Guest Blog: A Virtual Journey into Digital Humanities

With the help of a Mellon Grant for the 2015-2016 academic year from the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, a band of MU historians set out to explore the brave new world of digital humanities.  More accurately, they sought to find out about a world more or less new to them. In Jim Marten’s “The Civil War Era,” Tim McMahon’s “Modern Ireland,” and Bryan Rindfleisch’s course on Native American history, students produced maps, explored texts, and used social media to get at historical issues and questions in ways a regular research paper cannot.

Lezlie Knox’s “Black Death” course partnered with the Raynor Memorial Library’s Digital Scholarship Lab to produce original projects on pandemics through history.  The lab’s dmlDigital Scholarship Librarian, Elizabeth Gibes, was embedded into the class, and helped Lezlie and the students engage multiple applications and approaches to come to a better understanding of how pandemics–from tuberculosis to yellow fever to polio–have affected people around the world.

Two of the projects have already been featured on the Digital Scholarship Lab’s blog (click here and here to read about Katherine Stein’s and Cara Caputo’s projects, respectively).

But the lab’s most recent blog post covers the class in its entirety, and includes an interview with Lezlie.  Please read it here.

Where in the World Are MU Historians?

Years ago PBS aired a popular children’s show called “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” With the clever live-action sketches, animation, and an acapella group, viewers learned geography—not just where a country was on a map, but how the people of those countries lived.

One of the primary objectives of Historians@Work is to present the many “journeys” taken by MU historians and students.  Some are figurative, but many are literal.  The latter is certainly the case in this installment, as we learn about the upcoming summer research adventures of a half dozen of our associate professors.  Each was recently awarded funding from Marquette’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, which grants Summer Faculty Fellowships (stipends) and Regular Research Grants (for travel expenses) to two or three dozen Marquette faculty each year.

This summer our band of historians will outdo the fictional Carmen San Diego, as they conduct research in Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, and Italy, as well as Virginia, California, and Chicago.

This year’s awards, worth over $50,000, made history for our department—we have never received so many awards in a single year. This obviously reflects the interesting subjects these historians are exploring, as well as the success of their previous research.  Below, in their own words, you can read about their projects and their travel plans.

Michael Donoghue: Race, Identity, and Gender in U.S. Military-Cuban Relations 1941-1964  I plan to travel to Cuba and Virginia this upcoming summer to investigate the local records of U.S. Military-Cuban relations from 1941-1964 in Havana and Guantánamo City, Cuba and at the Marine Historical Division in Quantico.  3The focus of my research is on the intersections of race, identity, and gender that occurred between U.S. military personnel and the Cuban people from World War II until the closing of the U.S. Guantánamo naval base from Cuban contact in 1964 – and how these interactions contributed to the anti-American atmosphere of the Cuban Revolution.  I hope that this project will make a significant contribution toward our understanding of the many strands and forces that helped shape the Cuban Revolution beyond, high status actors, larger events, and economic indices, as it focuses on the personal and social relations that contributed to many revolutionary processes.  Michael is author of Borderland on the Isthmus: Race, Culture, and the Struggle for the Canal Zone (2014).

Alison Clark Efford, Suicide and Immigrant Emotions, 1882-1924  I received funding for two research trips, one to San Diego to investigate suicides among Japanese immigrants in the early twentieth century and the other to Chicago to research suicide, immigrant Catholicism, and the influential “Chicago School” of sociology. My larger book project explores the negative emotions that sometimes accompanied immigration by addressing the extensively documented act of suicide. I probe the inner lives of a variety of immigrants and shows how suicides drew wider attention to immigrant emotions. As early as 1861, the New York Times noted that the foreig1n-born accounted for about a third of the city’s population but three-quarters of its recorded suicides. By the turn of the century, the suicidality of immigrants was accepted as common wisdom. Whether commentators thought it reflected ethnic characteristics or the trauma of relocation, immigrant suicide became entangled with fears about alienation in modern society and rapid demographic change.  Alison is author of German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era (2013)

Lezlie Knox, Mariano of Florence and Religious Life in Cinquecento Italy.    Mariano was a prolific author—in less than 25 years, he wrote fifteen treatises in both Latin and Italian.  These works range from shorter works on devotional themes to lengthy—really lengthy–histories of his religious order (male, female, and lay branches of the Franciscan Order) and his native Tuscany.  Many of these works remain in manuscript, due in no small part to Mariano’s cramped handwriting!  This grant will fund my completion of archival work in Italy, as well as time to do work at the Antonianum, the Franciscan Order’s pontifical university in Rome, which has one of the best libraries for my subject.  However, I am not just interested in Mariano as a Franciscan historian, but also in the ways his works describes religious culture in the towns and ecclesiastical centers of late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Italy.  My study of his life and writings contributes to a broader 2understanding of society and culture during the later Middle Ages, particularly one which approaches that era as vital in its own right rather than symptomatic of later medieval decay or, conversely, a threshold to the humanistic attractions of the Renaissance.  Lezlie is author of Creating Clare of Assisi: Female Franciscan Identities in Later Medieval Italy (2008) and co-editor of the forthcoming Visions of Sainthood in Medieval Rome:  The Lives of Margherita Colonna by Giovanni Colonna and Stefania.  She has also received a $3000 Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society to help fund this research.

Laura Matthew: Circulations: Death and Opportunity on Mesoamerica’s Costa del Sur, 1500-1630  I will devote the summer to research for a book-length project examining migration, networks, and trade along Mesoamerica’s southern Pacific6 Coast in the century after European invasion. The SFF and RRG will fund a deep foray into the Guatemalan national archives, a first exploration of the regional archives of Chiapas, and travel along the routes described in the documents to achieve a more grounded sense of the places and spaces she is writing about.  Laura is author of Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala (2012), recipient of the 2013 Howard F. Cline Memorial Prize from the Conference on Latin American History and the 2013 Murdo MacLeod Prize from the Southern Historical Association. 

Timothy G. McMahon, Beyond the Boundary Commission: Partitioned Identities in Modern Ireland   The United Kingdom government partitioned the island of Ireland through legislation in 1920, creating two states that claimed distinct identities (Northern Ireland as British, the Irish Free State as Irish). Partition had, however, been proposed and rejected on two prior occasions by many of the people who seemingly embraced it in the 1920s. A the new states sought to reinforce the distinctiveness of their populations, people living on either side of the new border continued to interact in spite of the new reality. The present project builds on the work of Rogers Brubaker to propose a new way of thinking about how the reality of a novel state boundary shaped identities, examining the 4interdependence of daily lived experience with movement politics and parliamentary legislation. Given the recent Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the possible shake-up of the United Kingdom—which has already seen calls from some in Scotland to secede and from some in Ireland and Northern Ireland to examine the relevance of the existing border—a detailed study of identity formation on this frontier has both historical and contemporary relevance. My proposal will enable me to undertake three weeks of archival research in Dublin and Belfast before spending approximately six weeks drafting an article to address the changed attitudes of the early 1920s.  Tim is author of Grand Opportunity: The Gaelic Revival and Irish Society, 1893-1910 (2008) and editor of the memoir Pádraig Ó Fathaigh’s War of Independence: Recollections of a Galway Gaelic Leaguer (2000).

Peter Staudenmaier, The Politics of Blood and Soil: Environmental Ideals in Nazi GermanyMy project aims toward a book manuscript examining controversial historical questions about the role of environmental protection efforts and ecological sustainability within the Nazi regime. Though scholars in a variety of fields recognize the prominence of “blood and soil” ideology in the Third Reich – the belief in an essential link between natural regeneration and racial renewal – there is no consensus on its historical significance or practical relevance. My research represents the first comprehensive analysis of the topic, based on extensive archival research5 over the past five years. It is structured around three main case studies: the emergence of early alternative agricultural movements during the Weimar era and their reception under Nazi rule; the role of Nazi “advocates for the landscape” in environmental planning during the Third Reich; and the ecological components of Nazi policy in conquered territories in Eastern Europe during World War II. I plan to use the Summer Faculty Fellowship to complete the final stages of research and begin writing the book.   Peter is author of Between Occultism and Nazism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race in the Fascist Era (2014).

The Silence at Promontory Summit Was Deafening

By John N. Vogel

PhD alum John Vogel reflects on a recent visit to an iconic historic site.

The silence at Promontory Summit was deafening.

I find the significance of silence often encountered at historically prominent places is proportional to that of the event that occurred. The impact of silence is reflected in one’s pensiveness, and how lost one can be in the event, the site of which is being observed many years later. So it was as I recently visited the National Park Service’s Golden Spike National Monument.

We all know, at least to some extent, of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory promontory-summit-golden-spike-photo-loc-2Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869.  The moment was captured in the famous photo to the left (courtesy the Library of Congress).  It was that spike, in both a real and ceremonial sense, that physically united the nation–which for the first time had been tied together in a functional and intractable way.  That first transcontinental connection inspired an untold number of histories that have expressed affection or derision for the railroad, as well as offered all sorts of analysis.  It is unquestioned that Thomas Durant, of the Union Pacific, and Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins, all of the Central Pacific, were interested in making money with the railroad they built.  But that does nothing to diminish the physical and national accomplishment that was the first transcontinental link.

That portion of the route passing through Promontory Summit was bypassed between 1902 and 1904 with construction of the Lucin Cutoff across the Great Salt Lake. The new route provided a straighter, flatter and shorter path across northern Utah than the original alignment to Ogden.  Rail traffic through Promontory Summit was thereafter limited to local trains.  The route was eventually abandoned and in 1942, just after the beginning of the Second World War, the track was removed for use in the war effort.  Promontory Summit was designated a National Historic Site in 1957.  About a mile-and-a-half of rail was re-laid in order to accommodate the replica locomotives that provide a dramatic way of commemorating the site’s history.

On the day I visited this iconic spot, the Park Service’s interpretive center closed at 5:00 PM and the parking lot was almost immediately empty. There is nothing around Promontory Summit except a few ranches off in the distance. I was alone on the high plains, waiting for the sunset that would occur three or four hours later on a partly cloudy jnv-promontory-summit-2012evening.  I alternately walked along the tracks, sat on a nearby bench, and read and re-read the various commemorative plaques and monuments at the site.  Constant throughout the evening was the wind so common to the high plains.

As I waited for sunset, I was reminded of the classic Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall novel, Mutiny on the Bounty. Nordhoff and Hall wrote of a character, Roger Byam, who returned to Tahiti many years after the fateful mutiny.  As he looked over the island, Byam observed that  “suddenly the place was full of ghosts, shadows of men alive and dead . . .”  I saw no ghosts that evening.  Yet I found the spirit of all those who built that first transcontinental railroad was inescapable.

Promontory Summit is a place of unquestionable significance in the history of our nation. East and west were tangibly tied together as one and have been ever since.  Yet despite the thundering importance of this place, the silence at Promontory Summit was deafening.

John N. Vogel graduated from MU in 1989 with his Ph.D. in American History. He is the President and Senior Historian of Heritage Research, Ltd., an environmental and public history consulting firm that works with states, engineering firms, municipalities and others to research and produce components needed for environmental impact statements, business and institutional histories, and legal research. He is also author of Great Lakes Lumber on the Great Plains (1993).  

“The Troubles of His Country Were His Own”: Rev. N. A. Staples

By James Marten

This year two parts of my lives collided: my work as a historian of the Civil War era and my membership in the First Unitarian Society in Milwaukee.  First Church is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, and I’m helping the congregation commemorate the milestone by organizing speakers and writing a monthly blog.

First Church was formed in the spring of 1842, but a few months earlier a notice had appeared in a local newspaper asking Unitarians interested in starting a church to gather at a local meeting hall “at early candlelight” to talk it over.  Although the congregation has had its ups and downs–in fact, it suspended services at least twice in the nineteenth century, and once had its mortgage foreclosed–since 1892 it has been housed in a brick church at Ogden and Astor, on Milwaukee’s lower east side.  The denomination as a whole and our congregation in particular is noted for its social activism; today it is one of the largest congregations in the denomination with around 800 members.

My January blog highlighted the unique life of one of our earliest ministers, N. A. Staples. He was an unusual character–kind of hard to live with, it seems–but he represented the radical abolitionists who helped spark the Civil War in 1861.  The blog is based largely on a biography and collection of sermons written and compiled by one of his close friends, but Staples’ complicated personality comes through as clearly as his passion for reform and his belief in the liberal Christianity promoted by Unitarians.

You can read the blog here.

Jim Marten is chair of the MU History Department and has been a member of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee for over twenty years.

Christmases Past: A Holiday Blog

By James Marten

It’s no coincidence that the most benign and popular of the three spirits who haunt Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve is the Ghost of Christmas Past. Although in the end Ebenezer’s journey through select moments of his holiday memories are more bitter than sweet, this first of three ghostly tours reminds us that the ways in which we and our families celebrate Christmas—or any holiday, really—create a shared history among family members that can become treasured memories or dramas fraught with ambivalence.

Part of that memory-making, at least for some of us, threads through popular culture, whether it’s the smooth jazz-infused A Charlie Brown Christmas, the jerky stop-motion animation of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or the star-studded, over-the-top music specials that have flooded the airwaves since the 1950s (anyone remember David Bowie singing “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby?).

But three iconic representatives of the genre are grounded in history, and self-consciously reflected that history when they were made. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (actually published in 1843 as A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas), christmascarol1843_-_184has appeared in countless plays, cartoons, radio shows, and movies. Each version, in its own way, has captured conditions on Victorian England familiar to any historian: the class conflict reflected in the presence of the urban poor (the waifs revealed by the Ghost of Christmas Present), the barely-getting-by lower middle class represented by the Cratchits, the comfortable middle classes shopping and feasting throughout the story, and the wealthy folks who barely appear but are clearly present; the overburdened system of private charities and over-used work houses and prisons so loved by Scrooge; even the massive dislocation of the provincial population to London and its fabulous economic opportunities and worrisome dangers. Indeed, one of Dickens’ motivations for writing the little book was to offer not only a heart-warming holiday story, but to highlight the egregious conditions in which many Londoners lived.

Less concerned with societal ills than with individual redemption, It’s a Wonderful Life traces everyman George Bailey’s life from the 1910s through the 1940s, with major events like the World Wars and the Great Depression neatly framing the movie into three acts.  Smaller episodes reflect those times, from the druggist’s near-disastrous grief from losing wonderful-lifehis son during the WWI to the run on the Baileys’ building and loan in the early 1930s that ruins the George and Mary’s honeymoon, to the incredible energy poured into the war effort on the WWII home front.  Along the way we glimpse the effects of eastern European immigration and the development of the kind of the kind of suburban housing that would be made famous by the post-war Levittowns.  Every one of these and many other historical moments plays a role in the life George resents—and every one provides a specific kind of Christmas memory showing why his presence enriched the lives of others.

It’s a Wonderful Life appeared in 1946, as soldiers returned from war and adjusted to peace (like George’s hero brother Harry—a pilot like Jimmy Stewart, acting in his first movie since returning from several years of active duty) and as the country tried to glimpse a little optimism after the shattering destruction of the war. Eight years later, White Christmas came out at a time when, despite the Cold War, Americans felt more confident and the world was more or less at peace; filmed in living color and featuring peppy musical numbers, it occupies a place on the spectrum of Christmas movies about as far from It’s mmwhitechristmas02Wonderful Life as possible.  Yet even a bit of fluff like White Christmas is rooted in war-time and post-war America, from the GIs longing for home at the make-shift show put on by comrades just before they go into combat to the sudden rise to entertainment prominence of television to the bittersweet reunion of already aging veterans who gather to honor their old general after he’s been rejected by an army too modern to need an old-school soldier like him. Despite its modern sensibilities, White Christmas seems to have been produced to create nostalgia.

Whether these or other Christmas classics are on your must-see list, or if you simply watch a few minutes here and there while channel-surfing, for many of us these stories—and no doubt countless others—firmly meld fictional Christmases into real history and into our lives.

Happy Holidays on behalf of my colleagues in the Marquette University History Department!

James Marten is professor and chair of the history department.  He’s a little sheepish about admitting that one of his favorite holiday movies is Love Actually.

 

 

 

A Fulbrighter in Azerbaijan

By Robert Borowik

During my senior year at Marquette University, I was awarded a Fulbright Grant, and I am currently working as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant and U.S. Cultural Ambassador in Azerbaijan. Through this program I have the unique opportunity to live in a part of the 1world that few Americans have visited while teaching English to Azerbaijani high-schoolers. With the grant came several unexpected opportunities, such as attending parties at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence or even shaking hands with Pope Francis during his first visit to Azerbaijan!

 

I teach at the Physics, Math and Informatics Lyceum, a high school in Baku where a large portion of the students are from the regions of Azerbaijan and live at the school. During my first weeks here, I worked with the teachers to set up a new English Center with 2support from British Council and the Azerbaijan Ministry of Education. Since its opening in late October (see picture to the right, which includes Robert, Dr. Carole Crofts, British Ambassador to Azerbaijan, and representatives of British Council and the Azerbaijan Ministry of Education ), I have been leading conversation classes with small groups of students where they practice their English speaking skills as we discuss various topics regarding the United States and the world.

In addition to teaching, I have been exploring the fascinating, yet little-known, history and culture of Azerbaijan. The country is home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Qobustan where 6,000 petroglyphs dating back tens of thousands of years cover a 3mountainside (featured in the photograph to the left). Historic synagogues and mosques can be found in the city of Quba where Muslims and Jews have lived side by side for centuries. Memorials dedicated to more recent historical events, massacres of Azerbaijanis perpetrated by Armenian Bolsheviks in 1917, dot the entire country. But through their difficult past, Azerbaijanis have maintained a warm hospitality to visitors of the country.

As an American, Cultural Ambassador, and English teacher, my role is multifaceted. Not only do I teach my students English, but I am also exploring the fascinating culture and history of Azerbaijan that was so heavily impacted by decades of Soviet rule. Working with the Fulbright Program in Azerbaijan has changed my perspectives on the world, as I need to be amenable to the ever changing situations in which I find myself. I am very grateful for what I have already experienced and excited for what lies ahead.

Robert Borowik graduated from Marquette University in spring 2016 with majors in secondary education, history and economics. He was the president of the Polish Club and was a board member of Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society.

With Your Indulgence: Corporal Tanner Redux, for Veterans Day

By James Marten

“It was a pleasure reading . . . America’s Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace,” the email from James Fitzpatrick of Chevy Chase, Maryland, began.  Historians rarely hear from non-historians who have read our work, so it was great to receive this kind piece of fan mail.  But it proved to be much more.  “With your indulgence,” the message continued, “this email shares something of my forebears’ relationship to Tanner, in hopes it may interest you.”

I first wrote about Corporal Tanner in February 2012, a couple of years before America’s Corporal was published (see “Reflections on a Man With No Feet“).  Tanner was an eighteen-year-old corporal in the Union army when he lost the lower thirds of both legs at the Battle of Second Manassas in 1862. He went on to become a powerful advocate for veterans and the disabled, a Republican operative, and a famous speaker at Chautauquas and other public venues. He eventually became one of the most famous men from the late nineteenth century who you’ve never heard of.  I also reported two other “out-of-the-blue” contacts.  One included three letters written by Tanner at different times in his life (see My Dear Comrade: Adventures with Corporal Tanner [continued]), while another was from a New Jersey woman named Sabrina who wondered why a letter from Tanner had showed up in her dead grandmother’s effects (see “It will sound rather strange to you…”: A Phone Call, a Letter, and the Corporal). I couldn’t help her, but the Tanner letter (one of the few surviving letters he wrote) provided a poignant end to America’s Corporal.

Sabrina had no idea who James Tanner was; she was trying to figure out how he fit into her family. The September 25 email from Mr. Fitzpatrick was quite different. So in honor of Veterans’ Day, here’s a little story about my continuing journey with Jim Tanner.

Mr. Fitzpatrick’s family enjoyed a close relationship with the Corporal during the quarter century before his death in 1927). Several documents and photographs had come down through the generations, and Mr. Fitzpatrick recalled several family stories about the Tanner family.  He hoped that I could fill him in on a few details about the Tanners; unfortunately, I wasn’t able to help much. Indeed, I’m afraid I learned more about the family from Mr. Fitzpatrick than he learned from me.  Here’s the list of the many links between the Fitzpatricks and the Tanners (the names get a little confusing—“Mr. Fitzpatrick” refers to my correspondent in Maryland):

–Tanner, who worked as a pension attorney for many years, probably helped Fitzpatrick’s great-grandfather apply for his Union army pension and, later, may have helped his great-grandmother complete her widow’s pension application;

–the Tanners (Jim, his wife Mero, and their daughters) lived in the same Washington, DC, boarding house as Mr. Fitzpatrick’s grandfather, John Fitzpatrick, around the turn-of-the-twentieth-century;

–Tanner may have served as best man at the wedding of John and Mary (Mr. Fitzpatrick’s grandparents);

btf-james-tanner–John and Mary named their son (Mr. Fitzpatrick’s father), Berchmans Tanner Fitzpatrick, after the Corporal (they are pictured to the left);

–Tanner’s daughter Ada, a long-time federal employee, sometimes drove out to Chevy Chase to give Mr. Fitzpatrick’s grandmother Mary rides in her car (Ada and Mary may also have worked together);

–on at least one occasion Mary came home to find John hosting a card party with the Corporal and other men that included drinking and smoking cigars (she poured the alcohol down the sink);

These are wonderful anecdotes, but two more took my breath away:

tanner3–James gave two books to young Berchmans, both on the Civil War; one he inscribed, “I present this little volume to my dearly beloved friend and namesake,” while in the other, written when Tanner was nearly eighty years old, he poignantly refers to the book as “Some record of the days where [when?] youth was mine.”

–Berchmans Fitzpatrick, who would later become a noted attorney in the federal government, worked for two summers as a kind of intern in the District of Columbia’s Register of Wills office, which Tanner ran for the last couple of decades of his life. Tanner wrote a heart-felt thank you note after the summer of 1925, when Berchmans returned to law school: “I cannot in justice to you let you go without saying how eminently satisfactory has been your work while you have been with us during vacation time.  I knew you had intelligence enough to discharge faithfully the duties assigned to you, but outside of that your courtesy, your readiness, your strict attention to business have been noticeable by all the members of our office force. . . . You go with the best wishes of every member of my force.  We all wish you every possible happiness that God may see fit to bestow upon humanity.”

These last two items meant that there were only two degrees of separation between the Corporal and me. This is obviously fun, and interesting, but it meant more to me than that.

The exchange with Mr. Fitzpatrick came just a couple of months after I’d completed my “Tanner pilgrimage.” A couple of years ago, while in Washington for a conference, I’d walked past the Du Pont Circle townhouse he’d shared with his daughters for two decades; his Washington apartment next door to the Peterson House, where he had taken testimony in shorthand while President Lincoln died; and the magnificent Pension Building (now the National Building Museum), where he had worked briefly as Commissioner of Pensions.  This last summer I drove to within one or two hundred yards of the spot on the Manassas Battlefield where he’d been wounded; visited the Virginia Theological Seminary, where he had been treated at an army hospital for several weeks; and Arlington National Seminary, where he and several members of his family are buried near a rustic amphitheater that was recently renamed after him (see below).

tanner-2                tanner-1

My low-level stalking of a long-dead old soldier was a personal attempt to get closer to the Corporal. Although I do feel I got to know the “legless corporal” fairly well—he was a shrewd, funny, outgoing man—I also wondered if the persona that emerged from the public documents, newspaper articles, speeches, and bits of memoirs revealed the “real” Tanner. Thanks to Mr. Fitzpatrick, I now have a few more hints as to the kind of guy Tanner was, and more information about the kind of people who admired him.

James Marten is chair of the MU history department. His two most recent books are Sing Not War: Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (2012) and America’s Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace (2013).


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