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Democracy in Trouble Times – Standing Rock, #NoDAPL, & Mni Wiconi

By Bryan Rindfleisch

This year’s Historians@Work will feature a number of blogs engaging the theme  “Democracy in Troubled Times.”  That is the focus of the 2018–2019 Marquette Forum, which will offer “events focusing on civic dialogue and the state of democracies across the world.” For more on the Forum click here.

In 1978, hundreds of Native American activists and allies undertook the “Longest Walk” from San Francisco to D.C., to raise awareness about Indigenous issues and to protest state and federal efforts to terminate the “trust” relationship between tribes and the United States. The urgency of such an action stemmed from a threat toward treaty rights, which endangered tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and specific rights guaranteed in treaties, such as the access to fresh water and fish. It was during one of the earliest stops in Gallup, New Mexico, that John Redhouse (Diné/Navajo) – a spokesmen for the National Indian Youth Council – explained the immediacy of the Longest Walk:

the Earth and the People are one. We all come from a common Mother Earth. We are of Her; We are from Her. And the land and the People are one. And to destroy the land is to destroy the People. We have a very special and unique physical and spiritual relationship with the land, with the Earth. It is the basis for our survival, our existence as a people…so we’re protecting our physical and spiritual basis for our existence, for our survival as a people, that’s what’s at stake, that’s what’s at danger, for once again we have what the white man wants, once again we’re in the way…[of] this country.

Fast forward nearly forty years later to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas, and Redhouse’s words seem even more prophetic, and altogether embody the beauty, the flaws, and the contested contours of our democracy today.


In December 2015, the Army Corps of Engineers – on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners – conducted an environmental survey of lands on and around Standing Rock, including Lake Oahe, in preparation for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The nearly $3.8 billion, 1,200-mile pipeline would connect the Bakken oil fields, an epicenter for the fracking of oil in the United States, to existing pipelines in Illinois. While originally intended to pass through Bismarck, N.D., local whites protested the building of the pipeline and forced Energy Transfer Partners to look elsewhere. Standing Rock and Lake Oahe were selected, despite objections by the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, and American Council on Historical Preservation. In its “Environmental Impact Statement,” the Interior stated “the routing of a 12- to 30-inch crude oil pipeline in close proximity to and upstream of the Reservation is of serious concern for the Department…[which] holds more than 800,000 acres of land in trust for the Tribe that could be impacted by a leak or spill,” not to mention Lake Oahe’s waters Picture2fed into the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. As for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Osage and Iowa Nations affected by the pipeline: “We have not been consulted in an appropriate manner about…[our] traditional cultural properties, sites, or landscapes vital to our identity and spiritual well-being.” What was at stake for Native Peoples was access to clean water, threats to ancestral grounds and other sacred sites, and the violation of their sovereignty and treaty rights, despite a Supreme Court ruling (Winters v. U.S., 1908) that affirmed “Native nations retain waters rights on their territories.”

This disregard of Native Peoples prompted LaDonna Brave Bull Allard and others to establish the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock in April 2016. As Allard argued: “If we allow an oil company to dig through and destroy our histories, our ancestors, our hearts and souls as a people, is that not genocide?” Calling themselves “Water Protectors” in defense of Mni Wiconi (“Water is Life”), these individuals placed themselves directly in the path of DAPL to impede construction. What no one anticipated, though, was the flood of people who descended upon Standing Rock, as thousands of Native Peoples (from 300 different nations) and their allies from around the United States joined the Water Protectors, leading to the establishment of the Oceti Sakowin and Red Warrior camps. (For photographs of what life looked in the Sacred Stone, Oceti Sakowin, and Red Warrior Camps, click here and here. These Water Protectors included Natives and non-Natives, veterans and clergy, politicians and celebrities, men and women, young and old. As author and activist, Nick Estes (Lower Brule Sioux) further observed, it was Native youth like Andreanne Catt and Anna Lee Rain Yellowhammer “who were leading the movement,” such as the “ReZpectOurWater” petition campaign that garnered more than 160,000 supporters nationwide and was delivered in person in D.C. after a 2,000 mile trek – a 21st-century Longest Walk – from North Dakota. And as Catt articulated: “we never used the word ‘protest’ because it wasn’t an ‘us and them’ thing. We called it ‘protecting’ because that’s what we were doing – defending the land, people, and water using non-violent direct action.” Media attention in the U.S. and beyond proved so electric that President Obama ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to “explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.” As journalist Mark Trahant (Shoshone-Bannock) concluded: “Standing Rock captured our imagination…[it] showed the world how to defeat powerful forces.” This was American democracy in action.

However, as early as September 2016, Energy Transfer Partners was determined to not let – in the words of its CEO, Kelcy Warren – “violent mobs” derail the construction of DAPL, and hired a private security firm, TigerSwan, to ensure the pipeline’s completion. From records recently released by public inquests, it was found that TigerSwan viewed the Water Protectors as an “ideologically driven insurgency…[that] generally followed the jihadist insurgency model,” and it deployed “military-style counterterrorism measures” at Standing Rock. Between October 2016 and January 2017, Water Protectorsfaced riot police armed with military equipment, attack dogs, armored personnel carriers using sound cannons and water cannons (in freezing temps), and other excessive measures to root out an “insurgency.” (For photographs of the violence, click here.  In one case, Sophia Wilansky had part of her arm blown off by a concussion grenade, which prompted a class-action lawsuit over “excessive force.” The violence proved so severe, and so well-covered by social media, that a thousand ex-military trekked to Standing Rock to serve as “human shields” for the Water Protectors, part of a movement known as “Veterans Stand.” (For further information about “Veterans Stand” at Standing Rock, click here. However, such violence coincided with the election of President Donald Trump, who issued an executive order in January 2017 that restarted the pipeline, which then finished in April. And in the wake of Standing Rock, lawmakers in thirty different states introduced fifty-six legislative bills to restrict protests like Standing Rock, which “expanded the definition of criminal trespass and raised the penalty for a riot conviction.”


What, then, does Standing Rock tell us about our American democracy? It would be easy to conclude that our democracy is broken, twisted by corporate greed, environmental racism, and interest politics that marginalizes the actual people. There is truth in that. But Standing Rock has also become a symbol of our democracy, the power of common people to shape the world around them. As Trahant reflects, “Standing Rock is a reminder that people standing together can do amazing things when facing injustice.” For Lewis Grassrope (Lower Brule Sioux), “Standing Rock reached across the world, and everyone saw the power of what took place here.” More personally, Sherman Alexander (Cheyenne River Sioux) stated how Standing Rock “gave me purpose…How often is this opportunity going to come along again where I can say I did something good with my life?” With all that optimism in mind, though, we must also pay heed to Elizabeth Ellis (Peoria), who reminds us “not [to] forget Standing Rock…for the sake of our democracy, we must continue to stand with and beyond Standing Rock.”

Bryan C. Rindfleisch researches and teaches Early (Colonial) American, Native American, and Atlantic World history. His first book – George Galphin’s Intimate Empire: The Creek Indians, Family, and Colonialism in Early America (Univ. of Alabama Press forthcoming 2019)– focused on the intersection of colonial, Native, imperial, and Atlantic histories, peoples, and places in the eighteenth-century South. He has also published articles in Early American Studies, Ethnohistory, Native South, Journal of Early American History, The American Historian, History Compass, and XVIII: New Perspectives on the Eighteenth-Century.

Further Reading:

NYC Stands with Standing Rock Collective, “#StandingRockSyllabus.” 2016.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, “Standing Rock is Everywhere: One Year Later.” The Guardian, February 2018.

Rebecca Bengal, “Return to Standing Rock.” Vogue, April 2018.

Elizabeth Ellis, “Why We Must Not Forget Standing Rock.” Rewire, May 2017.

Nick Estes and Jaskiran Dhillon, eds. Standing with Standing Rock: Voices from the #NoDAPL Movement. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019.

Nick Estes, Our History is the Future: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance. New York: Penguin Random House, 2019.

Zoë Jackson, “‘For the Future’: Doing Indigenous History After Standing Rock.” Perspectives on History, March 2018.


Never Forget: Two Lessons of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre

By J. Patrick Mullins, Ph.D.

This year’s Historians@Work will feature a number of blogs engaging the theme “Democracy in Troubled Times.”That is the focus of the 2018-2019 Marquette Forum, which will offer “events focusing on civic dialogue and the state of democracies across the world.” For more on the Forum click here.

On October 27, 2018, a man shouting “All Jews must die” entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh during Shabbat services and opened fire on the worshippers. The gunman killed eleven persons and wounded six (including four police officers who answered the call of duty) before he was shot and taken into custody. He allegedly explained to police, “I just want to kill Jews.” The Tree of Life Massacre is the largest mass murder of Jews (targeted for being Jews) in American history. That data point should give us pause.

The study of history is not a luxury, not a game, not a contemplative end-in-itself. Historians strive to identify the causes and consequences of human events so the public might benefit from the lessons of the past in making their own decisions, as private individuals and self-governing citizens. Democracy cannot survive without the wisdom afforded by history.

As a professional responsibility and a public service, we historians can interpret and explain current events in their historic contexts, bringing to light long-range causes not necessarily evident to media commentators and policy makers. But what contexts apply here? What lessons might the synagogue attack teach us?

For me, the mass shooting in Pittsburgh is not wholly of civic or professional concern. It took place in my old neighborhood, among my old friends.

Originally formed by an Orthodox congregation over a century ago, the Tree of Life Synagogue is one of the oldest in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The first Jewish immigrants from Europe made Squirrel Hill their home in the 1840s, and the neighborhood became predominantly Jewish in the 1930s. Holocaust survivors settled there in the 1950s and Jews from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.

When my wife and stepdaughter emigrated from Israel, we chose Squirrel Hill for our new home. There we could socialize with other Hebrew speaking families, shop at the kosher grocery, and celebrate Rosh Ha’Shanah, Passover, and Purim with neighbors. We had a family membership in the neighborhood’s Jewish Community Center (JCC), where my stepdaughter went to kindergarten for a time and swam in the pool after elementary school classes, and my wife and I enjoyed the gym.

The Squirrel Hill JCC is welcoming to secular Jews as well as Gentiles. Being open and welcoming to outsiders has its risks. About 20 years ago, JCCs nationwide enhanced their security in the wake of small-scale attacks on their facilities motivated by anti-Semitism. For a visit to the gym, I would run a membership card with a picture ID through a card reader that would admit me to a small room made of bulletproof glass. A staff member kept constant vigil at the entrance, observing every person who entered that airlock and making visual confirmation of identity before unlocking the second door.

Many American Jews have internalized the need for such vigilance against anti-Semitism and security against political violence. This habitual guardedness is partly a product of Holocaust memory. The great moral imperatives of Holocaust memory—“Never Forget” and “Never Again”—leap to many minds as the historic lesson which most readily and obviously applies to the Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre.

It is disturbing to see the same kind of genocidal mindset responsible for the Holocaust unleashed again—by one man, in our own time, in our family’s old neighborhood—to such bloody effect. This incident is all the more disturbing viscerally for those Jews with a personal connection to anti-Semitic violence. Many of my wife’s relatives went into Nazi concentration camps, and most did not come out. Her grandmother survived Bergen-Belsen.

In the spirit of “Never Forget” and “Never Again,” historians should work—as scholars, teachers, and curators—to help the public understand this mass killing in the context of a long history of anti-Semitic persecution. We should keep the Tree of Life atrocity alive in the American mind, holding it up to our fellow citizens as a tragic example of what can happen when racial and religious hatreds go unchecked or even inflamed by our media, intellectuals, and elected leaders.

But there is another historic context in which we can try to understand the Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre. It has a second lesson to teach.

The killing of eight men and three women in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 was the largest scale killing of Jews as Jews in United States history. The horror of this fact must not be diminished. But its historic contextualization requires acknowledgment that Jews have not been subjected in the U.S. to the kind of large-scale bloodshed experienced historically by African Americans (for example, in the Colfax Massacre) or indigenous Americans (as at Wounded Knee).

Moreover, the killing of Jews for being Jews has occurred on an unimaginably greater scale elsewhere in the Western world. In many nations of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America, Jews have been murdered by the hundreds, the thousands, the tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, the millions—by mobs, inquisitions, state-encouraged pogroms, and state-directed, industrial-scale extermination. Nazis are hardly alone in this grisly legacy.

Picture1The International Memorial at Dachau concentration camp in Germany, dedicated in 1967 in commemoration of the Holocaust.

A heritage of persecution and genocide is central to the history and identity of modern Jews, but that is not all there is to being Jewish in America today. Jews have indeed experienced violence, prejudice, discrimination, and other adversities in America. But they have also prospered here, economically, culturally, and spiritually, enjoying greater security of life and liberty of thought in the United States than almost any other nation in the Western world.

This is not by accident.

At a time when non-Anglican Protestants—let alone Catholics or Jews—were banned from the vote and public office in Britain, the legal equality of all religions was a founding principle of the U.S. government.

On August 18, 1790, in a letter to the congregation of Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, President Washington noted that the new U.S. Constitution recognized that “[a]ll possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.” He wrote:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. . . . May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

The American Republic’s constitutional protections for religious minorities—including naturalization of non-Christian immigrants and the prohibition of church establishments, religious tests for national office, and acts of Congress abridging the free exercise of religion—are as central the Jewish American experience as persecution and the Holocaust.

The full logical implications of the equal rights principle were not rendered explicit for women, African Americans, or indigenous Americans in the U.S. Constitution as they were for religious minorities. And too often America’s founding principles have been honored more in the breach than in the observance. It is specifically when the U.S. government and its citizens forget America’s original commitment to give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” that the rights of minorities, immigrants, and individual dissenters are most urgently in peril.

The two lessons of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre are therefore tragically interconnected. We historians must teach the evils that humans have done to one another and exhort the public to remember the horrors and crimes of the past, lest we be doomed to repeat them. But we must also help our students and readers never to forget the human capacity for goodness and the positive achievements of the past, lest they slip away.

Historians have an important role to play in civic life by affirming and renewing within our local communities and our national culture the values which have made possible peaceful coexistence among humans, despite our differences and disagreements, such as the moral right of each individual to think, judge, choose, and live by the light of her or his own reason and conscience. Only when such principles are secure—not just under law but in the hearts and minds of the American people—can we all sit in safety under our own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make us afraid.


  1. Patrick Mullins, Ph.D., is assistant professor of history and Public History Director at Marquette University. His first book—Father of Liberty: Jonathan Mayhew and the Principles of the American Revolution—was published in 2017. He is working on a new book about the role of public memory in the cultural origins of the American Revolution.


Further Reading:

Bonomi, Patricia U. Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Jones, Martha S. Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Miller, Nicholas P. The Religious Roots of the First Amendment: Dissenting Protestants and the Separation of Church and State. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Pencak, William. Jews and Gentiles in Early America, 1654-1800. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.

Young, James E. The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994.

Wenger, Beth. The Jewish Americans: Three Centuries of Jewish Voices in America. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

Democracy in Troubled Times: Empire and the Politics of the Street

By Sam Harshner

This year’s Historians@Work will feature a number of blogs engaging the theme  “Democracy in Troubled Times.”  That is the focus of the 2018–2019 Marquette Forum, which will offer “events focusing on civic dialogue and the state of democracies across the world.” For more on the Forum click here.

Andros led to prison by people of Boston

Governor Edmund Andros being led to prison by the people of Boston. From William A. Crafts, Pioneers in the Settlement of America, Vol. 1 (Boston: Samuel Walker & Company, 1876), p. 442

In the end, Governor Edmund Andros gave up without a fight.  Despite years of running roughshod over the institutions of colonial New England, imprisoning those who stood in his way and arbitrarily imposing taxes, the Andros regime ended without a shot fired.  Indeed, on April 19, 1689, the erstwhile Viceroy sat impotent in his mansion surrounded by retainers and a handful of British soldiers as an army of 2,000 militiamen gathered on the Boston Neck. As the ramshackle army progressed through the town towards the Governor’s Mansion, the people of Boston gathered to their side, destroying customs records and freeing prisoners.  Andros wisely bowed to the will of the people and submitted to arrest without resistance.  The jubilant crowd then escorted the Governor and his comrades to Fort Mary in Boston Harbor where he would await transit to London for trial.

It was an ignominious end to a reign that had granted one man much unfettered authority. In 1686, the Duke of York, soon to be King James II, had appointed Andros as the governor of a new colonial entity called the Dominion of New England.  The Dominion consolidated the colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Haven, New York and New Jersey into a single administrative unit headed by a royal appointee.  Colonial charters were abolished and replaced with a new plan of administration that revolved around the almost absolute power of the Royal Governor.

This new arrangement was most controversial in Boston, where traditions of local rule were at the core of the Puritan Commonwealth. Under the Dominion, the colony lost the right to elect its own governor, its powerful colonial assembly was eliminated, and the Boston Town Meeting was abolished.  Further, Andros used his authority to impose a series of measures that drew the colony under the more direct control of imperial authorities. He imposed a poll tax on all adult males and introduced a new property tax on landholdings. Finally he reversed the laissez faire approach to trade practiced by his predecessors.  Piracy, smuggling and unregulated trade with other European powers had been tacitly accepted parts of the Massachusetts economy, but Andros ensured that British mercantile regulations were stringently enforced. He commissioned a squadron of the royal navy to search colonial merchant ships, established a new maritime court to try smugglers, and imprisoned sailors suspected of freebooting.

These reforms produced vociferous public opposition.  Rev. John Wise of Ipswich gave a sermon denouncing Andros and his imposition of taxation without formal democratic approval.  Dominion officials arrested and imprisoned the Reverend, telling him, “you have no more privileges Left you then not to be Sold for Slaves.”  Everywhere the people seethed and resentment grew but armed with the might of the empire, Andros’ position was unassailable.

The governor’s royal patron could not have been more pleased with his colonial proxy. James harbored a deep resentment towards New England, a region that still relished the memory of Cromwell and the regicides that had executed his father King Charles I.   James aimed to loot the colonies as a means of propping up an absolutist regime in England. His foreign policy had been hemmed in by Parliament’s refusal to fund his initiatives and the colonies provided a potential base of revenue independent of Parliamentary interference.  An open Catholic, James distrusted Parliament’s ardently Protestant and potentially republican sentiments.

Likewise, Parliament distrusted the “Papist” leanings of their sovereign monarch.  When a son and legitimate heir was born to James on June 10, 1688,  prominent leaders began to fear the imposition of a permanent Catholic monarchy on Protestant England.  In late 1688, they began plotting to hand the crown to William of Orange, Stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and his wife Mary Stuart, sister of James II.  These negotiations led to an invasion by William on November 5, and James’ subsequent flight from England to France on December 9.  This so-called “Glorious Revolution” established Parliamentary control of the English state, and William and Mary were crowned joint monarchs of England on February 13.

Word of the coup began to reach the colonies early that spring, but Andros attempted to suppress this news until he could verify William’s stance on the Dominion.  Meanwhile, colonial leaders recognized the necessity of presenting William and Mary with a fait accompli.  The call for rebellion began to circulate, resulting in an uprising on April 19, ostensibly in defense of the new monarchs.  Local representatives then sailed to London to plead their case against Andros and hopefully to secure a renewal of the old colonial charter of 1629.

William proved none too willing to grant Massachusetts its former privileges, and the ultimate resolution was a compromise that satisfied neither side.  The Colonial Assembly was reestablished, but the Commonwealth’s right to elect its own Governor was lost forever.  The Assembly was granted authority over taxation, but a royally appointed Governor was given veto power over all legislation.  Finally, while William retreated from enforcing restrictions on trade, he refused to prosecute Andros for his supposed crimes and appointed the former head of the Dominion as governor of the staunchly royalist colony of Virginia.

The uprising’s relationship to American democracy is a complex one.  Certainly the uprising secured the colonies’ right to representative government. Indeed, Calvin Coolidge once identified the resistance of John Wise as one of the inspirations for the Declaration of Independence. Nonetheless, it is not clear whether this uprising was in fact democratic in implication.  The Massachusetts Charter of 1629 required that all voters be members of a Puritan congregation and the Colonial Assembly had actively persecuted religious groups, such as Baptists and Quakers.  Andros was intent on eliminating these religious qualifications for citizenship.  Further, it is quite clear that the Massachusetts Government held imperial designs on the territory of the Native Americans and French Canadians on their borders without any intention of drawing these peoples into the Commonwealth itself.  Finally, it is difficult to designate any regime as democratic if it sanctioned chattel slavery and extended suffrage only to white male property owners.  While an older brand of colonial history posits these nascent republican institutions as the seeds of American democracy, the assumption that such limited representative institutions lead inevitably to equality before the law belies a naïve faith in progress that is ultimately ahistorical.  As political scientist Rogers Smithsuggests in, the American political tradition is characterized not only by its rhetorical commitment to liberal principles and the expansion of civil rights, but also by a tendency to curtail access to citizenship.

Nonetheless, there is something fundamentally democratic in the forms of political action pioneered in this early rebellion.  In overthrowing Andros, the people of Boston established a tradition of active resistance, or what historian Simon Newman refers to as a “politics of the street,” that was used throughout the colonial period to combat elite political institutions that largely excluded common people from participation.   This tradition of political agitation challenged the kidnapping of sailors for the royal navy, protested the elimination of price controls on basic foodstuffs like meat and flour, and fought the imposition of unjust taxes by the imperial administration in the lead-up to the American Revolution.  Indeed, it was fear of the people in the streets that ensured the establishment of popular power in the American Constitution and withstood calls for elective monarchy by figures like Alexander Hamilton. To quote the slogan of the Boston crowd in the American Revolution: vox populi vox dei.  We need not accept the ascriptive strictures of this nation’s colonial and republican institutions to recognize the liberatory power of these traditions of popular resistance to arbitrary rule.

Sam Harshner is a Visiting Instructor in History and Political Science and assistant director of the Center for Urban Research, Teaching, and Outreach.  He is currently completing a dissertation on the connections between popular action, democracy and ideology in the American Revolution.

Further Reading:

Bourne, Russell. Cradle of Violence: How Boston’s Waterfront Mobs Ignited the American Revolution. Wiley Press: Hoboken, NJ, 2006.

Lovejoy, David.  The Glorious Revolution in America. Wesleyan University Press: Middletown, CT, 1987.

Newman, Simon. Parades and the Politics of the Street. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 1997.

Smith, Rogers. “Beyond Tocqueville, Myrdal, and Hartz: The Multiple Traditions in America.” The American Political Science Review 87, no. 3 (Sep., 1993): 549-566

Taylor, Alan. American Colonies. Penguin Books: New York, 2001.

Envisioning New York City, the Revolution, and the Republic Through the Eyes of Alexander Hamilton: “Another Immigrant Coming up from the Bottom”

By Kelly Smale

This past summer, I had the honor to attend a week-long professional development seminar for humanities teachers entitled “Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Era” sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History ( at New York University. Out of over 100 applicants from qualifying middle and high schools throughout the United States, thirty-six candidates Screen Shot 2018-10-22 at 10.13.06 AMwere chosen for the program.  Many flew across the country for the experience. It was a privilege to be selected for the seminar, which provided outstanding professional development and unique historical excursions for program participants. Although much our dismay, we were not able to see “Hamilton” The Musical” or meet its writer and star, Lin Manuel Miranda, it was a phenomenal experience that provided each of us with a plethora of resources, namely primary sources, “essential questions” for guiding lectures, discussion and writing prompts, graphic organizers, and interactive activities to engage students and promote thought-provoking, meaningful, and inquiry-based learning in the classroom.

Each morning, we attended lectures delivered by historian, journalist, and Senior Editor of the National Review, Dr. Richard Brookhiser, revolving around Alexander Hamilton and several of his contemporaries, including George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Marshall. In preparation for the seminar, we were asked to read Brookhiser’s biographies of Hamilton and Madison, which provided historical context of the era and a sense of how some of its major revolutionaries perceived and interacted with one another. We were also assigned a course reader replete with excellent primary sources pertaining to each of the founding fathers. At the end of each session, Dr. Brookhiser would spark discussion and ruminate on the visionaries’ personal, political, and ideological intersections and divergences, along with how the founders worked together to shape the historical cornerstones and foundation of the republic. The lectures were not only fascinating and complimentary of one another, but full of nuance and depth, which provided participants with excellent supplemental knowledge for teaching adolescent minds about the worldviews, interests, and timeless importance of the founders and the founding generation.

After the lunch, we would embark on Institute-led expeditions designed to bring history to life through the eyes of Hamilton in the city he revolutionized and once called home. For instance, we visited the New York Historical Society to study the incredible Gilder Hamilton bustLehrman collection of primary sources, such as wood carvings, broadsides, and letters from the revolution;  Trinity Church, where Alexander and Eliza Hamilton (as well as Angelica Church) are buried;  the cavernous structure of Federal Hall; the Grange National Memorial, where the Hamiltons once lived; and, finally, the infamous New Jersey site where Hamilton was ultimately shot and killed by his political rival, Aaron Burr. To conclude the seminar experience, each participant presented a mini primary source-based lesson of their own design relevant to the founding generation that were collectively compiled into a Google Doc made accessible to all participants.

As a whole, it was an incredible privilege to engage in the professional development seminar and come to know so many fantastic fellow educators committed to history education and the importance of impressing the significance of the past onto future generations. The instructional techniques we discussed emphasized structuring lessons around open-ended, intriguing questions and incorporating primary source-centric activities and student-led discussions designed to incite active learning as much as possible. They provided me personally with excellent ideas for how I can make history more compelling and relevant for more students. It was a surreal experience to walk the historic streets and marvel at the architecture and harbor of such a pivotal city from the New York Historical Societyrevolution and early republic through the lens of one of its key citizens, an immigrant who was never quite able to fully assume a true sense of American identity. Identity was a pervasive theme throughout the seminar experience, which compelled each of us to think deeply about what it means to be an American and the sociopolitical complexities and constructs that have (and continue to) influence immigration, citizenship, rights, and nationhood. I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to study American history through the Gilder Lehrman Institute last summer, and hope to partake in similar professional development seminars in the future, not only to enhance my teaching skills and intellectual competency, but for my own personal enrichment, growth, and commitment to assigning value to the vast diversity of the human experience and meaning to our understanding of the past and place in an increasingly globalized society.

Kelly Smale received her MA in History from Marquette in 2016.  She is currently living and working in Washington D.C. and pursuing her MAT in Secondary Education with a concentration in history. She is the second person from the left in the second row in the above photograph.


Democracy in Troubled Times: The League of Nations Invents Childhood, 1924

By James Marten

This year’s Historians@Work will feature a number of blogs engaging the theme  “Democracy in Troubled Times.”  That is the focus of the 2018–2019 Marquette Forum, which, according to its website, will offer “events focusing on civic dialogue and the state of democracies across the world. The Forum will engage students, faculty, staff and the communities making up greater Milwaukee in conversations around crucial questions including: Is democracy in crisis? Who gets to participate in a democracy? What are the rights, responsibilities and privileges of citizenship? What does democracy demand of its citizens? What are the opportunities and responsibilities for non-citizens within a democratic system? How would the “Founding Fathers” have envisioned civic engagement in the 21st-century? How can Catholic social teachings contribute to democratic dialogues?”

 Our blogs will look at some of these questions in the contexts of specific moments in time, and suggest how those moments—some of which ended with the expansion of freedom, some of which did not—can help us understand the nature of Democracy through the ages and today.

The League of Nations invented childhood on September 26, 1924, when it adopted the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child.”  Of course, there have always been children, but in less than 200 words the Declaration laid out the principles of a modern childhood as a series of rights reminiscent of other declarations of rights that are often hallmarks of democratic societies.  It stated simply that “mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give,” and listed five basic “rights” that civilized societies were obligated to provide for children (Eglantyne Jebb, the founder of Save the Children, provided much of the inspiration and rhetoric for the Declaration):

Article 1: The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.

Article 2: The child that is hungry must be fed; the child that is sick must be nursed; the child that is backward must be helped; the delinquent child must be reclaimed; and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored.

Picture1Article 3: The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress.

Article 4: The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation.

Article 5: The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of fellow men.

Reformers had been campaigning for the rights and welfare of children for several decades.  In addition to basic humanitarianism, reformers urgently believed that the future of democracy depended on the proper raising and education of children.  This had been a hallmark of childrearing theories in western Europe and the United States since the 1830s.

One of the remarkable things about the document—other than its extraordinary ambition—is that it was conceived during one of the most troubled times in modern world history. Even as Europe picked up the pieces after the Great War, many of the seeds of the Second World War were being sown. Fascism—with all it meant for children on both sides of the Aryan divide—had begun to sprout in Italy and Germany; China was descending into political chaos and violence with the collapse of the Qing dynasty; the Soviet Union had just come out of its civil war, which left millions dead and perhaps 7,000,000 homeless children. Hundreds of thousands of children had perished between 1914 and 1918, and millions more would die—as victims not only of bombings, starvation, and death camps, but also as soldiers and partisans—during the Second World War. Add to that the great influenza epidemic that had just ended and the worldwide depression that would descend within a few years, and it is hard to imagine a worse time in the modern era for the world’s children.

Yet that moment in the autumn of 1924 set a precedent that would become a beacon for future generations despite the grim decades that followed.  The League’s successor, the United Nations, would pass much-expanded statements on children’s rights in 1959 and again in 1989. And the assumptions that the Declaration articulated would shape the way childhood was “supposed” to be (although many states struggled to live up to them).

One of the first historians of childhood, Joe Hawes, declared some years ago that “Childhood is where you catch a culture in high relief.”  In other words, a society’s values and beliefs can and should be measured by how they affect children.  Similarly, the policy-makers and activists who composed the Declaration of the Rights of the Child believed that democracies had a responsibility not only to provide for the basic needs of their children, but also to nurture in them the principles and ideals that are the building blocks of democracy.

For further reading:

Sarah Fieldston, Raising the World: Child Welfare in the American Century (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Linda Mahood, Feminism and Voluntary Action: Eglantyne Jebb and Save the Children, 1876-1928 (Palgrave, 2009).

James Marten, ed., Children and War: A Historical Anthology (New York University Press, 2002).

Heidi Morrison, eds., The Global History of Childhood Reader (Routledge, 2012).

Nicholas Stargardt, Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives Under the Nazis (Knopf, 2005).

James Marten is professor and chair of the MU history department.  His most recent book is The History of Childhood: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2018).

Intersecting Trails: History, Lovecraft and Epoch-Driven Fiction

By Sean Malone

In November 2016, during a stretch of those gray and windy evenings typical of Wisconsin’s fall season, I wrote a short story about a search for Haunchyville—an obscure piece of folklore about a mythical village near the Waukesha area. Over the next year and a half, I returned to it with ramping frequency, encountering new ideas, locations, or confluences that expanded the story and cast of characters. By early 2018 I had something of a short novel and decided to pursue publication. Upon receiving the acceptance letter from my publisher, the experience resonated to the coursework completed and skills instilled during my studies at Marquette. The process was flowing and organic, yet measured and checked by consulting maps, articles, and sources. The craft of the historian was in play in an unconventional sense.

I wondered who the book’s audience would be. Historians are accustomed to preparing thoroughly researched monographs or surveys intended for an academic community. I wanted to share a spirit that I believe defined the twilight of the long-gone Fountain Spring House in Waukesha, and conversely, the emerging grandeur of new construction such as St. Josaphat’s Basillica, which remains a distnctive landmark of Milwaukee’s south side to this day. A poignant reminder was given of the transience of such monuments in the sudden blaze that consumed Trinity Lutheran Church Milwaukee this past May. Whereas time or reconstruction may alter the original state of these structures, something of their interesting pasts may be shared with wider audiences through the art of storytelling.  In the journey of writing the book, these locales became connected in an unexpected but satisfying way that hearkened back to the prologue’s search for elusive Haunchyville. The novel planted one foot in the camp of historical fiction, and the other in the opaque suspense and period pulp of Lovecraftian fiction.

P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) placed his short stories and novellas in both real and fictitious locations in his native New England, and largely set them contemporary to his own times. In the loosely-defined genre of cosmic horror, successive authors have been inexorably drawn to his model. Concurrent to Lovecraft and in the following decades, magazines such as Weird Talesand Fantastic Magazinemaintained the genre’s vitality with newcomers, and the marque artwork inspired the cover design of Spring City Terror. Non-coincidentally, new genre entries persist in favoring the period that corresponds to Lovecraft’s life, which spanned the Edwardian period/Progressive era through the waning of the Interwar Years. It is a well-suited timeline for the genre; the ever-present subtext presents humanity’s budding hubris from early 20th-century scientific and societal achievements checked by inexplicable human conflicts and terrifying astral entities. Lovecraft imbued such entities with abstract, inter-dimensional and impossibly ancient characteristics — directly confronting the progress represented by astrophysicss and other observational sciences of his time. The essence of this theme is communicated in this exceprt from Lovecraft’s most famous work, detailing the perspective of the protagonist:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity . . . The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality . . . that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Today, this setting imbues a charming, costumed filter to fans, and countless varieties of handsomely-packaged “complete editions” of Lovecraft’s works can be found in national bookstores. It is apparent that Lovecraftian fiction has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. I recalled a design depicting the titular Cthulhu winning the Raynor Library pumpkin-carving contest on campus in 2015. Its influence also permeates some of the nations’ largest pop-culture conventions; I conquered Lovecraft-themed escape rooms, mingled at the H.P. Lovecraft Historic Society’s booth, and enjoyed tabletop games and other related media at the 51st Gencon in Indianapolis this August. Being drawn to the classics alongside this new wave, I perceived an opportunity to represent elements of Wisconsin folklore in a supernatural lens with care to establish a setting grounded in the period’s identity.

Spring City Terror 1903 is a new entry respecting the tradition of Lovecraftian fiction, but with more emphasis on world-building that stems from the habits, skills, and craft that SpringCityTerror_front (1).jpghistorians apply to their impassioned interests. The book brings a Chicago Tribune reporter to Waukesha as he investigates the reasons for the decline of the regional tourist hub–the Fountain Spring House. As the title suggests, the book applies a filter of suspense and horror-fantasy to fictional and historic characters and settings, ranging from obscure Chicago Cubs players to prominent local clergyman. From the lead character’s exploration of the area, Wisconsinite readers will be familiar with many of the references embedded in the story, which may also introduce new bits of folklore or drafts of beer to wider audiences. It remains my hope that the process that guided this effort finds further fertile ground for future entries . . . from the earthquake-ravaged streets of San Francisco to delirious, snowblind visions of the Great Lakes Storm of 1913.

Spring City Terror 1903is set to release on October 17th.

Sean Malone currently resides in West Allis, Wisconsin, with his wife Athena. He is fortunate to maintain contact and friendships with many of his Marquette colleagues and professors. In addition to writing, he currently works at Summer Snow Art in Waukesha and as an adjunct professor of history at Marian University, Fond du Lac.

What We Did on Our Summer “Vacations”

I recently asked history faculty and PhD students to tell us what they did on their summer “vacations”—which, as we know, are not vacations at all.  Here’s what I learned.  Jim Marten, Department Chair

PS: Those of you who did not receive the 2018 electronic newsletter from the department can read it here. You should also check out our newly designed website.

Faculty Members:

Steve Avella continued researching his next big book: a history of Catholicism in the West. He reports that “I spent four productive days in the archives of Santa Clara University researching the life of Msgr. Thomas John Capel (+1911), an English ex-patriate who died in “exile” in Sacramento. Capel was a renowned apologist, lecturer, and sought-after preacher in Victorian London. He got himself into a huge financial scrape trying to start a Catholic university in Kensington and then was subject to a host of very embarrassing accusations. I discovered the complaints against him in huge files in Rome last summer. At the Santa Clara archives I discovered a packet of letters, clippings, and writings that had been sent to the Jesuits in San Francisco. These were materials further illuminated portions of his career that seemed confusing. The letters were in his own hand and the press accounts were of his speaking engagements in the US. Capel was suspended from priestly ministry for 20 years–but was restored at the end of his life. When he died, thousands turned out for his funeral in Sacramento.”

Alan Ball: I devoted most of the summer to preparing my new Engaging Social Systems Values course (most history faculty will be teaching new courses in the recently adopted Marquette Core Curriculum—mine is called”Russian and Soviet Images of America”).  Regarding the SCOWstats blog, the most important undertaking was a set of reflections Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 9.33.15 AMon the 2017-18 term, but some time was also required for the stretch run of the fantasy-league season and compilation/editing of readers’ “nominations” of unusual and/or humorous opinions by the seven justices (a new category for the blog).

Alison Clark Efford and Viktorija Bilic of UWM, her co-editor/translator, traveled to Europe to do research on Mathilde Franziska Anneke, whose letters they are turning into a book to be published by the University of Georgia Press. As Alison wrote on Facebook, “MFA’s life was far too complicated to sum up easily in a FB post, but she was a feminist and abolitionist who had to flee Prussia after the failed German Revolutions of 1848-1849. After arriving in the US, she lived in Milwaukee on and off until she died in 1884.

Our letters cover the years 1859 to 1865, when Anneke:
– established a passionate partnership with Anglo-American abolitionist Mary Booth,
– supported Booth through the trial of her husband for “seducing” a fourteen year old and, separately, violating the Fugitive Slave Act,
– moved to Switzerland with Booth and most of their children for about four years,
– published antislavery articles and stories,
– and followed the rocky military career of her own husband back in the United States.”

Sergio González: After defending his dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May, our newest colleague took a quick breather before getting back to work on researching Latinx communities and religious spaces in the U.S. Midwest. As part of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/Humanities Without Walls consortium-funded project called “Building Sustainable Worlds: Latinx Placemaking in the Midwest,”he joined Latinx scholars from across the region for a writing conference at the University of Iowa in August. The collaborative will be publishing an anthology about Midwestern Latinx placemaking next year. In the meantime, take a look at their appearance on Iowa City public televisionto learn more about the team’s research!

Lezlie Knox: “My summer was occupied with teaching 18 students in the online medieval survey; organizing the Midwest Medieval History conference, which will meet at Marquette over Fall Break; working on an edited collection of papers from the “Franciscan Women: Medieval and Beyond Conference,” working on articles, and organizing notes from the manuscript work in Italy from the fall.”

9780190681388Jim Marten finished up a five-year term as editor of the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, published the Oxford Very Short Introduction to the History of Childhood(too short to be a tome, too long to be a pamphlet), rounded up authors for two edited projects—one the Oxford Handbook of the History of Youth Cultureand one (co-edited with Caroline E. Janney from UVA) on “Buying and Selling the Civil War,” and launched a travel/history blog called Proceed to the Route.

Timothy McMahon spent part of the spring and summer in Ireland, where he researched his project on the emergence of two distinct national identities in Ireland between 1910 and 1930, attended several conferences and delivered a number of public lectures, and, along the way, met the president of Ireland, Michael Higgins (see below).tim

Daniel Meissner: Before finishing up his Fulbright year in China, Dan dug through Hong Kong archives and libraries for information on George Seward and 19th century American political/economic interests in China.

Patrick Mullins: ” I continued my research on how eighteenth-century Americans interpreted and commemorated the civil war, regicide, and republic of seventeenth-century England, and how this contested historical memory shaped colonial responses to British Crown policy in the 1760s and 1770s. In addition to reading published primary and secondary sources, I examined material commemorations, from English ceramics honoring Charles II’s narrow escape from Cromwellian capture (at the Chipstone Foundation in Fox Point) to Benjamin West’s epic painting celebrating the Stuart Restoration (at the Milwaukee Art Museum).  I also provided testimony to a Milwaukee County task force in favor of preservation of the Mitchell Park Domes and worked to advance that cause with the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance and the National Trust for History Preservation. If you’d like to learn more about this preservation effort, take a look at Save Our Domes!”

Steve Molvarec: “I was in the UK for the annual International Medieval Congress at Leeds University.  The thematic strand for this year’s conference was Memory and I spoke on a panel about remembering and forgetting of founders of monastic orders.  Afterwards, I had the opportunity to work with some fourteenth-century manuscripts at the British Library—all texts associated with the Carthusian monastery in London, which is the subject of my current research.”

Phil Naylor co-hosted the World History Association Meeting in Milwaukee; continued working on his co-edited Milwaukee Rock, 1950-2000: A Reflective History (which is nearing completion completion); revised and rewrote and added a new chapter to France and Algeria: A History of Decolonization and Transformation; and continued work on Malik Bennabi’s life, which will be the major project during his upcoming sabbatical.

Bryan Rindfleisch had a typically busy summer: “I presented papers at two conferences, published one article, worked on two article manuscripts that are in press now, completed drafts of the manuscript, participated in the two-week Bright Institute seminar, was the referee for three article manuscripts, and was interviewed for a July 4th radio interview.  The Bright Institute cohort (14 professors that ranged from adjunct faculty to full professors) read the latest scholarship in Early American history and provided a new diagnosis or “state” of the field. In addition, we shared our own research work and teaching strategies, we developed syllabi and assignment activities, and we together built a new community dedicated to inclusive researching and teaching of Early America (which will continue to meet officially for the next two years). It was an overall invaluable and humbling experience, as the friendships and professional contacts that came out of the Bright Institute was unlike anything that I have ever experienced.”

Peter Staudenmaier continued working on his sabbatical project—a book on Fascist environmental policies—but he reports that “my best tidbit is probably organizing a panel submission for next year’s annual conference of the American Society for Environmental History, the first time I have taken the initiative with a conference panel. I wanted to pull together something that would reflect current research on the history of organic agriculture in an international context, which has become a lively topic the past couple years.  I contacted eight different scholars initially (mostly in history but also sociology and environmental studies, etc.), none of whom I knew personally. Several declined but gave me contact information for further possible participants. I eventually got a group of four presenters, two women and two men, from a range of institutions and fields, plus a panel chair. We settled on the panel title “International Perspectives on Alternative Agriculture and Natural Foods in the Twentieth Century.” My own paper will be “The Politics of Organic Agriculture in Interwar Germany: From Nature to Nation.” The conference takes place next April at Ohio State.

PhD Students:

Cory Haala: “With the assistance of an Everett Dirksen Congressional Research Grant and a State Historical Society of Iowa Research Grant, I spent summer doing research in cities including Cedar Falls, IA (Iowa State Rep. Don Avenson); Madison, WI (the Wisconsin Farm Unity Alliance and Sen. Gaylord Nelson); and Stevens Point, WI (Rep. Dave Obey). In May and June I presented papers on NAFTA and Midwestern farm protests at the Agricultural History Society Annual Meeting in St. Petersburg, FL, and the University of Iowa Hawkeyes football team’s 1985 “America Needs Farmers” campaign at Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 10.07.45 AMthe Midwestern History Association in Grand Rapids, MI. Finally, my chapter on Tom Daschle and populist politics in the South Dakota Democratic Party will be published in the South Dakota Historical Society Press’s The Plains Political Tradition: Essays on South Dakota Political Culture, vol. 3 (which will be published this month). I write about my travels (though I haven’t lately—working on it!) at”

Lisa Lamson: “I went to Annapolis and Baltimore for a month (spent two weeks in each place), a few days in DC, and then was in Cambridge/London for twelve days. While I was in London, I presented a paper at the UK Childhood Society Conference at the University of Greenwich. When I was back in Milwaukee, I worked on writing center outreach for Upward Bound students for college personal statements and as a summer intern for CURTO compiling a 40th anniversary history of Future Milwaukee.”

Ben Nestor: “After passing my doctoral qualifying exams in mid-May, I presented a paper at the George and Irina Schaeffer Center For the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention in Paris, France. Shortly after, I spent June and early July researching in Washington D.C. at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’ archives through the department’s generous Casper Dissertation Research Fellowship. In mid-July I was in Toronto as a seminar fellow at a week-long workshop titled “Teaching about Antisemitism in the Twenty-First Century: Questions, Dilemmas, Strategies.” The interdisciplinary workshop was convened by scholars from The Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto and the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Antisemitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University. It was an intensive week of discussions on new approaches to researching and teaching antisemitism, racism, and Islamophobia.”

Maggie Nettesheim-Hoffman: “I wrote a chapter prospectus for a larger book proposal entitled “New Directions in American Philanthropy” for Indiana University Press. Ben Offiler, the convener of last year’s conference in England of the same name, asked me to contribute a chapter for this book. My chapter will be based on the presentation I delivered at the conference last September.  I also assisted in planning the Humanities Without Walls career diversity symposium that will be held at Marquette on September 14 as a part of my new assistantship with the Graduate School and the Center for the Advancement of the Humanities.”

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