Spared from a Delicious Fate

Luxury accommodations for the turkeys at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. The National Turkey Federation paid the bill for the fancy lodgings as they have in the past.

Luxury accommodations for the turkeys at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. The National Turkey Federation paid the bill for the fancy lodgings as they have in the past.

Today is the day of the weirdest of all presidential traditions — the turkey pardon. How did this even become a thing? It turns out the tradition is a very young one that technically only extends back to President George H. W. Bush.

I know. You are thinking, “No! Wait! I’m sure I heard this started with Lincoln… JFK… Nixon… Truman, etc.” There is a lot of myth-making related to turkey pardoning, so the intrepid historian must take this opportunity to set the record straight for this most auspicious* event. The reason Lincoln is often mentioned as the originator of the tradition is that he spared a turkey because his son asked him too, but that was a Christmas turkey. Truman sometimes gets credit because 1947 marked the first year of an official presentation of turkey from the poultry industry to the president. However, it seems Truman didn’t pardon the turkeys but rather they became dinner. Kennedy pardoned a turkey, but apparently he just didn’t think it was quite ready to be eaten. He was reported to have said, “We’ll just let this one grow.”

Richard Nixon was the first to truly spare turkeys by sending them on to a petting zoo. However, it wasn’t done with the pardoning ceremony that we have today. The first time we attached the word pardon to turkeys really had more to do with political deflection. In 1987, with the Iran-Contra scandal roiling around President Reagan, to dodge questions from the press about pardoning anyone involved with the Iran-Contra deal, he jokingly told reporters he would pardon the turkeys if they weren’t already destined for the petting zoo

So, although turkey pardoning was almost a thing for quite awhile, it didn’t become official until 1989 under President Bush. At the ceremony he said, “Let me assure you and this fine tom turkey that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table. Not this guy. He’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now. Allow him to live out his days at a children’s farm not far from here.” Over the years the turkeys have gone to different Virginia farms to live out their days.

And the tradition has only gotten hokier since. Every year a pair of turkeys make their way to the White House from different farms around the country. There are always two in case something happens to one or it refuses to behave for the ceremony. Consider the second turkey an understudy; ready to step into limelight in a moment’s notice. Only one gets the official on-camera pardon, but both turkeys are sent to live out the rest of their lives in turkey retirement. They often have funny or patriotic names, which have included: Liberty and Freedom (2001); Biscuits and Gravy (2004); May and Flower (2007); Pumpkin and Pecan (2008); Mac and Cheese (2014); and Tater and Tot (2016). This year’s turkeys’ names will be announced just before the ceremony.

President George W. Bush injected some election humor into the 2004 pardoning ceremony. “This is an election year,” he said, “and Biscuits had to earn his spot at the White House … Biscuits and his running mate Gravy prevailed over the ticket of Patience and Fortitude. The vice president and I are here to congratulate Biscuits for a race well run. It came down to a few battleground states. It was a tough contest and it turned out some 527 organizations got involved, including Barnyard Animals for Truth.”

President Barack Obama received a mixture of laughter and groans for his puns and turkey humor. He opened the 2016 ceremony by saying, “It is my great privilege — well, it's my privilege — actually, let's just say it's my job to grant them clemency this afternoon.” Another memorable line: “I want to take a moment to recognize the brave turkeys who weren't so lucky. Who didn't get to ride the gravy train to freedom. Who met their fate with courage and sacrifice and proved that they weren't chicken.”

It is certain the 28 year old tradition will continue as President Trump pardons the next poultry pair in just a short while. While we prepare to consume delicious turkeys for Thanksgiving, we can take a moment to enjoy the two who got away. Happy Thanksgiving!

*For the turkey anyway.

Is It the End of the World As We Know It?

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by Jennifer Vannette

Graduate students across the nation are beginning to despair over the proposed GOP House tax bill, and they should. For most students, their education is possible because their funding comes in the form of a tuition waiver which covers their credit hours and a modest stipend for living expenses. In exchange for this, the grad student works as a teaching assistant or research assistant and that labor provides a valuable and affordable service to the university. This opens the door to students of all income levels whereas in the past only students of independent means could afford to pursue a higher education degree.

What does this tax plan actually do? Under the current plan the tuition waiver is not taxable income. This is money that the student never even sees. The university pays itself from one account to another and the student never even plays middleman. The stipend varies from university to university and usually reflects both cost of living for a given region and field of study with STEM fields typically earning higher wages. The stipend is taxable income. Under the proposed GOP bill both the tuition waiver and the stipend would be taxed.

Many publications are sharing what that looks like for Princeton or other universities, but I thought we should look at the numbers for a PhD at CMU. Currently, most students can waive up to 24 credit hours per year, so we will assume our student is taking the full benefit.  If we do a bit of rounding, tuition is about $15,000 per year at $627 per credit hour. CMU has a scale for stipends depending on your field of study, but at the low end of the spectrum the stipend is $12,500 per year. Currently we are taxed as if our income is $12,500. Under the GOP plan the student’s taxable “income” would be $27,500. That’s a big jump. So, what does that look like?
 
Estimate of effect on grad student taxes

Low end of the stipend
   Actual pay                    $12,500
   Current tax                         210    (1.7%)
   24 credits tax                   2,220    (17.7%)    (10.6 times current tax)

High end
   Actual pay                    $19,575
   Current tax                          920    (4.7%)
   24 credits tax                    3,280   (16.7%)     (3.6 times current tax)


I think most would agree that $12,500 is already modest income; livable, but necessitating frugality for sure. A $210 tax burden seems reasonable. But $2,220? Now we have to ask if this is even livable... and this is only the federal income tax, we aren’t even complicating it with state, local, and other taxes. In all likelihood graduate students would no longer find their stipends could cover the cost of living.

This is an extremely regressive tax system. The less a student makes, the more tax burden he or she will shoulder. Other factors can raise or lower a grad student's tax burden such as in-state or out-of-state tuition and public or private tuition rates. As both Forbes and the Washington Post highlight, a student at Princeton would see his or her tax rate increase from 8.8% now to 41.9% under the new plan -- a higher percentage than millionaires and billionaires in our country.

Students who still want to pursue higher education but find the U.S. system unaffordable might go elsewhere, effectively draining the the U.S. of intellectuals. As noted in Chronicle “Today, by allowing grads to deduct the value of their tuition benefits, the tax code recognizes the value of their labor... Mr. Wilke, who moved to Texas from Germany to pursue his research, said the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives could push more American students out of the country to seek their advanced degrees. 'The people who are really good will go to Canada or Germany,' he said. 'Does the United States want the best scientists moving away?'

Wired stresses what our country will lose: "...removing the promise of a living wage would dramatically affect people's ability to pursue a graduate degree. 'I think we'd see a shift in who even starts such a program,' says UT Austin computational biologist Claus Wilke, who also blogs on the subject of professional development in academia. A graduate education would quickly become something you pursue only if you can pay for it. That's a bad message to send to anyone driven to learn and innovate. You want talented people to study and contribute to what they're passionate about—not what they can afford."

Perhaps the most forthright, but disturbing assessment comes from Forbes. They write, "If the goal of the new tax plan is to shift the tax burden from wealthy, older Americans onto young, already-indebted students pursuing their higher education dreams, it's poised to be a smashing success. But from the perspective of someone who's been a graduate student, gotten their Ph.D., and then been a professor for many years, it looks like a ploy. The ploy appears to be to destroy higher education, to shift the tax burden onto the most educated rather than the most financially successful, and to disincentivize graduate school as a viable option for the majority of people who'd choose to pursue it otherwise."

It's time to freak out (and call your representatives).

Attending Conferences: Tips for Grad Students to Maximize Opportunity

By David Papendorf

As many graduate students know, conference activity is both important professional experience and vital for being seen in your scholarly community. But, for graduate students, conferences are big, expensive, and inconvenient trips that can mess with deadlines.  However, I want to encourage students (myself included) to continue to press on and attend conferences.  Based on my experiences – both good and bad – I’d like to offer some observations and suggestions:

First, continue to take initiative.  Look for conferences year-round.  For my field, often some of the smaller conferences will take place during the second semester.  Though attracting fewer presenters, the smaller community gives you an opportunity to speak with more scholars in a more meaningful and substantial way. My suggestion is to spend some time looking around online for conferences.  Start with the journals you read and consider their conferences.  You can also look at faculty pages of scholars you admire for ideas.  Often they have a CV that shares where they present.  Get a little stalker-y and see what people in your field are doing.  If you would like a chance to meet someone, go to a conference that they routinely attend.  Chances are other important people will be there too.  I actually sent an unsolicited email to a scholar I admire concerning conferences and, not surprisingly, received an extremely helpful reply in return.  Simply put, get out there and take initiative.  Conferences are not going to find you, you have to find them.

Second, conferences are more for networking than anything else. You will present a paper that people will really only remember by its title and basic content (if you’re lucky). Most scholars treat conferences as opportunities to receive peer reflection upon their current or future writing projects rather than as an opportunity unveil brand new ideas. Conferences are a great place to vet your research.  If you are at a later stage in your PhD, it can be a great place to propose the premise and basic evidence of your dissertation chapters.  Getting comments and questions from colleagues can be very beneficial. But, remember, you only get about 20 minutes to present your paper, and over the course of the conference you will only manage to take in some simple research profiles. Therefore, the real benefit is meeting people and seeing their research process.  Do not be afraid to go up to someone and chat with them concerning their research.  A great way in is to tell them you enjoyed their paper, and most scholars are happy to engage from there. Most scholars are happy chat with you.  Also, send a follow up email with the people you have conversations with for more than five minutes.  This solidifies the connections and gives you an in next time you’d like to speak with this person.  Networking can be hard especially if you are more introverted, but it is so important.

On that note, when you find a conference that is important for your field or beneficial professionally be sure to go again.  Plan to have a “home conference” that you attend every year.  If you go more than once, your likelihood of being recognized is much higher.  Imagine what consistent attendance will do for your recognizably.  I have friends who have reminded me that this is how they got writing projects.  Just this past weekend, I got an offer for a multiple book review from a prestigious journal just from being around and talking to people at the conference.  If you consistently present on a topic, you get known as a person who does research in that area.  You never know when someone will contact you or speak with you about a project you’re doing and see if you can write an article/chapter/entry or something else.  It is important to think this way – parlay your conference experience into future writing projects.  On another level, consistent attendance gives you the opportunity to organize panels for future conferences and be even more connected with scholars and researchers in your field.  Who knows, you may hear of open positions for which you can apply.

Hopefully these words of advice from my experience are helpful.  I’m still learning on how to do conferences well myself.  To get to more conferences in a cost-effective way, try to piggyback trips together with research ventures.  Or, find a colleague that can go with you so you can share gas/lodging/meals, etc.  Your experience with conferences can be rewarding if you have have high expectations and prepare in advance.  If you are proactive in talking to scholars and selecting your work for presentation, you can make experience beneficially personally and professionally.

On Doors, Opportunity, Risk, and Initiative

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by Jonathan Truitt

When I start my classes each semester I tell my students that they need to “own” their education. I go on to explain, that this has nothing to do with their purchase of courses, but rather their own active engagement in the material. Without their engagement, they are simply passive receptors who will fail to retain much of what is told to them. I explain that to really own your education is to seize on opportunities that appear in their classes, both unspoken and spoken. It will require them to take risks, to step through unknown doors, and take the initiative when others won’t. To be fair I let them know that I will follow my own recommendations. I will take risks and try new pedagogical techniques. Many of them will work, but others will fall short. Regardless of their success we will examine them to improve them for the next go round, or to dump them. This post then, is the story of one of my pedagogical journeys. It started as an idea that I tried on an unsuspecting class, it failed horribly and was set aside. Emily Lint, a student at the time and now a high school teacher, looked at the idea, picked it up brushed it off and improved it. Emily’s initiative made my idea better and it is why I spent Dallas, TX earlier this semester instead of Michigan.

Four-ish years ago (I don’t actually remember) I kicked off a new course for the history department on designing games for the classroom. The title of the course is “Mind Games.” The idea behind the class is to introduce students to game mechanics that can work in their future classrooms. As a hobby board gamer I get a lot of ideas from around my kitchen table when playing games with friends and family. Before this class started I decided that I wanted to introduce the students to a cooperative game mechanic. This was an element of some of my favorite board games, such as “Pandemic.” I wanted the students to have to work together as a team rather than competitively. I started thinking about the mechanic in the spring with my fall semester course in mind. This idea formed the basis for a game later dubbed “Disease Strain” and now titled “Plague, Poxes, and Pustules: A Game about Communities, Epidemics, and Survival.” When first conceived the idea was that the students would spend about five minutes at the beginning of each class trying to figure out the solution to the game. The game failed. One turn each class period provided too much time between turns and the class quickly lost interest and the pedagogical aim failed alongside it. We spoke about it as a class and set it aside. Emily was in that class, and I do not know when the fix to the game came to her, but it was Emily who fixed the game.

After the game’s failure I kicked it around trying to figure out the problem, but soon set it aside due to other time commitments. A semester later Emily asked if she could use the game in a high school class she was visiting. I thought it strange that she would want to use a game that was so broken. However, she had figured out the fix. The game needed to run in 20 minutes with two minute crises intervals to help propel the game. That fix revived the game and took it to new heights. A year later we were both attending the “Reacting to the Past” Game Development Conference in Athens, GA where she was presenting on her Honors research. We pitched the Disease game as well to see if there would be interest in seeing how a short game could function in a classroom setting. Both presentations were a big success. The disease game went on to be used in a variety of interdisciplinary settings in high schools and universities across the U.S. Fast forward a year and a half and a colleague who had been using the game presented on research surrounding the game’s success in her own classroom setting at another conference, Gen Con Trade Day. At the conference was an Agile Trainer for Walmart, he played the game and adopted it for training employees in Bentonville, AR. Jump forward another six months and the game was used as part of the pitch to start a new game-based learning series with the University of New Mexico Press (initial releases due out in Spring of 2019). This brings us to the present where in the past six months I have presented the game at Brigham Young University and the University of Texas at Dallas. This game has taken a trajectory I never would have predicted. I give full credit to Emily for making it possible, she is (and has been since her critical idea) an author on the game. I applaud her for stepping through the door and taking the risk to tell a professor he was wrong. I thank her for providing us both with opportunities to further support good pedagogy. I don’t know if her students know what they are in for when they walk into her classroom, but I am hoping that one of them opens the kinds of doors for her that she opened for me.

Advocacy: What Historians Do

Last week, CMU professor Dr. Jonathan Truitt published "A Cry for Help" advocating that universities offer their resources to help displaced Puerto Rican students continue their education. Two weeks ago Dr. Andrew Wehrman issued different call to action by tying the history of statistical analysis to address public health crises with today's gun violence. With that inspiration, this week [Re]collection offers a glimpse of other advocacy efforts by historians and published by AHA.


September 5, 2017 - In preparation for the Supreme Court's hearing of Gill v. Whitford, a group of 15 historians, including 11 AHA members, filed a brief of amici curiae that laid out the history of equal representation in early American voting systems and why the Court should strike down Wisconsin's district maps. The historians are joined by numerous other organizations, many of whom agree that Wisconsin's 2010 redistricting plan contains a statistically significant bias towards the party that drew it. A decision on the case is expected by June 2018. 

August 2017 - The tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, have re-ignited debate about the place of Confederate monuments in public spaces, as well as related conversations about the role of Confederate, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist imagery in American political culture.The AHA has released the following statement about the role of history and historians in these public conversations. Rather than seeking to provide definitive answers to the questions posed by individual monuments, the AHA emphasizes the imperative of understanding historical context in any consideration of removing or recontextualizing monuments, or renaming public spaces.

April 6, 2017 - The AHA Council signed on to a letter from the Coalition for International Education urging members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to reject the Trump administration's proposal threatening to reduce or eliminate funding for the US Department of Education's International Education and Foreign Language Studies Programs. After this mobilization, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill on May 4, 2017, which kept these programs funded at previous levels through September 30.

April 5, 2017 - AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman sent a letter to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson urging him to reject HB 1834, which would prohibit any Arkansas public school from using materials authored by Howard Zinn in their courses. Grossman denounced the measure as an "egregious micromanagement of the work of Arkansas teachers." The measure was dropped shortly afterward.

March 16 and May 23, 2017- Following the Trump administration's proposals to eliminate funding for programs imperative to the work of historians, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, Title VI, and Fulbright-Hays, the AHA issued action alerts on March 16 and May 23 calling on members to express their concerns by contacting their congressional representatives. Our early efforts were rewarded when the FY17 omnibus appropriations bill, passed on May 4, 2107, included a modest increase in the NEH budget through September 30. As the appropriations process begins for FY 18, however, and the threat against humanities programs renews, the AHA will mobilize our partners and members again to resist any cuts.


This is a small representation of different advocacy efforts by historians, particularly through AHA. Historians can be important advocates for academic freedom, access to education and resources (therefore budgetary concerns), and public policy based on consideration of past efforts and prejudices. AHA has provided a statement called Guiding Principles for Taking a Public Stance.

A Cry for Help

"Central Michigan University, an inclusive community of scholars, is a national leader in higher education inspiring excellence and innovation." -Adopted by the Board of Trustees, Dec 6, 2012

"Central Michigan University, an inclusive community of scholars, is a national leader in higher education inspiring excellence and innovation." -Adopted by the Board of Trustees, Dec 6, 2012

By Jonathan Truitt

UPDATE: [Re]collection is pleased to announce that Central Michigan University is offering full tuition and room and board to Puerto Rican students in the spring.

We started this blog as an effort to humanize what it is we, as historians do. We wanted to showcase our research, teaching, committee work, travels, and home life. Put simply we wanted those who interact with us in our professional lives to have a better understanding of what it’s really like to be a professional historian and educator. I was hired at Central Michigan nine years ago to help expand our research into Latin America and connections to Latin America. This past month has been torturous. Earthquakes and hurricanes have ravaged the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and the U.S. South and Southwest. All of these are areas that I study. Aside from having friends, colleagues, and loved ones in these regions I also have a more immediate understanding of what they are going through as I was a graduate student at Tulane University in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. I was fortunate in that my family and I were able to evacuate to my parent’s place in Birmingham, Alabama. Their small house soon became a temporary refuge for many of my friends who were also fleeing the ravages of the hurricane.

Then, as now with Puerto Rico, our government failed to act as soon as it should have. Where our government failed, our companies and universities stepped in. As soon as people were aware that New Orleans was not going to be able to function on the level required to sustain its population, companies started moving their employees. My wife and I were relocated to Denver by my wife’s employer, Banfield the Pet Hospital — where she had been employed for all of a week before the hurricane hit. They paid for her new state license, our moving expenses, and turned a part-time job into a full-time position. They did not make money on this endeavor; they did it because they could, and they wanted to help. In my case the University of Colorado, Denver stepped up and provided me with office space, access to their library, and the opportunity to give lectures. The University of California also called and offered to have me join them there for the semester. Other friends and colleagues shifted to the University of Arizona, the University of Texas, and many other locations. Ordinary people stepped up and helped while the government tried to sort things out. The outpouring of help was amazing and I have never forgotten it.

This past month I have been trying desperately to repay the kindness that was shown to me. So far, I have found many people who want to help, but despite a meeting with the president of my university I have not been able to accomplish my goal. However, hope is still out there. This past week Tulane University issued an offer to Puerto Rican students in need . Simply stated they are paying forward the assistance provided them during Katrina. I could not be prouder of my alma mater. I am hoping we can build on this momentum. I reached out to Jeff Schiffman, the director of admission and one of the organizers of the effort (for more on the organization of the effort see this article: "Tulane Extends a Helping Hand..." ). In his reply, he stated that the number of applications they have received from Puerto Rican students is higher than one university can handle. But this is where we can help, currently many colleges and universities in Michigan and elsewhere across the U.S. have lower-than-normal enrollments. Most have at least some dorm rooms — and some have many —that stand empty. With seats open in our classrooms and beds open in our dormitories I am asking institutions to open their doors to U.S. citizens enrolled in institutions that cannot reopen immediately in the affected areas. This act will cost us little but will help the affected individuals and their home communities greatly.

How will it help communities in Puerto Rico and other affected areas? At the moment the cost of food, gasoline, and other supplies are astronomically high. Helping people leave the area will allow them to progress with their studies and decrease the demand on essential supplies. When things have stabilized the students can bring their skills home to help with the ongoing cleanup and return to their home institutions. The cleanup process is long and arduous. It will still be there when these students return, but if we extend the help I envision here they will have continued to progress in their degrees and will be able to deploy those skills as well.

Here is where you, dear reader, come in. We are following the precedent of those who have responded before us in other crises. Reach out to your nearby companies and universities, show them our letter if it will help. Challenge them to open their dorms and classrooms. If they are not a university have them look at what they do and see what they might be able to provide. If we are able to get movement from more schools we can create a ground swell and start taking next steps. Tulane has taken the first steps, I believe CMU and others can follow suit. Before I end I want to acknowledge that this targets people who are in a privileged position. I desperately want to help everyone, citizen and non-citizen alike. My hope is that we will all continue to think of ways to do just that. As I said above, this is one of the first steps, but there will be many.

To bring this back to where I started this post, I am a social and cultural historian. Among other things, this means I think constantly about the people and places I study. I have studied great disasters and amazing acts of human kindness. I am hoping that all of us can demonstrate our own humanity at this time.

Todos Somos Humanos. We are all human.

Statistical Analysis and Public Health

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By Andrew Wehrman

Last week in my class "Red, White, and Blood: The Curious History of American Medicine and Public Health," I lectured about the importance of statistics to improving health. Beginning in the late 1830s reformers in New England started forming Statistical Societies promoting the idea that state and local governments should keep vital statistics. Previously when doctors tried to convince politicians that there was an epidemic or medical crisis, they had to rely on qualitative evidence--word of mouth. Statistics then were needed to compile documentation from different towns, doctors, hospitals, morgues, etc. in order to keep track of illnesses and deaths. Those statistics could then be used to call for political action.

In 1839, Lemuel Shattuk was among the founders of the American Statistical Association (ASA). The goal of the ASA was to use statistical data to enhance human welfare. After an 1849 cholera epidemic in Boston, Lemuel Shattuck wrote a report using these statistics and presented it to the legislature in Massachusetts in 1850. Shattuck's report implored the government to take action. He argued using statistics that governments should build new water and sewer systems and organize city-wide street cleaning and garbage collection. He called for the creation of public health departments with extensive authority during times of epidemic. We hardly think of street cleaning and garbage collection as public health measures, but they absolutely are. Boston, once it implemented Shattuck's recommendations, never experienced another epidemic of cholera.

The organization that Shattuck helped start, the American Statistical Association is the oldest continuously operating professional science society in the United States. It has a membership of about 18,000 people promoting sound statistical practice to inform public policy. The ASA stated in 2016 that "Still after all these deaths and the unconscionable mass shootings in recent decades, little is still known about gun violence primarily due to a lack of federal funding and research on the topic." In 1996 Congress passed the Dickey Amendment which read, "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control." Congress then took the $2.6 million that had been spent to study gun violence and reallocated it to the study of traumatic brain injuries. After the Dickey Amendment, and despite the spike in the number of mass shootings in the US, the CDC has provided almost no funds for firearms research, and according to health policy analyst Ted Alcorn, "From 1997 to 2012, the share of scientific publications between firearms and crime or violence fell by some 60%."

The point is that without statistics, we can't properly identify health problems. What we don't know can kill us. It is killing us. And if we deny statistics or we deny the ability to collect statistics, then we cannot solve big problems like the epidemic of gun violence. Last year the American Medical Association declared gun violence a "public health crisis." Let’s take a cue from Shattuck’s example and solve it like one.

 

Historical Archaeology Informs History: The Brig James McBride

Illustration of a brig from a federal government publication.

Illustration of a brig from a federal government publication.

By Jay C. Martin

Historical archaeology and the material culture remnants of the past often inform historical inquiry.  One need only to think of how the excavations at Pompeii have enriched our knowledge of the past to understand the importance of archaeology as a tool for historians, particularly in fields of study where historical documentation is rare.

The potential for historical archaeology in the maritime realm is vast.  In Michigan the cold freshwater of the Great Lakes and their tributaries preserve cultural material.  The best examples of this are the wrecks of the Hamilton and the Scourge, War of 1812 vessels lost in a sudden squall on Lake Ontario.  When located in 1975 they were in near pristine condition, intact with guns and deck equipment still at the ready.

A less dramatic, but equally important story is that of the Great Lakes brig James McBride.  Built in 1848, it was reputedly the first American-flag merchant ship to initiate direct trade between U.S. Great Lakes ports and the Atlantic World via the St. Lawrence River.  “Direct trade” in this context can be defined as a commercial vessel carrying its cargo direct from the port of loading to the port of discharge without having to use the time consuming and expensive “forwarding” process wherein cargo was unloaded and transferred around one or more topographic obstacles.  Such cargo was most often transferred to an ocean-going vessel during the final leg of the journey.

Although the merchant vessels of British Canada were first to initiate direct trade by running the St. Lawrence River rapids and using the pre-Seaway locks, McBride’s trip to saltwater illustrated the intent of Chicago commercial interests to become leaders in global, not just the regional, shipping industry.  This intent was signaled in 1847 when the young city—incorporated in 1833--hosted the first national rivers and harbors convention.  The convention focused on internal improvements and drew 2,500 participants from nineteen of the twenty-nine states. 

The pre-St. Lawrence Seaway adventure of the McBride in 1848 was an important stride toward making the Great Lakes a more influential and competitive part of world maritime commerce.  This innovative venture was typical of the can-do spirit that characterized contemporary lakefarers.  The success of the venture encouraged others to do what had only previously been considered theoretically possible.  An example occurred the following year when the Eureka sailed from Cleveland direct with “49ers” headed for the California Gold Rush, taking Great Lakes trade direct to the Pacific.  Direct trade expanded rapidly after reciprocity agreements allowed American vessels to pass through the St. Lawrence River without special diplomatic permission or crippling duties.  The trade flourished until Confederate commerce raiders and the resulting rise in insurance rates made it prohibitive for shipowners to trade outside the Great Lakes.  During this period the entry of vessels flying European flags dramatically increased.

Direct trade by American-flag vessels recovered after the war.  Existing locks and dams were expanded in incremental stages until the mammoth St. Lawrence Seaway project of the 1950s finally made it easy for large modern ships to transit between the Great Lakes and saltwater.  Despite its importance to the development of the United States and Canada, little has been done to interpret the pre-Seaway traffic and the shift from forwarded cargo to direct trade via the St. Lawrence River. 

Staff, students, and volunteers working on the McBride this summer. Photo credit: Jay Martin. Used with permission.

Staff, students, and volunteers working on the McBride this summer. Photo credit: Jay Martin. Used with permission.

In August 2017 I led a small group of CMU students, faculty, staff, and volunteers to survey the remains of the brig James McBride at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, the location of its grounding and loss in 1857.  The intent was to determine the relative archaeological integrity of the wreck and its potential for full archaeological survey and excavation.

The team found that relatively little of the lower hull remains submerged off shore.  A thirty-eight foot section was swept ashore a few years ago by ice, but has substantially degraded over time.  Still the wreck has potential to add to the collective knowledge of Great Lakes to saltwater direct trade by a comparison with the remains of contemporary vessels to determine what modifications were made to Great Lakes vessels to prepare them to navigate saltwater. 

Analysis of the results of the 2017 field season is ongoing, but it is clear that the remains of the McBride and other Great Lakes vessels have much to contribute to our collective knowledge of world history.  They also help us reinterpret that history, shifting from the prevailing saltwater-centric view that what happened on the world’s oceans determined what happened on inland waters.  The author’s scholarship has demonstrated instead that Great Lakes innovations in technology, business management, and maritime labor had lasting and transformative impacts on maritime commerce worldwide. 

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.

Summer Intensive and Accelerated Masters

Downtown Mt. Pleasant

Downtown Mt. Pleasant

Tuition goes up year after year, but several jobs still require graduate level education. The history department has a solution that will save students time and money -- the Summer Intensive MA. The Summer Intensive is just what it sounds like (truth in advertising!); it offers a way for students to complete the requirements for a Master of Arts degree by taking courses in the summer. If you have not taken any classes at the Masters level, you can complete the thirty-hour degree in three summers, two if you are willing do some additional coursework during the academic year.

For undergraduates who are planning ahead, the news gets even better. If you know you want to earn a Master’s degree, you can enroll in the Accelerated Master’s Degree program and earn up to twelve hours of graduate credit while still an undergraduate.  You pay for the credits once but you count them twice, once for your Bachelor’s and then again for your Master’s.  If you combine the Accelerated MA with the Summer Intensive, you can finish your degree in two summers.

What does this look like? Well, say you are an education major. Once you have finished your BA and lined up a job, you stay in Mt. Pleasant for six weeks in the summer to begin your masters. Then it is off to your first year on the job.  The following summer you return for another six weeks of coursework and you are done!  The Accelerated MA/Summer Intensive combination gives you the best of both worlds.  You go on the job market without a grad degree but then have an MA in hand in as little as one year after graduation!

Summers are intense but they are fun, too.  Dive into cutting-edge scholarship one day and head to to the Lakeshore or a national park to do field work in public history the next.  Analyze primary source material or debate a history classic in the morning and then hone your teaching skills with a course on game-based learning pedagogy in the afternoon.  

The Summer Intensive plan allows you to save time -- you would either avoid taking two full years away from a job to be in school or be able to progress faster than slowly taking a course here or there as your job allows -- and it saves you about $7000 overall. If you have questions about the program, direct them to Dr. Kathleen Donohue, Director of Graduate Studies.

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.

Eclipses Have History Too

Headline in New York Times, Dec. 3, 1919.

Headline in New York Times, Dec. 3, 1919.

By Jennifer Vannette

Yesterday, like so many others, my family and I gazed at the sky to watch the Great American Eclipse of 2017. Waiting and looking, we began to share stories of past eclipses witnessed. My husband also shared a story of of how a combination of eclipse timing and geopolitics "saved" our understanding of science.

When one thinks of World War I and advancement in science, the tendency is to slip into a discussion of technological advances that brought about modern warfare, but before war broke out, scientists had their eyes turned to the stars.  On August 21, 1914, Europe experienced a total solar eclipse. Much like today, scientists traveled to the path of totality, which passed through Sweden, Germany and Ukraine. A team of British scientists led by Erwin Finlay-Freundlich traveled to Crimea to make measurements, but did not have the chance because WWI broke out and the team spent the war interned in Russia.

These scientists did not just want to observe an eclipse. They expected to disprove Albert Einstein's new theory of special relativity, which rubbed up against Newtonian theories. Einstein said that that space and time were not static; we observe things differently than each other, and the speed of light is the only constant. The question at the heart of this theory was whether light would bend due to the gravity of a massive object. As Universe Today explains, "...astronomers soon realized that the best time to catch this in action would be to measure the position of a star near the limb of the Sun — the most massive light bending object in our solar system — during a total solar eclipse." It's not that the light would only bend during an eclipse, but rather it was the only time the sun was blocked out enough to allow for detection. But, war did not wait for celestial observations and two eclipses during WWI in Europe, in 1914 and 1916 passed without data collection.

Now, had the observations been made in 1914, there would have been problems with the results aligning with Einstein's theory, and special relativity might have been challenged more greatly. However, in 1915, Einstein published a series of papers on general relativity, which corrected for some issues in special relativity. Space explains: "One of the key tenets of general relativity is that space is not static.  The motions of objects can change the structure of space. By contrast, in Newton's view of the universe, space is "inert."In Einstein's view, space is combined with another dimension — time — which creates a universe wide "fabric" called space-time. Objects travel through this fabric, which can be warped, bent and twisted by the masses and motions of objects within space-time." So, this time scientists wanted to try to observe the curve of light.

The next chance to take measurements in an attempt to prove or disprove general relativity came in 1919. At this point, resources could be dedicated to scientific activities and the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society sent expeditions to Brazil and to the island of Principe, off the west coast of Africa to look for evidence of the light curving. The eclipse happened to be the longest of the the 20th Century at six minutes of totality. The Royal Societies analyzed the data and found Einstein's theories correct. The news was published in the New York Times on Dec. 3, 1919, and for the first time non-scientists learned of the new scientific theory.

As a historian, the story intrigued me, and a quick search to sort out some of the fuzzy details helped me realize that the history of science, left in the hands of scientists, can sometimes cause some confusion. The details are fuzzy because the stories are simply passed down as a fun aside. So this one comes with conflicting accounts. Some scientists related the anecdotes as WWI saving the theory of general relativity because due to errors, it might have been disproven in 1914. Because Einstein had time to revise and further consider relativity and publish more in 1915, this meant that the 1919 observation proved successful. Others argue that due to WWI, Einstein remained cut off from the scientific community and if it were not for Dutch and British scientists continuing to communicate with him, no one would have heard of his theories. Scientists naturally get caught up in the science, making it difficult to pin the story down. A brief search only yielded one book on the topic, and it is heavy on equations. However, critical understanding of how science is not developed in a vacuum (sorry, couldn't resist) but is truly affected by current events can make scientific understanding more accessible to the general public, and even help us contextualize current debates.

*Apologies to all scientists who would prefer better explanations of relativity.

Creating Her Own Path

Ashley Blackburn processing skulls at University of Groningen. Photo credit: CMU News

Ashley Blackburn processing skulls at University of Groningen. Photo credit: CMU News

Ashley Blackburn, a Central Michigan University senior majoring in public history with minors in anthropology and museum studies, not only studied abroad this summer, but also created the internship program path she took.

Central Michigan's public history and museum studies programs equip students with the skills they need for success and Ashley is a prime example of collaboration between advisors and students to enrich the experience. 

CMU News featured Ashley's internship:

'The skulls. They speak to me.'

Student creates internship and processes artifacts in The Netherlands

August 7, 2017

Ashley Blackburn spent the summer working with hominin skulls and early human tools.

It's exactly what the Central Michigan University senior wanted from the international internship that she created.

"The skulls. They speak to me," Blackburn told her internship supervisor when he asked her to choose between organizing the museum's medical collection or skull collection.

The internship was at the museum for the University of Groningen — Rijksuniversiteit Groningen — in The Netherlands. Her internship ended in late July after her spring semester of classes in history and anthropology.

The internship work was in line with Blackburn's interests. ...

Continue reading at CMU News.

Local Schools: Then and Now

Students’ names and initials carved into the wall of a schoolhouse in Grantham, Lincolnshire.  The building dates to the late fifteenth century. Photo by Carrie Euler.

Students’ names and initials carved into the wall of a schoolhouse in Grantham, Lincolnshire.  The building dates to the late fifteenth century. Photo by Carrie Euler.

By Carrie Euler

I have spent much of the summer writing a draft of what I hope will be the first peer-reviewed journal article to come out of my new project on local schools in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England.  It has led me to ponder some interesting similarities and differences between education then and now.

Some things have not changed.  Then as now, most people placed a high value in education and saw it as a path to upward mobility.  Most of these schools were founded on charitable endowments made by middle and upper-class men who wanted to give less fortunate children (mostly boys—more on that in a minute) in their hometowns the chance to obtain an education for free.  They would set aside money or land to support the salary of a schoolmaster and stipulate that the master was not to charge the students any fees.  This is why many schools in this period were referred to as “free schools.”  Then as now, most parents sent their children to these local schools, rather than to distant boarding schools, and most clearly paid attention to and cared about what their children learned.  In one case, parents complained about a certain schoolmaster and said their children were “losing their time” with him (i.e. wasting their time).  This reveals another similarity to the present day: an uneasy relationship between teachers and scholars, on the one hand, and the non-academics whose children they were teaching on the other.  In some cases, it is clear that the non-academics respected teachers and university scholars.  The founders of several schools stipulated that if the school trustees needed advice or somehow failed to appoint a schoolmaster when the position became vacant, the advice or appointment would be made by the fellows (professors) of a specific college at Oxford or Cambridge.  Nevertheless, documents relating to charitable donations to Oxford and Cambridge colleges themselves often reveal a belief among the donors (wealthy businessmen) that the fellows were lazy, ivory-tower types not to be trusted with money.  Also, like today, teachers were not paid very much compared to other professionals and often had to find second and third jobs to make ends meet.  Finally, another similarity that surprised me a little was the difficulties teachers had disciplining students.  The popular stereotype of pre-modern schools being institutions with fierce discipline because schoolmasters were allowed to inflict corporeal punishment seems to be overblown.  Yes, there was corporeal punishment at times, but it is clear that, just as teachers do today, masters often struggled to control students.  The most amusing example is that in several schools across the two English counties that I studied, it was apparently a tradition for the students to break all the schoolhouse windows on the last day before Christmas.

Of course, there are things about education that have changed a great deal since the seventeenth century, mostly for the better.  The most obvious is the increase in female students in the modern period.  Between approximately 1500 and 1650, girls would only have been present in the primary schools, up to about age eight.  After that, boys could move onto the secondary schools, known as “grammar schools” (because they taught mostly Latin grammar), where girls were not allowed.  Starting around 1650, though, there are a few secondary schools for girls only, and by the eighteenth century, a few that admit both.  Women were not allowed in universities, however, until the nineteenth century.  Another obvious difference is that there was no such thing as public education.  None of these schools was funded by the state, and there was no belief in education as a right.  Consequently, while the number of schools gradually increased over the entire period I am studying, a much smaller proportion of the population received an education and became literate than today.  Finally, while the low pay and little respect teachers received was arguably similar to today, schoolmasters four hundred years ago actually had it worse in many ways because their jobs were, for the most part, subject to the whims of the parents and boards of trustees set up by the charitable endowments.  There were no unions and no onsite administrators, like principles or counselors, to help the teachers in the case of crisis or corruption.  I did encounter one legal case in which a schoolmaster successfully sued the trustees for breach of contract, but this was pretty rare.

If there’s one thing that most historians can agree on, it’s that progress over time is not a given, but in the area of education, it appears that the modernity brought mostly positive changes.  I have learned a lot through this research and hope to continue to do so as I expand the project in the future.

Podcasts: Listen, Create, Engage

By Jennifer Vannette

Podcasts are getting quite a bit of attention lately, but they really aren't new. In 2008, the American Historical Association (AHA)'s blog featured podcasts as an alternative teaching method. The article suggested that podcasts provided a great way to listen to lectures outside of a classroom setting. This is indeed one type of history podcast.

Over the last decade, many more podcasters have offered a whole host of new material. Some are still based on presenting a stand alone lecture while others deeply explore long arcs of historical events, such as The Fall of Rome. Still others explore the quirky side of history by highlighting stories you may not have heard in history classes such as the dark history of Hollywood on You Must Remember This or the travails of the high seas on The History of Pirates. There are so many interesting facets of history that podcasters tackle to the delight of public audiences. Seriously, just google history podcasts and you be offered many different lists of the "best."

Then there are also podcasts that appeal to those of us in the profession. The Organization of American Historians (OAH) has its own podcast to compliment their journal. Each month last year Ed Linenthal, the executive editor of the Journal of American History interviewed a guest about the article he or she had recently contributed to the journal. Another approach by some of our own grad students at CMU (two current and one alum) discusses all the things we talk about with other grad students -- navigating school, teaching, professional networking, and more. I Was Told There'd Be Food is a great introduction to grad school life or a place to go for ideas and commiseration.

History departments are also finding ways to involve faculty and students in creating podcasts. A highly regarded offering that has been active for awhile, 15 Minute History, comes from the University of Texas at Austin faculty and grad students. It is what it sounds like -- brief episodes that cover a wide range of history. The faculty of University of Oxford also have a similar podcasts, and they have some general history and a few more specific podcasts such as Stories, Spaces, and Societies -- Globalising and Localising the Great War. These can be an excellent method of public engagement for faculty and grad students alike. The very specific topics are a great place to engage with the research of your specialization.

There is also the possibility of incorporating podcasts in the classroom. Not only can students gain deeper understanding of material if we assign specific podcast episodes in addition to (or instead of) a reading assignment but we can also consider having students produce a podcast episode as an alternative to a paper or other project. Free recording software is available to download from the internet and then all it takes is a pair of earbuds with built in microphone (standard with most phones now) and our students have what they need.

Podcasts can be listened to while driving, while exercising, or doing chores. When you search for podcasts, you will find wide enough variety to suit all tastes. While we listen, we can brainstorm methods for incorporating as an alternative teaching method. So, go explore the wide world of history podcasts.

In Real Time: Twitter as Public History

By Jennifer Vannette

In the summer of 1967, violence and chaos consumed Detroit. Fifty years after the summer rebellion (race riot?) engulfed the city and captured the nation's attention, there are several resources available for us to revisit or learn for the first time about the event. One of the most intriguing resources that blends public history, social media, and primary sources comes from the @StatesideRadio Today in 1967 Twitter account. 

Today in 1967 recounted the Detroit rebellion in real time by tweeting information and primary sources at the time they occurred. For example:

The tweets begin fifty years to the minute when the police officer entered the blind pig and continue through the fires, looting, snipers, political decisions, and arrests. Tweets layer the police accounts with people's memories. Several tweets note the reactions and lack of concern over smoke rising just past left field by those at the Detroit Tigers baseball game. One tweet provides a link to a Detroit Free Press article attempting to explain why the rioting spread so quickly across the city. Other tweets note where Gov. George Romney was and what he was doing at different points during the crisis. One embeds his radio address. The organized collection of primary sources is outstanding. Not only is it a great method of presenting public history -- partly because you feel just how long the event took -- but it will also make a great teaching resource since it is automatically archived. You find the whole series of tweets either on Today in 1967's profile of with the #rebellion67.

This may become something of a trend. Representative John Lewis also used this format earlier this year to detail his experience at Selma. His series is tagged with #Selma52. Twitter is offering historians a new world of engagement.

Colonists had Political Satire Too

History News Network posted and op-ed by our own professor Andrew Wehrman. In the piece Wehrman compares the SNL parody of the current administration to the satirical political commentary leading up to the American Revolution. His piece places the current trend into historical context.

An excerpt from "To the American Colonists, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer & the Rest of the Trump Crowd Would Seem Familiar Characters"

"The cartoon-like representations of Donald Trump and his advisors Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and perhaps especially Steve Bannon on Saturday Night live point to a crisis of constitutional authority perhaps not seen in American popular culture since America’s first constitutional crisis during the tense decade prior to the American Revolution ... Saturday Night Live’s depictions of Trump’s narcissistic know-nothingness, Sean Spicer’s weaponized podium, Conway’s “alternative facts,” Ivanka Trump’s complicity, Jared Kushner’s speechless power-grab, and, of course, Steve Bannon’s ominously skeletal grim reaper, harken back to early fears that constitutional checks and balances do not protect a nation from nefarious advisors, ministers, family members, and interlopers. 

While the policies, issues, and people differ greatly, these representations echo with the ways in which political satirists in the 1760s and 1770s warned colonial Americans of an impending constitutional crisis."

To continue reading: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166118

Expanding into Public Scholarship

Unessays by Ashley Woodworth (left) and McKayla Sundberg (right)

Unessays by Ashley Woodworth (left) and McKayla Sundberg (right)

By Jordan X. Evans

How can we as scholars, educators, and historians engage with students and the public in the age of “alternative facts” and constant funding cuts? This is of utmost importance to us at CMU because in April the University decided to cut nearly ten percent of the financial operating budget for the College of Humanities, Social & Behavioral Sciences. A recent article in The Chronicle by Keisha N. Blain and Ibram X. Kendi, “How to Avoid a Post-Scholar America,” attempts to answer some of those questions. One of their suggestions was to become public historians: pull ourselves out of the archives, conferences, libraries, labs, and the historical jargon. Our history department has already started to engage in this through activities like Reacting to the Past. where students gain an appreciation for how complicated history is by placing themselves within a historical moment. Through the use of RTTP students also learn to critically think about historical events in a fun way. Teaching critical thinking skills in a game brings value to the students and our own classrooms.

However, this is one step; what are some other methods and activities we can do to reengage and fight against the world of alternative facts? Instead of engaging in a highly specialized field that is nearly inaccessible for the public, we as historians must become the defenders of truth, critical thinking, and history. If we take seriously Blain and Kendi's call to become public scholars, what might that look like?. Public scholars engage with people in unique ways, for example; giving public lectures, editing and creating blogs, and inventing interesting and different ways to publish scholarship. The focus is on accessibility, not demonstrating your impressive vocabulary. Can we as historians capitalize on alternative methods to combat alternative facts inside of and outside of the hallowed walls of our university?

On April 21, CMU hosted Dr. Ari Kelman as a speaker for our Blackburn Lecture series. During his time on campus he spoke about his new project with co-author Jonathan Fetter-Vorm the creation of a graphic novel called Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War. The book tells the real history of the American Civil War in a graphic novel-style format – , full of pictures and simple language, it would be highly accessible to the public. Kelman’s project is following in the footsteps of the award winning graphic book series March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell,  which traces the history of John Lewis during his struggle in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. March exemplifies a singular narrative that traces one story, captured in a fun, easy, and insightful way. Following Kelman’s visit, the use of graphic novel style to bridge the academic and public worlds lingered on my mind. If we could incorporate them then how do we start creating work like that in our own classrooms?

Dr. Christopher Jones, a visiting assistant professor at Brigham Young University, answered that question by sharing a series of photographs on Twitter documenting his students unessays. An unessay is meant “to break open the corral of the traditional essay and encourage students to take a different approach to the assignment. It requires some creativity” (emphasis added). One picture is a collection of four paintings that depict “the near-erasure of all but white men from American history + efforts to correct that record”. A Landscape Management major “drew up ‘landscape blueprints’ to depict clash of cultures b[y] Powhatans and English in 17c Virginia”. Scholars should keep in mind that students working on their undergraduate degrees come to learn carrying their own unique talents and interests. Using unessays could be one way to keep them engaged in a class they may otherwise lose interest in. In addition, assigning work like this can challenge us as historians beyond the classroom to be more creative and make work like graphic histories.

As the country becomes ever more entrenched in a battle of facts and alternative facts it falls on us to remember our duty to engage and teach in ways that the public and undergraduates will value, understand, and share. Are we doing that effectively? If we cannot easily say yes, then what more can we do before this ten percent funding cut becomes twenty percent next year? Scholars must defend truth, critical thinking, and history, not just in our academic sphere but with the public as well, by using methods previously scoffed at before historians become a matter of history ourselves.

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/