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Mershon Center for International Security Studies

Erik Nisbet

Not if people mostly watch cat videos, study suggests

COLUMBUS, Ohio – While events like the Arab Spring brought hope that the internet could inspire the growth of democracy in authoritarian countries, a new study offers a reality check.

Researchers studying Russian and Ukrainian internet users found that their demand for democratic reforms in their countries depended on what they were doing when they connected to the web.

Those who were on the internet primarily to get news and share political opinions with others were most likely to demand more democracy in their countries.

Those who visited the web mostly for entertainment purposes – such as watching cat videos – were less likely to say they wanted more democracy in their countries and believed they had more democracy than they actually did.

While it’s not surprising that people who use the internet mostly for entertainment aren’t tuned into politics, this study shows something more than that, said Mershon affiliate Erik Nisbet, co-author of the study and associate professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

“In our study, people who used the internet for entertainment actually thought they had more democracy than they did. That means they actually showed more support for the authoritarian leaders in their country,” Nisbet said.

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Margaret Ellen Newell

Mershon affiliate Margaret Ellen Newell, professor and vice chair at the Department of History, has received the 2016 James A. Rawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians (OAH). The award, presented annually for the best book dealing with the history of race relations in the U.S., was given to Newell for her book, Brethren By Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery (Cornell University Press, 2015).

“I’m honored to receive this award,” she said. “The book examines the significance of Indian slavery in colonial New England, where colonists enslaved thousands of Indians in the 1600s and 1700s. Indian slavery also shaped how African slavery developed in the colonies.”

Newell drew on letters, diaries, newspaper reports and court records for information. “I wanted to recover the slaves’ own stories and show how they influenced New England society. Many Indian slaves lived closely with the English families, raising their children, cooking their meals and manning colonial armies and farms. Of course, slavery had devastating effects on Indian communities. English colonists exported some New England Indians to the Caribbean and even to North Africa.”

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From the mid-1950s to the early '70s, the United States sent thousands of musicians around the globe to further American interests. In the program’s heyday, musicians trekked to nearly every continent, playing jazz, classical music, the blues and much more according to Mershon affiliate Danielle Fosler-Lussier, associate professor in the School of Music, as she details in her recently published book, Music in America’s Cold War Diplomacy (University of California Press, 2015).

“Congress was convinced that the musicians would influence how people around the world thought about America,” she said. “The State Department-funded program turned the musicians into citizen diplomats, reaching out to people through big public concerts, small, intimate gatherings and everything in between.”

The research for Fosler-Lussier's book was supported by three faculty research grants from the Mershon Center. 

As part of her research, Fosler-Lussier created an interactive database detailing the musicians who appeared in countries throughout the world during the Cold War. Users can search geographically or by name to find that, for example, Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz band played in Argentina in the mid-1950s, the Westminster Singers performed in Libya in 1959, the Boston Symphony was in Australia in 1960, Benny Goodman entertained Russian audiences in 1962 and the Julliard String Quartet visited Poland in 1965.

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Geoffrey Parker

Mershon affiliate Geoffrey Parker, Andreas Dorpalen Professor of History and Distinguished University Professor, is no stranger in the arena of the world’s top awards and honors, among them the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences' Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for History in 2012 — his discipline's Nobel Prize.

Parker's latest honor, his election as corresponding fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), has special resonance for him. “It was a particular pleasure and honor to learn that the Royal Society of Edinburgh has decided to elect me a Corresponding Fellow this year,” he said, “because I shall return to St. Andrews this spring as a Carnegie Centennial Professor, one of three appointed for 2016.”

"The Carnegie Trust has strong links with Ohio State, as well as with St Andrews: Some years ago it selected several departments at Ohio State to take part in the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate — an effort to identify and standardize best practices in postgraduate education," Parker said. "I was proud to take part in that process as a representative of the Department of History."

“Also, I spent 14 years teaching at St. Andrews, 1972-86, and since then I have returned several times to lecture — both there and at other Scottish universities.”

Created in 1783 by Royal Charter for “the advancement of learning and useful knowledge,” the Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland’s National Academy of Science and Letters. New fellows, elected to the RSE through a rigorous five-stage nomination process, include the full spectrum of disciplines, giving it a multidisciplinary perspective that is unique among national academies.

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