“APUSH” in the right direction

Photo credit: Evan Graff, Flickr.

Photo credit: Evan Graff, Flickr.

As public historians, we like to think we know something about narrative. We know that human beings construct meaning through stories, and that history is the art of constructing compelling stories from the traces of the past. Psychologists have demonstrated the emotional and inspirational power of “hero’s journey” narratives in which protagonists overcome great odds through self-sacrifice and determination, and return from the journey with wisdom and gifts to improve the world. Such narratives emphasize the hero’s “exceptional” qualities, the ability to triumph over adversity and to serve as a guiding light to others.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that opponents of recent changes to the AP US History (APUSH) framework are so concerned about narrative emphasis. In August 2014, the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution condemning a framework released by the College Board in 2012. The resolution claims that the framework “reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes (Italics mine) negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” The resolution calls on Congress to “investigate the matter” and withhold any funding to the College Board until a suitable framework is produced. Continue reading

History without vision: A struggle over art at the City Museum of New York

Mike Alewitz's "The City at the Crossroads of History" mural was commissioned for the City Museum of New York, which has declined to display it.

Mike Alewitz’s “The City at the Crossroads of History” mural was commissioned for the City Museum of New York, which has declined to display it. Photo credit: Mike Alewitz

Muralist and activist Mike Alewitz has finished his tribute to the labor and social justice movements, an imposing four-panel painting titled The City at the Crossroads of History–but the museum it was commissioned for doesn’t want it.

The Puffin Foundation, a grant maker that frequently supports politically left artists, engaged Alewitz to create the mural for a new gallery at the Museum of the City of New York. The gallery is now open with an inaugural exhibit about social activism without the mural, while the artist has launched a petition drive to try to have it displayed as originally planned. Continue reading

Keeping the faith: Political cartoons in and out of the archives

https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/16227778545/ Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker

“I am Charlie” has become the expression of solidarity of people around the world in support of the French weekly newspaper following the January 7, 2015 attack.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker

The killings at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris this week have prompted a passionate defense around the world of political cartoons as free speech, a form of journalistic expression that exemplifies (and occasionally pushes the boundaries of) a free press’s role as critic and gadfly. In thinking about historical precedents and comparisons for the horrific attack, I’ve been struck by a couple of things.

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Invoking history in voter registration law

Register to Vote signs

2008 voter registration drive in Texas. Photo credit: Barack Obama’s photostream on Flickr

Last Thursday, the US Supreme Court and a federal district court issued separate rulings striking down voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas. The Texas ruling should be of particular interest to public historians because of the extent to which history is at the center of US District Court Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos’s decision.  Continue reading

A side or B side? Postindustrial artisans walking a fine line (Part II)

Continued from Part 1.

parking lot

“The B side” of the Fringe building was seen by one potential developer as part of what needs to be fixed in Union Square. Photo credit: Cathy Stanton

So how did the small-scale artisans at Fringe fit into the proposals put forward by the master developer candidates at the March meeting? The short answer is: ambiguously. They were clearly seen by the developers as both part of the hipness of the neighborhood and part of the set of problems–what in an earlier era of urban redevelopment was more bluntly termed “blight”–that the proposals aimed to overcome. This was made particularly clear by one presenter who showed slides of what he described as Union Square’s assets—a collage of logos from new-economy businesses, including Fringe’s—but then pointed to what he called “the B side,” ugly and problematic things that still needed to be fixed in the neighborhood. His slide for the B side included an image of Fringe’s entrance and loading-dock on the utilitarian back side of the IH Brown building, and he seemed unaware that the logo and the loading-dock belonged to the same enterprise. Lacking the high-tech polish of Artisan’s Asylum or GreenTown labs, Fringe is harder to pigeon-hole–and thus perhaps easier to overlook–in discussions about affordability and inclusivity within urban redevelopment. Continue reading

A side or B side? Postindustrial artisans walking a fine line (Part I)

street scene

Somerville’s Union Square has been relatively affordable within Boston’s expensive real estate market, but an impending city-led revitalization plan is already boosting prices in the neighborhood. Photo credit: Cathy Stanton

On a cold March evening this past winter, my students and I caught a bus from Davis Square, near Tufts University, to attend a public meeting in Union Square, at the other end of Somerville, Massachusetts. Within the generally-pricey Boston real estate market of the past two or three decades, Union Square has remained relatively affordable and as a result has been something of a haven for artists, artisans, low-income immigrants, and small, often marginal businesses. The March meeting, though, was part of an ongoing “revitalization” process that had already started to bring big changes to the square. Candidates vying for the role of “master developer” for the square were strutting their stuff, trying to demonstrate both familiarity with the neighborhood’s bohemian character and capacity to coordinate more than 2.3 million square feet of new development in seven blocks currently assessed at $26 million.

My class was conducting ethnographic research focusing on a collaborative of small artisanal businesses in a former industrial building in Union Square, and we were curious about how these kinds of companies–tied to currently-hip ideas about “maker culture” in some ways, linked with the longer history of small-scale local craft production in others–would appear within the image-making that was sure to be going on at the meeting. Continue reading