harvard ROTC or something?


Zachary Schrag  13:15

I think the ROTC and maybe the football team as well. Yeah, this was this is one of the things about disorder is it gets pretty uncertain who’s in control and who you can trust. So there are many cases in American history where ad hoc police forces are called out and that was one of the oddest one, there was also an organization called the Massachusetts State Guard, since the National Guard was over fighting in France. How are you know, a lot of it was was still over in Europe, not yet demobilized in 1919. It was the state guard that was left at home, and that had kind of uncertain authority as well. So I’ve been interested in civil disorder going back again to college, and I thought I would write a book about some of the riots of the 1960s. You have big ones in Newark, and Detroit and Washington, Baltimore, many cities in especially 1964 through 1968. And I was interested in some of those same technologies. I’ve seen the helmets and the tear gas and the riot shields. So this project went through various phases, I thought of some plans that turned out to be a bit too ambitious, in part because of the complexity of the groups that show up. It’s very hard to write about lots of different groups. And I did have a plan at one point to write about eight riots in eight chapters, to try to give a overview of how riots have changed from the early 19th century to late 20th. And, as sometimes happens to historians, one chapter doesn’t become as interesting And another chapter becomes way too interesting. So what was going to be the second chapter of this book about the Philadelphia riots of 1844, ended up wanting to be a book of its own. And so even though I had been planning to write about 20th century events, I ended up writing about the mid 19th century instead. And that took a long time, a lot of shifts to Philadelphia, some trips up to libraries and archives up and down the East Coast. But eventually, that came out last year as the fires of Philadelphia, about the Philadelphia riots of 1844, which were a series of attacks on Irish Catholic neighborhoods and institutions, but are also significant, as the first time that the predecessor of the National Guard, the voluntary militia, took a real stand against the mob and fought a pitch battle against a crowd. There had been earlier cases of isolated shooting into a crowd by soldiers who were firing self defense. But this was a real change in the role of the National Guard. And I think important to understanding why the National Guard continues to be an important part of American right response.


Will Bachman  16:20

And for folks that aren’t familiar with that whole era of history, or not, as closely familiar with it, give us like, the quick recap of what was going on in the book also, you know, sort of resonates today with, with in some quarters, like anti immigrants, immigrant sentiment that, you know, there was really some echoes to, you know, today, I don’t know, if you were, like intentionally commenting on that, or being straussian about it. But there was, you know, as I read your book, it, you know, really did kind of echo today to, you know, some attitudes about immigrants.


Zachary Schrag  16:53

So today, we have, I would say two different anti immigrant movements, there’s one that is more focused on economic competition, and that is largely directed at Latinos, in large numbers of Central Americans and Mexican, who would like to be Americans, and some people are interested in welcoming them and saying, We need to restore our labor force, others are worried about job competition. And then there are the cultural Nativists who are worried, in many cases, more about people of a different religion. Today, it’s Islam. But in the 19th century, it was Roman Catholicism. And so both of those elements, the economic and cultural anxieties were present in the 1840s. It was a time of economic downturn, we may have heard of the panic of 1837, that was actually a multi year depression. And a lot of Americans were worried about competition from Irish Catholic immigrants, as well as fearful of Papal influence over American democracy. And so these Nativists, as they call themselves, it’s a very hard word to say, unfortunately, believes that native born Americans should vote and hold office, and that immigrants should be restricted in their ability to do both, they had various measures to lengthen the time of naturalization to 21 years to deny various offices, to people who had not been born in the United States. And they briefly formed a political party in the 1840s. around this issue, a Labor Party, the know nothings in the 1850s were much more successful, and they involve some of the same people, but they were not the same party. Exactly. So a lot of the things I was reading the 1840s sounded absolutely familiar to me, in terms of the anti immigrant sentiment, but also just in the kind of discourse, the newspapers of the 1840s were full of these short little items, of people insulting each other or referring to each other. vaguely, we would call it sub tweeting today. And so it felt like reading the social media of another century.


Will Bachman  19:26

Take me inside the what it’s like writing a book like that you gave us some indication of how you sort of plan for the book changed. As opposed to kind of telling us, you know, summarizing the story itself, give us some kind of background of what it’s like actually doing historical research on a period like this. What’s something that you found that surprised you or that was, you know, really compelling? You know, days spent in archives give us a little behind the scenes.


Zachary Schrag  20:00

So, I love archival research. I first did any actually at Harvard. As part of that senior thesis, there was a small collection of documents related to the Boston police strike in Houghton library. And there are special rules in archives, you can check out the materials, take it home with you, these are one of the kinds of materials, you can’t have food, you can’t even bring in pens, because they’re worried the ink might leak and destroy a document that, again, is one of a kind. So what a lot of historians have been doing for some time is bringing computers into the archives. And for those who remember, in 1992, that meant renting a kind of large briefcase sized portable computer with a tiny little screen. And I rented one of those for a week and took it into Houghton library. And they bought me the box. And an archival box is gray, acid free cardboard of a kind with nice metal hinges to reinforce it is designed to preserve the documents inside and to last for a long time. And they all look like with a little label on the side. And it’s like opening a birthday present, you just don’t know what’s inside. And maybe someone got you something you don’t like. And maybe it’s something you had always wished for. And maybe it’s something you never heard of, but is absolutely delightful. And so you just go through box by box opening present after present, and hoping that you like some good example of this was I did a trip to Philadelphia a few years ago. And most of my research was done at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, fantastic institution, but they are closed on Mondays. So it was often useful for me if I was doing a trip to show up on a Monday and go somewhere else on the Monday and Start My Research at Historical Society on a Tuesday. So I spent one of those Mondays at the University of Pennsylvania. And they had some letters belonging to the family of a playwright called Robert Montgomery Byrd. And I’m going through box after box of this. And most of this is just not relevant to my project, it was plenty interesting to see someone’s thoughts about the Whig Party in the 1840s, but nothing I could actually use. And then in one of these boxes, I come across an exchange of letters between birds wife, who is with him in Delaware, in May of 1844. And her sister Caroline, who is back in Philadelphia, with birds, son, so we’ve got this unmarried on taking care of this nine year old boy in May of 1844, when the city explodes and violence, and so the two sisters are writing back and forth to each other part of it is just here’s what happens. You know, here’s, you know, we saw the church on fire and all the rest. Part of it are debates about who’s responsible for this? Do we blame the Irish? Do we blame the anti Irish? And then part of it is you’re keeping my son inside? Right? You’re keeping them locked in the basement? Oh, no, actually, we went out to see the soldiers, but don’t worry, he’s perfectly safe. So I have, you know, three different layers, in again, just a handful of letters. But it was wonderful to suddenly have this new eyewitness account to the events, and particularly wonderful to have women’s voices, which are often lacking in my research for this project. Because, you know, the public figures involved in riots, the general rubbish, and all the rest are all white men. And so it’s very nice to have someone who wasn’t giving their perspective on events.


Will Bachman  23:46

Wow, that’s amazing. How do you go about putting together all these pieces as you are starting to research when you don’t even know what the story is necessarily gonna be? You know, how do you think about kind of, you know, as you get nuggets of information, how do you sort of stick them together and start thinking about what the overall narrative is going to look like?


Zachary Schrag  24:14

So I like to write constantly. If I just have pieces of the puzzle, I can, you know, put them out on the table and make a note to myself saying, I need to explain how something changed between May and July or between 1995 and 1997. Depending on what the period is. It’s fine for me to put in questions to myself, but I have another some people and I actually did this for my senior thesis was trying to gather all the information and starting to write and I don’t know if you remember, you know, hearing my sobs in the autumn of 1991 or early winter of 1990 too, but the college thesis was the hardest thing I ever wrote. Because I really didn’t know what I was doing. And had a lot of trouble getting started on the writing, I haven’t done that since I’ve always just started putting words down. And if I have to erase them, well, I don’t erase if I have to file them away somewhere else later, that’s fine. But I like to have a running tab of what I think I know, at any given time, as the project develops, I’ve tried different notetaking systems, I’m actually trying a new one for the latest work in the hope of having some kind of electronic equivalent to the old, four by six index cards that a lot of us were trained with in an earlier century. One of my frustrations as a teacher is, I can understand why people don’t want to go back to the index cards, it’s very laborious to copy everything out by hand, and then to retype it into a draft. But they have a lot of use to them. That is kind of hard to replicate on screen, unfortunately. But, you know, I do take a lot of notes, and then I can sort them, I can do queries into a database. And so if I want to know what I know about a particular person or subject or event, I can pick up the electronic equivalent of those note cards, have a stack and go with them to write.


Will Bachman  26:25

Let’s talk about your other book you published last year, the Princeton guide historical research. So you put together the guide on how to do this, what tell me about kind of thinking through the structure, and you know, what to include in that book and how you put that together.


Zachary Schrag  26:42

So, again, I can tie this back to the Harvard experience a little bit in that. I don’t know about you, well, I went to Harvard and got almost no instruction on how to do things. Remember most of the courses, having assignments where they told you a little bit about what end product you were supposed to produce, but very little in the way of step by step instruction. And I found that quite frustrating, I know that some of our classmates did as well. And as I started teaching, as a graduate teaching assistant at Columbia, I tried to do a little better by my students, many of whom were struggling with things like the essay form, how to write a thesis statement. And so I started writing up handouts. And there was a new technology called the World Wide Web, I had learned a little bit of HTML in my telecom days. And I started putting these handouts up on a primitive website. And I just kept that growing as I continued to teach. So that I had about 20,000 words by, you know, 2015 or so. And it was at that point that I was approached by Peter Doherty, of Princeton University Press to ask me if I wanted to expand this into a book. And I will say it’s great to start a book when you’re already 20% Done. This happened with to some extent with the second book as well, the Institutional Review Boards book, I’d written an article and realized, I had a lot more to say on the subject. So I had that momentum. And having been in the business 2025 years, I had a pretty good idea of what it meant to do historical research, I’d not only written my own books, but supervised several dissertations, and many shorter papers by students. And that was just a joy to write my basic method for that was pulling other people’s works off the shelf, books, journal articles, other kinds of media, deciding, here’s my absolute favorite thing about this work that historian has done. And I will figure out where that goes in the book that I’m writing, so that it will just be hundreds of pages of me saying nice things about other people.


Will Bachman  29:00

Yeah. Are there any things in your guide historical research that are maybe slightly counter against conventional wisdom in the profession? Or that would you know, that some of your colleagues might disagree with or be surprised by? Or would you say that most of it is, you know, an experienced professor, you know, mid career would say, Yeah, of course, this is yeah, this is how you do it.


Zachary Schrag  29:26

So most of it, I hope represents a consensus in that I was trying to be empirical about this, trying to say, this is how historians work. There are lots of different choices to make. But here’s what we agree on. But inevitably, there were a couple of cases where I had to stick my neck out. One I think, is in the very definition of history. And I know this because I’ve been at historians conferences where people have disagreed about this I define history as the study of people and the choices they need. And not all historians would. Part of that goes to the question of people is history about people we have certainly a lot of factors that shape experience. Environmental historians like to point to things like geology and animals and plants, as affecting events in the past. And that’s certainly part of it. We can have not necessarily historians of technology, but some scholars of technology, think about artifacts, having a kind of agency to themselves. But when I pick up a history book, including a lot of environmental history, which I love to read, including histories of technology, what I see on most pages are stories about people and the choices they made. So even if there are a lot of animals in the story of people, hunting wild animals, or domesticating animals or being infected by pathogens, whatever, most of the time, the story is about people. And in terms of choices, I think this is pretty important as well, that what makes a good story, whether you’re talking about a movie script, or a novel, or work of history, is a focus on moments of decision where an individual or an institution or a country had to make a decision. Sometimes it’s a decision to act, will we go to war? Will we pass this law? Sometimes it’s decision more about meaning? How do we understand race, for example. But I think that if historians really looked at their own work, even the ones who have objected to mind, if they looked at their own work, they would say that yes, most of what they do is to try to understand the choices that people made.


Will Bachman  31:57

What is our one or two things about what historians do? That sort of the common layperson is different than what the common layperson perceives as what historians do? Right? So yeah, so what are some things that you do that are actually part of the profession that, you know, if you’re a layperson, not educated in history, particularly, that you sort of have this different perception?


Zachary Schrag  32:26

So the classic example is a lot of people come out of American high schools thinking that history is a lot of memorization of names and dates, because unfortunately, that’s how history is taught, and a lot of Americans primary and secondary education. And that’s frustrating to historians, because names and dates are certainly important to what we do. But the work of our profession is less to document the factual information who, what, when and where, and more to document the why. And to some extent, the how questions, the interpretive questions. So when historians gather in person, or when they write in journals, a lot of what they’re trying to do is to explain why people made the choices they did. So it’d be great if more people in again, high schools especially understood that. And then another. I’m not sure this is a misconception, but another area of discussion is the width of the gap between popular histories and academic histories, because we have a handful of people who are famous. As historians, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, the kind of people who are often on network TV, to the extent that lives anymore. And then you have a lot of people like me who are toiling away in relatively obscurity, primarily in colleges and universities. And I don’t quite know how most Americans think about the difference between those two types of careers, I tend to think that there is continuity rather than just continuity, that I can learn from the more popular historians, even if I’ll never be on national television, learn from some of their storytelling. But I also wish that people would understand that there are real limits to that style. A lot of the books that make the best seller lists that when the Pulitzers are about a relatively small number of subjects, lots of presidential biographies, for example, some murder trials and military history, and that if historians were to limit themselves I was to those very popular topics, we would have a much poor understanding of the world. So I think it would be great if, again, lay people were to broaden themselves up a bit, go beyond the bestsellers, look at the University Press lists. And one really encouraging development that I’ve seen along these lines, has been the growth of new media. Podcasts, of course, like yours are a big boom right now. And there are many wonderful history podcasts, where you can get a sense of what historians are doing, hear them talk about their books, maybe pick up that book. And another great opening has been the audiobook, whether through a commercial service, whether through public library, there are an increasing number of somewhat scholarly histories on subjects that would have been hard to find, in years past that are now available for download. So I remember when I started at Mason, I was driving out to work at that point, I go to the public library and look for books on CD and, and they pretty much all the about the Civil War and World War Two. And these days, if I’m in the car, I can download a book about those subjects. But I can also download books about lots of other topics heavily in American history, but other country’s history as well, that have greatly enriched my understanding of the world, and are often pretty good stories as well.


Will Bachman  36:23

Yeah. And on that topic, our Department of Culture on the show, we asked about books that the guest has often recommended. And I think that you have prepared, you know, maybe a longer list than will actually, you know, read through on this show. So you can either highlight a couple that you particularly recommend people start with or you know, when we can you can share, share the URL where people can find your list, and we’ll put it in the show notes.


Zachary Schrag  36:51

So, I have a site history That was, again, the seed of the Princeton guide, historical research. And it also has a blog function. So I’ll post audio books that I’ve listened to, or works by scholarly historians that I think are really nice for non scholars as well. You know, I’m thinking one book that I teach a lot in my graduate seminars that I love to recommend to people, is the second Red Scare by Landon stores, which is about a group of power couples in Washington, in the 1930s, who are responsible for some of the really neat programs coming out of the New Deal. And were interested in things like universal health care in the 1940s. But were often hounded out of their jobs by the anti communism of the late 1940s and early 1950s. So it gives a great What if story about how the United States could have been different if these people had been allowed to continue in their government service. Another one that I read on paper that I think an audio edition is out there is talks by Michael Willrich, which is about a smallpox epidemic of the 1890s. And this is a book I read many years ago, but that really helped my understanding when the COVID pandemic hit in terms of American resistance to vaccine mandates and other public health measures. So if you want to read something that’s about a pandemic, but not about this pandemic, that again, is written by a history professor, but very much for a public audience. I would recommend pox and American history.


Will Bachman  38:41

Fantastic. We’ll include a link in the show notes to your site. And I think you have a list of other recommended listening and reading include that their last question is around any you mentioned still go any courses or professors that you had at Harvard that have impacted you over the course of your career and life?


Zachary Schrag  39:08

Well, you know, I must say, frankly, I did not think the education at Harvard was all that good. I certainly enjoyed. Still those courses, though. You may recall well, that the reason you liked me is that I figured out what stilgoe was going to ask on the midterm and vs 107, which was a bizarrely specific question. And I think I called that correctly. And you were so impressed that we’ve been friends for 30 years.


Will Bachman  39:37

He didn’t say my grade on that, because you mentioned


Zachary Schrag  39:42

but you know, this was the this was sort of the game at Harvard was sort of, you know, guessing where the professor’s hit the ball. There’s a new book coming out in the same Princeton University Press series called The Secret syllabus. And it’s written by some people who taught at Harvard and have years of experience trying to help Harvard students to figure out where the ball is hitting another professor I remember very well as Simon Schama, I took two of his courses in the core, one on the French Revolution in art, which absolutely affected me to this day. If you have not seen the documentary divvied exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you should absolutely see that. But that was all the more meaningful to me for having taken chamas courses. But when I went to sign up for a seminar with Shama, and I asked him how many pages of reading I would have to do per week, he told me I couldn’t take the course. So most of


Will Bachman  40:35

what I’ve done, and why is that because just because you asked the question, yes. Because I


Zachary Schrag  40:39

asked the question, we put our names down on a legal pad or legal pad. I said, I said, Professor Shama, I’d like to take this course. But I need to budget my time, how many pages of reading are there per week? He pulls out the legal pad. He says, Which one are you? I point to my name, he puts brackets around my name. He says, I guess you won’t be taking the course.


Will Bachman  41:02

It’s like, it’s like, what’s the price if you need to ask them?


Zachary Schrag  41:05

Exactly. And, and so really, you know, I’ve spent my entire career as a history professor, trying to treat students better than the way I was treated every college.


Will Bachman  41:19

Wow, what a story if you need to ask how many pages? It’s not a fit for you. And, Zach, it’s been it’s been so much fun talking about your books and your career. Beyond history, Prof. Maybe that’s the site, any other place that you’d want to point people online to learn more about your work and to get in touch with you?


Zachary Schrag  41:42

I’m on Twitter, Zachary Schrag spent too much time on Twitter. But you know, the, the terrible thing is, it was really useful to me for writing the Princeton guide. So, you know, as long as you can make that justification to yourself that well, it’s occasionally useful. It’s all too easy to spend too much time per day, checking one feed, but I’d be glad to connect to people there.


Will Bachman  42:03

All right. It makes a wonderful gift for anyone graduating from high school. Give them the Princeton guidance. Don’t go research. They will appreciate it. Zach, it’s been great having you on the show. listeners. If you go to 92 you can sign up for a weekly email, we’ll send you a note of the latest episode. And a five star review in iTunes helps others discover the show. Thanks for listening