On Tuesday, April 12, the History Department hosted its inaugural Undergraduate History Faculty Lecture. This year, the featured speaker was Elizabeth Chatterjee, Assistant Professor of Environmental History and the College.
About 60 undergraduate students attended the inaugural lecture, which followed a brief reception in Saieh. Professor Chatterjee gave a lecture entitled "Fuel Rioters: American Truckers, Indian Farmers, and the Politics of Cheap Energy." From Iran and Kazakhstan to the French Gilets jaunes, protests over the cost of energy have become a ubiquitous feature of modern politics. Little scholarship has systematically explored such "fuel riots." By way of a first foray, this talk sketched a comparative history of two of the most headline-grabbing energy protest movements of the 1970s and 1980s. In the United States during the 1970s energy crisis, independent truckers repeatedly blocked highways and oil refineries to protest the high price of fuel. A decade later, up to 500,000 Indian farmers laid peaceful siege to major cities to demand cheaper and more reliable electricity. Half a world apart, the two sets of blockades outwardly looked very different. Yet together the truckers and farmers show how energy dependence can play a crucial role in the formation of class interests and identities. As energy price rises bite again today, Professor Chatterjee asked, what can these two cases tell us about the popular politics of climate action?
The Undergraduate Faculty Lecture will offer History students (and guests!) the opportunity to engage with the work of a distinguished faculty member. Each Fall, the Department of History will ask students to nominate a History faculty member to give a lecture that speaks to the concerns of the moment. Peggy O'Donnell, Associate Director of the Department's Undergraduate Studies Committee, explained: "We wanted to give our graduating seniors the opportunity to hear about a faculty member's work and interact with them as a scholar, not as a professor or instructor. In the fall, we asked our seniors for nominations, and Liz Chatterjee was the clear winner." O'Donnell says the students in attendance "asked great questions and were so engaged with her work. Ultimately, this is all part of a general goal of integrating undergraduates more fully into the intellectual life of the department."
This year, the Department is also asking for your help in giving this lecture series a name worthy of posterity! A comment box was available on the day of the event, and emailed suggestions are also welcome.
We congratulate Professor Chatterjee on a successful talk and hope the Undergraduate Faculty Lecture will continue to be a source of enriching conversation in years to come.