From Warm Center to Ragged Edge: The Erosion of Midwestern Literary and Historical Regionalism, 1920-1965: Resource Recommendation 8

Wow, that was a long title…

Anyways, this was a pretty interesting read as well. Pretty much everything recommended by The Public Historian and History News I gobble up these days. From Warm Center to Ragged Edge, etc., etc., by Jon K. Lauck was one of the more interesting reads I’ve come across recently. The subject matter is incredibly specific, and quite cumbersome at first glance. Lauck’s primary goal is to assert that local and regional histories have historically gone through periods of becoming incorporated and watered down by larger national narratives. An example of this is how many prominent Midwestern artists and authors, Sinclair Lews for example, were treated by biographers and journalists alike as east coast elites, despite their Midwestern upbringing. In a sense, the regional history of the Midwest from 1920-1965 was appropriated by the eastern seaboard. Lauck has many theories as to why this happened – from the fact that during the early part of this period Civil War vets still ruled Midwestern politics to the Boosterish or promotional nature of much of Midwestern history. Midwestern exceptionalism is a pretty dry subject, but it’s understandable. When presenting the stories of individuals like Lewis in a Midwestern setting he seems out of place in, the message of a Lewis biography becomes lost. For Lauck, more focus should be made on grounding the regional history of the Midwest with greater context, such as folklore, heroes, customs and simple and digestible histories. Instead in 1964 the only Midwestern historical society, the Mississippi Valley Historical Association became the Organization of American Historians. It went from regional to national, just like the rest of Midwestern history. Lauck’s work has helped me understand that grounding regional histories in local events and not national context preserves the intent of the piece – to reflect a local and regional history, not that regions place in the nation.

Fostering Empathy Through Museums: Resource Recommendation 7

Elif Gokcigdem’s book Fostering Empathy Through Museums has heavily influenced the way I think about presenting my own historical arguments recently. Gokcigdem fosters the idea that empathy is developing a status as a social trend, and that there is a deep connection between experiences, art and empathy. Employing all three of these into a museum exhibit results in a transformative experience that leads the visitor to developing empathy with those portrayed in many exhibits. Elizabeth Merritt of Trendswatch put it best: “Museums and empathy – together they can plant the seeds that nourish generations of souls.” Effective exhibits possess cognitive and emotional aspects. There is a cognitive aspect that will cause the visitor to think critically about the museums’ content, and there is an emotional aspect to lend significance to the experience and lead the visitor to incorporate the experience into their own identity. Case studies have shown that developing this empathy not only influences the visitors, but the staff as well. As the staff becomes more empathic about the subject of their exhibit, it enriches the experience overall. This in mind, many museums are delivering an intentional focus on establishing empathy from their visitors as part of their mission. All of you should definitely pick this up – it’s a great read and will likely make you reevaluate what you believe the mission of a museum should be!

Representing Slavery in Museums

Recently, I read the article Talking About Slavery When Your Museum Wants To Avoid It by Cait Johnson in the periodical History News. The subject has always been one that has interested me. It still shocks me that the subject is often completely ignored, even though it should be at the forefront of many museum’s missions.

Johnson had recently visited Blandwood Mansion, in Greensboro, North Carolina. As she entered, she became aware that the homeowners had historically owned slaves. This awareness immediately led to confusion, as a wall label stated that a passage was meant for ‘Servants bringing food,’ and not slaves bringing food. In fact, there was no mention of slavery or enslaved people at Blandwood, save for one very vague wall label. In 1850, the residence had 64 slaves living and serving on the property. In many ways, the story of Blandwood should be the story of these people.

One of Blandwood’s operators had asserted to Johnson that it was technically correct to label them as servants, as the museum’s mission encompassed the timeline after the abolition of slavery as well as the period preceding it. That museum operators can get away on this with a technicality unacceptable.

A docent at Blandwood further justified the absence of any slavery narrative by noting that discussion of slavery “Makes visitors uncomfortable.” For Anglo-Americans who have lived in Greensboro for three to four generations, the incorporation of a slavery narrative into Blandwood would be a constant reminder of the evils their ancestors perpetrated. For African-Americans, it would be a constant reminder of the centuries long suffering their people endured. Regardless of the pain the subject inflicts, whitewashing history to exclude the stories of these 64 slaves, and countless others throughout the nation hinders our social development and ability to process and learn from the past.

Johnson believes the solution to the problem is the incorporation of top-down institutional development in establishing institutional identity. What this entails is that a museum or other facility make their mission and emotional involvement absolutely clear to the staff. If Blandwood’s  mission were “The uninhibited and truthful depiction of slavery at Blandwood Mansion,” that would be a start. Johnson voiced her belief that this sort of clear institutional identity would then inform employee identity. Studies have shown that docents and other museum employees develop an emotional connection the subject matter once the institution voices its own stance. Johnson added that while new museum professionals may be pressured by less empathic institutions to omit such painful and divisive narratives, but that while these new employees do not control the interpretive identity of the museum, they do have a great deal of flexibility with their tour scripts and what parts of the narrative to stress. Therefore, all museum professionals have room to establish their own identity as a museum professional, and that identity must be founded in truth.

Shirley Chisholm for President

To be honest this is the first time in my years of studying history that this woman has come to attention. Shirley Chisholm is the first African American woman to run for the Presidential Office. The First African American to wish to run as a presidential candidate from one of the major parties. She went up against the status quo throughout her political career. Beginning with becoming the first African American women to be elected as a U.S. Congresswoman in a New York District. Only four years after that she had her sights set on the presidential nomination.

This election would be historical in its own way, the republican nomination would be given to Richard Nixon. This was after the events at Watergate but before the public knew Nixon was involved. His opponent from the Democratic party would not be Shirley Chisholm in the end but George McGovern. He lost to Nixon by a land slide.

Shirley Chisholm knew her odds in 1972 were not in her favor. Many believed that her end goal was not to receive the presidential nomination but could gather enough delegates to ask for cooperation from the other nominees. She wanted to fight for equal rights of women, African Americans, and Native Americans.

Shirley Chisholm would have a large turnout but many feared that if they voted for her then their vote would not really mean anything. The democratic citizens top priority was stopping the Republican vote, Richard Nixon from becoming president of the United States. There were those who supported Chisholm, but others felt angered by the idea of an African American woman running. Other politicians and many journalists did not take her bid seriously and would even go as far to say that being a woman would be a mental hindrance. She did not publicly fight against any specific person or organization, but she did speak her beliefs about equality for all. There were many times that the article states where her posters would be written across with the N word and offensive images.

Shirley Chisholm died in 2005 and was unable to see the nomination and election of Barack Obama. Yet, it was her first steps into just trying for a nomination that influenced the history of African Americans and women in politics.


Mummies: From A Funeral to A Public Spectacle

As I begin to write this blog about mummies. I think to myself, “why are we so interested about the dead and its rituals? What makes mummies a thing of fear?” Since the beginning mummies have been seen depicted on the big screen as coming to life. We even dress up as mummies during Halloween and walk around with toilet paper wrap around our head. Mummies have intrigued people since their emergence into popular culture.

Mummification is a process to honor the dead and prepare them for their next life. Each high priest at the time had their own mummification process and had evolved from each generation of priest. This article that I read combined both of these ideas in a Hodge podge kind of way. A new discovery in Egypt’s El-Asasef necropolis that is located near Luxor has been unveiled. It has been unveiled in the most public of settings. The newly discovered tomb has been opened in front of media from all around the world for the first time. Our intrigue for the dead has made the unveiling such a media spectacle.

A group of mummies found inside a tomb from Luxor, Egypt.

The archaeologists have uncovered two mummies, one male and one female. They believe the female to be named Thuya and the male to be named Thaw-irkhet-if. The male is believed to be a priest who would embalm many pharaohs in his life time. This may be the reason why the female mummy is so well preserved. In this article one can see photos of archaeologists opening the tomb for the first time. The antiquate paintings and hieroglyphics on the roof. In these images one can also see the beautiful artifacts that these two mummies believed they would be taking with them to the afterlife. The tomb still has a great deal to tell researchers in the near future.

After hundreds of years of finding mummies, we as a nation are still so intrigued by them. So, intrigued that a new discovery needs to be publicized all around the world. It may be great to help flourish the economy of Egypt, yet the mummies should be treated with dignity and respect.


Public Art & History

In May of this year I was selected to be a member of the 2018 class of the Alexander Briseño Leadership Development Program (ABLDP), a program designed to mold participants into trans-formative leaders. All class members were sorted into action teams, the goal of which is to solve a problem pertinent to that field or industry. The action teams would deliberate and propose solutions at the last meeting of the program where industry leaders would be listening to the presentations. If the panelists like the pitch, the proposed idea has a chance of coming to fruition. My action team was Arts and Culture and I was paired with eight other classmates from companies and organizations all throughout San Antonio. We brainstormed as a team to think about what positive contribution we could make to the Arts and Culture community in San Antonio. What was missing? Or what existed but could be made better?

San Antonio has many great pieces of public art all throughout the city. There are murals, sculptures, galleries, and artists of all trades in almost every pocket of the city. The issue is that these art pieces are not widely known or visited. It may be an issue of accessibility or even relevance, but the fact is that we are a city lacking in art awareness and engagement. Our solutions to this problem involved a series of proposed projects. How to combat the issue of accessibility? Bring art to the people! We proposed a mobile art initiative beginning with an art installation on a river barge called ‘Studio Rio’ that traveled the San Antonio River. In the next phase of the project , art exhibits would be added to buses, then kayaks, then maybe even scooters. Art would be on the move and accessible to every resident in San Antonio because it would be in their backyards.  Through project revisions our proposal eventually changed and evolved into something bigger. Ultimately we decided to create an arts consortium to advocate for the arts in San Antonio. Although there are no shortage of art organizations in San Antonio, all are limited in their marketing capabilities by societal and economic constraints. The art river barge is an important component of this project and will serve as an activation point for learning about the arts in San Antonio through the use of a QR code. If this project comes to fruition we would be partnering with the San Antonio Department of Arts and Culture and Go Rio to promote accessible, mobile, and approachable public art access in San Antonio.

So, how does any of this relate to public history? During my time with ABLDP and working towards this goal of making public art more widely known and accessible, it dawned on me that we, as public historians are the consortium working to bring hidden histories to life, just as the advocacy group will be working towards the goal of making public art more accessible. Art and culture provide a sense of personal identity and breath vitality into communities. I guess this post serves as a thank you to all the artists and historians out there for doing what you do. Thank you for your passion, dedication,  and life enrichment. It is necessary and very much appreciated.

Edward S. Curtis: Photography of Native Americans

During my time scrolling through the internet from Pinterest to Facebook I have come to love taking a detour to the history channels articles. They may not be the most academically dense, but they give some insight on a range of topics that are interesting and valuable in their own ways. For this article I came across a short article about a late 19th century photographer from the United States. A man by the name of Edward S. Curtis

Edward S. Curtis was a man who in 1887 decided to leave his home state of Washington State. He traveled throughout the west coast of the United States capturing photos of multiple Native American tribes. For the next 30 years or so he had met and researched close to 80 separate tribes along his journey. The photos have come to be a rare find in the museum community because this was a time of American expansion ideals and Native Americans and preserving their culture was definitely not a priority for many. This is during a time after Andrew Jackson signs in the Indian Removal Act in 1830 and Natives are displaced from their homeland.

In this article Edward S. Curtis has commentary shown under every one of the twenty photos shown. This was a great idea from the people at the History Channel because it allows readers like me to not only know what I am looking at but some type of perspective. A downfall of Edward S. Curtis’ commentary is one may be able to hear the racist undertones. He may not have been aware of it but in present day it could be frowned upon by others.

An example of this being his photo entitled “Out of Darkness, 1904.” He states, “Navajo Indians emerging from the shadows of the high walls of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona typifying the transition from barbarism to civilization.” A product of his time Edward S. Curtis may believe that the Native Americans he is taking photographs are barbaric, but he is still doing a great service of researching and taking photographs of these tribes.

Term Project Update #3

My project is complete. It was a lot of work, but i’m very pleased with it. I hope to actually continue the project further down the road, incorporate even more issues of The Rattler, and maybe even do a study of other college papers in San Antonio. For those who are unfamiliar with my project here is my abstract for the project:

This project is part of an ongoing historical discussion on the evolving state of journalism. The focus of this project is on the content produced by student writers in the St. Mary’s University publication The Rattler. While student writers at The Rattler now engage these topics freely and often aggressively, their predecessors did so only in times of warfare or international instability. The international scope of warfare opened the floodgates of political dissent in student newspapers by allowing these writers to distance themselves from the related issues they faced closer to home. Of the eras preceding the 21st century analyzed in this project, only the period of World War 2 saw the offering of substantial content about politics an social reform.

My research consisted of reading several journalistic history articles, and sifting through hundreds of issues of The Rattler, and reading thousands of articles. There were so many interesting and surprising bits of history to find there, but I could not include them in my project. Creating the charts and making sure my data was accurate and impartial was the most complicated part. Revising my writing afterwards while being mindful of my audience was also quite the task. Further down the road, I will definitely be revisiting this project and improving on the existing presentation methods and adding in even more data.

Engaging the Community, Facing Resistance: The Fate of the Travis Park Memorial

As museums and city officials debate the tearing down of monuments and attempt to share the histories of previously marginalized groups in America, so too will they become battlegrounds between ethnic and social minorities and those hostile to those elements in their communities.

Elif Gokcigdem, a historian of Islamic art and historical journal editor stated “Museums and empathy are a powerful combination that can provide transformative experiences of dialogue, discovery, understanding and contemplation to all regardless of age or background.” This presupposes a state of open-mindedness and curiosity from the museum’s community. What happens if that same community is hostile to this transformation?

Age and background are a force at play when reinterpreting history. Opponents of newer and more inclusive interpretations conclude that reinterpretation is revision. These anti-revisionists are generally of either an older age-bracket than other museum visitors, or part of a group that is dominantly portrayed in the existing narratives. In light of this truth, museums must contend with newly hostile elements in their communities. Monuments sanctioned by the city serve much the same purpose as museums, and struggles to remove monuments that glorify those that brought pain to others are gaining momentum.

The most vicious battles have been, and will continue to be waged in the American south over interpretation of slavery and the Confederacy in museums and monuments. In recent years, there has been a call to action for Texas politicians to begin the process of historical reinterpretation of Confederate monuments. The Confederate monument at Travis Park with the inscription “Lest We Forget Our Confederate Dead” came down in 2017.

County Commissioner Tommy Calvert protesting the Confederate War Dead Memorial at Travis Park

Anna Deluna , 47, a San Antonio resident came to witness the removal of the monument and shared her opinion. “We just wanted to see it come down. It just represents racism and inequality and oppression and we are glad now that it’s coming down. It just seems like nowadays things are really, really difficult with Trump being in power, race relations. Maybe the silver lining is statues like these and attention being brought to them.” Her boyfriend, Doyle Avant, 53 agreed “I think it’s disingenuous to say it’s just history and it’s heritage. The heritage argument is really nonsense.” Despite support from many San Antonio residents like these, death threats were made to the construction contractors and workers responsible for the monument’s demise.

Removal of Travis Park Confederate monument in 2017

Avant’s point about history and heritage, and the way many mistake the two is both poignant and relevant. It is poignant because those who must drive past Confederate monuments to work or school every day are reminded of the darker parts of their city’s heritage, not its history. The two must be distinguished. When an African-American goes past the Confederate monument to Jefferson Davis in Atlanta, they are not gaining any historical understanding of the Confederacy or the institution of slavery. The monument is simply indicative of what past residents of Atlanta deemed fit to glorify as part of their heritage as White southerners that dominated city politics. If there was a monument of Jefferson Davis signing the Confederate States Constitution, it would be closer to history – but still a monument to White southern heritage. These monuments inspire the few and bring grief to the many, so why not tear them all down, and throw them into the sea?

It’s an understandable impulse. However, these monuments in the context of a greater historical narrative do have value. Those protesting the removal of these monuments, even with their incredibly hostile rhetoric and willingness to resort to violence do have a point. Destruction of these heritage markers is historical revisionism. While their love for the darker aspects of their heritage, such as the condoning of slavery is disturbing, the Confederacy and all of its baggage is an important chapter in American history. These monuments could have use in educating future generations on the dangers of political tribalism and fueling racist ideologies. They must be reinterpreted, and not revised. Relocation of these monuments to museums or historical sites with other historical artifacts and museum professionals to interpret them is a far more pleasing solution. Those who are rightfully offended by their presence in prominent parts of their city no longer need see them every day, and those who value these monuments as part of their heritage may still visit them. Hopefully in the process, these people will gain knowledge about their histories and possibly, lose the misguided love they feel for the darkest elements in their heritage.