A monograph goes public

Screenshot of companion website for monograph.I remember well the day that I received my first copy of my first book, Independence Hall in American Memory. I picked it up in person from the offices of the University of Pennsylvania Press and could barely manage the walk home because of the temptation to stop, admire the beautiful dust jacket, open those pages, smell that new-book smell, and read. Every page contained memories of places, people, and experiences of piecing together a history that spanned more than two hundred years in a building’s life and nearly a decade of mine.

With that book, first published in 2002, I achieved tenure and promotion, and I was pleased to generate some new conversation about the long history of a landmark most commonly associated with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But while the monograph opened some doors (and perhaps some minds), it also carried with it some inherent limitations. Continue reading

Uncovering the hidden paradise of Guantánamo

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 (GTMO) and foster dialogue on its future.  For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.

My most vivid memories of Guantánamo was everything just being free down there and the closeness of all the people. There was no crime, none whatsoever. It was summer all year round.”

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The Guantanamo Public Memory Project online stories collection.  Photo Credit: Guantanamo Public Memory Project

Anita Lewis Isom first arrived at Guantánamo Bay forty years before the orange-suited detainees that would make the US base infamous around the world. Her description of an idyllic life at the base seems far removed from the images of leg shackles and barbed wire typically associated with Gitmo in its current function as a “black site,” an extra-legal and extra-territorial space. Images of Gitmo as prison and military base and as island paradise are not, however, mutually exclusive. Indeed, it is in part its isolation that makes Gitmo such an effective black site and its tropical location that has long made it an attractive destination for military families. Continue reading

A lesson in racial profiling and historical relevance

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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

Revisiting Monterey 20 years after “The Politics of Public Memory”

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Norkunas’s 1993 book was an early contribution to the literature focusing on silence, history, and power.

When I was researching the The Politics of Public Memory: Tourism, History, and Ethnicity in Monterey, California (State University of New York Press, 1993) in the late 1980s, I was deeply affected by the disparity between the haves and have-nots in Monterey. Nearly every day I saw Jaguars, BMWs, and Mercedes on the streets, and from time to time I saw a Rolls Royce. Pebble Beach and Carmel (and the then-mayor of Carmel, Clint Eastwood) joined with Monterey to create an atmosphere of wealth: old wealth, new wealth, and the wealth of those who knew great places in the world.

Where, I wondered, did the workers live? How could they afford an apartment anywhere near their places of work? Who lived in Monterey? Who once lived there? I could see that many of the workers were of Mexican or Latin American heritage. I knew there had once been a significant Chinese population on the peninsula, that Native peoples lived there, that African Americans lived in the area, and that there were other ethnic and cultural groups in the past and present. Continue reading

Project Showcase: Newruskinarchives

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The back of this postcard reads “Engineers at Ruskin College Oxford, 1906, sent and supported by their fellow trade unionists at a cost of 1d each.” Photo source: Hilda Kean

The newruskinarchives database website has recently been launched in response to the destruction last year of most of the archive of student records at Ruskin College, the historic trade union and labour movement college in Oxford.

There was much press coverage of the scandal and widespread criticism of the actions of the (now former) Principal, Audrey Mullender. The international petition drew over 7,500 signatories including those of many public historians. However the vast bulk of the student records, as well as dissertations, were unnecessarily destroyed. Continue reading

Cold War civil rights at Gettysburg

 

South Carolina’s monument to its troops offers a smoldering defense of states’ rights. Photo courtesy of Jill Ogline Titus.

South Carolina’s monument to its troops offers a smoldering defense of states’ rights. Photo credit:  Jill Ogline Titus.

In July 1963, tens of thousands of visitors flocked to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle widely touted as the turning point of the American Civil War. Despite the profusion of toy souvenirs and 19th-century garb, the fact that this anniversary coincided with heightened street confrontation over civil rights, increased international condemnation of racial injustices in the US, and shifts in Cold War politics did not go unnoticed. Political leaders, heritage enthusiasts, and members of the general public all offered interpretations of the battle that advanced their own positions on the contemporary issues confronting the nation.

Some of these interpretations have proven more lasting than others, for they are inscribed in stone. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the vast majority of monuments – regimental, state, and individual – erected on the Gettysburg battlefield marked key moments in the Union defense. In the mid-20th century, Confederate heritage groups and southern state governments began to claim space of their own on the field. Of the 11 southern state monuments on the battlefield today, four were erected during the Civil War Centennial, and two – Florida and South Carolina – were dedicated during the actual100th anniversary commemoration. 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

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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