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Let’s Change the Way We Talk About the Midwest

12 May

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

Movement, changing urban landscapes, and environmental violence are all Midwestern stories. A 4-11 Fire Alarm, Chicago. Source: The Newberry Library

Even as Seemingly Every Article on Midwestern History and Culture aims to complicate understandings of the Midwest, they still start with the assumption that the Midwest is a static, white, rural place. This assumption is not reflected in the historical record, contemporary scholarship, or the lived experiences of so many Midwesterners (including myself); rather, it is a harmful and political statement. For example, in Minnesota the narrative justifies elevating violent legacies of colonizers while erasing past and present Indigenous presence in battles over place names at Bde Maka Ska and Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote. Meanwhile, the Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota is unwilling to reckon with the racist histories associated with campus building names. The nostalgic characterization of the Midwest as perpetually white and…

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America is losing its memory

8 May

America is losing its memory. The National Archives and Records Administration is in a budget crisis. More than a resource for historians or museum of founding documents, NARA stands at the heart of American democracy. It keeps the accounts of our struggles and triumphs, allows the people to learn what their government has done and is doing, and maintains records that fill in family histories. Genealogy researchers depend on it, as do journalists filing Freedom of Information Act requests. If Congress doesn’t save it, we all will suffer.

So begins historian T.J. Stiles’ plea for more funding for the National Archives. (Full disclosure: I love Stiles’ books; I highly recommend them as outstanding histories, and great reads.) You may read his entire opinion piece here.

THE CONSUMER AGE TURNED AMERICANS INTO GAMBLERS

2 May

Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich presents a check to Lerynne West, one of the winners of a $700 million Powerball prize in November 2018. Courtesy of AP Photo/Charlie Neibargall.

Today legal gambling in the United States is widely accepted and more prevalent than ever. But as recently as the 1950s, gambling was seen as a fundamentally un-American way to make a living. This shift in attitudes towards gambling—which took about a half-century to achieve—spoke to generational shifts in American beliefs about morality and capitalism.

So begins historian David G. Schwartz’s concise and cogent history of attitudes toward gambling in the U.S. in the 20th and 21st centuries. You may read his entire Zocalo essay here.

How the Census Changed America

1 May

 

The inventor Herman Hollerith devised a punch-card system to record census information. His invention transformed data-processing technology. Photograph by American Stock Archive / Archive Photos / Getty

In April, the Supreme Court began to hear arguments about one of the central requirements of the Constitution. It’s right there, in Article I, Section 2, clause 3: For a government of the people to function, the people must be counted. The Founders wanted an “enumeration” to occur within three years of the first meeting of Congress, and then “within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” A census, in other words.

So begins Ted Widmer’s brief consideration of some of the history of the U.S. Census. While he rightly notes the partial exclusion of African Americans for much of this history, he fails to note the even longer exclusion of most American Indians. Indians were not declared U.S. citizens until an act of Congress in 1924.

You may read Widmer’s entire New Yorker article here.

Resurrection Hope For Notre Dame

16 Apr

I was in a meeting with my fellow graduate deans when I first saw the pictures. My colleague just handed me his phone. He said something, but I don’t remember his words as the image drowned out everything else. The small screen connected me  to people all over the world and we watched, together, in silence and shock, as fire ravaged Notre Dame.

So begins historian Beth Allison Barr’s historical and theological reflections on the fire in Notre Dame cathedral. You may read her entire Anxious Bench post here.

Church Ladies and Grassroots Political Religion

16 Apr

A large group of women carry many signs, including a large banner that reads "The Women's Wave Rises: 2019 Women's March on Washington."

Following the excitement of the 2017 Women’s March, many white suburban women in swing districts revitalized the Democratic Party from the ground up. In their research in several swing states, historian Lara Putnam and political scientist Theda Skocpol looked past the massive one-day demonstration to find that college-educated and middle-aged women had returned home to invest in local Democratic politics. Motivated in part in opposition to the 52% of white women who voted for Trump, “middle America’s mothers and grandmothers,” some of whom had been Republicans and independents, formed local chapters of Indivisible, attended town halls, and volunteered for campaigns for the 2018 election. Many of these new activists invoked a shared gender identity, in this case informed by a distaste for Trump’s “brand of male authority.” Yet as critics of the Putnam and Skocpol report have noted, liberal white feminists have often advanced their causes by drawing on white supremacy instead of battling it. Many newly politicized white women have had to reckon with their racial privilege as they have worked alongside African American women and men and others who have been traditionally part of the Democratic base. In their relational organizing, and in their confrontation with their racial privilege, the experiences of today’s white women political activists resemble those of the United Council of Church Women (UCCW) in the mid-twentieth century.

So begins Gale Kenny’s concise essay on some of the recent history of white Protestant women’s political activism. You may read the rest of her OAH Process post here.

WHAT THE DODGERS AND GIANTS’ 1958 MOVE WEST MEANT FOR AMERICA

28 Mar

Few phrases are as evocative of a mythical, imagined urban past as “Brooklyn Dodgers.”

Those two words, particularly in the borough that is now a punch line for hipster jokes, bring to mind a different America, one where the U.S. saw itself as more of a political innocent just discovering its global superpowers, where hardworking immigrant families advanced rapidly into the middle class, and where young people survived on a diet of knishes, homemade pasta, kielbasa, and other foods from the old country (but rarely drank anything stronger than a milkshake). The nostalgia evoked by the phrase “Brooklyn Dodgers” was broad enough to include African-Americans making steady advances into the promise of full citizenship, symbolized by the integration of baseball by Jackie Robinson and the excellence of his teammates, from Roy Campanella to Don Newcombe.

Those fantasies—of the Dodgers, of baseball, of America—came crashing down in 1957. It was announced that winter that the Dodgers and their uptown rivals the Giants, who made their home in Harlem, would leave New York the following year for Los Angeles and San Francisco.

This move West, still decried in Brooklyn and among older New Yorkers, changed how Americans thought about baseball and the country.

So begins Columbia University professor Lincoln Mitchell’s summary of his book on the westward move of baseball in the 1950s. You may read the entire Zocalo Public Square post here.

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