Archive for February, 2012

Reflections on a Man With No Feet

James Marten on his new study of an injured Civil War Veteran.


My current project is a book on the post-Civil War life of James R. Tanner—who, as “Corporal Tanner,” became perhaps the best-known common soldier of the war.  His story offers some obvious connections to the experiences of present-day veterans and society’s responses to the injuries that many inevitably endure.  Tanner joined the 87th New York as a seventeen-year-old in late 1861.  Less than a year later, at the Battle of Second Manassas, a shell fragment ripped away one of Tanner’s feet and so mangled the other one that a surgeon had to amputate it at a crude field hospital.  Tanner survived and became, in turn, a War Department stenographer (sitting just a few feet away from a dying President Lincoln, he recorded the testimony given by witnesses to the assassination), a lawyer, a civil servant, a Republican operative, a claims agent, and a nationally known orator who gave lectures like “The Soldier’s Life: The Grave and the Gay.”  He became perhaps the most famous disabled person in America.

Photograph from Thomas and Andrew White, Ancestral Chronological Record of the William White Family from 1607 to 1895 (1895), 117.

Tanner was one of about 1.1 million military casualties in the Civil War (including more than 600,000 who died of disease or in battle) and one of about 60,000 who survived the loss of an arm or leg.  By comparison, in addition to over 6300 deaths of American service men and women, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in injuries to 33,000 more. Improved body armor and medical care—both on the battlefield and in military hospitals—have allowed many to survive wounds that would have meant certain death only a generation ago.  But with survival comes the need to adjust to physical and mental scars, to adapt to lives without legs or arms, to come to grips with being a different person than the one who went off to war.   These veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a wealth of resources on which to draw, ranging from families to Veterans’ Administration hospitals and clinics to non-profit support groups (for one example, see http://cause-usa.org/main/index.cfm).  The media coverage of their treatment, their struggles, their evolving relationships with families and communities, and their success in overcoming the pain and suffering, provide some of the most striking images of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Continue reading ‘Reflections on a Man With No Feet’

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Making History in Nigeria: The Fieldwork Experience

I have traveled many times to Nigeria on research trips over the past decade. I have not always faced the typical problems a foreign researcher faces when researching in a very unfamiliar place. I grew up in Nigeria and could say that I know my way around—how to negotiate the complex circumstances that the researcher faces in the field.  I also work in an area where I share a common language and culture with the people I encounter either in the field or in the archives. So, I see myself as an “insider” and I am often perceived as one. I am not concerned here with the epistemological issues or about “perspective” that may arise in studying one’s own society. Of course it can be argued that there is less inclination by the “insider” to construct opaque stereotypes of a society. Yet my understanding of the social structures of Nigerian societies has had its advantages in my negotiating the fieldwork experience.

Yet doing research in many African countries has its own perils. The archives in Nigeria, for example, are not well organized compared with the archives in the West. The cost of getting to Africa is a draw back. There is the frustration that arises from the bureaucratic structure and management of Nigerian archives. The major regional archives in Nigeria, including the ones located at Enugu, Ibadan, and Kaduna, are directly under the control of the federal bureaucracy in Abuja. This makes it difficult for the regional archives to implement programs that could improve the services they offer to researchers.

In 2006, for example, I secured a grant from The British Library under its Endangered Archives Programme for a pilot study to access the nature and condition of the collection at Enugu and Calabar Archives. The goal was to eventually secure a larger grant to digitize the collections. Continue reading ‘Making History in Nigeria: The Fieldwork Experience’

Phillip Naylor on recent events in North Africa

Phillip Naylor’s MENA Rihla (Travelogue) Reflection

When I stepped on the tarmac at the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca a year ago, I hoped to see a mysterious man with a fedora, wearing a trench coat packing a .45, and “Bogarting” a cigarette. (It was late at night, but it wasn’t foggy.) Then I looked for a beautiful woman with a tear streaking her cheek remembering the words: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Ah, mais non! Personne! A few days later, after visiting Rabat and time-warping in fabulous Fez, I was in Cairo walking along Tahrir Square. Riot police were deployed throughout the area. The Revolution had begun the day before (25 January 2011). In my whirlwind tour of Cairo and Giza, Abdou, my taxi driver, made sure that I had time to visit the National Museum. Who knew that this world famous institution would soon be closed as violence in neighboring Tahrir Square escalated? (Egyptians would stand arm in arm to protect their museum and patrimony.) By that time, I was in Tel Aviv with its seemingly omnipresent throbbing, incessant dance music echoing in my head; but I liked the city’s verve and groove. Jerusalem was another story—sacred but sad—dramatic yet divisive—although hearing activist Yeduda Stolov talk about “encountering” efforts to bridge communities made me feel better as did a providential meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III. Of course, having Terry Miller with me, the Director of the Office of International Education, expedited the entire enterprise, especially as a guide in Jerusalem’s Old City. Thanks, Terry!

It’s been quite a year for MENA—Middle East and North Africa. Now what? The “Arab Spring” has not only reverberated regionally but globally. As mentioned at the Middle East Studies Association meeting in December, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement can be linked to Tunisian protests that erupted in December 2010, incited by Mohamed Bouazizi’s tragic self-immolation. Since then there have been extraordinary events, e.g., the overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Muammar Qadhafi in Libya. To many observers, the subsequent growth of Islamism is worrisome as illustrated by the electoral success of Ennahda in Tunisia in October, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) in Morocco in November, and the Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt in November, December, and January. Nevertheless, Islamism as a movement needs clarification.

In his analysis “Understanding Islamism” (International Crisis Group Middle East/North Africa, no. 37, 2 March 2005), Hugh Roberts (now at Tufts University) equated Islamism with “‘Islamic activism,’ the active assertion and promotion of beliefs, prescriptions, laws, or policies that are held to be Islamic in character.” In other words, Islamism cannot be narrowly circumscribed but can be widely interpreted, especially in its North African context. Continue reading ‘Phillip Naylor on recent events in North Africa’


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