A Few Thoughts on Baseball and History

Monday is Major League Baseball’s official opening day. The great Joe DiMaggio once said, “You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid.  You think something wonderful is going to happen.” I suppose that level of excitement comes easily when you’re one of baseball’s all-time greats.  But Americans’ enthusiasm for the game has been so great that from time to time sports advocates and beer companies have tried to have it declared a holiday!

6208596They’ve never succeeded, but that they have tried suggests the deep relationship that many Americans have with the game of baseball. Pundits (some of them historians) love to wax eloquent about its timeless nature; great-great-great grandfathers watched substantially the same game as we watch now.  But observers also frequently reflect on the ways in which baseball has mirrored the massive economic, racial, and political shifts in American history. The iconic 1989 film Field of Dreams captures the first, elegiac, approach to baseball; the more recent 42 explores the pioneering integration of baseball by Jackie Robinson more in line with the game’s second, more dynamic place in history.

This blog, however, will ignore both approaches.  Based on internet research and supposition, it will simply suggest a particular, and particularly superficial, way in which the “National game” intersects with history: the names of major and minor league teams.  Some of those connections are obvious, some less so.  And if it helps to make my point, I’ll freely draw from teams in other sports! Team names with at least a whiff of historic sensibility seem to fall into a few obvious categories: 1. those named after locally important industries or resources; 2. those named after community institutions and customs; 3. those inspired by actual historic events and personalities.  Here are a few: Continue reading ‘A Few Thoughts on Baseball and History’

A Young Scholar in Paris

Matthew Douglas is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Marquette University and the recipient of the Cyril E. Smith Fellowship for the 2013-2014 academic year

Moving to Europe and walking into an archive left me with a sense of both excitement and fear.    For a young historian, the confines of the archival wall contain the great stories, anecdotes, theses and dissertations.  Entering the newly built Archives départementales, was no different.  In August of 2013, I received the generous Cyril E. Smith Fellowship.  This financial support flew me to France to conduct research in the local departmental archives in Nîmes, Montpellier, and in the Archives Nationales in Paris.  My research focuses on the religious upheavals in France that began in the sixteenth century and lasted until the late eighteenth century.  These disturbances began when French Protestants, or Huguenots, were socially accepted with the ascension of Henri IV, and his famous Edict of Nantes.  The city of Nîmes became my case study, as it boasted a robust Protestant population when Louis XIV abolished the religious toleration for Huguenots with the Edict of Fontainebleau a century later.

The focus of my research concerns the criminal records associated with the court located in Nîmes.  My most dramatic cases concern the Nîmois who joined in the Camisard Revolt centered in the neighboring Cevennes region in 1702.  Many socially prominent citizens met their ends at the hands of the executioner for fighting for Protestantism.   More commonly, the courts meted out less dramatic penalties to Huguenot adherents.  Hundreds were sent to live out their lives in service to Louis XIV in his galleys.  Many others paid high fines, and quickly emigrated.   Other times, the judges absolved their Protestant neighbors, such as on the Christmas Day immediately after the Revocation.  Regardless of particular circumstance, Huguenots took to hiding in various places around Nîmes and continued to practice their faith clandestinely.               Continue reading ‘A Young Scholar in Paris’

Historians Give Thanks

The best part of writing a book is penning the acknowledgments. Maybe that’s because it happens in the final stages of preparing a manuscript. If it’s time for the acknowledgements, you know it won’t be long until you see your work print. But compiling an index comes near the end too, and no one finds that task particularly gratifying.

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 9.19.27 PMThe acknowledgements section—usually a few pages at the front of the book—is where historians recognize they could not have done it alone. As Jon Gjerde wrote, “The premise that it takes a village to raise a child is no less true in writing a book.” Librarians and archivists marshal the sources on which we depend, institutional and individual donors fund our time and travels, colleagues critique and encourage us, and students inspire us.

Advisers loom large in acknowledgements, especially for those of us who still get to call ourselves “young” scholars. These mentors usually guided our work as graduate students, inducting us into a professional community and supporting us through inevitable periods of frustration. They took our ideas seriously, seriously enough to question and challenge. They pushed us to refine our thinking, articulate our positions better, and provide stronger evidence. Russell Kazal noted the “phenomenal” support and “boundless generosity” that he received from his team of advisers, but he identified one as “perhaps my toughest critic.” Continue reading ‘Historians Give Thanks’

“The World and the West”: Developing a New Honors Program Course

Peter Staudenmaier is assistant professor of modern German history at Marquette University

Since Fall semester 2013, a group of History Department faculty have been working together to create a new course for Marquette’s Honors program, a course that we expect to become a regular part of the department’s offerings in the following years. The new Honors course will be loosely coordinated with an existing course on ethics in the Philosophy department, and a central feature will be examining the historical development of moral frameworks and ethical debates across a variety of cultures and eras.

Creating a course like this from scratch presented a series of intriguing challenges and offered an opportunity to re-define some of the directions history teaching might take in a university like ours. Those of us involved from the early stages of the process – Laura Matthew, Lezlie Knox, Kristen Foster, and myself – worked with suggestions from our department chair, Jim Marten, and had wide latitude in shaping the initial contours of the course. One of our first decisions was to change the provisional title: rather than “The West and the World,” we chose to name the course “The World and the West” as a way to signal a reversal in traditional Eurocentric historical perspectives. Continue reading ‘“The World and the West”: Developing a New Honors Program Course’

Ghosts of Christmases Past: Milwaukee Celebrates the Holiday

James Marten

Christmas encourages a certain amount of historical reflection.  Family gatherings are warmed by nostalgia for past holidays and bittersweet memories of absent relatives, journalists trot out tired but popular human interest stories (virtually all newspapers, it seems, print the old “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” editorial), and churches embrace tradition in their selection of carols and staging of Christmas pageants.

CUAP logoAs we approach Christmas 2013, I pulled up a few examples of Christmases past from a website that I created over a decade ago (with the help of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and about twenty graduate students), the Children in Urban America Project.  The fully searchable site contains a number of illustrations and over 5000 documents chronicling the history of children in Milwaukee from about 1850 through 2000.  Although the documents include memoirs and autobiographies as well as government reports and magazine articles, a majority of them were culled from the Milwaukee Sentinel, one of Milwaukee’s oldest newspapers (it merged with the Journal in the 1990s to form the Journal Sentinel).  Continue reading ‘Ghosts of Christmases Past: Milwaukee Celebrates the Holiday’

Fr. Avella Reflects on the Kennedy Assassination

I was in Mr. Tucker’s 7th grade math class at Andrew Carnegie Intermediate when the principal’s voice crackled over the school PA. “The president has been shot,” he told us. “If you pray, pray now for him and for our country.” Bill Webster the principal was from Massachusetts and knew JFK. His office (which I visited occasionally when in trouble) had only one small picture in it: Kennedy’s presidential photo. When class let out, we learned that the president had died…and this school of over a thousand 7th and 8th graders went silent. We were all shocked to see our teachers crying or dabbing their eyes…even the coaches. Webster came on the PA again during our subdued lunch period–crying and sobbing as he told us the sad news–and that he had called the busses to pick us up and take us home. I found my mother puffy-eyed and grabbing Kleenex when I got home. That afternoon I delivered the Sacramento Bee to my 65 customers with its screaming headline: PRESIDENT KENNEDY IS DEAD.

$T2eC16V,!zUFIbcGCMU4BSbUP5IHmw~~60_35It’s hard to describe to those who were not alive at the time or who were in diapers just how big a wound this left in our hearts. We loved JFK and his family–his youth, his optimism, that wonderful smile–and the possibility of change. “Let’s get this country moving again” he said when running for president in 1960. His accomplishments were few compared to some (he had no Hundred Days like FDR) and his actions on Vietnam reflected the Cold War ideology of nearly everyone in the establishment. He wasn’t going to “lose” Southeast Asia as Truman had allegedly “lost” China. On Civil Rights, he may have saved Dr. King from being “accidentally” killed in a Georgia prison, but he lived in too much fear of mossback Southern Democrats and Republicans in congress to take the kind of action he should have. His brother Bobby was far too cooperative with the likes of J. Edgar Hoover. But Kennedy inspired many in my generation–yes even after we have heard of his sexual failings delivered regularly by the Puritan Pornographers of the right. We missed him and his brother Bobby…they reminded us of the promise of our youth. This country could be a better, more just, and generous place. I still believe that.

50th Anniversary of Diem’s Assassination

Heather Marie Stur, associate professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi, is a Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam, where she is spending the 2013-14 academic year as a visiting professor in the international relations department at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City.  She received a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an M.A. in history from Marquette.

lens2218281_1234864960Diem_timeThe 50th anniversary of the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem came and went quietly here in Vietnam.  On November 1, 1963, a group of South Vietnamese generals launched a coup against Diem, the president of the Republic of Vietnam, or South Vietnam as it is more commonly known in the U.S.  Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, were assassinated the following day.  The U.S. government had backed Diem since his installation as president of South Vietnam in 1956, considering him a solid anticommunist alternative to Ho Chi Minh, president of the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the northern half of the country.  But relations between John F. Kennedy’s administration and Diem had soured by 1963, and although historians continue to debate the role the U.S. played in the coup, most agree that American advisers and the CIA knew it was going to happen, even if they did not expect assassinations to be involved.  About 16 months after Diem’s death, U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, starting a conflict that is known here as the “American War.”

Continue reading ’50th Anniversary of Diem’s Assassination’


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