Archive for May, 2013

Historians on the Road Again

When we launched historians@work a year-and-a-half ago, we suggested that our blogs would explore the journeys that we take as historians.  Our posts since then have usually dealt with figurative journeys—intellectual, archival, personal.  But between the end of the spring semester 2012 and end of summer 2013, the twenty-one historians in the department will have covered scores of thousands of miles over land and sea as we made our way to conferences and archives throughout the United States and the world.  By June 2013 we will have traveled to three continents (not counting North America), twelve countries, and eighteen states.  Although not exhaustive, the following compilation provides a snapshot of the kinds of travel required of Marquette historians as they trod their scholarly paths.

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Take Nothing for Granted: Reflections on the Freedom Project

James Marten is Chair of the history department and Director of the Freedom Project, a year-long commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War that explored the many meanings and histories of emancipation and freedom in the United States and beyond.

4. Freedom Project - Logo-RGB

As the 2012-2013 academic year comes to a close, so, too, does the Freedom Project, Marquette University’s com- memoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.  Many colleagues at Marquette contributed to a very suc- cessful year, including William Welburn in the Office for Diversity and Inclusion in the Office of the Provost, who helped fund the initiative; the faculty and staffs of the Performing Arts Department and the Haggerty Museum of Art who mounted an entire theatrical season and three separate exhibits as part of the project; Dean Janice Welburn, Eric Kowalik, and many others at the Raynor Memorial Libraries, which hosted and maintained our website and created several exhibitions; members in the Office of Marketing and Communication, who designed our logo and publicity materials; and the Law School, English Department, and Women’s and Gender Studies Program, which, respectively, sponsored a poetry reading by A. Vann Jordan, a lecture by Columbia University historian Eric Foner, and a talk by Jeanne Theoharis, biographer of the civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.  In the History Department, Kristen Foster organized the Mellon Grant-funded symposia on antebellum emancipation in the fall and on domestic surveillance in the twentieth century in the spring, and Andrew Kahrl administered our monthly brown bag discussion of notions of freedom in the U. S. and beyond (speakers included Laura Matthew, Dan Meissner, Alison Efford, Sarah Bond, Julius Ruff, and Chima Korieh).

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My Search for Thomas Paine

John Turek is graduating from Marquette University with a degree in history this spring.  Associate professor of early American history Kristen Foster writes: “I worked with Jack when he was a Mellon Undergraduate Research Fellow in fall 2012.  He chose a research project comparing the radical thought of Jefferson, Adams and Paine. Jack visited my office hours every couple of weeks, and we discussed what he read. He worked with the political thought of John Adams and the early Virginia writings of Jefferson. He got completely lost in the best way, though, when he began to explore Paine’s ideas on socialism. He used his Mellon funding to take a trip to Philadelphia over fall break. He spent his time at the American Philosophical Society, and much to my delight, the magic of REAL documents captured his imagination. He loved the research in ways that he never expected. I asked him to write a blog about it.”

This past fall semester I was lucky enough to have an Undergraduate Mellon Research Fellowship under the guidance of Dr. Foster.  Influenced by taking her class on the early American republic and her seminar on American Freedom, I decided to focus my area of study on early American thinkers who helped shape the path of this country.  I examined Thomas Paine, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson–men who are held in the pantheon of the Founding Fathers but who appeared to hold very different ideas about what being free in America meant and how the federal government should be established and run.  I went into the project wanting to examine each man’s beliefs about freedom and how these ideas influenced their interpretations of what a federal government should do to protect that freedom.  As I started my research, I found that my reading brought up other questions that I had not considered before starting the project.  Instead of picking and choosing material that answered my original question, I now found that my research was taking control of the project, bringing up new questions and answers to those questions that I had not considered before.  Although I enjoyed reading secondary and primary materials printed in books, I felt that the research experience would not be complete unless I held the actual, physical documents.

7_philosophical_pfI took the opportunity to use the money allotted for travel to go to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.  I stayed at a local hostel that was within walking distance of the many historical markers and sites that seem to be marked on every street.  The American Philosophical Society is located on a cobble-stone street and boasts a large statue of Benjamin Franklin on its roof.  I had never done any sort of professional research before and was intimidated about going into the Society.  The secretary helped me sign up for their check-out program and I received a badge ID with the title “Researcher,” allowing me access to their study room/library.  The library had two large tables in the center for researchers surrounded by book cases, busts of Franklin, and an open-aired second floor with more book cases.  I was not entirely sure what I was looking for or what I would find so I requested both boxes of Thomas Paine’s papers.  The librarian brought them out and as soon as I opened them I felt like I was doing something special.

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The More Things Change…

Laura Matthew, associate professor of Latin American history, checks in from Spain, where she is conducting research with the support of a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and shares her thoughts on how a recent archival discovery sheds new light on the historical relationship between racial discrimination and mass incarceration.

National Public Radio recently published this article on the high proportion of black males in jail in Wisconsin – the highest in the nation by far, a statistic that is primarily driven by Milwaukee.

MatthewHeadShot copyThat same week, I stumbled across a handwritten letter in the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla, Spain. It treats neither the century nor the themes of my current research. But its description of the discrimination facing people of African descent in late colonial Guatemala was so eloquent – and sadly, modern – that I transcribed it in full. (What follows is a somewhat free translation of parts of the letter into English. The full Spanish transcription will be published in the forthcoming volume of the academic journal Mesoamérica.)

A little context: at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Guatemala, slavery persisted but most people of African descent were free and had been for generations. Some had stopped paying the extra taxes demanded of free people of color, usually by serving in the military. Some had moved into positions of local political power, or were practicing professions like medicine, engineering, and law.

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