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

Project Showcase: At Home in Holland

holland-screenshotAt Home in Holland,” a new digital history project by students at the University of Amsterdam, responds to the way that hostile reactions to immigrants have undermined the traditional idea of Dutch tolerance and hospitality in recent years. The current Dutch asylum policy was developed in the 1980s. In that same period, Amnesty International Netherlands held its first campaign to draw attention to the problems faced by refugees in the Netherlands. How did a human rights organization usually focused on the plight of people abroad end up campaigning against human rights abuses back at home? Continue reading

A lesson in racial profiling and historical relevance

people at meeting

Don Denard is hugged by supporters as he arrives at the Decatur City Commission meeting, February 18, 2014. Photo by author

In December 2013, an African American man was detained by Decatur, Georgia, police after he was seen leaving his home. An officer issued a suspicious person alert based on the “reasonable articulable suspicion” premise–the legal basis for many states’ “stop and frisk” laws.

Don Denard has lived in the Decatur home he was seen leaving since 1987. He is a former school board member and an active participant in Decatur’s civic life. Yet on December 15, 2013, he was just another black man walking in a community that is becoming steadily whiter and wealthier and where all such men are regarded, as Denard says, with the presumption of guilt. Continue reading

Collecting Guantánamo Public Memory

Editor’s Note: This piece continues a series of posts related to the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, a collaboration of public history programs across the country to raise awareness of the long history of the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay and foster dialogue on its future.  For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.

Soccer Ball

Outdoor cages at the detention center, 2006, courtesy of Christopher Sims

When I began working as a researcher with the Guantánamo Public Memory Project (GPMP) in 2011, I knew very little about the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) and its uses prior to 9/11. Tasked with compiling resources for university teams across the country to use in the production of their exhibit panels, I commenced an unconventional “tour” of GTMO’s long history through the countless images, manuscripts, and other objects donated by individuals with experience on the base.

Today, as we work to build GPMP’s archives on the Digital Library of the Caribbean and at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library through its Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research, information about new sides of the base continues to emerge.  In contrast, the GTMO I first learned about from the evening news remains mysterious and impenetrable, and many personal possessions are considered classified intelligence; they are certainly not yet public records of the past. But because the snapshot photographs, letters, and other personal artifacts included in the archives uniquely document the expansive range of lived experiences GTMO cultivated prior to 9/11, they play an important role in our efforts to understand it today and to envision its future. Continue reading

The meeting of two Marxists on the 40th anniversary of the Chilean coup

people around tables

A human rights workshop with university students at José Domingo Cañas (Photo: Yenny Aros). Read more about this site here.

I do not know how many of the learned people who follow this forum know that 40 years ago today the United States government—and to point political fingers at political figures: President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and CIA Director Richard Helms—actively and illegally supported a bloody military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government in Chile.  A lot, I suppose and hope.  But I feel compelled to write not only in order to gently remind History@Work’s audiences of the historical importance of this, but also to draw attention to the public history work that has happened to make it worthy of the international attention that it so rightly deserves—and receives. Continue reading

Project Showcase: Returning the Voices to Kouchibouguac

kouchibouguac-imageIn 1969 the Canadian and New Brunswick governments agreed to create Kouchibouguac National Park along the east coast of this Atlantic province. At the time, establishment of a national park required removing the people who resided there, in the belief that nature should be exhibited to visitors without signs of any human presence. Over 1200 individuals were uprooted, having been told that their lives were worthless and that they could only be helped by being forced to move.

But government officials had not taken into account how this particular case of forced removal would be viewed by the residents, most of whom were Acadians, a people with a strong memory of having been deported by the British in the mid-18th century. There was large-scale resistance that resulted in the park being shut down on several occasions.

And the leader of the resistance, Jackie Vautour, remains a squatter on his land to this day.

The Kouchibouguac story of removal and resistance has provided a source of inspiration for Acadian artists working in a variety of genres. But the story of resistance only tells part of what happened at Kouchibouguac, because most families simply and quietly left their lands to create new lives, often within kilometres of the borders of the park. Returning the Voices to Kouchibouguac National Park tells a wide range of stories inspired by the experiences of the residents.

The central feature of the site is the presentation of 26 video portraits drawn from interviews with former residents, who often told their stories while standing on the lands where they once lived. (One of these videos has been embedded below.) Visitors are encouraged to interact with the map that was created at the time of the expropriation to facilitate the process. Here, however, the map has been subverted to serve as a navigational device to return the voices of the residents to their lands.

The residents who were removed to allow the creation of Kouchibouguac National Park can never return to their lands, but this project makes it possible for some of their voices to return, if only virtually.

~ Ronald Rudin, Concordia University