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Student History Journal Best in Nation

Welebaethan Wins Top Prize from National History Honor Society for 26th Year

Dec. 18, 2012

Welebaethan cover

For the 26th consecutive year, Cal State Fullerton’s student history journal, Welebaethan, is the best in the nation.

“It gives me great pleasure to announce that the Welebaethan has won first prize in the national history student journal competition, sponsored by Phi Alpha Theta, the national History Honor Society,” Jochen Burgtorf, chair and professor of history, informed his colleagues and students in an e-mail.

The honor comes on the heels of the student history honor society Theta-Pi’s latest national kudos. It received the best chapter award earlier this year from Phi Alpha Theta for the 31st year in a row.

The 2012, 333-page Welebaethan editors were alumni and history grad students John Belleci, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history in 2011 and Michael M. Matini, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history in 2009. The journal’s adviser is Wendy Elliott-Scheinberg, history lecturer. Scores of students, mostly graduate and undergraduate history majors, submit their articles for inclusion in the journal each year, and the editors select the best among them.

Among the award-winning journal’s articles this year were historical accounts of President Richard Nixon’s power, the myth that ended the Vietnam War, how media portrayed the Los Angeles Zoot Suit riots, Nazi violence, genocide and human experimentation at Auschwitz, Gov. Ronald Reagan’s quest for welfare reform, the “Black Broadway” of Los Angeles and 17 other topics. The following are a few excerpts:


Nixon, The Environment and the Crafting of Presidential Power

by Kathleen Gronnerud

When Richard Nixon and presidential power appear in the same work, the narrative inevitably turns to Watergate — the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters and the president’s subsequent attempt to cover up the involvement of key White House staffers. Participants and scholars meticulously recounted the stories of executive power run amok during the 1972 presidential campaign and the constitutional crisis that ensued. Likewise, historians effectively documented the skepticism and decline of presidential power during the post-Nion 1970s as a notable backlash to Watergate. However, long before the Watergate burglary or any attempt at a presidential cover-up, an equally complex and relevant story of expanding executive power began to unfold in the White House. This occurred in ways, which neither the press, Congress nor the American people deemed egregious at the time or since. president Nixon quickly began to extend both real and perceived presidential power in the realm of domestic policy. One needs look no farther than how his reorganization of the executive branch and expanded use of administrative authority led to the institutionalizing of U.S. environmental policy in a new agency designed and directly supervised by the White House.

The story of his approach to the environment as a  political issue and his subsequent founding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showcases Richard Nixon as a consummate political tactician who sold a bold position on a popular issue he cared little about, in order to consolidate power in the White House and build political capital. No president operates in a vacuum, but some conspicuous chose to avoid national issues of pressing importance because they feared political handicap or could not envision any feasible fix within the electoral cycle. At the urging of his advisors in 1970, despite Nixon’s visceral disdain for the youthful environmental activists associated with the New Left, he plunged headlong into the political tidal wave of this environmental movement. During his first two years, President Nixon devoted considerable rhetoric to protecting the environment, maneuvered to control the regulatory debate, and created the EPA as the nation’s pollution watchdog. In return for his role in stemming the tide of pollution, the president hoped to garner public approval that would widen his base of support for reelection. From the day he took office in January 1969, Nixon began crafting his reelection strategy. After a close victory in 1968, he wanted to win big in 1972 to claim an unprecedented presidential mandate in his second term.


Central Avenue: The Black Broadway of Los Angeles

by John Belleci

The high concentration of black residents in a relatively small geographic area evolved into a fertile ground for homegrown and imported musical performers. Since whites would not accept blacks moving out of this district, the blatant and de-facto segregation provided the foundation for the establishment of a black cultural hub in the heart of Los Angeles. The sources have shown that black owned businesses thrived during the 1940s in the Central Avenue area. Whites frequented the nightclubs and blacks supported the business in their neighborhoods with pride and loyalty.

Imagine walking into any of the nightclubs that flourished along Central Avenue in Los Angeles during the 1940s. An unmistakeable vibe permeated the air electrifying both performers and patrons alike. The cultural and musical renaissance thrived along  “The Avenue” because the segregated blacks of Jim Crow Los Angeles found themselves confined to this distinct geographical area. Art Farmer, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1945 from Phoenix, Arizona, commented, “There's a certain kind of community inside the jazz neighborhood that's international. And, there's a lot of mutual help going on. There always has been. That's what keeps the music alive...” While the neighborhood remained segregated, the integrated clientele of the clubs intermingled and partied together. The music brought different races together but that harmony did not flow outside of the Central Avenue district.

Eddie Beal, a voice and stage coach, explained the differences between Southern whites and West Coast whites. His descriptions comments on how blacks still endured  Jim Crow racism, but in an often disguised fashion: “Southerners are some of the most honest people in the world. People there aren't subtle like they are here in the West Coast, they’re not deceitful or hypocritical. You know what their feelings are as they let you know when they don't respect you. When you think of all the hypocrisy that we have to deal with here, that can sound good. ... It's been my experience in show business that the average Caucasian has racist thoughts in the back of his mind.”

Beal’s explanation provides  insight to the de-facto segregation of Los Angeles; although permissible to intermingle and enjoy the musical flair of the black jazz clubs — in no way, shape or form was it acceptable to live in the same neighborhoods.


The Myth of the Tet Offensive (1968): The Myth That Ended the Vietnam War

by John Carl

The myth of the Tet Offensive is neither truth nor fallacy. Rather, its importance is in the understanding of the story as told. Historians and participants told, and retold, the events of the Tet Offensive, with each account coming together to build upon the existing history. Hans Blumenberg, a German philosopher, characterized myths as “stories that are distinguished by a high degree of constancy in their narrative...”with “an equally pronounced capacity for marginal variation.”

The story is the myth and while the story may change, it will only add to it. The saga of the Tet Offensive is extremely powerful, as its narratives contain struggles and conflicts between American and North Vietnamese soldiers as well as between the American government and its people. The myths story of the Tet Offensive, overwhelmingly told as a crushing American defeat and a decisive North Vietnamese victory. This led the American people to force their government to reexamine and eventually reverse its policy in South Vietnam.

A massive and coordinated attack in January 1968, the Tet Offensive directed against American and anti-Communist forces. ...

News of the Tet Offensive reached Americans at home almost instantaneously. American newspapers told the story of the North Vietnamese attack, and for the first time since the war began, since the war began did not feature positive headlines. The language changed from optimistic and filled with promise to bleak representations, and the American public found this new reality shocking. ...

During the war, a primary objective of the United States military became to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people ensuring their support and allegiance, ironically in 1968 with the Tet Offensive, the United States lost the “hearts and minds” of the American people.


The Power of the Newspaper Barons and the Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots

by Breanna Watsek

The Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots erupted in early June of 1943 when hundreds of white servicemen joined near the intersection of Euclid Avenue and Whittier Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles to eliminate minority “zoot suitors” flashy clothing. These violent uprisings occurred because of deep social tension embedded in wartime society. The rioting continued for five consecutive days while local police and authorities failed to intervene to stop the injustice. The minority non-conformists wore an over-sized drape known as a “zoot suit” due to the incorrect terminology the press provided. These suits symbolized an expression of racial alienation the minority youth felt from society. ...

Racial ideology and anti-foreign attitudes existed  in the city of Los Angeles and newspapers reported bias intentionally in an attempt to persuade, or reinforce negative opinions against Mexican American youth to satisfy personal agendas or political ideologies. Evidence includes a study of numerous periodicals, particularly the San Francisco Examiner, owned by William Randolph Hearst, and the Los Angeles Times under ownership of Harrison Gray Otis. The Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 proved significant to the historiography of wartime Los Angeles because the event served as a discourse, calling attention to the long-existing discrimination and segregation of minorities, specifically toward Mexican Americans in California. The newspapers, exploiting the first amendment, framed the riots and image of the Mexican within the media to expand their individual political views...

Although there remain countless factors leading to the riots across across the country, such as gender roles, home ownership and demographic measures, race and the power of the media appear the most influential. ... Tactics of yellow journalism attracted more readers, which in turn meant more influence. Hearst with his isolationist views and Otis as the infamous union-hater, both despised Mexican-American youth because they defied the ideal societies the newspaper publishers attempted to construct. The Mexican-American Zoot Suitors blurred the boundaries of segregation with their symbolic clothing to reveal to society the discrimination existing within American society. The Mexican-American youths, as well as other minorities across the country began to stand up for their rights against the financial exploitation and white privilege proven so deeply embedded within middle-class values while reinforced by the media.

Award-Winning Articles

Seven articles in this year’s Welebaethan earned CSUF awards, including:

  • Thomas Sprimont, the “Lawrence B. de Graaf Prize for Best Overall Paper” for “The Shared Burden of Inquisitional Due Process between Community, Church and Secular Rulers.”
  • Albert Ybarra, the “Best New Approaches to History Paper” for “From Byzantium to Byzantion: The Catalan Company in Anatolia, 1303-1311.”
  • Abby Dettenmaier, the “Ric Miller Prize for Best European History Paper” for “A Misjudgment of Irish Nationalist Methodology: The Trial of Compulsory Gaelic in Post-Free State Schools.”
  • Mark Sanchez, the “William B. Langdorf Prize for Best Western History Paper” for “Community in the Anti-Martial Law Movement.”
  • Donald Hickey, the  “B. Carmon Hardy Prize for Best Intellectual History Paper” for “The Existentialism of Ambrose Bierce: Literature and Post-War Memory in Late Nineteenth-Century America.”
  • Scott Thompson, the “Arthur A. Hansen Prize for Best Oral Hisotry Paper” for “Open Spaces.”
  • Chris Burns, “Best American History Paper” for “New World Purgatory: The tranformative Journey of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in ‘The Land into Which Our Sins Have Placed Us.’ 

By: Mimi Ko Cruz, 657-278-7586

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