Podcasting Local Community Memories: Merits and Limits

By Sean Jacobson

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Hello there! I’m privileged to be a guest contributor to [Re]collection. My name is Sean Jacobson, and I am a second-year PhD student in the Public History and American History joint program at Loyola University Chicago (the home of Sister Jean’s Ramblers for those who followed any March Madness last season). 

My varied research interests include 20th century American history, history of American evangelicalism, public memory, genocide studies, and global humanitarianism. I’ve enjoyed being part of a program that allows me to integrate public history endeavors alongside more conventional (for lack of a better word) academic study of the past. Even in my limited time at Loyola thus far, I’ve been able to work on a wide range of projects from traditional seminar papers to NEH grant writing to historical walking tour proposals and, most recently, podcasts.

The subject of what constitutes “public history” is a discussion in itself, but for my limited purpose in this post, I concern myself with one particular question: How much power and voice can or should historians share with their research subjects and stakeholders?

I tried to explore this through a recent podcast project while in a course on material culture. As someone interested in the intersections of faith, trauma, and memory, I decided to make a podcast about genocide memorials in the Chicago area. Since Chicago is, unsurprisingly, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country, I had a plethora of communities available to reach out to.

While I had some academic background with media (I earned a BA in History and Broadcasting at Western Kentucky University), I had never yet attempted to make a podcast. Thus, I had multiple motives with this project. For one, I wanted to get an experience actually making a podcast (forewarning: it’s hard work!). Related to that, I wanted to see what value there might be in conducting community-based research with this methodology. Additionally, the experience forced me to get out of my comfort zone and make cross-cultural networks with different communities (these often started with cold phone calls). Who knows – these connections might serve as building blocks down the road for future research and service work.

I won’t spend time talking about the specifics of my podcast (called Testimony), but I’m attaching an iTunes link here for anyone who is interested in learning about it. Instead, I want to briefly highlight a couple takeaways on the merits and limits of podcasts as a tool for taking your history research into the “public history” realm.

Merits

The most positive outcome is the connections made with living communities. For example, it’s one thing to read about a subject like the Cambodian Genocide; it’s another to actually be immersed a local diaspora community that’s actively trying to make sense of a traumatic past and, as a mediator, give those people a platform to express themselves orally. This was both challenging and rewarding. It was challenging because I sometimes felt like an intrusive outsider trying to reach these communities. It was rewarding, though, because interacting with real people allowed me to see the significance of my research subject matter.

When someone does topical studies or comparative studies, the fostering of interaction between different parties has the potential to create greater solidarity and convey research to a wider audience. Many of the communities with which I interacted for the podcast struggle to find an audience beyond their own ethnic or religious enclave. As such, doing this kind of work may help share their story and needs with a more general public.

Limits

This gets me to limitations of podcasting as “public history.” If I’m trying to share communities’ memory with a wider audience, how much authority is actually shared with those constituents? To take again for example the Cambodian community in greater Chicago, I encountered some linguistic and cultural barriers when recording and editing an episode on their day of remembrance vigil service. Considering the aural nature of a podcast, how appropriate is it for me to interpret/speak for some Cambodian immigrants who might have trouble expressing themselves or their history in English? Does that undermine the purpose of a podcast as a place to give their voice a platform?

Additionally, how critical can/should I be when tackling such a sensitive topic like genocide? On the podcast, I ventured on the safe side of not expressing any overt opinion on these communities’ presentation of their own histories. Is this the right approach to take? I believe historians ought to be as objective as possible but also not hesitate to make moral judgement calls or identify problematic interpretations of history.

As you can see, I don’t have definite answers to my own questions. As frustrating as this can be, I know that I will gain more clarity with the more experience I create. I can certainly see myself continuing future podcasts on other topics related to my research fields. The nice thing about podcasts, compared to videos or online exhibits, is that they are so versatile. People can listen to podcasts with little restriction. It’s an easy, low-risk way for people to learn about new ideas while engaging in a fast-paced world. At the same time, podcasts saturate the market so much that they can be ephemeral. If not repeatedly posting new content and advertising aggressively on social media, podcast episodes can have a short lifespan if few people ever listen to them shortly after their release.

For any readers out there, have any of you tried making a history podcast? What was your experience like? Do you think they qualify as public history? Could making one possibly help you flesh out research ideas?  I’d love to hear any feedback! 

Fellowship Hunting

By Dave Papendorf

As a late-stage PhD student working to finish my dissertation, I have quickly begun to come to grips with the facts.  Specifically, though I was fortunate enough to have funding through my university, my funding package would not cover me completely as I finish my dissertation.  In other words, I wasn’t going to get paid for the final year and a half of my program. Years one and two were breezy and care free; I was just a portion of my time into my program, still learning the ropes, and living blissfully in the time when my biggest worries were seminars and colloquia rather than the dissertation lurking behind every corner. Thankfully, I received advice from some of my mentors to go fellowship hunting.  And away I went.

There are lots of funding opportunities out there, but that doesn’t make any of them less competitive or exclusive.  So, the daunting task began.  Because I study European history, I was naturally drawn towards fellowships that afforded me time to research in Europe and be close to my important archival sites.  After countless hours of research and filling out applications, I fortunately received a six-month fellowship at the Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte in Mainz, Germany.  The IEG is a non-profit research institution founded to further scholarship in European history and promote collaborative research between the countries in war-torn Europe.  Currently staffed with a large contingent of senior researchers in two divisions (Western Religious History and Universal History), the IEG continuously houses around 40 research fellows (Stipendiaten) who are working on their dissertations.  Housed in the Domus Universitatis (a building built in the 17thcentury to house Jesuit monastics, pictured above), the researchers also have access to a wonderfully-stocked library.  The highpoint of the week at the IEG is the Forschungskolloquium – a time when all of the researchers and fellows gather to hear a presentation from a peer or senior researcher.

Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled to have received this fellowship.  Since January 2018, my wife and I have lived in Mainz – a historic city along the Rhine which was both inhabited by the Romans as early as the first century B.C.E. and the hometown of Johannes Gutenberg and his famous printing press.  Just living in Mainz alone was worth applying for the fellowship.  However, my experience here has been much more significant than simply living in another country.  I was able to pick the brains of German and European scholars who have offered differing perspectives on dissertation methodology.  It has also been stimulating to work and live with other doctoral students from all over the world and to chat about common experiences (and, let’s be honest, fears concerning the job market).  Moreover, presenting my research to a room of experts on European history was also equally helpful in crafting the intricacies of my dissertation.  In short, my experience at the IEG has been both formative and invigorating as I continue to march forward.  My experience seems to be similar to many of the other fellows that have passed through the IEG.  With this in mind, I recommend that any PhD student seriously consider applying for domestic or international fellowships.  It will give you unique life experiences, allow you funded time to work on your dissertation, and likely, as in my case, give you continued traction to push on with your project.

One final note…although I was successful in my IEG application, I was rejected on five other applications.  It was difficult to remain upbeat through the discouragement of rejection letters, but just remember:  you will get rejected more times than you are accepted.  This is a hard pill to swallow for most PhD students – a group of over-achieving, intelligent, successful, top-of-the-class people. Resist the urge to be discouraged through applications, because the applications are good training for job ads and often serve to make you think more critically about your work and even your CV. In conclusion, apply for fellowships! Keep grinding, and you’ll likely get the opportunity to move somewhere new, receive insight from senior scholars, and get an extra boost of encouragement just when you need it. Good luck!

Detroit: America’s Motor City on the Rise and Why You Should Visit!

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By Rebecca Cuddihy

When you Google search ‘Detroit,’ the first three questions are:

  1. Is it safe to go to Detroit?
  2. When did Detroit go bad?
  3. Is Detroit, Michigan a ghost town?

However, Lonely Planet also named Detroit as the second-best city in the world to visit in 2018. So, you can see the contrast. There are reasons for skepticism about Detroit. It is often known as a city of racial tension, gun violence, and poverty, but this article aims to highlight that the city has much more to offer and that it is definitely on the rise.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Detroit’s success in the automotive industry was unmatched as thousands flocked to the city to work in Henry Ford’s factories, and thus gaining the title of the “Motor City”. During WWII, factories used to produce cars were now making weapons for the Allies, giving Detroit the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ title. Detroit is also the home of Motown music and produced music legends like Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross. It is the birthplace of Techno music and has hosted Movement festival since 2006, which attracts over 100,000 people.  It is also home to an unbelievable number of Coney Island restaurants. First established by Greek immigrants in the early twentieth century, Coney Island’s have become a staple of Detroit’s culture.

However, Detroit’s reputation in recent years has been that of violence, poverty, and abandonment. Although the 1967 race riots are often blamed for the demise of the city, Detroit was declining long before this. Reliance on a single-industry economy, racial discrimination, poor housing and, perhaps ultimately, a lack of urban planning were all contributing factors to its downfall.

My first thought when I moved to the Royal Oak area of Metro Detroit – around thirteen miles from the downtown area – was, “I am confused.” Living in Glasgow my entire life, I was used to living in a suburb with easy access to Glasgow via several public transport links. Once I reached Glasgow city center, everything was accessible by foot or more transport, and there was hundreds of bars, restaurants, and shops right in front of me. Detroit is not quite there, yet.

What struck me as most frustrating was how obviously divided Detroit was from its Metro suburbs and even more so from the idea of Pure Michigan. The Metro Detroit suburbs like Royal Oak, Ferndale, and Birmingham have their own bars, restaurants, and retail spaces. Although these areas are very successful and vibrant, to me they also spelled isolation, segregation, and a continuing subconscious boycott of downtown Detroit.

Since moving here, I’ve had the wonderful experience of working at the Detroit Historical Museum on Woodward Avenue in Midtown Detroit. I worked with people from different backgrounds, different ages, different races, and some all-round creative and interesting people. But most importantly, they were smart, educated, and passionate about Detroit. Contrast this to working (at the same time) 40 minutes north of Detroit in the suburb of Sterling Heights. My colleagues were all older, mainly female, all of them white (except the cleaning staff), and the majority of whom rarely stepped a foot outside of Sterling Heights. It was here, I felt, that there was a hostility towards Detroit and, more importantly, fear.

Detroit has a long way to go if they want to become a fully functioning major metropolitan area again. Amazon recently rejected Detroit as a finalist to house their new headquarters, citing largely to a lack of sufficient talent, with a non-existent mass transit system and an inadequate school system as additional factors. Although the people of Royal Oak and Birmingham have different needs to those of Detroit, there needs to be more cooperation and support between these areas. Detroit has amazing museums like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Furthermore, you can also visit 40 important historic places that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such as Belle Isle and the Eastern Market, or watch a Detroit Tigers baseball game. Additionally, Michigan Central Station, abandoned since the 1980s, is a further example of Detroit’s beautiful architecture and has recently been sold to Ford Motor Co., signaling a new and exciting chapter for Detroit’s future. All of this goes to show how rich the city is and how much it has to offer. 

I think it’s important to appreciate Detroit’s turbulent history and continue to talk about it. But, at the same time, we should use these past issues to help Detroit move forward and shake off this dangerous image. Detroit might not be an obvious city, and it took me some time to figure it out; however, it has a lot to offer, and we must continue to get past the fear and hostility of the city’s past and embrace its future. As the city motto goes, ‘We hope for better things; It will rise from the ashes.’


Rebecca Cuddihy graduated from Central Michigan University with a Master of Arts in History in 2017 and currently works as a Collections Assistant at the Augusta Museum of History. 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.

Powers Hall: Then and Now 2

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By Chiara Ziletti

Did you know that Powers Hall is the fourth oldest building existing on campus and it is connected to some important events of US history? Last semester I took Dr. Fremion’s HST 681 Historical Preservation class, and the final project consisted in writing a mock nomination for the National Register of Historic Places, which lists the historic and archaeological places worth preserving and protecting in the US. After some thinking, I decided to write my mock nomination on Powers Hall. I knew a little bit about its history, also thanks to Jennifer Vannette’s post on this blog, but I wanted to do more research and see if I could find additional information about the building on campus in which I spend most of my time. I can say that my research paid well: I was able to prove that despite few changes, the exterior of Powers Hall retains its overall integrity; it was curious to see how much the interior changed since it was first built; and I found connections between Powers Hall and the broader events of US history, which will be the focus of this post.

The first connection is the one between Powers Hall and the New Deal. The works to build Powers Hall – originally Keeler Union – started back in 1938 thanks to a grant from the Public Works Administration. The Public Works Administration was a New Deal government agency active from 1933 to 1939. In those years, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted a series of domestic policies to address the continuing disastrous economic and social effects of the Great Depression, which had started in 1929. Among these policies, the Public Works Administration provided funds for the construction of public works. In this way, it provided means of employment and helped to revitalize American’s economy, society, and industry. Therefore, Powers Hall provides a great local example of the far-reaching and significant effects of President Roosevelt’s domestic policy.

The years between 1942 and 1944, in which Powers Hall housed Navy V-12 cadets, provides another connection between the building and events of national and international significance. During World War II the United States needed more commissioned officers; therefore, the government created the Navy V-12 program to provide candidates with the education they needed. Central Michigan University, which at that time was known as Central Michigan College of Education, was among the universities that participated to the program. This connects Powers Hall not only with another governmental program but also with World War II and the US participation to it.

The ballroom in Powers Hall is still used to host several events and speakers every year; it would not be surprising if you attended one or two as well. Did you know that James (Jesse) Cleveland Owens (1913-1980) was invited to speak there? Jesse Owens was a famous African-American track and field athlete. He is mostly known for winning four Olympic medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. He was invited to speak for the 3rd Annual All-Sports Banquet, which took place on May 4, 1955, in the Keeler Union Ballroom. When he attended the Banquet, he also brought with him a 16mm black and white film of the Olympic Games in Berlin to show to the audience. Because of his extraordinary athletic performances, Owens is very well known, and his participation to the Banquet was a great event that linked Powers Hall to the broader national and international sports history.

In addition to all these important connections, it is important to remember that Powers Hall is the fourth oldest building still existing on campus. It is in the same block as Grawn Hall, which was opened in 1915; Warriner Hall, which was opened in 1928; and Smith Hall, which was opened in 1934. Since Grawn Hall has gone through significant different expansions and renovations, its architectural integrity is heavily compromised. However, Warriner Hall and Smith Hall retain most of their integrity. Therefore, alongside these two buildings, Powers Hall documents the history of Central Michigan University – our history! – by providing one of the best examples of the first buildings constructed on campus. This year marked the 125th anniversary since the foundation of CMU. If you are curious about the history of the buildings on campus and would like to know more, I recommend browsing the Clarke Historical Library’s website; it has plenty of information on each building. I would also encourage everyone to take a trip to the Clarke. It is always worth seeing in first person all the primary sources they have documenting CMU’s history!

Fragments of the Forgotten Past

By Chiara Ziletti

On a quiet and pleasant evening of last summer, I was very busy saving the world from my comfortable couch, when I unexpectedly stumbled across an astonishing example of historical negationism.[1] This event has since prompted in my mind a long sequence of reflections on important history-related topics, such as: historiography and revisionism, methodology, ethic, preservation issues, and pedagogy. 

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To be true, it was not the present world that I was saving, but the one of “Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past.” Let me summarize the story. In the game, you – the hero! – and your party have the power to travel in the past in order to rescue several islands that have been cancelled from your present because of the evil Demon Lord’s schemes. After rescuing them in the past, the islands become available again in the present, so that you can visit them. (And isn’t the historian’s work a hero’s one? Indeed rescuing the past is part of our daily quest!)

In one of your travels to rescue the past of the game, you end up visiting the imaginary village of Vogograd. Here is where the specific example of historical negationism takes place. Long story short, in order to protect the village, the priest had done a pact with the monsters: he would lose his human form, thus looking like a monster from that moment onward, but as long as he lived, the monsters would have not attacked the village. However, unaware of this fact and frightened by the way the priest now looked like, the villagers want to lynch him. After you defeat the bad monsters and save both priest and village with the help of a young boy, the villagers realize what big mistake they were going to commit and decide to erect a monument for you and the priest at the center of the village so that “the terrible truth and their debt would never be forgotten.” All’s well that ends well, right? Not in this case. When you come back to the present and visit the village again, you find out that the monument has been altered. With the exception of one single family, the entire village now proudly believes that they were the ones that in the past saved the priest and the village from both the monsters and a group of bad adventurers (i.e. you and your party). How could that be? After visiting a little bit more the village, you finally find the original inscription of the monument with the help of the village’s children. And even though the adults of the village end up destroying the evidence and continue to deny the truth about the past, the children now know the truth and vow to do their best to spread it. Luckily, not all hope for the future is lost!

You can well imagine my surprise after all this. Indeed, after spending my entire day at the library on history books, the last thing I expected was to experience a firsthand history lesson in the videogame I was playing to relax. Both the historian and the gamer inside me were thrilled! The events of the game shared several similarities, for example, with those described in the 1990 Michael Verhoeven’s film The Nasty Girl and the book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, by Jan T. Gross, which was published for the first time in English in 2001.[2] By touching the crucial and hotly debated issues of collective memory and identity, both these works establish the need of a conscious and continuous thoughtful engagement with the past, even at the cost of having to grapple with uncomfortable historical truths. This is exactly what I experienced in the game!

Even though they are fictional, the Vogograd’s events in the game provide indeed a clear firsthand experience of historical negationism, which – I believe – is more immediate that any book or movie. This made me immediately wish that I could have the students play it before discussing about several aspects of the historians’ job. Indeed, a game-based learning experience with this story would actively prompt several reflections on, for example, what is the proper historical method; why forgery is inadmissible; what are the ethical issues that historians have to deal with; what is the relationship between history and heritage; why historical preservation matters, especially in relation to difficult places and social justice; and why do we need to actively and continuously engage with the past.[3]

The Vogograd experience reminded me once more of how learning can come from anywhere, even when one is not even remotely thinking about it. In the end, games are still one of the most effective ways in which we – sometimes unexpectedly – learn.


[1] With ‘historical negationism’ I intend here a specific kind of illegitimate historical revisionism in which the historical record is improperly distorted to deny specific events that took place in the past.

[2] Recently the case of Jedwabne has come to the international attention once more after Poland passed a highly controversial new “Holocaust Law.”

[3] There is an incredible number of readings that one could use in class in addition to the game-based experience. For example, when discussing about the historian’s job and method, Rampolla’s A Pocket Guide to Writing in History is an excellent primer, but I can also think of Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft. When talking about forgery, Valla’s On the Donation of Constantine comes to the mind first. On the relationship between history, heritage and fabrication, Lowenthal’s article “Fabricating Heritage” would be a great starter for discussion. Also, chapter 6 of Max Page’s Why Preservation Matters would be a good starting point for reflecting on why do we need to preserve and interpret difficult places. Of course, these are just few suggestions, and the list could go on and on almost endlessly. (And for my dear gamers out there, if you are a fan of RPG and haven’t played DQVII, I highly recommend it! Be ready for a 100+ hours gaming experience.)

“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.

A Passion for the Gothic

 the beautiful drawing of the 15th century misericord from the Norwich Cathedral on the cover of the book was done by Robert's daughter Leah.

the beautiful drawing of the 15th century misericord from the Norwich Cathedral on the cover of the book was done by Robert's daughter Leah.

By Robert A. Faleer

For more than twenty years, I have been very actively involved in extensive research on structural and decorative medieval church woodwork in the British Isles, including iconographic aspects of the carved imagery. I recently fulfilled an invitation to make a presentation to Dr. Brittany Fremion’s HST 120 course to discuss several aspects of that research. I have made similar guest presentations for a number of other courses on campus in the Department of History as well as other academic disciplines. What made the presentation for Dr. Fremion’s class unique was her request that I also include why I have ultimately focused my research on ecclesiastical woodwork, and how I initially became interested in medieval church architecture. This offered me an interesting opportunity to explore, and ultimately explain how and why I developed such a passion for this line of research.

I have been intensely interested in the ecclesiastical architecture from a very early age, and particularly in churches built in the Gothic style. As I was growing up on the east side of Detroit, I attended Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church at the edge of the historic Indian Village neighborhood, a place of worship built in 1925 in the English Gothic Revival style. One of the great joys of my childhood in that church was singing as a member of the youth choir in the large balcony at the rear of the sanctuary nave every third Sunday of the month. This wonderful vantage point allowed me to view the entire magnificent vista of the church, including the enormous soaring pipes of the Skinner organ, and the great oak-encased pulpit and choir loft, all surmounted by the great limestone Gothic archway framing the entire front chancel of the church.

As beautiful as the chancel of the church was to behold, what truly fascinated me were the massive timber trusses of the hammer beam roof. Each corbel stop of the beam-ends features a carved crowned figure representing one of the Apostles who holds out in front of him a shield on which is emblazoned the symbols of his faith and martyrdom—the heavenly crossed keys of St. Peter, the saltire cross of St. Andrew, stones and flaying knife showing St. Bartholomew’s manner of death, etc. Of particular interest to me, though, was the wooden apostolic figure that bore a shield with no symbol, only a dark blank square. This was the figure of Judas Iscariot. My young eye frequently wandered to that betrayer of Christ—why was Judas, such a profane Scriptural figure, included among the most holy patriarchs of the Faith? That question and the mystery surrounding it always remained in the back of my mind, waiting for an eventual answer many decades later.*

As a child and adolescent, Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church served as just one of the inspirations for the development of my great interest in medieval churches. Early in my life, I had also developed deep and driving passion for “things British,” which spurred my desire not only to visit the UK, but also to live there for a time if possible. In my junior year as an undergraduate at Central Michigan University, I was afforded just such an opportunity. I successfully applied to perform half of my student teaching as part of CMU’s very first foreign student teaching program, which had been arranged with many K-12 equivalent schools in the southern English cities of Winchester and Southampton. I was assigned to teach English Literature and History in a boy’s grammar school, Peter Symonds College, in Winchester.

During the three months in early 1974 in which I lived and taught in that very medieval city, I went nearly every weekday to Winchester Cathedral after school to enjoy the quiet and unwind from teaching. I eventually became acquainted with many of the cathedral staff members, as well as some of the volunteer guides, all of whom taught me a great deal about the structures and the symbolic aspects of that great church. The single event, though, that acted as the true catalyst for my interest in medieval church woodwork was the day that one of the guides got permission to allow me into the choir stalls, where she showed me the early 13th century carved oak misericord seats that had been used for centuries by clerics and choristers. Misericord seats were cleverly designed to fold up and down like theater seats, the difference being that when the misericord seat is folded up, there is a projecting corbel ledge that allowed the clerics to rest their posteriors while mainly standing through the eight daily devotional services prescribed by the monastic Rule of St. Benedict. In other words, the upturned misericord seat allowed the clerics to stand in reverence, while simultaneously putting them at ease through those long daily services!

My personal “discovery” of misericord seats, and the elaborately carved figures that are invariably found underneath their corbel ledges, is what ultimately drove my interest—my passion—for medieval church woodwork. Upon reflection, it was a long-simmering passion ignited quite by chance by a single choir stall visit. Since then, I have traveled to many medieval cathedrals, priories, abbeys, collegiate, and parish churches in England, Wales, and Scotland, spending much time examining and photographing their structural and decorative woodwork. My proudest accomplishment resulting from my research has been the publication of my reference book, Church Woodwork in the British Isles, 1100-1535: An Annotated Bibliography (2009), published under the Scarecrow Press imprint by Rowman and Littlefield.

 

*During my years of research, which has included extensive explorations of carved symbolism and iconography, I came to realize that the church buildings were constructed as a representation of both the spiritual and the temporal world—God’s entire universe, if you will. To the medieval mind, holy imagery, which has always been predominant in medieval churches, could not exist without the context of the profane imagery also sharing these spaces. The representation of evil, of the pagan, and even of the obscene were regularly incorporated into the physical fabric of each church in order to serve as a spiritual warning and a potent reminder to actively seek the holy, and by doing so, avoid eternal damnation.


Robert Faleer is faculty reference librarian in the CMU Libraries, where he has served as an academic librarian for 39 years. In addition to his book mentioned above, he has written several peer reviewed articles on various topics, and he has presented scholarly papers on this specific subject at the annual meetings of several scholarly conferences, including the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, and the International Medieval Congress.

Writing Arthur Vandenberg

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By Hendrik G. Meijer

In 1979, after five years as a reporter and editor in Plymouth, I rejoined the family retail business in Grand Rapids.  I also began graduate work in history at Western Michigan University, attending in the evening, but did not complete my thesis.

At that time, Meijer had evolved over half a century from a grocery store opened by my grandfather to a regional mass retailer.  My father and I talked about doing a company history.  But my interest lay less in the blow-by-blow development of the business than in the story of my grandfather, who was fifty years old when he opened that little store in Greenville.

The book that resulted was Thrifty Years, a biography of Hendrik Meijer.  I fell in love with biography as a form. The research, including the interviewing I loved from my reporting days, as well as the writing, and, ultimately, the discovery of a life taking shape, was exhilarating.  I wanted to write another.

I had done some research in the Grand Rapids Public Library.  Its archive was presided over by city historian Gordon Olson.  In the course of my research, I became curious about other archival material. Here were microfilm copies of the Grand Rapids Herald, Arthur Vandenberg's newspaper.  I also recalled a book I'd read in the 1970s by Daniel Yergin, Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State. One of the featured characters was the colorful senator from Grand Rapids.  I kept coming across Vandenberg's name.  Yet he seemed largely forgotten, even in his hometown.

A professor in Chicago had already turned his University of Michigan dissertation on Vandenberg into the first book of a projected two-volume life.  It ended in 1945, just as Vandenberg was revving up for his pivotal years.  I assumed a second volume would be forthcoming, and that the world did not need two Vandenberg biographies.

But Olson was putting together the program for the 1989 conference of the Historical Society of Michigan.  Eager—or perhaps desperate—to fill the schedule, he suggested I do something on Vandenberg.  "Just take an episode from his career," he suggested.  So I talked (for an audience of about six) on the 1939 debate over the repeal of the arms embargo provision of the Neutrality Act.  This was the embargo that tied Franklin Roosevelt's hands on the eve of World War II, hindering him from aiding the British.  Vandenberg, legendary for his later conversion to an internationalist perspective, led the isolationists fighting repeal.

In January 1990, the professor in Chicago died.  His adult daughter, selling his house in Wilmette, wondered what to do with the files on Vandenberg that filled his basement.  Boxes of Xerox copies from the Truman Library, the Roosevelt Library, the British Foreign Office, and other sources had no monetary value, but she hated to throw out a lifetime of research.  Local libraries had no interest, so she called the Historical Society of Michigan.  Did they know of anyone with an interest in Arthur Vandenberg?  They only knew me because I had been on their program a few weeks earlier.  They gave her my number, and I came back from Wilmette with a van-load of papers—and a sense of mission.

In an essay in Brave Companions, David McCullough noted, among other topics, the need for a study of Arthur Vandenberg after 1945.  My sense of mission grew.  I felt fortunate to have as a subject someone so pivotal in the creation of an American foreign policy consensus destined to prevail to the present day—when the nature of American leadership once again appears to be in question.  And Vandenberg also became iconic for his efforts to find bipartisan solutions.   

I felt like I had stumbled upon a missing link in American history, as well as a model of the sort of politics we long for today.  And with files in hand, some of the research travel required in those pre-internet days could be shortened or avoided.  I could concentrate on the Vandenberg Papers at the Bentley Library at the University of Michigan, and pursue my favorite part of researching a not-quite-contemporary figure: interviewing people who knew him.

Vandenberg's papers occupy only eight linear feet.  For someone with decades of prominent public service who was himself a prolific journalist, these were slim pickings.  After he died in 1951, his son, who had been his chief of staff, published an elegant account called The Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg.  And apparently disposed of many of his father's papers when he was through.  After the Grand Rapids Herald was acquired by its rival, the Grand Rapids Press, later in the 1950s, its long-time librarian was so upset that she reportedly threw out the morgue.

Ah, but the interviews!  Vandenberg's surviving child, his younger daughter, lived in Connecticut.  As I spent more time with her, she became increasingly candid, even producing telling pages from her step-mother’s scrapbook that the family withheld when the papers were given to the library.  Others who had known the senator were also in their dotage, which brought mixed results.  For President Gerald Ford, Vandenberg was a hero and model.  Clark Clifford wished he’d known Vandenberg's mistress. Margaret Truman said how much her father admired Vandenberg, but told me not to believe Clifford, who was among her father's closest advisors. Gore Vidal offered a different slant. Harold Stassen recalled the United Nations Organizing Conference.  William Fulbright struggled to remember a story as we spoke.  In words that send a shiver down a biographer's spine, he lamented at one point in our interview, "You waited too long to talk to me."  He was 88. 

As research deepened, the manuscript ballooned past 1,000 pages.  This was a "life and times" when I should have known I would be lucky just to get a "life" published.  (Classic later-draft realization: all that hard-won local color would have to be jettisoned to get the hero to Washington.)  My breakthrough came when biographer James Tobin agreed to consult on the manuscript.  He suggested bold cuts that pulled it below 500 pages and gave me something marketable.  (Later, at the Bentley, researcher Rob Havey rescued my footnotes and had the Vandenberg Papers handy when decades-old index cards were misplaced.)  The University of Chicago Press, with experience in reaching general readers, agreed to take a chance on someone who lacked formal academic credentials and published the book in 2017

Finding freedom to research and write is always the challenge.  I am fortunate that my day job offers a degree of flexibility, as well as colleagues who tolerate my big avocation.  When someone asks where I find the time, however, the answer seems too easy: it only took me twenty-five years.


 

Hendrik G. Meijer, author of Arthur Vandenburg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017) and co-chairman and CEO of Meijer, Inc., will give a talk on his book on March 19 at 7:00pm in the Park Library Auditorium at Central Michigan University.

Artificial Intelligence: Is There Any Possible Application to History?

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by Tommaso Costanzo, PhD candidate in Science of Advanced Materials.

Two of the most thought-provoking things of being married with someone studying a different discipline are the discovery of unexpected similarities and the possibility to learn from each other. For example, I am a chemist, and it was only while chatting with my wife, who studies history, that I came to realize that there are interesting similarities in our research methods, and that artificial intelligence (AI) could find useful applications not only in sciences, but also in the humanities.

My work as a material chemist is to search new materials with better properties compared to the ones already known. In theory this task can be easily accomplished by simply mixing numerous substances at different concentrations. However, since the combinations are infinite, this brute force approach is very inefficient (and potentially dangerous, you do not want to blow up by mistake!). In general, scientists rely on the existing knowledge (for example, the periodic table) to predict what will be a good candidate material, which is then synthesized and characterized to see if it is better or worse than the previous one.

This entire research process can also be accomplished by “machines,” a.k.a. computers. In fact, what is most commonly known as AI can do this exact process for us: the computer is trained with an already known set of data (e.g. many materials and their properties), and when the training is completed, the machine can recognize patterns in the given dataset, classify them in smaller groups, and also predict new materials.

Of course, when I understood how AI works and what it can do for my research, I was like a child receiving a new gift. However, even if I was aware of the potential of AI, I did not immediately realize that it can be something useful in other fields like, for example, history. This understanding came only while discussing with my wife about her research and work as an historian. Hearing her problems and reflections on the historical research and method made me notice the similarity between what historians and AI do. Indeed, historians generally search documents, traces, and any other sort of proof about the past. From this set of “data,” which is not necessarily ordered nor complete, they have to classify, order, and try to find pattern(s) in order to interpret and understand what happened in the past. So, it is possible to notice that the AI I use in my chemistry research accomplishes similar tasks to those that an historian has to do on his/her own.

Even though this is a very general discussion, which just aims at stimulating reflections, I suppose that historians will be able to benefit from the application of AI to their research. For example, AI has the potential to help deciphering and translating ancient texts. In fact, at the University of Alberta, a computing science professor used AI to advance the deciphering of the 15th century Voynich manuscript. Another possible application could involve the recognition and categorization of images. Also, AI could, for example, potentially help ancient historians filling in the missing parts of fragmentary documents with the most statistically probable text.

Notwithstanding these intriguing potential applications, there are indeed several hurdles to overcome. For example, for AI to function, it needs digital data. Archives and libraries have been digitalizing more and more documents (which ironically is already a process requiring an AI!), but it is not possible to digitalize everything. Furthermore, even though specific kinds of AI can offer predictions and interpretations, they cannot substitute the interpretation done by a professional historian.

Sciences and humanities have more in common than one would usually think. For this reason, we should discuss more and learn from each other.

What Did I Get Myself Into?

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By Mitchell Hall

One of the more interesting projects in my career has been the publication of a new, two-volume encyclopedia, Opposition to War: An Encyclopedia of U.S. Peace and Antiwar Movements.  Typically, historians work individually on research and writing projects, although some participate in occasional collaborative ventures.  I have been part of essay collections both as a contributor and as an editor, but this particular project presented an entirely new experience for me.

 An acquisitions editor whom I had worked with on a previous project contacted me with the original idea in May 2015, and after about two months of negotiation, I had a contract from the publisher.  Wanting the input and support from other scholars of the American peace movement in developing this project, I persuaded three experts to join me as consulting editors by early July.  I began by compiling a preliminary list of possible entries by reading the indexes of several key surveys and monographs in the field, ranging from the colonial era to the present.  I submitted about 900 items to my colleagues with a list of questions about how best to organize the work.  Their advice was enormously helpful, and we whittled down the list to just over 400 entries for the table of contents by late August.  The publisher accepted the list and word lengths in mid-September.  History Department office worker Gina Weare helped me put together a website for the project that potential contributors could review.

 Now all I had to do was find people to write the 90 percent of entries not claimed by my consulting editors and myself.  I wanted the highest possible quality, so I did extensive research to compile a list of experts who had published on the subjects in the table of contents, and in many cases had multiple names for a single item in case the initial person turned me down.  I sent individual emails to these scholars, asking them to write on specific topics and any additional entries they felt qualified to address.  More than fifty percent of these letters received a “no” response, although the vast majority were complimentary and encouraging.  Thankfully, this effort attracted authors for a majority of the available entries, many of whom volunteered (compensation is minimal for these types of projects) to write multiple essays.  Progress was never fast enough for me, since I was working on a deadline.

 Once I had exhausted my list of names, I ran an announcement in the newsletter of the Peace History Society, an organization I belong to, and some of whose members had participated in previous major reference works on peace and internationalism.  I was confident that this constituency would be reliable, but since I was no longer selecting people based on their specific work, but in essence asking them to select my project, I now asked for a vita to accompany letters of interest.  By insisting that writers be acquainted with primary source research on their proposed topics, I may have cost myself a few good contributors, but if I was going to make a mistake, I wanted to err on the side of caution.  This plea brought an additional influx of enthusiastic and expert scholars.

 With additional entries still unclaimed, my last solicitation was a general call for contributors via H-Net.  This was more of a risk because the audience was so broad, but I carefully read the attached vitas and added several first-rate writers who covered a number of valuable entries.  Even with this, a significant number of important subjects remained unclaimed, so I invited (some might say begged) some of my contributors who had already completed their commitments to write additional essays.  I was most gratified that a few sacrificed time and energy to help reach the target.  The encyclopedia eventually included over 130 contributors.

 During the process, I added a handful of entries at the suggestion of contributors and dropped a few that no longer seemed appropriate or contained too much overlap.  We ended up with 375 entries, but because I could be more flexible with essay length, the project ended well within the expected word range.  The majority of the essays were quite good, edited primarily for consistent style, but a handful required extensive revising.  Most authors were conscientious, but I spent a good amount of time gently reminding people of missed deadlines.  Perhaps a half-dozen or more made commitments then promptly disappeared and stopped communicating.  I was able to adjust to these various problems and produce what I believe is an excellent reference work.

 My responsibilities included writing an introductory essay and preface, compiling a bibliography, building a chronology and guide to related topics, and, of course, editing.  After completing those tasks, with numerous important entries still unclaimed, I jumped into researching and writing as many essays as time permitted.  I originally committed to writing 11 entries, all related to the Vietnam War era, but ended with 33 essays at over 30,000 words.  Learning about various subjects outside my comfort zone was a great education, and perhaps the most exciting part of the entire effort.  This ended up being a 2 ½ year project with numerous challenges and unexpected twists, but I made lots of new professional acquaintances and found the process to be extremely rewarding.  For anyone interested in more information, I would be happy to have a more extensive informal conversation.

Tiger Woods: Racial Identity and Sports

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CMU history professor Lane Demas offered an insightful reflection on the importance of Tiger Woods for the UNC Press blog. His book, Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf, is now available in print or eBook formats. From the publisher: "This groundbreaking history of African Americans and golf explores the role of race, class, and public space in golf course development, the stories of individual black golfers during the age of segregation, the legal battle to integrate public golf courses, and the little-known history of the United Golfers Association (UGA)--a black golf tour that operated from 1925 to 1975. Lane Demas charts how African Americans nationwide organized social campaigns, filed lawsuits, and went to jail in order to desegregate courses; he also provides dramatic stories of golfers who boldly confronted wider segregation more broadly in their local communities. As national civil rights organizations debated golf’s symbolism and whether or not to pursue the game’s integration, black players and caddies took matters into their own hands and helped shape its subculture, while UGA participants forged one of the most durable black sporting organizations in American history as they fought to join the white Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). " Enjoy and excerpt of his blog post below.

Tiger Woods and his career are officially history.

No, this is not another mean-spirited screed; a sportswriter proclaiming the once-greatest golfer can barely hit the ball today, a tabloid promising more lurid details on the star’s “shocking” downfall, or another fan angry that people still care when Woods is now just the such-and-such ranked golfer in the world. (#987, as of this writing)

Can they really not understand why we’re still interested in Tiger? Do they really prefer to read about #986? (No offense to Mr. Jake Roos of South Africa, I’m sure he’s an interesting guy.)

At any rate, I have no idea what the future holds for Tiger Woods on the golf course. I won’t even speculate. What I do know is that the recent attention surrounding his personal and professional “decline” led to a missed opportunity, for this past April marked the twentieth anniversary of his first victory at the world’s most important golf event: The 1997 Masters Tournament at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club. Yes, it’s been twenty years since 44 million U.S. viewers watched 21-year-old Tiger dominate the field, win his first major championship, and tearfully embrace his father Earl on the eighteenth green.

So whether or not his golf career is history, it’s at least time to consider Tiger Woods as history.

And here, at a moment when the star’s light is fading and some are questioning the legacy of his accomplishments, I have perhaps a different perspective. As a historian, I believe that the past decade has seen the historical significance of Tiger Woods grow, not shrink. Even as his popularity and prowess fades, even if he may never reach the expectations many had in the 1990s – heck, even if a better golfer should soon come along (unthinkable at the height of Tigermania) – it’s still likely that Woods will make the history textbooks of 2050, 2100, and beyond.

Why? Because it’s increasingly clear that Tiger Woods was the largest pop culture figure associated with the discussion of racial identity – blackness, whiteness, multiracialism, etc. – at a pivotal moment in American history when those ideas evolved swiftly.

Continue reading at UNC Press Blog.

Teaching 9/11

 New York Times front page Sept. 12, 2001

New York Times front page Sept. 12, 2001

By Jennifer Vannette

"On the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, high school social studies teacher and footbal coach Robert Lake stood outside with students waiting to get picked up from school. One of them — a good kid, member of the football team — asked Lake a question: 'Is the whole world going to change now?' Nearly 15 years later, Lakes say he still remembers his response. 'I kind of thought about it, and said, 'Probably. I think it already did.'" [1]

As much as the world did change following that fateful, clear September morning, more research demonstrates that as educators we have failed to truly teach the lessons. Most of our students now will have little to no memory of the events of 9/11. They will have picked up misinformation along the way, in large part because those of us who have clear memories of the day don't really want to talk about it even though we echo the refrain, "Never forget."

Cheryl Duckworth, professor of conflict resolution at Nova Southeastern University, conducted research about what American students are learning about 9/11 in schools. She has discovered that most schools really don’t teach anything, and if they do, they focus on the shock of the day and the heroic actions of the first responders and other bystanders. As NPR reported, "‘The narrative about 9/11 that students are getting is really ahistorical,’ says Cheryl Duckworth. ‘It has no context. It's very thin.’ Duckworth surveyed more than 150 teachers and interviewed several dozen in-depth for her work 9/11 and Collective Memory in US Classrooms.

Duckworth found that if Sept. 11 is addressed in classrooms, too often teachers don't want to tackle the complex, often ugly aftermath at home and globally: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Patriot Act and civil liberties; radical Islam and Islamophobia.

‘I think it's very disturbing,’ Duckworth says, ‘especially during this presidential election cycle. Islamophobia is just sort of free-floating out there in the air.’ If we don't address Sept. 11 in all its complexity, she says, stereotypes and misinformation will continue.” [2]

Many texts designed for teaching college level courses have included new material discussing 9/11, and there is a growing collection of digital resources available (many are designed for younger ages, but can be adapted to college level work). The 9/11 Memorial website provides very useful timelines that incorporate video and audio clips in addition to images. Other available timelines include the 9/11 recovery and also the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. An additional compliation of resources is available through PBS: The 9/11 Anniversary in the Classroom.

As hard as it can be to make it to 2001 in a survey course, we must contextualize the events and aftermath, particularly as it still directly impacts us today. Our students need to understand exactly why we shouldn't forget rather than echo hollow refrains. While it is important to recognize that the attacks on 9/11 resulted in the single largest loss of life in the course of a foreign attack on American soil, even more important is the task of helping students understand why it happened and how the American response changed the nation and the world. It may be worth visiting the idea of having entire courses that focus on the event.


[1] Jamie Martines, “9/11 Is Now a History Lesson for School Kids,” Hechinger Report (Sept. 11, 2016). http://hechingerreport.org/911-is-now-a-history-lesson-for-most-school-kids/
[2] Eric Westervelt, “Teaching Sept. 11 to Students Who Were Born After the Attacks,” NPR (Sept. 11, 2017).  http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/09/11/549532978/teaching-sept-11-to-students-who-were-born-after-the-attacks-happened?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170911

 

Powers Hall: Then and Now

 Powers Hall, Central Michigan University

Powers Hall, Central Michigan University

By Jennifer Vannette

A new semester is upon us. Welcome back students and faculty. As most of you are aware, our building has undergone a rather long and arduous remodeling project. While this created many headaches for all those who needed to continue to use the building for work throughout the summer, the results have included more accessible restrooms, and I'm sure we will all be grateful in the long run. Offices were changed around a bit as well.

 Original lobby to Powers Hall. Photo: Clarke Historical Library

Original lobby to Powers Hall. Photo: Clarke Historical Library

The remodel got me thinking a bit about the changes in the building over time, and how those who first used Powers Hall might recognize the outside of the building (that really hasn't changed), but they would not recognize the interior at all. Powers was built beginning in 1938 as a combination student union and men's residence hall. The project was funded by a Public Works Administration grant under Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. C. William Palmer of Detroit was the architect. The Clarke Historical Library notes: "The interior of the building was dramatically different than it is now. The lobby opened onto a grand staircase to the second floor. The first floor contained a cafeteria, men's lounge, and a game room. The second floor housed the women's lounge on the west end, a billiards room, and the grand ballroom which is still there. The men of Keeler [as the residence hall was known] were required to wear ties to dinner in the dining hall, which is now a classroom (room 140) in the back of the building. The west wing of the building on both the first and second floors housed the dormitory section."

The building was gutted in the 1960s and soundproofed to be refashioned as the music building. If you look outside in the courtyard, you can see the central planting bed is shaped like a grand piano, an echo of its past life.

Now, Powers Hall houses the History Department, the Leadership Institute, and the Honors Program. As we begin a new year of instruction in historical studies in an updated building, it's nice to ponder the historical nature of the building itself.

Happy Independence Day!

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Had a Declaration..."

Philadelphia July 3d. 1776

Had a Declaration of Independency been made seven Months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious Effects . . . . We might before this Hour, have formed Alliances with foreign States. -- We should have mastered Quebec and been in Possession of Canada .... You will perhaps wonder, how such a Declaration would have influenced our Affairs, in Canada, but if I could write with Freedom I could easily convince you, that it would, and explain to you the manner how. -- Many Gentlemen in high Stations and of great Influence have been duped, by the ministerial Bubble of Commissioners to treat .... And in real, sincere Expectation of this effort Event, which they so fondly wished, they have been slow and languid, in promoting Measures for the Reduction of that Province. Others there are in the Colonies who really wished that our Enterprise in Canada would be defeated, that the Colonies might be brought into Danger and Distress between two Fires, and be thus induced to submit. Others really wished to defeat the Expedition to Canada, lest the Conquest of it, should elevate the Minds of the People too much to hearken to those Terms of Reconciliation which they believed would be offered Us. These jarring Views, Wishes and Designs, occasioned an opposition to many salutary Measures, which were proposed for the Support of that Expedition, and caused Obstructions, Embarrassments and studied Delays, which have finally, lost Us the Province.

All these Causes however in Conjunction would not have disappointed Us, if it had not been for a Misfortune, which could not be foreseen, and perhaps could not have been prevented, I mean the Prevalence of the small Pox among our Troops .... This fatal Pestilence compleated our Destruction. -- It is a Frown of Providence upon Us, which We ought to lay to heart.

But on the other Hand, the Delay of this Declaration to this Time, has many great Advantages attending it. -- The Hopes of Reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by Multitudes of honest and well meaning tho weak and mistaken People, have been gradually and at last totally extinguished. -- Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act. -- This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six Months ago.

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Had a Declaration..." [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/

The Personal is Historical: Opportunity and Loss in the American West

 Women on the Oregon Trail

Women on the Oregon Trail

By Shannon Kirkwood

Many years ago, I read an article about women’s experiences on the Oregon Trail. The authors expected to find that these women experienced a new level of freedom and equality on the trail that they lacked at home because they were performing essential and similar tasks to their male counterparts. That this was their expectation is not surprising, given that the article was written in 1975 – the halcyon days of the ERA, when work and notions of equality were at their peak convergence. Instead, the authors found that moving west was not viewed as an opportunity for equality, but as a process of loss for women. In relocating, they lost their families, their friends, their houses – everything that defined their identities and self-worth. They even lost their personal belongings, since china dishes, musical instruments, and heavy pieces of furniture were the first to be off-loaded along the trail as inessential. Generally speaking, moving west meant opportunity for men, and loss for women.

As it happens, I now live near the trailheads of the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail. The women who traveled westward on these famous trails had to pass through the area where I live on their way. My own relatives (my grandfather’s grandmother) came through this way and landed in Southeast Kansas, three hours from my house. Knowing the history of the area has highlighted for me in a very personal way all of the things that have changed in the last hundred and fifty years, and all the things that haven’t. Like those women before me, I have moved here from Michigan not for myself, but for my husband’s job. While I didn’t have to leave my stand mixer or the couch somewhere along I-70, I did have to leave behind my friends, my colleagues, and my sister. When my son was born three months ago, nurses asked repeatedly if I had a support system – anyone that could help us out – and were quite distressed when I answered, "No, we’re new here." It wasn’t anything like giving birth in a sod house, days-ride from the nearest neighbor, but the isolation was very real all the same.

What has changed since the 19th century are my own expectations from family life. The women who traveled the Oregon Trail did not expect equality, which is why their household objects were so important to them. The tea sets and the pianos represented a domestic domain where they had authority and autonomy, which they lost along with the actual possessions. Today, I expect a certain level of equality – we both do housework and we both have identities outside of the house. But even that is gone now – we are in an arrangement like that of generations past. My husband earns while I stay at home with the baby. This is has been one of the hardest and most surprising losses for me. I have never not worked. Ever. Much of my identity has come from my work.

While I am grateful for the fact that we can afford for me to stay home, I am also envious of my husband. He gets to teach, mingle with co-workers, and even grade papers, while I spend all day with someone who, for all that he’s cute, doesn’t realize that his feet are connected to his body. Not the most intellectually stimulating environment for someone with three degrees and working on a fourth.

Luckily, I have the benefit of historical insight for this time in my life as well. Yes, I am feeling more of the personal losses. But I know that it won’t be that way forever. I take comfort from the fact that I will go back to work at some point, and from the fact that I am not the first woman to feel torn between family and personal ambition. I just keep reminding myself it is possible to overcome these obstacles, and that women have done it in the past – with less support from their husbands and more children. Like the women who passed here before me, I feel the loss of what I left behind, but like them, I continue on this path knowing it holds promises for the future. This is just a weigh station on the road.

 

  

Blackbodies and White Lies

 Max Planck, 1933

Max Planck, 1933

By Matthew Vannette, Associate Professor of Physics,                                                                                                                                                 Saginaw Valley State University

In the late 19th and into the early 20th centuries, physics had a problem.  The way scientists understood the world at that time could not explain why hot objects, like iron in a blacksmith's forge, glow the precise way they do. Such glowing objects are called blackbodies, and the light they emit is blackbody radiation. The spectrum (how bright the light is at each color) of a glowing body shows a bright peak at middle wavelengths, and gets dimmer at very long, infrared wavelengths and the shorter ultraviolet to X-ray wavelengths.  The particular wavelength where the peak is observed depends on the temperature of the object - higher temperature means a shorter wavelength for the peak.  At the time, Rayleigh's* analysis, using the accepted -- and very successful -- model of light as an electromagnetic wave, predicted that the spectrum should get continually brighter as the wavelength gets shorter, with very short wavelengths being infinitely bright, irrespective of the object's temperature.  Since brighter light means more energy, an infinitely bright light at any wavelength implies that every object gives off infinite energy. 

Rayleigh's result was so wrong it is termed the "ultraviolet catastrophe."  Then, in 1900 a young German physicist named Max Planck settled the matter by introducing energy quantization, the first step toward quantum mechanics.  This was an entirely new way of thinking about things, and it straight-forwardly prevents the infinite energy Rayleigh's model predicts.  Physics was saved.  The idea was so radical that even Planck felt it had no physical basis and that someone smarter would come along and correct it.  But, it solved the problem.

This is the story we tell physics students about the development of quantum mechanics and modern physics.  It has a nice feel to it.  Very scientific method-y, if you will.  And it's a lie.  Planck was not solving the ultraviolet catastrophe known to the rest of the physics community.  Planck's first paper on the subject was published in January of 1900 (though not read at a conference until October of that same year), and he was motivated by a small discrepancy in the long wavelength limit.  Rayleigh's was not published until July 1900.  It just so happens that Planck's work provided a good model over the entire spectrum.  Unless Planck had worked out the ultraviolet catastrophe himself, he could not have been trying to correct for it. And if he had worked it out, for some reason, he chose not to publish. Perhaps he refused to present a model that gave such bad predictions. A core tenet of science is that if the model does not match the data, it cannot be correct, except in a very limited sense.

Understanding the motivations of a researcher is very important. It can reveal subconscious biases that may have led to inadvertent mistakes or omissions. If a particular researcher, then, has the weight of authority, those mistakes and biases can become part of our culture. Even for scientists, it is important to know our history so that we can examine our intellectual forebears honestly. Many years ago, a mentor of mine at Boston College, Andrzej Herczynski said that Einstein was an ordinary genius -- well beyond what our normal minds can expect to achieve -- but Planck was a transcendental genius. We can appreciate Planck's contribution more fully when we realize that he solved a problem well before the rest of the physics community knew there was a problem to solve, and scientists can have a greater understanding for how research and theories are developed.

*British physicist, Lord Rayleigh, John William Strutt