Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

From Evanston to L’viv: Reflections on Two Holocaust Educational Fellowships

By Benjamin R. Nestor

I was recently given the opportunity to participate in two Holocaust history seminars. The first was at the Holocaust Education Foundation at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. The second was a research seminar in Lviv, Ukraine, funded and organized by the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure. Both proved immensely valuable in terms of learning, networking, and even having some fun, which was much needed given the intensity of the topic. Both of these experiences were important in my continuing development as a historian and future educator – and hopefully my reflections can inspire readers, in particular graduate students, to consider applying for similar short-term fellowships in their respective fields.

Fellowship I

The Holocaust Education Foundation (HEF), a nonprofit organization recently integrated into Northwestern University, offers an intensive two-week seminar titled the HEF Summer Institute on the Holocaust and Jewish Civilization, where roughly twenty fellows convene with top scholars in the field for a crash-course in recent Holocaust research and teaching methodologies. HEF was founded in 1976 by Theodore Zev Weiss, a Holocaust survivor, with the aim of increasing Holocaust education within university-level curricula.

My acceptance came in March, and in June I set off for what would be a two-week stay in one of Northwestern’s dorms. In the interim, the accepted fellows received a list of content to read and watch ahead of time, which included around fifteen books, ten documentaries, and course-packets assembled by the participating scholars, with each packet running from three-hundred to four-hundred pages. All of this was capped off with a twenty-page syllabus. Upon reviewing the material, I suddenly recalled my advisor Dr. Staudenmaier, who was a fellow in 2010, smirking and warning me when I was accepted that HEF was “quite a bit of work.” I spent most of May and the first half of June frantically preparing.

After settling in to the dorm I was provided, the seminar began on a Sunday night with an opening reception where I met the other fellows. Included among them were tenured professors, current fellows at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), post-docs, employees with nonprofits, and a few other graduate students at various stages of completing doctoral work. The fellows’ disciplinary backgrounds were diverse, which contributed to the quality of the discussions. The night ended early since bright and early the next day we were set to begin what would be an intensive two weeks of full day intensive seminars with an impressive list of scholars: Peter Hayes (Northwestern University), Barry Trachtenberg (Wake Forest University), Alexandra Garbarini (Williams College), Stuart Liebman (City University of New York), Marianne Hirsch (Columbia University), Leo Spitzer (Dartmouth College), among others.

There were around thirty hour-and-a-half sessions divided into the following categories: the history of the Holocaust, the history of Jews in Modern Europe, Judaic theology, photography and film of the Holocaust, memory and commemoration of the Holocaust through museums, Jewish responses to the Holocaust, gendered approaches to Holocaust studies, and the psychology of perpetrators. Besides enduring the work-load, the fellows also spent every meal together getting to enjoy dorm-cafeteria food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, often accompanied by several of the scholars that led the day’s seminars.

Each seminar was a combination of lecture on past and recent scholarship, discussion on the readings, and workshopping ways to translate recent scholarship into effective teaching. Discussions often moved from the specific (e.g. how do we incorporate Rabbi Halivni’s theological reaction to the Holocaust into a discussion with students?) to the broad (e.g. why should students take a class on the Holocaust?). Taken together, these seminars made for an extraordinary two weeks exploring numerous disciplinary and methodological approaches to the study of Jewish history and the history of the Holocaust.

In my own analysis, and through frequent conversations with other fellows, some of whom I can now call friends, it seems that everyone found the two-weeks extremely informative and provided each of us with greater confidence in our own research and designing our own Holocaust courses. There were also two “field trips,” which included a Chicago architectural tour with Paul Jaskot (Duke University), and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. I often capped each day with a walk next to Lake Michigan to think about the many issues raised throughout the day. After two weeks of sleeping in a dorm and eating cafeteria-food, it was nice to get home.

Fellowship II

Before leaving for Evanston, I received another acceptance letter—this time for a week-long seminar in L’viv, Ukraine, organized by the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI), EHRIwhich began operating in 2010 through the support of the European Union. The seminar was also organized in conjunction with other institutions, such as the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich (IfZ). I was thrilled to receive news of another unexpected opportunity – who would complain about an all-expense paid trip to Ukraine, including flight, hotel accommodations, airport transfers and food.

I read Tarik Cyril Amar’s The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv: A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists (2015) on the airplane to better acquaint myself with the famously contested city – Львів (L’viv), Lwów, Lemberg – that the EHRI seminar was held, and was delighted on my ride from the airport to the hotel at how well-preserved L'vivthe city is, albeit with an expected layer of decay common to eastern European cities. The hotel was centrally located and even came with a balcony that offered a nice view of the city. The itinerary for the program promised to be intellectually stimulating: full days of in-class seminars, discussions and participant research presentations, but also “field trips” and arranged dinners at local restaurants.

Seminar themes ranged between broad Holocaust scholarship and research methodologies to topics specific to L’viv. They included round-tables on the current state of the field, presentations on Jewish artists in L’viv, the Holocaust in Galicia, the 1941 pogrom, the Babi Yar massacre, and spatial approaches in Holocaust scholarship, in addition to informational seminars such as how to “decode” German documents and finding sources. Presenters included Karel Berkhoff (NIOD), Andrea Löw (IfZ), Frank Bajohr (IfZ), Dieter Pohl (University of Klagenfurt), Mykhaylo Tyaglyy (Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies), Niccolai Zimmermann (Bundesarchiv Berlin), Kai Struve (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg), Waitman Wade-Beorn (University of Virginia), among others. Also, as mentioned above, each of the roughly ten fellows, ranging from tenured professors to doctoral studeL'viv 2nts, presented on our current research.

The “field trips” were also a highlight of the seminar and helped situate the Holocaust within a local context. The excursions included going to the Lysynychi forests, the site where tens of thousands of victims were killed in mass shooting operations on the outskirts of the city, the Lontsky Prison Memorial Museum of the Victims of Occupation Regimes, St. George’s Cathedral, Janowska camp area, a visit to the “Space of Synagogues,” and a Rosh Hashanah service at a Jewish community center. Visiting these sites drove home the contested memories and meanings of the city’s Jewish past, Ukrainian involvement in the Holocaust, and the history of occupying regimes in L’viv.

Each day ended with a group dinner. The fare was often delicious, and the dinners gave us all the opportunity to decompress, to get to know one another, and to talk about our current research. Everyone I spoke to about the quality of the seminar had exceedingly

dinner

Ben Nestor is third from the front, on the left side of the table.

positive things to say. I made new friends and professional connections, learned a lot, and got to leave with some great memories. These are reasons alone why I hope other graduate students spend time searching for, and applying to similar seminars and conferences.

 

As I complete my final year of course work and prepare for my doctoral examinations back in Milwaukee, I continue to grapple with some of the larger questions raised in both seminars: What should students take away from a class on the Holocaust? Is there a balance between commemoration and the touristic nature of Holocaust memorials? Do educators and museums unintentionally “functionalize” victims of the Holocaust, especially in the use of photographs? Is “Never Again” impractical, and if so, how can I express the importance of my research and teaching to non-academic audiences, especially when the humanities in general seem to face an unrelenting crisis in American society? I hope to develop some answers to these questions while researching and writing over the next few years.

Benjamin R. Nestor is a second-year history PhD student at Marquette University specializing in Modern Germany, the Holocaust and Täterforschung. His dissertation will focus on the intellectual and cultural world of the Einsatzgruppen in the so-called “Holocaust by Bullets,” with particular interest in ideology and contingency, masculinity, and the role of mid-level functionaries in the advancement of the program to murder the European Jews.

Advertisements

My Experience as a Summer Museum Intern

by Alex Smith

During the summer of 2017, two Marquette University master’s students, Alex Smith and Emily Dattilo, explored careers in public history by interning at the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear. Housed in an old Cream City Brick house on North 11th Street, the Chudnow is built around the quarter of a million pieces of Americana collected by Avrum Chudnow from the mid-twentieth century until his death in 2005. The current director of the museum, Steve Daily, received his MA in History from Marquette.

Paid out of the department’s Casper Fund (which also supports our annual Casper Lecture and provides travel money for graduate students delivering papers at conferences and doing research in archives), Alex and Emily worked half-time at the museum for ten weeks. One of Emily’s jobs was to help design a visitor experience for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.  This edition of Historians@Work is Alex’s reflection on his summer at the Chudnow.

This summer I worked as a part-time intern at the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear. The history department sponsored this paid internship in which I worked two hundred hours over the course of about ten weeks. When I tell people that I worked at a museum, they often wonder what exactly I did on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis. Hopefully this post gives some idea of what it means to work as an intern at a small museum like the Chudnow.

First, a little bit about the Chudnow Museum itself. The museum is located on 11th street in Milwaukee, just north of campus (only about a five minute walk from Sensenbrenner!). It is located in a historic home that served many purposes over the years. While it was built in 1869 as a single family home, Avrum “Abe” Chudnow, a Milwaukee lawyer and businessman, bought the house to use for his offices due to its proximity to the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

Abe Chudnow was also a collector. His father had been a junk peddler and so Abe had grown up salvaging and collecting old objects, many of them everyday items and appliances from the 1920s and 1930s. The museum now showcases these items in a

Speakeasy

Alex Smith tends bar at the Speakeasy exhibit.

layout similar to the “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum. One room is an old grocery store, one is an old pharmacy, one is an old barbershop, etc. (While some of the exhibit spaces are permanent, items and objects in the museum are changed out frequently. By the time he died in 2005, Mr. Chudnow collected so much that only about 5% of his collection is able to be displayed at a time!

 

I did a lot of different things as an intern, even only working about twenty hours a week. One of the main things I did was give tours. Since the Chudnow is a fairly small and newer museum (it has only been open for five years),

Emily

Emily Dattilo stands in the soda counter exhibit.

 

it is mostly visited by smaller groups of people, mostly families, although they do occasionally get larger touring groups. Before I started giving tours myself, I spent several days “shadowing” tours given by Joel, the curator, or Steve, the executive director. This helped me learn about the different items and exhibits so that I could explain them on my own tours, and also gave me an idea of how to deal with giving tours to different groups. For example, some groups are very talkative and ask a lot of questions, while others were quieter. If the tour had older people, many of them remembered using old appliances or products or remembered old brands from their childhood. If the tour had kids or younger people, even objects like a switchboard, antique cash register, or old soda syrup dispenser seemed foreign.

 

When I wasn’t giving tours, there were plenty of other tasks to do. One was cataloguing new items into the collection. For this we used a museum archiving software. Much of Mr. Chudnow’s collection is still not formally catalogued, and the museum also sees almost 600 new items donated each year. Cataloguing involved researching the origin, value and historical significance of an item, as well as measuring, photographing, and labeling it with a number.

I also worked on several other projects. The other two summer interns and I worked on creating a new candy exhibit in the candy window. We selected antique candy tins and boxes around a Fourth of July theme. We also selected other antique food tins for a traveling exhibit that is now on display at a retirement home in the area. We also helped design and assemble a circus themed exhibit at the museum. In the existing barbershop exhibit, I researched several of the items on display and created information cards that we posted in the exhibit so that people could read more about the objects and their history.

A major event for the museum every summer is their “Founder’s Day” celebration. This year there were several bands that performed, as well as a cookout, tours of the museum, and a special display of classic cars. Several hundred people came to the event. As interns we helped get the museum ready for the event and made sure everything went smoothly.

Overall, I had a great experience interning at the Chudnow Museum this summer and would highly recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in public history. Even though the Chudnow is a relatively small museum, I feel like I got a lot of experience with many different aspects of museum work. You can check out the museum’s website at http://chudnowmuseum.org/.

Alex Smith is a second-year MA student at Marquette University. His primary research interests are the interactions between religion, culture, and society in the United States during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Thoughts on Confederate Monuments (My Own and Others’)

By James Marten

As the storm over Confederate monuments intensified during the late summer, it became obvious that I, along with anyone else teaching a Civil War class this fall, was being given an incredible teaching moment.  What better way to show students that the Civil War was a living, breathing event, a powerful way to represent—or to disrupt—American values and assumptions in politics, race relations, and culture.

But how to do it? One does not want to overtly politicize a course; by the same token, this is an incredible opportunity to underscore the relevance of history to modern Americans.  This isn’t a new thing, of course; historians have long explored the “memory” of the Civil War, particularly its causes and its results.  Books like David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001) and Caroline E. Janney’s Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (2013) examined the complicated ways in which Americans have sought to memorialize and politicize the Civil War era.

The monument issue that erupted early this month, like the previous controversy over the presence of the Confederate flag in southern capitols and courthouses, tended to pit those who argued that the flags and monuments  were simply representations of a southern “heritage” that should be recognized and honored against those who maintained that they promoted a racist past and should be ignored or taken down. Similar arguments have taken place on college campuses in both the South and the North, where controversies have boiled up about renaming buildings named after slaveowners. At our sister institution, Georgetown University, the institution’s ownership and sale of slaves in the 1830s inspired much soul-searching, a major research project, and the renaming of a major building on campus. (Check out the Georgetown Slavery Archive for more.)

The monument issue has been simmering for a few years now, but the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists used a statue of Robert E. Lee as a 800px-Lee_Park,_Charlottesville,_VArallying point, forced it into the public consciousness, particularly after President Donald Trump’s original comments blaming the deadly violence that occurred in Charlottesville on the actions of “both sides.” The city council had decided to remove the statue last spring; a lawsuit has delayed that action. (The story of Charlottesville’s Lee monument can be found in this New York Times piece from early August. The monument is pictured to the left.)

Like many of my colleagues in the field, I’ve struggled to decide exactly what I think should be done.  I teach in a private university in a northern state, so no one is likely to ask me about what they should do about Confederate monuments.  Yet it seems important to me to figure out for myself—and to have a ready answer should students (as I think they will) ask me about it.  Although I favored the elimination of the Confederate flag from public spaces, I’ve been something of an agnostic on monuments to the Confederacy.  But to me, now that the latter have been “claimed,” it seems, by white nationalists, it seems that whatever virtues there were in keeping the monuments intact have been compromised. As a result, I now support the removal by local authorities of Confederate monuments from public places.

But this blog is less about my opinion than it is about providing readers with a short introduction to some of the questions related to the monuments, and to point them in the direction of some excellent articles and blog posts by historians engaged in the issue. (For a great “roundup” of blogs, articles, and essays, see Megan Kate Nelson’s blog, “Historista.”)

In order to understand the monument issue, it’s important for us to distinguish the various motivations for the erecting a monument. The fundamental question when considering the appropriateness of any commemoration is this: why is this person or event being commemorated? What raises this circumstance or this person to that level of importance?

The vast majority of monuments—the kind found in small town squares and Confederate cemeteries—were mass-produced, generic statues of common soldiers. They were picturesque, but hardly works of art. (The historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage offers a brief history of these monuments—and a wise approach to dealing with them—in his essay published on Vox.)

But the debate has largely revolved around the larger, usually equestrian, statues of individual politicians or leaders. The president and others have cautioned that taking down Lee sculptures puts us on the slippery slope that could eventually lead to the destruction of monuments to founding fathers who owned slaves. Yet structures honoring to Washington, Jefferson, and other slaveholders were not built to commemorate their slave owning, but to honor their contributions to the formation of the United States.  On the other hand, the only reason there are monuments to Robert E. Lee is because he led the largest army fighting the United States in our country’s bloodiest conflict.  Without the Civil War, he would have been a well-respected colonel in the US army that no one would have remembered after his death. He, like many other Confederate military and political leaders, had, long before they joined the Confederate cause, sworn oaths to protect the United States as officers in the armed services or elected officials.

Moreover, most of the monuments that are currently being attacked, supported, or taken down were put up between the 1890s and the 1910s. By this time the “Lost Cause” interpretation of the war—in the best American tradition, the South had fought courageously and nobly for principles in which they believed—had captured the imaginations of southerners and many (not all) northerners alike.  But it was also the decade in which Jim Crow segregation and the disfranchisement of African Americans in southern states were nearly complete, and a time when lynching of African Americans had begun to reach its crescendo.  The Lee statue in Charlottesville did not go up until 1924—the same year KKK members openly paraded at the Democratic National Convention, a show of force that reflected the organization’s rebirth in 1915 (atop Stone Mountain, Georgia, which would become the site of another monument to the Confederacy). As Eric Foner has said, the monuments were expressions of power, not patriotism, and were not intended to represent “our” shared history, but a very specific version of history. (See Foner’s Op-Ed in the  New York Times.) James Grossman argues that comparing Confederate to Union monuments creates a false equivalent; however much one admires the courage of Confederate soldiers and the capacity of southern civilians to endure hardship, their cause hardly matched the moral and political high ground of the Union cause, or of the American cause in 1776 (to which it is often compared by southerners). (Grossman’s thoughts are part of a CNN roundtable on the issue.)

It says a lot about the leniency of Reconstruction and the racism of the post-war North that Confederate memorials could proliferate so widely and quickly throughout the confederate memorial at ArlingtonSouth with little pushback from the North. There were certainly examples of opposition—some Union veterans and others bitterly opposed the building of a Confederate memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, where a number of Confederates had actually been buried, but it nevertheless was unveiled in 1914—but generally they were accepted and the issue was, well, a non-issue. (For more on the Confederate memorial at Arlington, go to the cemetery’s website.)

Despite their belief that the monuments were direct links to Confederate racial policies and motivations, most historians have, for many years, believed it more important to provide context to these representations of a specific time in our history, to explain their symbolism and the uses to which they have been put. Yet that may be impossible now, and many historians are changing their minds.  (Civil War blogger Kevin Levin explains his change of heart in this blog for the Atlantic, while  Matthew Stanley indicates why he changed his mind at the Emerging Civil War blog.)

Some politicians are also taking aim at monuments to Confederate commanders at battlefield parks. Battlefield monuments occupy a somewhat different place in the construction of memory.  Their original intent was to mark the movements and accomplishments of military units and commanders.  The more elaborate sculptures and structures—to commanders of specific units, or memorializing the fallen from individual states—are original pieces of art. And there is a rough balance in the number of monuments to Union and Confederate commanders and units.

I personally would prefer the battlefield monuments to be left alone. But I also would urge the National Park Service to be aggressive and pro-active in interpreting the monuments, which have for the most part been left to “speak” for themselves. The last decade or two have seen numerous debates among and between public historians and meade1_18471138_stdacademic historians about how battlefields should be interpreted, particularly in terms of the causes of the war, the motivations of the men who fought it, and the public memory of that war.  It seems to me that the monuments provide a great opportunity to explore all of these issues.  Because they capture moments in time—both the moment being commemorated, and the moment in which the commemoration occurs—they can be tools that, if done right can help visitors understand not only the battlefield, but also the war’s larger meanings. (The photo to the left is of the Gen. George G. Meade statue at Gettysburg.)

Interpreting symbols of racism, inequality, and extreme political beliefs—particularly when substantial groups of people do not see them that way—is a tricky business requiring a great deal of nuance. Recent events suggest that nuance may no longer be possible.

James Marten is professor and chair of the history department at Marquette. Among his recent publications are America’s Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace (2014) and Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (2011).

What I mean when I say, “I’m going to the archive.”

By Cory Haala

Introduced by James Marten

As I caught up with my high school friend Lindsey and her husband Austin last night, I casually mentioned that tomorrow I would “be headed back to the archive.” Lindsey stopped me and said, “I’m sorry, but you always say that, and I don’t know what the ‘archive’ is.”

I realized that I do that. A lot. So here’s a post generally explaining that (1) I’m still working on my PhD, and (2) what it is that I do when I say “I’m going to the archive!”

That’s the beginning of History PhD student Cory Haala’s essay on his current dissertation research. We’ve all been there—describing our work to an old friend, a family member, some other non-academic: yes, I’m still in school; no, the dissertation’s not done, and so on. I’m sure doctors and lawyers and plumbers and people working in virtually any other occupations have similar conversations. They try to explain what they do to people who have only a general idea about being a dentist, a piano tuner, or any other occupation. Cory articulates a process that is pretty basic to any scholar who does archival work, but is unfamiliar to anyone who hasn’t written anything longer than a college term paper. Along the way he describes his own research on modern politics in the Midwest.

Read the rest of Cory’s blog post—and a number of other posts about his journey through Midwestern archives—here: http://coryhaala.org/research/what-is-an-archive-graduate-student-research-collections-museums-archives/.

 Cory Haala has delivered papers at the Midwestern History Association Conference, the Great Lakes History Conference, the Midwest Labor and Working-Class History Conference, and the Northern Great Plains History Conference. In 2017 he received a $5000 Minnesota Historical Society Legacy Research Fellowship, for research in the Gale Family Library, as well as a $5000 grant to support his dissertation research from the National Society of Colonial Dames of America. 

Marquette History Students Collaborate with Middle-Schoolers to Research the Latino History of Milwaukee

By William Denzer

As the refrain goes, people study history in order to understand the present and plan for the future. In our current political climate, little is more heavily debated than national policies of immigration. This spring semester, I have been serving as a graduate assistant to Dr. Alison Efford for History 4120, an upper-level undergraduate course on immigration. What makes this course unique is not only the final project, in which the students create websites, but who they are collaborating with.

3About twice a month middle school students from St. Rafael Catholic School on the South side of Milwaukee came to Marquette’s campus to work with a group of students in HIST 4120. Each group was expected to use primary sources found in the greater Milwaukee or Madison-area and create a Weebly-based website showcasing their findings.

This course provided undergraduates the opportunity to navigate the historical narrative of Milwaukee immigrants while collaborating with the St. Rafael students, most of whom identified with the Latino community. The visiting St. Rafael students were able to participate in an undergraduate course and learn firsthand not only what a collegiate experience would be like, but how they could have similar experiences again in their near future at Marquette.

On April 26, nearly sixty students met to present their websites to other students and faculty members in Eisenberg Room of Sensenbrenner Hall. Descriptions of two of the projects follow.

Anna DeMeuse, Tim Sanchez, and Angelica Martinez’s group chose to examine the Sanctuary Parish movement in the Milwaukee Archdiocese in the 1980s. Their website (www.sanctuaryMKE.weebly.com) incorporated personal letters, meeting notes, newspaper articles, and transcribed interviews between migrant workers and parish council members. What the group generally discovered in their sources were tensions between members of the parish councils as they debated which policies and how much assistance to provide to those in need. This project gave each group the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with primary documents and garner insights into the process of creating a historical narrative.

1Another group, comprised of Perla Hernandez, Cassy Cassa, Luisa Era, and Edgar Vazquez Ramirez, focused on migrant workers’ camps in Wisconsin from the late twentieth century to the early twenty-first century (www.usmigrantcampos.weebly.com). Many migratory camps in Wisconsin housed agricultural workers, who often enured limited amenities. McKay Camp in Waterloo was a camp established for individuals and families who were working in the cherry industry. McKay Camp was closed in 2004 and the students believe it may be due to nitrate levels in the water supply. Many of the camps’ residents transitioned into the extensive dairy industry in Wisconsin. To construct their examination, the group incorporated documents from the Department of Workforce Development and the Migrant Labor Camp files, all housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Visiting the Wisconsin Historical Society provided insight into how archives are constructed and how professional historians utilize documents to recreate historical experiences, such as those within Milwaukee’s Latino community.

Such a unique and collaborative effort would not have been possible without the assistance of many talented faculty and staff. Special thanks to the research assistance from Taylor McNeir and Leatha Miles-Edmonson in the library, as well as 2016-2017 Mitchem Fellow Sergio González for his inspiration and guidance throughout the semester. Many thanks to the teachers Erin Mulligan, Michael Derrick, and Andrea Alvarez at St. Rafael. Marquette’s Center for Urban Reaching, Teaching, and Outreach, under the interim direction of Dr. James Marten, provided funding for transportation and the culminating celebration.

William Denzler has just finished his first year as an MA student at Marquette University. His main interests are in twentieth century American history, Allied Powers transnational history, Holocaust studies.

The Jumonville Incident, 1754: An Experiment in Teaching History through Game-Based Learning

By Bryan Rindfleisch

On the 14th of June in 1754, George Washington – a newly promoted colonel in the Virginia militia – stood trial at Fort Necessity in a military court presided over by the local British commander, Captain James Mackay. Only two weeks previous, Washington led a detachment of colonial troops and allied Native Americans, escorted by the Mingo (Seneca) headman Tanaghrisson, into the Ohio River Valley where they encountered a French force commanded by Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville. Amid the fog of war, the two sides exchanged gunfire, a skirmish that resulted in an overwhelming British victory. However, during the battle, it was rumored that Jumonville had been killed under a flag of truce, a breach of military etiquette and one with consequences for the mounting tensions between France and Britain. To complicate matters, a series of conflicting reports emerged in the aftermath of the fighting, some of which accused Washington of ineffective leadership, of exceeding his orders by engaging the French force, and proving unable to stop his Native allies, particularly Tanaghrisson, from killing Jumonville for their own purposes. Therefore, Washington faced a military tribunal on June 14, forced to answer the summons of Mackay and other jurors like Lt. Col. George Muse, Captain Robert Stobo, and Captain William Polson. All the while, Washington’s testimony was cross-examined and weighed against other witness accounts, including fellow officers Jacob Van Braam and Thomas Waggoner, Native combatants like Tanaghrisson and Monacatoocha, civilians such as Christopher Gist and George Croghan, and even French prisoners-of-war. Therefore, in June 1754, Washington’s fate rested in the hands of a jury that had to sift through the testimonies of those on both sides of the conflict.

But things are not all what they seemed to be. In this case, the following scene did not unfold at Fort Necessity in June 1754, but instead in the Raynor Memorial Library at Marquette University in May 2017. In the place of Washington, Mackay, and Tanaghrisson were students in HIST 6110: Early American History, who assumed the roles of these historical actors and conducted this inquiry into the events surrounding the “Jumonville Incident,” a game designed by Nick Proctor, professor of history at Simpson College. Leading this demonstration was Dr. Jeff Fortney, assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, a practitioner of a new movement in higher education rindfleischknown as “Reacting to the Past” (RTTP), a game-based initiative designed to transform how historians teach, and how students learn about, history. As a testament to the growing popularity of RTTP, it is estimated that instructors at over 350 colleges and institutions in the United States incorporate it into their curriculums. I thought it prudent, then, to give this model of teaching a shot, albeit using graduate students as proverbial guinea pigs for this experiment.

Beyond my rather innocuous description above, what is RTTP? Think history meets role-playing, where students are assigned roles and given character sheets complete with their own individualized “powers,” tasked with pursuing objectives specific to their individual, and obligated to interact with their peers to achieve their own goals. This all sounds rather familiar to anyone who has experienced role-playing games before. But where RTTP differs is that students must first research their character, thoroughly read and dissect the primary sources pertaining to their individual (so as to inform the actions they take during the game), and in reacting to other students, justify their decisions using primary sources. Every action and reaction requires an intimate familiarity with their role and a thorough grounding in the historical context. In the case of the “Jumonville Incident,” this means that the student playing Washington had to familiarize himself with the skirmish using secondary sources, consult primary sources to compose his own testimony in which he defended his actions to the jury, scrutinize the other accounts of those who testified at his trial so that he might counter their arguments, and react in other ways consistent with Washington’s persona. To add drama to the mix, Washington and other student actors were constantly plotting behind-the scenes, inside and outside of the classroom, to achieve their ends.

RTTP is the brainchild of Mark C. Carnes, professor of history at Barnard College, who developed this game-based learning model in response to students who found his courses “sorta boring.” What started as an experiment by Carnes has become a movement in academia today, with annual conferences and play-testing conventions around the United States (this year’s conference is in New York City and the convention is in Wichita). The scenarios that instructors are able to choose from range from events in U.S. history such as Cherokee Removal, Greenwich Village in 1913, and the American Revolution in New York City; European history with games related to Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, or Henry VIII’s conflict with the Reformation Parliament; Global history specific to the Mexican Revolution, the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, and the independence movement in India (1945); and even Ancient history with the debates over democracy in Athens in 403 B.C. These games all vary in the time that it takes to introduce and play in the classroom, anywhere from one class period to four weeks’ worth of classes. Most of these games are available free-of-charge to university instructors, and are open to customization, so long as one provides feedback to the game’s designer and unless a game has reached a certain point in its development (what the RTTP Consortium considers Level 5), which is then published by W.W. Norton & Company. There is also extensive resources for interested instructors, including the RTTP webpage, a facebook faculty network group, twitter handle, and H-Net listserv that troubleshoots, bounces ideas off of one another, and provides feedback in either designing or implementing these games in the classroom.

From the beginning, though, Carnes and other instructors like Fortney are cognizant of the pitfalls inherent to role-playing as well as resistance by faculty and students to this teaching model. Between the amount of time and preparation RTTP demands from instructors and bearing the stigma of “gaming” rather than “teaching,” to having to gain the trust of students to “buy-in” to the model and asking instructors to relinquish control of their classroom to students, there are several downsides to RTTP. However, despite such potential drawbacks, and myself heartened by most students’ enthusiasm during the “Jumonville Incident,” there is also much to gain from game-based learning. First and foremost, students learn to not only read primary and secondary sources, but understand what it is to analyze and scrutinize those sources carefully, and how history itself is an interpretive process rather than facts set in stone. History is constantly reshaped, reinterpreted, and refashioned for a multitude of purposes, and students see that in action during a game such as the “Jumonville Incident.” Similarly, students appreciate the messy realities and the contingency of history, in which the past – and our understandings of it – are contested and fluid, far from static or lifeless. History is also dramatic, in which human actors have shaped and influenced the course of events throughout the past, whether at Fort Necessity in June 1754 or in Ancient Greece. In other cases, RTTP challenges students lived experiences and worldviews. One need look no further than the “Jumonville Incident” to see how Native Americans like Tanaghrisson were central figures at the trial and critical to the outcome of the game, which serves as an effective way of illustrating the importance of Native Peoples to the American past. Finally, the game-based model prompts students to collaborate continuously with one another, whether conspiring with or against each other, which creates a unique community and fellowship in the classroom. And whether they know it or not, students also take ownership of their learning in the process. All of this is to say that my experiment in “Reacting to the Past” was rewarding, and even though I am unsure if I will take the leap in the future by integrating game-based learning into my classroom, I see the merits of this teaching model.

For further information about RTTP, see Mark C. Carnes’s book, Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), or Inside Higher Ed’s review and interview with Carnes: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/27/book-advocates-reacting-past-pedagogy

Bryan Rindfleisch is assistant professor of history at Marquette and the author of the book manuscript George Galphin’s Intimate Empire: Family, Trade, and Colonialism in Early America, which is currently being considered for publication.

The Cubs and a New Episteme

By Phillip Naylor

A new baseball season is starting, but like so many other fans (including departmental colleagues Kristen Foster and Dave McDaniel), the Cubs’ 2016 season remains an inimitable existential experience. Actually, it seemed more like a temporal displacement still leaving me in disbelief over its monumental achievements—103 regular-season wins (celebrated by ubiquitous “W” flags even here in Milwaukee), the National League Pennant (dreamt of since childhood), and the World Series Championship (beyond reverie). Perhaps I had entered an alternate universe? Or should I invoke Michel Foucault and an idea of a disrupted, discontinuous episteme, i.e., the displacement (and replacement) of configured relations and knowledge? Was my condition postmodern as well as existential, if not metaphysical? Ontology (being) and epistemology (knowing) were also at play during the 2016 season.

Oh sure, I perceived a couple of years ago while attending a late season Brewers-Cubs game of the potential of young players like Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Jorje Soler (now a Kansas City Royal). The Cubs won that one. Ironically, when Kristen, Dave, Kitty, and I went to a game last September, the Brewers pummeled the Cubs 12-5! I tried to repress the thought that this signaled a cosmological corrective. Nevertheless, future National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kris Bryant did not play (to Kristen’s particular disappointment) as Manager Joe Maddon rested him—apparently preparing for the postseason—and to my astonishment, the Cubs’ victories subsequently mounted.

An extraordinary discourse developed along with a shifting episteme—Cub fans now talked positively and anticipated winning rather than losing. Oh sure, there was a vestigial fatalism, perhaps a dreadful Ted Savage-like out-at-the-plate moment (against the Cardinals in 1967). Nevertheless, I discovered that the season sparked long dormant synapses activating currents of memory and history, e.g., my impression of Wrigley Field when the Macks took me to my first game (I had never seen a venue so verdant); a Memorial Day double header when my friend Kenny and I explored Wrigley’s empty upper grandstand during the second game; my sunburn while sitting in the sizzling right field bleachers with my father and brother; and introducing my children to Wrigley’s ambience with its faint organ music allowing reflection regarding the game’s subtleties between innings (unlike Miller Park’s electronically generated cacophony producing sensory overload).

Then there were memories of the Cubs themselves. Foremost was Ernie Banks. Yes, Ernie, that slender slugger from the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs whose baseball prowess and power earned him the respect, if not adoration of fans. Indeed, he was indirErnie Banksectly, like African American players of his generation, a Civil Rights figure by his very presence on the field. Banks’s positive attitude (“Let’s play three”) and dignity profoundly impressed. His love of the game transcended the ineluctable team losing streaks. I was proud that he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959.

As a boy, I poured over my Cub yearbook, which introduced me to (Joe) Tinker-to- (Johnny) Evers-to (Frank) Chance, “Three Finger(ed)” Mordecai Brown, and Gabby Hartnett (and his twilight home run against the Pirates in 1938). Yes! There had been great Cubs like Lewis “Hack” Wilson who in 1930 hit 56 home runs and drove in 191 runs (the latter statistic remains a record). I learned about Phil Cavaretta and the 1945 pennant winners. The Cubs had been winners, but the World Series Championship (last won in 1908) remained elusive.

The 2016 season reminded me how my friends and I avidly collected baseball cards. I cherished my Cubs collection—now long gone. Each card was an archive with biographical and statistical data. I learned about geography too, i.e., the location of minor league teams. (Trading cards provided early experiences of the role of utility in assessing a player’s value!) Memory recalled a great blunder—the Cubs’ trading of outfielder Lou Brock (a Hall of Famer) to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio in 1964. Brock immediately helped lead the Cardinals to a World Championship while, sadly, Broglio’s arm became sore.

And the Cubs chronically lost. I would check team standings in the home-delivered Chicago Tribune to see how close the Cubs were to escaping the cellar. If they lost, how bad was it? An 8-6 loss was palatable; at least “we” came close. Yet I kept on being a fan. While at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (UIC today), I watched for the “W” or “L” flag fluttering from the scoreboard as my northbound Englewood/Howard A or Jackson/Howard B (now Red Line) or Evanston Express train approached the Addison stop. Oh sure, I had my moments when Cubs teams frustrated if not alienated me. Yet no matter what I said, denounced, and even renounced, I still could not let go.

The worst was the 1969 season. After a phenomenal start, “Cub Power” dissipated. The Mets’ eventually overtook the Cubs and capped their “miraculous” success vs. the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Decades after that season, a new Western Civilization Varsity Theater Program teaching assistant (TA) entered my Coughlin Hall office and introduced himself. He wore a Mets hat. I immediately informed him that he was not to wear that hat again in my presence. Of course, I told him that I was kidding (Yeah, kinda!) and he ended up being one of my finest TAs that I had the pleasure to work while “in the Varsity.” Of course, there were other disappointments such as the 1984 National League Championship Series loss to the San Diego Padres after the Cubs won the first two games in Wrigley but lost the next three on the West Coast. Despite the heroics of Mark Grace in the 1989 National League Championship Series, the Cubs were outhit by Will Clark and the San Francisco Giants. In 2003, with five outs needed to win the National League Pennant and return to the World Series, a fly ball drifted foul toward the stands in left field tracked by the Cubs’s Moises Alou…‘nuff said! Despite that loss and other heartbreaks, 1969 remained the most odious season.

There was also tragedy concerning the Cubs that had nothing to do with the game on the field. In 1962, Ken Hubbs was Rookie of the Year. (Hall of Famer Billy Williams won the award in 1961.) Hubbs was a brilliant, seemingly flawless second baseman and set major league records for his errorless fielding. He was the first rookie to win a Gold Glove award. The future looked very promising, but Hubbs perished in a plane crash in February 1964. (See: https://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/remembering-1960s-cubs-second-basemand-ken-hubbs/ airplane) I was also moved by the death of Jack Quinlan in March 1965. Jack was the Cubs’ superb radio announcer who died in an automobile accident in Arizona. Quinlan’s broadcast partner was Lou Boudreau, the former brilliant player-manager who led the Cleveland Indians to their last World Series Championship, 68 years ago. As reiterated often during the 2016 World Series, Cleveland’s been waiting a long time too.

Favorite Cubs paraded through my consciousness during 2016. There was Walt “Moose” Moryn who habitually and heroically (and repeatedly) collided with right field foul line brick wall chasing line drives and fly balls. With no padding, man, that had to hurt! His most famous catch was in left field where he grabbed a sinking line drive to preserve Don Cardwell’s no hitter in May 1960. He could slug, too, and was an all-star. Dick Drott and Moe Drabowsky had fire-balling right arms. I remembered Gene Baker, Don Hoak, Hobie Landrith, Bob Rush, and Cal Neeman among so many others on losing teams. I must add here that these are names that my esteemed colleague, Professor Emeritus Tom Jablonsky, knows well. (I miss you, man!)

I never subscribed, however, to the cachet image of the Cubs as “lovable losers.” The Cubs were simply the Cubs; a baseball team that usually lost games. When I taught at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, I readily identified with the Red Sox. Marquette history doctoral graduate Pete deRosa (who is a professor at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and a baseball scholar) and I used to compare the Red Sox and the Cubs while watching games in Fenway Park. Red Sox memorable losses were, however, much more dramatic, if not Sophoclean, i.e., Johnny Pesky’s hesitant relay in the 1946 World Series or Bill Buckner’s error in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series (against the Mets!). I highly recommend Stephen Jay Gould’s article on history and memory: “Jim Bowie’s Letter & Bill Buckner’s Legs,” Natural History, 109, no. 4 (May 2000): 26-40. (My undergraduate seminar students read it this semester.) I must add, Pesky was a great Red Sox (“Mr. Red Sox”) and humanitarian. Buckner played well with the Cubs before being traded to the Red Sox. (Overlooked, he had a distinguished career with over 2,700 hits.). Gould argues that Buckner has been unfairly portrayed and blamed regarding the Red Sox loss in the sixth game and the World Series. See also: http://weldbham.com/blog/2011/10/27/bill-buckner-shouldn%E2%80%99t-be-blamed-for-a-red-sox-loss-in-the-1986-world-series/. Of course, after 86 years, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and then in 2007.

I particularly appreciate how the Cubs’ success in 2016 evoked fans’ memories and histories—for some, even at deeper ontological and epistemological levels bringing them to tears when the Cubs secured their World Series win. Will the Cubs repeat in 2017 as they did in 1907 and 1908? I can entertain such thoughts now. I feel quite existentially comfortable with this new episteme and thankful for it.

Phil Naylor is professor of history and author of France and Algeria: A History of Decolonization and Transformation and North Africa: A History from Antiquity to the Present, among other books. He teaches courses on the Middle East, North Africa, and Rock and Roll. 


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 61 other followers