History from the Dark Room

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by Hugo Zayas-González

Among those who in an amateur or professional way like to study the past it is well known that documents are their raw materials. Archives and historical libraries have been developing paper-based as well as digital collections, and by taking advantage of technological advances made efforts to keep them in usable conditions. Such is the case for Clarke Historical Library which launched a still ongoing program in 1967 to preserve local newspapers from Michigan communities. In this way, Clarke Library is not only striving to keep “the single most important record from which a community can be documented” usable, but also works to make this material available for a global scholarly community through its Digital Michigan Newspaper Portal. In simple words and paraphrasing a current academic expression, through this portal Clarke Library is setting Michigan local history in a global perspective.

In addition to the intellectual content found within the newspapers, there are technical reasons for preserving them. A definition of preservation says that it is “the protection of cultural property through activities that minimize chemical and physical deterioration and damage and that prevent loss of informational content.”[1] Therefore, the primary goal of preservation has to do with prolonging the existence of cultural property through two types of activities. On the one hand, there are those activities aimed at preventing damage to paper-based collections by storing them in proper buildings with suitable humidity and temperature conditions, and designing a disaster plan. On the other hand, treatment, replacement, and reformatting are the proper activities that address existing damage. In the case of Clarke Library’s newspaper project, it is mostly focused on protection through reformatting both its own and other publishers’ collections. However, Clarke Library’s project focuses not only on damaged or historical newspapers. It is remarkable that through its continuing program they are microfilming contemporary issues as well. At this moment, for instance, they are filming last year’s issues of the Clarkston News, the Cheboygan Tribune, and the Gaylord Herald Times among other titles.

Newspapers from the nineteenth century onward are printed on inexpensive, machine-made, wood pulp paper that was not manufactured for longevity, which makes it necessary to protect newspaper collections through microfilming and digitizing projects. Even though we are living in an increasingly digital world, digitization and digital preservation do not make traditional preservation methods unnecessary. Digitization is simply another option in the preservation toolkit, especially since preserving digital objects long term still presents inherent difficulties. Although microfilming has now become the least user-friendly medium for access to newspaper collections, this technique of preservation provides a master copy from which relatively inexpensive duplicates can be easily made. Furthermore, unlike digital media which requires computer access, microfilm can be read by the naked eye with only a light source and magnification. Digitization consists of making digital copies of non-digital objects, and one of the main disadvantages concerns the continuing change in technology (software and hardware) which affects the user’s expectations.

Thus, the Clarke Library’s DigMich Newspapers project faces the requirements of global and digitized users but still grounds its digital copies on microfilming from the dark room…

[1] Northeast Document Conservation Center, NEDCC, “Preservation 101,” https://www.nedcc.org/preservation101/session-1/1what-is-preservation

Nostalgia is not History

by Angelo Moreno

It’s not exactly accurate to say that I am an alum of the graduate program in history at CMU because I quit the program almost as soon as I began, realizing very early on that I didn’t have the guts for the kind of work it required. But I never quit a real and genuine interest in history as a discipline and as a way of asking questions about the world. After quitting, I became a librarian and have been working in libraries for about six years now, including a stint at the Clarke Historical Library. I have never been directly cut off from the world of professional historians, much less people associated with, in one way or another, CMU’s history department.

            When Marcel asked me to contribute to this blog, I wanted to say no. What would I write about? I am not even an alum! I thought about it for a bit and remembered that a question had been circulating in my mind for the last couple days as a result of my current job teaching research methods (supposedly) to the children of the wealthy elite at a private high school in Mexico. It turns out that some of these privileged teenagers have a genuine and somewhat enthusiastic interest in “history.” Specifically, they are nostalgic for a period of time in Mexico that neither they nor even their grandparents actually experienced: the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz from 1876-1911. As a casual student of Mexican history, this nostalgia startles me. The most widely accepted scholarly narrative of the Porfiriato, as the period is known in Spanish, is that it was characterized by, among other things, a dictatorial government that restricted the rights of the people of Mexico. In addition, the regime carried out organized violence against rural and indigenous communities in order to forcibly implement its idea of order and progress in the country (Turner 1969; Balbas 1927). How could Mexican teenagers in 2019 be nostalgic for that?

            Like a good librarian, I played around in scholarly databases for the answer. I quickly came across an article written by Dr. Jacqueline Avila (2016), a scholar at the University of Tennessee. Avila (2016) analyzed a genre of film that emerged in Mexico during the 1940s called cine de añoranza porfiriana, or “films of Porfirian longing.” According to Avila (2016), these films “nostalgically shape[d] the period as a carefree, bygone era for the bourgeoisie, a utopian space far from the social, political, and economic instability taking over Mexico during the late 1930s and 1940s” (p. 2). This line resonated with what I have come to observe about my elite students: though they are not, on the whole, an intellectually curious lot, they are most certainly, at this early stage in their lives, products of their bourgeoise households. As such, they often uncritically express anxiety about what they see as a socially, politically, and – most important for them – economically instable country. Many of them fear that the most recently elected president, the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), will bring chaos and stagnation to the country by curtailing the privileges of, quite literally, their families and their class. Avila (2016) described the porfiriato as a time when

“[c]ommerce and industry flourished, giving rise to new consumer cultures, lifestyles, and social stratification, and the Porfirian elite class became the embodiment of cosmopolitanism. The wealthy, perceiving themselves as the pillar of civilization, enjoyed the pleasures of the Porfirian regime by means of all things foreign…” (p. 4)

It would not be a stretch to use this same language to describe the last couple decades of neoliberalism in Mexico, and I believe my students are unconsciously aware of this. They perceive that with the election of AMLO to the presidency, this period is coming to an end. Perhaps, then, their anxiety and invented nostalgia is logical?

Screenshot from a Facebook page dedicated to posting humorous material in support of former Mexican dictator, Porfirio Diaz.

Screenshot from a Facebook page dedicated to posting humorous material in support of former Mexican dictator, Porfirio Diaz.

            For those of us who have imagined and fought for a world in which many worlds fit, and a world free of exploitation and oppression, these are scary times in the western hemisphere. It would be easy to simply write off this Porfirian longing as bizarre, “ignorant,” and marginal, but I fear that it is more than that. I fear that my students are genuinely willing to defend their privileges and comfort up to the point of accepting and supporting a political regime that uses violence and coercion to maintain “order” and to keep them isolated from the great majority of their compatriots. Nostalgia and history are not the same. Historians have a duty to aggressively interrogate nostalgia if they are interested in truth and justice.


 

References

Avila, J. (2016). México de mis inventos: Salon Music, Lyric Theater, and Nostalgia in Cine de añoranza porfiriana. Latin American Music Review, 38(1), 1-27. DOI: 10.7560/LAMR38101

Balbas, M. (1927). Recuerdos del Yaqui: Principales episodios durante la campaña de 1899 a 1901. Mexico City: Sociedad de Edición y Librería Franco Americana

Turner, J. K. (1969). Barbarous Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press.

NAFTA – History without Borders

by Scarlet Munoz Ramirez

As a Mexican citizen, a graduate student in the USA, and currently employee in Canada, I thought that “NAFTA” would be a good title to start my blog post since I am a good example of it. It has been almost seven years since I started my adventure as a Graduate Student at Central Michigan University. With hopes to graduate this summer (without jinxing it) I recently found myself in a totally different position and place. This year has started very busy, forcing me to already miss important academic events such as the AHA conference due to my immigration status being in process. So far, I haven’t even been able to leave the country unless I travel with my spouse (thank you, Canada). Yet, it gets a bit more complicated than that: While finishing editing the introduction and conclusion of my dissertation, a bigger challenge waits for me. This Winter semester I started teaching at the University of Regina. I was lucky to get a sessional position here in Canada, to teach the classes Imperialism in Latin America, First Nations and Colonization as well as History of the Mexico-US Border. We will even employ some game-based learning methods!

View of the First Nations University, which is part of the University of Regina’s campus, Saskatchewan

View of the First Nations University, which is part of the University of Regina’s campus, Saskatchewan

I was very fortunate to get the classes at the University of Regina since they were looking for a Latin American Historian and I happened to be in the right place at the perfect time. The university puts special emphasis on the continuing support for Indigenous peoples and is situated (similarly to CMU) on Indigenous land. Besides the opportunity to gain wonderful teaching experience, I also had the chance to develop my course on the Mexico-US border. The latter is a relevant, fluid, dynamic, and ever-changing space which greatly influenced the history of North America. Considering the heated current events and politics of the border, the class could not come at a better moment. Thus, the University of Regina (in collaboration with the department of International Studies) gave me the opportunity to design this class and think of it as a history class with a focus on transnational studies. Students will gain a better understanding of the origins of the border idea, its formation and delimitation, while also participating in an open dialogue with the academic community. The Mexico-US Border will provide information on the effects of the past and the legacy of the present border situation.

In my First Nations and Colonization class, students are engaged in learning and understanding the Mesoamerican cultures and the impact of Colonialism in the Americas. Using elements of game-based learning, students will participate in a “First Nations Conventions,” a short but hopefully revealing debate. In addition, in my Imperialism in Latin America class, I will use the Mexican Revolution RTTP game. Students are already curious and engaged in the discussion, preparation, and conversation of the game.

As I look back and think on my experiences at CMU, I can only feel lucky and grateful for the education and training that I received from my professors and during my teaching training. Consequently, I will apply the methodologies that I learned in my time at CMU. The classes that I will be instructing are within my field of interest, which makes things more exciting but at the same time more challenging when you want to do your best in those areas. However, it can be very tempting to try to cover the topics more deeply than you should for the relevant education level. Nevertheless, I am teaching students in their 4th and final years and I have at least 8 students that are majoring in history. I believe that this gives hope for the future and development of the humanities by knowing that history is still a great subject of interest. 

After all, the study of history is our job. Regardless of how busy and difficult things can get at the end of the day, teaching, writing, and presenting the stories that you enjoy as an academic historian are fulfilling and satisfying.

Where Could Your History Degree Take You Next? (Other Than the Library)

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By Rebecca Cuddihy

Towards the end of my undergraduate history degree at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, I thought I had my next year planned. I had already gained my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification and accepted a teaching position at a school in China. However, attending a last-minute career lecture would change my life forever, and just a few months later I found myself travelling from Scotland to Mount Pleasant ready to start a master’s degree at Central Michigan University.

The main thing which attracted me to this amazing opportunity was the graduate teaching assistant position which went hand-in-hand with my master’s program. While taking my own classes, the structure of which was a huge culture shock to me itself, I also taught HST101, Western Civilization from the Bronze Age – 1700 under the supervision of history department chair Dr. Gregory Smith. Having no teaching experience whatsoever, I was thrown into the deep end. Saying that, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Being a graduate assistant was a great experience, one which I definitely miss. At the time, writing your own essays, planning each lesson, and grading your students’ work is stressful and time-consuming and sometimes makes you want to tear your hair out (we’ve all been there). But there is a huge feeling of achievement when you think about the knowledge and skills you’ve helped pass on to your students. I had the independence in my seminar groups to develop my own teaching style, and attending weekly lectures with students meant we were on the journey together. The position also came with many challenges. Navigating the American education system was a shock to me, since in Scotland we don’t follow a general education program in university, and there are no compulsory classes (e.g. writing intensive). I felt that getting the students motivated and excited about the class could be difficult, as many students didn’t immediately see the benefit of a writing intensive class because it wasn’t related to their major (in an obvious way). However, I think my accent alone managed to capture attention of my students throughout the year. They definitely taught me as much as I taught them! I knew the next year would have a lot to live up to.

Although I worked with some fantastic professors and fellow grad students and made friends for life, I felt that pursuing a PhD just wasn’t for me. I loved the teaching aspect of my time at CMU, but I didn’t enjoy being in the classroom as a student as much. Thankfully, working with students from all over the world created a fantastic support network and is definitely one of the department’s strengths, particularly for those like me who had come from a different country.

Fast forward a move to the Metro Detroit area, a marriage and some serious job searching, I now work at the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown Detroit! Although my role is mainly focused on visitor services, the knowledge and skills I’ve gained from this is invaluable. Not only have I learned about the turbulent history of Detroit and its gradual comeback, I’ve been able to learn just how a museum actually functions and what the key roles and responsibilities are. I see how the museum engages with the community through educational tours, film festivals, speakers, and maintaining relevant exhibits around Detroit’s history, as well as meeting individuals who have lived through Detroit’s past. It really is enlightening learning about Detroit’s history on a daily basis and actually seeing how past events have affected the city to this day.

I hope my journey will inspire current and future students that a history degree can take you to so many places! My next adventure will be down in Georgia, where for the next five months I’ll be working with the Augusta Museum of History in their collections department. I will be forever grateful for my time at CMU and to the faculty and students I worked with and taught. Who knows where my degree will take me next!


Rebecca Cuddihy graduated from Central Michigan University with a Master of Arts in History in 2017 and currently works at the Detroit Historical Museum. She is aiming to visit as many states as possible before returning to Scotland next year. She has also recently started a blog on her time in the USA so far: https://rebeccanormanusalife.wordpress.com/. You can follow her on twitter @rebeccacud92.

“A Room with a View”

View of Florence. Photo Credit: Chris Hopcraft

View of Florence. Photo Credit: Chris Hopcraft

By Chris Hopcraft

12 March 2018

Italy. Italia. The land of the Romans. This is now my third excursion into ancient territory, perhaps built by the Gods themselves eons ago.

I remember my first trip here as if it were yesterday. I was only barely 22; only a child in the grand scheme of the world. I was one of the privileged few to participate in the “Grand Tour,” which was simply a life-changing experience brought to me by CMU’s own Department of History. My guides? Drs. Smith and Harsanyi, two esteemed professors from which I have learned so many valuable lessons about the world.

Back then, I was a little shy, one could say. At least, the rest of the trip participants who were to be my best friends over the next three weeks would have said so. Indeed, I had no ability to attend the “meet and greet” sessions offered prior to the trip; therefore, I met all of them for the first time on the day of departure.

It was midday in May, which is in my opinion the best month of the year based on temperature alone. It was, by many standards, perfect. I remember seeing a large group of people wearing CMU attire, and I began to walk up to them. They had to be my study abroad group. Now, as part of my shy behavior, I do find myself to be exceedingly sheepish in situations like this, that is, meeting groups of people for the first time. To this end, I decided to, perhaps somewhat awkwardly, ask my new friends if I could leave my bag with them while I explored the airport. While it earned me some curious stares, they happily obliged. My shyness sort of, but not entirely, went away right after this, as my new friends were immediately accepting of me. Not long after, we boarded a flight for Rome via Amsterdam.

Our first foray into the fast pace of Rome was to immediately be swept into a taxicab against the advice of our esteemed doctors of history, who had suggested the Leonardo Express as the best option to transit into the city centre. The driver, though smooth-talking and fast-moving, did not take advantage of us in any way; we were safely deposited in front of our hostel in short order with each of our wallets having fourteen less Euros in them.

Now, this was my first experience with international travel altogether, much less in a hostel. Between the noise, the somewhat unkempt demeanor of the place, and the curt behavior of the staff, I believe that I found myself being quite angrily critical of the lodging in the journal which we were to keep daily. How foolish I was! Nine years later, I can look back and laugh at my attitude back then. I didn't realize it at the time, but the lodging was adequate; probably I was only out of my comfort zone.

We began our Grand Tour the following morning, quite early in fact. I for one had not become accustomed to the time difference yet, but we had to push on. Our entire class was at stake. Fatigue became a thing of unimportance as we entered the Roman Forum and began our first lecture by Drs. Smith and Harsanyi. We had, ourselves, become a part of history at that moment, for only a small percentage of the world can ever say that they could see history come to life in the way that it did on that morning.

Indeed, I had never experienced anything quite like that before or since. It was simply breathtaking to have the ancient monuments looming overhead while our esteemed professors were placing them in the framework of our class. I am convinced that if all classes were presented in this manner, the entire graduating class of every year would be the Valedictorian.

As I write this now, I have the distinct pleasure of doing this same thing for my wife in just two days. How amazing it will be to take what I had learned in the Forum nearly nine years ago and provide for her the same experience that I had. For her, things will come alive as they did for me.

Back in my own Grand Tour of nine years ago, by the time in which we transited from the more chaotic atmosphere of Rome to Florence, I started feeling more at ease. It was here that I began to become great friends with my classmates.

Each lecture seemed to be more engaging than the last, as the settings for each meeting became even more grandiose and awe-inspiring. I remember quite clearly a time when we were to read passages from Forster’s A Room with a View and discuss them, and of course the breathtaking place at which we held our class discussion was perhaps the best view in the entire world at that moment: a location named Fiesole. Our professors, in choosing that exact place, had again succeeded in bringing history alive before our very eyes. It was the type of thing that CMU’s numerous study abroad programs were known for, and this was no exception.

At some point further down the road, our group had traveled to Nîmes, France, as a continuance of the Grand Tour. It was around this time that I had become a bit homesick, and quite weary of the differences between the United States and the European Union. “My God,” I thought. “How can people survive without free refills? Will these portion sizes ever increase? What of this cellular service? Surely, this is not the third world.” Follies and ignorant thoughts by a first-time traveler.

All of these years later, I suppose that things haven’t changed much. There are still no free refills, and the portions are the same. The cellular networks, however, are much improved and data-friendly these days. As one exits their comfort zone and makes an attempt to experience a culture different from their own, it becomes a gratifying experience in which one’s own cultural awareness is heightened and enriched. These differences, though jarring at first, ultimately became a testament to my own ability to adapt.

And in fact, as our tour drew to an end, I found myself coming to terms with the differences I had found between the United States and Europe. Perhaps the beauty of the sites had something to do with it. It might have been the real-life lectures and discussions we had participated in, on the steps of so many timeless monuments. I do know that without the opportunity to participate in this program with my beloved History department, I would have never had the chance to broaden my horizons in that way.

Since my fabled CMU Grand Tour of 2009, I have been back to Europe six separate times. I graduated from CMU with a Bachelor’s of Science in History and could not be prouder to say so. I got married, and I now have the pleasure of sharing this experience with my wife in many of the same ways that I did so many years ago, down to staying in the same area in Rome as we originally did.

Where would I be without my original Grand Tour? Perhaps many dollars richer, and certainly a less well-rounded off individual. It was an experience that could never be repeated or replaced; one of the heart that stays with a person for their entire life. As I pass this experience on to my wife, and later to my children, I have the distinct happiness of always remembering where I came from: from the hallowed corridors of Powers Hall, Central Michigan University. Together, we all made history.


Chris Hopcraft graduated from CMU with a Bachelor’s of Science in History in 2011. His interests include filmmaking, photography, and entrepreneurship. He owns his own sales business specializing in satellite phones and other satellite communications equipment. He is currently developing several film projects and in the process of creating his own media company.

Active Politics is the Study of History*

By Trent Wolf (Class of 2015)

I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science, and since then, I have worked as a legislative assistant to State Representative Frank Liberati in the Michigan Legislature. Politics can be understood as simply a web of interconnected relationships: connections between legislators or between elected officials and voters, for example. In practice, no piece of legislation is passed in a democratic system without relationships being established between politicians, just as no elected official wins their campaign for public office without building and maintaining relationships with voters. The difficult, and nuanced, aspect is untangling all of these relationships through using the same skills historians use to untangle the hidden realities of humanity’s past.  Using this lens, politics can be viewed as history unfolding in real-time.

The most obvious, and potentially less direct, application of my studies in history would be simply understanding the historical context to the reality we live in today—something I believe too many in our society go without. Public policy and politics are intrinsically intertwined with our historical past. Basic understanding of historical facts impact the way in which laws are written and also influences the way in which politicians talk about their ideas and project those ideas to the public. Additionally, historical understanding, or lack thereof, directly defines the ways in which constituents perceive politicians and their ideas.

More directly, though, by employing the research skills learned through studying history—such as source analysis, aggregating analyzed historical data, and effectively communicating the story that data illustrates—I was able to develop a important set of skills that I use every day to be effective at my job.

For example, when performing historical research, secondary sources are used to provide context to a given topic and primary sources—such as speeches, letters, songs, poems, illustrations, and memoirs—are used to gain a better understanding of a topic, which allows a researcher to expand upon the known historical record. Similarly, in public policy and politics, we use secondary sources to frame societal problems and policy solutions, such as data on income inequality or school performance. Then primary sources, such as constituent communications, firsthand political information from elected officials, or forms of support from stakeholder groups, are combined with the secondary source information to gain a broader understanding of an issue and how it might be solved.

With this in mind, the same skills of thoroughly vetting sources and knowing that multiple perspectives must be gathered to gain a credible understanding of an issue or topic are directly used in both politics and history. For instance, in the same way historical research should not be told through the lens of one historical figure, one document, or one perspective—in politics you must also gain as much primary source perspective as possible to be able to effectively craft policy and campaign messaging. Additionally, I fully believe that individuals who study history properly are able to gain a sense of “open-mindedness,” or are more able to objectively analyze the information they are researching, which is sorely missing from our political system that has been ravaged by partisan hyperbole and ad hominin attacks.

I credit all of my experiences as a student of history for where I am today. In so many ways, those experiences have become directly linked to who I am as a working professional trying to better the world in which we all live as well as an individual and the way I view the world. In both history and politics, critical thinking and analysis as well as being able to think in new, creative ways are key to being able to contribute to the historical record or pass legislation.

*Polybius, The Histories, vol. 1

History Matters: The Skills I Learned

By Emily Lint (Class of 2015)

Today, like most days, I thought about my time spent in history classes at CMU. I am currently halfway through my first year teaching at West Senior High School in Traverse City, MI. I teach economics. When I accepted the job in Traverse City near my family at the school where I student-taught I was thrilled. At first I wasn’t sure how my history training would apply to teaching Economics, but not too far into my first planning day in a hot classroom in the late summer I realized I would have plenty of opportunity to use my history training teaching economics. I learned far more than content from my history professors at CMU, and the non-content skills kicked in right away.

CMU’s history department made me a better thinker. I learned that historical events do not exist in a vacuum. Context is everything. I learned how to think about topics in their place in the grand scheme of things.  My experience with examining different angles of historical topics translates into my teaching every single day. I try my best to make sure my students understand concepts with context and can see how to apply what they learn to their lives every single day.

CMU’s history department made me a more well-rounded person. In my American history classes especially, I learned the story isn’t as simple as I had been told. When you’re telling the story of people, there are always lots of perspectives to consider. Likewise, every kid has a slightly different perspective and different set of experiences they carry with them into my classroom. Remembering to consider other perspectives has helped me get to know the dozens of kids who pass in and out of my room every day. 

CMU’s history department made me a better public speaker. As my time in the program progressed the classes got smaller and smaller and the opportunities to sit back and listen became fewer and farther between. Eventually I was forced to speak up. Small class sizes, accessible professors, and great content helped me become more comfortable speaking out. In my own classroom, I try to emulate those professors who brought me out of my shell. Incorporating elements of “sticks and carrots” that got me to talk in college into my own classroom has allowed me to witness the blossoming of students who offer incredible insight to classroom discussions every day.

Finally, CMU’s history department made me a more confident person. Every experience tackling original research, working on projects with professors, attending conferences, and presenting my work made me feel more and more confident with my ability to take on the world. Standing in front of 33 teenagers for the first time was less intimidating because I had already stood in front of far more people than that. Teaching content was less scary because I knew how to tell a story (even if it turns out the story is about economics). So much of what I feel comfortable doing today comes from the confidence instilled in me throughout my time with CMU’s history department.

I am grateful for so much about my time with CMU’s history department. The life lessons and skills I picked up along the way are the gifts from the CMU history department that I am most thankful for.