Here Lived Herbert Frank: History, Art, and Memory

By James Marten

A few weeks ago I literally stumbled across some of the most moving historical monuments I’ve ever seen. I was attending a conference on the experiences of military veterans through the ages and around the world in Hamburg, Germany, where I stayed in a lovely late nineteenth century neighborhood unscarred by the massive bombing of this northern German port during the Second World War. As I walked the streets lined with trees just coming into full autumn color, I occasionally came across little bronze plates hammered into the concrete or nestled i10646672_10154718720320623_5441253725156192487_nnto the cobblestones; in fact, two were right outside my hotel. The simple inscriptions consisted of names, dates, and a few German words; their meaning became clear after I recognized a few words that have been seared into the world’s historical consciousness seventy years ago: Theresienstadt, Lodz. They were concentration camps, and the information etched into the brass were the names of victims who died there, with their dates of birth, dates of “deportation,” and, if known, dates of death (some simply had question marks rather than death dates). The first words on each were “Here lived . . . ,” and, indeed, the memorials have been placed outside buildings or at least addresses where the victims had actually lived when they were taken away.

A little on-line research revealed that the stones were the idea of a Cologne artist named Gunter Demnig, who installed the first fifty-five plagues as an art project in Berlin in the 1990s. Since then tens of thousands have been placed in dozens of cities across Germany and in some cities occupied by Nazis during the war. Individuals, religious congregations, schools, and others have come up with the €120 (about $150) and have done much of the work of documenting the homes, names, and fates of the people remembered on the markers. Several websites can locate stolpersteine in various cities by the victims’ names or addresses (click here for Berlin’s searchable website).

Some Jewish groups have complained that the constant traffic of humans and dogs and other urban pedestrians over the brass plates (in fact, all of the ones I saw were more or less scuffed) demean the memories of the victims. However, Demnig claims that the markers highlight the personal, individual experience of the holocaust. And they are, indeed, memorable, even riveting. They provide a specificity to our mind-numbing knowledge the millions of victims of Nazi genocide that I found extraordinarily moving.

Most of us have seen movies, documentaries, or other images of the genocides of the Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and other ethnic groups, the disabled, Communists, anIMG_0360d other enemies of the Nazi state. They offer appropriately horrifying images that most of us probably can’t get out of our heads (the skeletal corpses stacked like cordwood, the little girl in the red coat from Schindler’s List, the weeping, confused men, women, and children waiting to be chosen for death camps or work camps beside waiting box cars.

But these tiny 4” x 4” brass markers, despite their subtlety, are equally haunting to me. They’re nearly invisible, but they mark a spot where a real person on a specific day was dragged to his or her doom across this little square of space. They don’t say much, of course, and it’s a tragic statement on how little we know about the people whose names are etched in brass. But maybe, in a small way, it’s all we really need to know about them.

For more on the “stumbling stones,” see:

James Marten is professor of history and has been chair of the history department at Marquette since 2004.

Camionetas and a Nahuatl Mapping Project

By Laura Matthew

Riding the camioneta is a classic gringo experience in Guatemala. But it can be confusing. Buses to Quetzaltenango, for instance, say that they’re going to Xela. That’s because ‘Quetzaltenango’ is a literal translation from the city’s K’iche’ Maya name ‘Xe Lajuj Noj’ into Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec empire and of the Mexican invaders who led the Spanish into Central America in 1524. Despite Maya speakers still constituting the majority of Guatemala’s population as they did in the sixteenth century, almost all Guatemala’s place names are officiallyGuatemalaBus Nahuatl. Geography is written by the victors.

But is it true that Nahuatl came to Central America mostly via invasion? The primary indigenous language of El Salvador is Nawat-Pipil, still spoken today by descendants of Nahua-speaking migrants who arrived in the region in the thirteenth century. Some Nahuatl documents produced in colonial Guatemala look like their counterparts in Mexico – but many others are written in a dialect so distinctive that Spanish friars gave it is own nomenclature and used it to create new catechisms for evangelizing the native population.

A good decade ago (!), linguistic anthropologist Sergio F. Romero and I started collecting colonial-era Nahuatl documents from Central America. I and other historians like Paul Lokken and Robinson Herrera were also noticing references in Spanish documents to Nahuatl being spoken by Nahuas, Mayas, Spaniards, and Africans. Sergio and I published our thoughts on this corpus in a 2013 article, but a lot of questions remained. We had no data for huge swaths of the region. We had not systematically looked at other sources like church records or Spanish chroniclers. And our documents raised as many linguistic questions as they answered. Indeed, some of our conclusions in that article have shifted since its publication.

Enter the Nahuatl in Central America Mapping Project, which I am creating with the help of History graduate student Ben Nestor and advice from Indiana-Purdue University’s Polis Center for geospatial informatics. We hope that visualizing the uses of Nahuatl in Central America over space and time will suggest new ways of looking at things. How consistently and for how long, for instance, was Nahuatl used as a language of translation in any given area? How did the Spanish classify different regions linguistically, and did those classifications change? Where and when in Central America do we see concentrations of texts with certain dialectical features?

The GIS component of the project is important, its collaborative character even more so. It would be difficult for any single researcher to ferret out all or most of the many references to Nahuatl that lie scattered throughout Spanish colonial archives. And as a historian, I ask very different questions of the documents than my colleagues trained in linguistics, geography, or anthropology. Putting our heads together consolidates our research efforts around this particular set of questions, pools our collective knowledge, and reveals our disciplinary blind spots. We can accomplish a lot more together than any of us could do separately.

So we begin this spring with an advisory board of specialists in southern Mesoamerican linguistics, history, anthropology, geography, and religious studies, who will help Ben and I create a rich ontology that turns our existing documents into data. The next steps will be linking that data to a series of maps and launching the project website. A broad range of scholars will be invited to join the project as official (and officially recognized) contributors, by uploading their own documents and participating in the resulting conversation as new data is transferred to the maps. I think of this as “curated crowdsourcing”: verified and academically sound, but also open, interdisciplinary, dynamic, collective – and hopefully surprising.

Colonial-era documents and geospatial humanities help us dig deep into the history of Mesoamerica. We thereby honor the living descendants of ancient Mesoamericans, millions of whom ride the camionetas every day.

LaurMatthewLASAa Matthew is an associate professor of history whose first book, Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala (2012) was awarded the 2013 Howard Cline Memorial Prize, Conference on Latin American History and the 2013 Murdo MacLeod Prize, Latin American and Caribbean Section, Southern Historical Association.  She is the 2014-2015 holder of the Way-Klinger Sabbatical Award.

There’s a Legend on the Phone . . .

Ed Schmitt is a Marquette PhD alum who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.  A few months ago he received a surprise phone all from a living legend–the Civil Rights activist James Meredith.

When my cell phone began ringing early on a Friday evening last spring, I expected it to be my daughter. She and a friend had been at a local shopping mall, and it was almost time to go pick her up. Seeing an unfamiliar area code, I hesitated before answering. “Mr. Schmitt,” the caller said, in a measured and slightly weary tone, “this is James Meredith.” I dropped the car keys which I had just grabbed and, while stammering my deep appreciation for his call, began casting about for paper and a pen. I sent a letter to the legendary civil rights figure a few weeks earlier, with a request to interview him for my book project about the activist and comedian Dick Gregory. And now I was quite unexpectedly talking to him in my kitchen.

I’d conducted many interviews before, but never with someone of quite his stature, and never on such short notice. He could tell I was a bit flustered. As I thought about the best way to proceed (my mind raced between – “you don’t have your notes in front of you” and “don’t let this opportunity pass”), I mentioned the possibility of sending him some questions to consider and then scheduling another time to talk. “Whenever and however you want to do it,” he said reassuringly. What followed was a delightful hour-long discussion with one of the most famous heroes of twentieth century U.S. history, and a renewed appreciation for the value of oral history.

I contacted Meredith seeking to learn more about his relationship with Gregory, and particularly how he viewed Gregory’s role in the movement. Both men are fascinating, deeply committed, and somewhat enigmatic. Born less than a year apart, they were a bit older than most of the student activists who energized the black freedom struggle through the sit-ins and other direct action protests of the early 1960s. And both were military veterans, who continue to view themselves as lifelong soldiers in the battle for equality.

While Meredith is best known as the first African American student to enroll at the University of Mississippi, I hoped to focus on a couple of later episodes in his career that I thought might provide insight into Gregory’s significance. He was open to discussing all of these, and his memory seemed quite sharp despite the passage of fifty years since the events in question. I learned about Meredith’s high regard for Gregory despite their philosophical disagreement regarding the strategy of nonviolence, was made aware of a mutual friend I had not been familiar with who became an important Gregory ally in the South, and perhaps most importantly, I gained a deeper appreciation for the human complexity and personal relationships involved in the movement.

James Meredith flanked by federal marshals at the University of Mississippi, 1962 (Library of Congress).

Historians love written documents and have always viewed oral history a bit more cautiously. Perhaps because we are trained to be skeptical of documents, it is even easier to question the motive or memory of a living figure than something fixed in print. While it must indeed be assessed critically, oral history can provide things written documents cannot. Hearing Meredith bristle when he discussed how others tried to use his 1966 “March Against Fear” for their own purposes, or noting his tone of voice when he said that for most of his career Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t really understand poverty conveyed insights beyond what written documents may have. And to hear him gently tell his grandchild to go play in another room because he was discussing “important matters” was to be reminded powerfully of the humanity of a figure who might otherwise be relegated to a role as an iconic set piece in a too familiar tale.

The term “interactive history” has become popular in an age of eye popping technologies that bring the past alive in new ways for students. In truth, history has always been interactive, even with seemingly fixed print documents. Uncovering a pivotal handwritten note on a memo from an advisor to a president, or a viewing firsthand the artistry in an ancient manuscript allows us to encounter the past in sometimes thrilling ways. But perhaps no source is as interactive as an oral history interview. To explore topics of your choosing with an historical figure – and to be able to ask a follow up questions – is historical inquiry at its most interactive. Concluding my interview with Meredith, I asked if I might contact him again should further questions arise. He repeated what he said at the outset: “Whenever and however you want to do it.” All historians should be so fortunate as to have access to such a source.

. EdUniversity of Wisconsin-Parkside Associate Professor of History Edward Schmitt. Schmitt received his PhD from Marquette University in 2003 and is now an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Parkside.  His first book, based on the dissertation he wrote under the direction of Robert Hay, was President of the Other America: Robert Kennedy and the Politics of Poverty (University of Massachusetts Press, 2011–  He is currently researching a book on the role of activist and entertainer Dick Gregory in the social movements of the 1960s and 70s.

Michael Donoghue on the Opening of the Panama Canal


Although it is somewhat over-shadowed by the Centenary of the “Guns of August”–the beginning of the First World War–there is another centennial being observed in 1914: the completion of the Panama Canal.  A newly tenured member of the MU history department, Michael Donoghue, is in high demand these days.  As an expert on the US impact on the canal and the canal zone, Michael has been interviewed by several media outlets, including the BBC.  He has also blogged about the anniversary of the canal opening on the website of Duke University Press, which published his first book, Borderland on the Isthmus: Race, Culture, and the Struggle for the Canal Zone.  Michael is on leave in fall 2014 conducting research on his next book-length project on the relationship between Americans and Cubans living on and near the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  You can read Michael’s blog on the centennial of the opening of the Panama Canal at

Guest Blog: Find the Lost Children

Today’s post originally appeared at “From the Square,” the blog of New York University Press, the publisher of Jim Marten’s forthcoming Children and Youth during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, an anthology of original essays. You can read cropped-fromsqfinalthe blog at Marten is professor and department chair.

Legacies of the Great War

One of the responsibilities of History Department is to share their research and the research of others with our students and the larger Marquette and Milwaukee communities. In this post, Julius Ruff introduces a major lecture series for Fall 2014 (sponsored by the department, with major help from other academic units) that will commemorate the centenary of the First World War. All are welcome to attend! Jim Marten, Editor

Legacies of the Great War

WWI Poster

Find out more about the series at our website.

The year 2014 marks the centennial of the outbreak of the First World War, a conflict known as “the Great War” to those who fought in it. In many ways the latter appellation is a more apt characterization of the war which the historian of Germany, Fritz Stern, called “the first calamity of the twentieth century, the calamity from which all the other calamities sprang.” The war decimated a generation of young men, but it also carried away the established social and political order of 1914 and, in its imperfect peace settlement, paved the way for a Communist revolution in Russia, the rise of fascist dictatorships in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, a second world war, and ultimately a Cold War which, recent events in Ukraine suggest, did not end completely with the break-up of the Soviet Union. Beyond Europe, the Middle East continues to be shaken by conflicts whose roots we may trace to the actions of European statesmen during and after the First World War and in Africa and Asia the war in many ways paved the way for the eventual end of western imperial control.

The History Department, with assistance from the Law School, the Gender and Sexuality Resources Center, and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, is observing the war’s centennial with a symposium, “Legacies of Great War,” that will bring several key scholars to campus to reflect on the war. Each visiting scholar will deliver a major address and participate in a panel discussion with scholars from Marquette and the Milwaukee area.

The symposium opens on September 8, 2014, at 4:00-5:30 PM in Raynor Library’s Beaumier Suite BC, with Professor Julius Ruff of Marquette delivering a lecture on “The Enduring Legacy of the Great War,” which will provide an overview of the war’s consequences.

Professor Leonard V. Smith, the Frederick B. Artz Professor of History at Oberlin College, will deliver the second major program in the symposium as the History Department’s Rev. Henry Casper, S.J., Lecturer. He is the author of Between Mutiny and Obedience: The Case of the Fifth French Infantry Division during World War I (1994), The Embattled Self: French Soldiers’ Testimony of the Great War (2007), and the forthcoming Sovereignty at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919: The “Laboratory over a Vast Cemetery.” He is also the co-author of France and the Great War, 1914-1918. Professor Smith will speak at 4:00-5:30 PM on September 15, in AMU 227 on “The War after the War: Drawing Boundaries at the Paris Peace Conference,” in which he will look particularly at the issues raised in drawing the borders of Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine. On September 16, Professor Smith will join our own Timothy McMahon and Philip Naylor, as well as Richard Friman from Political Science in a panel discussion of the war’s geo-political effects. Held from 9:30-10:45 in AMU 227, the panel will constitute both a meeting of Julius Ruff’s World War I course but also an opportunity for members of the University community to join in discussion of the war’s consequences.

Professor Irene Guenther of the University of Houston will be our third speaker. An historian of Germany, Dr. Guenther is the author of Nazi Chic? Fashioning Women in the Third Reich (2004) and is co-curator of a major art exhibition on the war, “Postcards from the Trenches,” which opened on August 19 in Washington at the Pepco Edison Gallery. She will speak on Oct. 1, at 4:00-5:30 PM, in Raynor Library Beaumier BC Suite on “The Great War in Art.” She will join Marquette’s Sarah Gendron (Foreign Languages), Leah Flack (English), and Peter Staudenmaier (History) in a panel discussion on Oct. 2 at 9:30-10:45 in Beaumier A on “The Cultural Impact of the Great War.” The panel will again be a part of the World War I class, but members of the University community are invited to attend.

Our final speaker will be Professor Martha Hanna of the University of Colorado-Boulder. She is the author of The Mobilization of Intellect: French Scholars and Writers during the Great War (1996) and the winner of the J. Russell Major Prize of the American Historical Association, Your Death Would be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War (2006). She will present a lecture entitled “Their Hearts Remained at Home: Marriage and the Great War in Britain, France, and Canada” at 4:00-5:30 PM on Oct. 22 in Eckstein Hall. On Oct. 23, Dr. Hanna will join with Kristen Foster and Carla Hay for a panel discussion of “Gender and the Great War” at 9:30-10:45 AM in AMU 157. Members of the University community are invited to join the World War I class.

The final event in our symposium will be a panel discussion on the subject of ”Veterans of the Great War in Historic Context” bringing together John Boly (English), Alissa Condon (History), and Dr. William Lorber, a psychologist at the Zablocki Center who has worked with veterans suffering with PTSD. The panel will meet on Nov. 18 at 9:30-10:45 in Beaumier A and, once again, members of the University community are invited to attend.

is a long-time member of the History Department, where he teaches courses on the histories of France, crime and punishment, and the First World War. He is the author of Violence in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800 (2001) and Crime, Justice and Public Order in Old Regime France: The Senechaussees of Libourne and Bazas,1696-1789 (1984) and co-author of the textbook Discovering the Western Past: A Look at the Evidence, which has gone through many editions.

Looking to the Past: Sensenbrenner Hall

By James Marten


A postcard of the “Historic Core”: Sensenbrrenner (far left), Johnston Hall, Jesu, and Marquette Hall.

Our first blog of the new academic year features our friend and colleague, J. Gordon Hylton, a professor in the MU Law School. When the new law school opened in 2010, Gordon wrote a pair of posts about the early days of the Law School when Sensenbrenner, not Eckstein Hall, was the “new” law school. The history department’s move to Sensenbrenner early this summer joined our history with the histories of the law school and the building, and I hope you enjoy these nostalgic accounts of our new home. Subsequent postings to Historians@Work during the 2014-2015 academic year will feature thoughts on hunting for treasure in Japan, exploring medieval Rome, and the centenaries of the First World War and the Panama Canal, among many other things.

Remembering Year 2 in Sensenbrenner Hall

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

The Dedication of Sensenbrenner Hall

Friday, August 27th, 2010


Prof. J. Gordon Hylton

J. Gordon Hylton is a graduate of Oberlin College, the University of Virginia Law School, and the PhD program in the History of American Civilization from Harvard University. Professor Hylton is the author or co-author of five books, which include Property Law and the Public Interest (1998; 2nd ed., 2003; 3rd ed., 2007); Professional Values and Individual Autonomy: The United States Supreme Court and Lawyer Advertising (1998); Sports Law and Regulation (1999); A Concise Introduction to Property Law (2011); and The Wisconsin Law of Wills and Trusts (2013).  He co-chaired the committee that created the Marquette Sports Law program in 1996 and 1997, and from 1997 to 1999, he was the Director of the National Sports Law Institute. His current research interests focus on the history of the legal profession and legal education, the history of civil rights, and the legal history of American sports. In 2011, he was designated “easily the best historian of sports law” the by the Sports Law Blog.


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