Posts Tagged 'James Marten'

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).

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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 https://savingplaces.org/places/the-domes. 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 coryhaala.org.”

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.”

A Quarter Century (and counting) of the Frank L. Klement Lectures at Marquette

By James Marten

I find it a little hard to believe that Monday’s talk by Kathleen M. Brown of the University of Pennsylvania on “Undoing Slavery: Abolitionist Body Politics and the Argument Over Humanity” was the twenty-sixth Frank L. Klement Lecture!  The series was conceived long ago by a former colleague, Lance Grahn, and myself, as a Phi Alpha Theta project—Frank had been president of Phi Alpha Theta, the international honor society for history.  Encouraged by our then department chair, Tom Hachey, we started to think bigger.  A year-long fund-raising effort by the College of Arts and Sciences alumni group raised enough money—from hundreds of different donors, mostly Frank’s former students—to fully endow the series.

The man we honored was born on the banks of the Embarrass River in northeastern Wisconsin. After spending some time as a country school teacher, he enrolled in the frank_klement04History PhD program at the University of Wisconsin. Frank often told of the first day he walked into the seminar run by William B. Hesseltine (a famous curmudgeon), when, Frank claimed, three young men who would eventually become leading historians of the Civil War era turned to look at him: T. Harry Williams, Richard Current, and Kenneth Stampp (who was my dissertation director’s dissertation director at Berkeley). Although he always felt like a bit of an underdog, he completed his degree in 1946 and taught at Lake Forest College and at Eau Claire State Teachers College before joining the history department at Marquette University two years later. By the time he had retired twenty-seven years later with the rank of Professor Emeritus, Frank served as department chair from 1956-1958 and received the Award for Teaching Excellence in 1965. Frank’s scholarship focused on the Civil War era, particularly on northern dissenters. He authored over fifty articles and chapters in books and dozens of book reviews, but his best-known works are The Copperheads in the Middle West (1960), The Limits of Dissent: Clement L. Vallandigham and the Civil War (1970), and Dark Lanterns: Secret Political Societies, Conspiracies, and Treason Trials in the Civil War (1984).  Frank died at the age of eighty-six in 1994.

The first Klement Lecturer, Mark Neely, spoke a few months after he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, which was, appropriately enough, on dissent in the North during the Civil War.  The second lecturer was one of Frank’s old grad school friends, Richard Current; his rather iconoclastic lecture on “Abraham Lincoln and Multiculturalism” (he argued that Lincoln would not have been a fan) was by far the best-selling Klement Lecture from the days when MU Press published a booklet by each lecturer.

The first sixteen lectures were on the Civil War era, broadly defined; over the last decade we’ve brought in scholars of many other fields in US history, from the New Deal to the Old West, and from foreign policy to race relations. It’s a spectacular lineup; at least seventeen held or would go on to hold endowed chairs.  Two were Pulitzer Prize winners, while another two were finalists for the Pulitzer.  Nine have won the $50,000 Lincoln Prize from Gettysburg College (five more were finalists).  And their books have won scores of other prizes from professional organizations.

I would not call the following lectures my “favorites,” but I do think they stand out because they took on big, bold topics, or because they were particularly attractive to undergraduates, or simply because they were interesting:

Steven Hahn’s assertion that the Civil War and the subsequent campaigns against Native Americans were part of the American “Imperial Project” (“The Dimensions of Freedom: Slave Emancipation, Indian Peoples, and the Projects of the New American State,” 2012);

Fitz Brundage’s startling lecture on the ways in which American officials have engaged in torture—in the context of American soldiers being accused of torture in Iraq (“The American Tradition of Torture,” 2011);

Lesley J. Gordon’s and Bill Blair’s  (“‘I Never was a Coward’: Questions of Bravery in a Civil War Regiment,” 2005, and “Why Didn’t the North Hang Some Rebels? The Postwar Debate over Punishment for Treason,” 2004, respectively).

Along the way, Ed Ayers talked about one of the first major online archives on the Civil War (the Valley of the Shadow Project ), while Gray Brechin spoke on a new archive of New Deal sites that still exist (the Living New Deal: Still Working for America); Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber delivered lectures on women during the Civil War. Joe Glatthaar explored Robert E. Lee, Joan Waugh Ulysses S. Grant, Frank Costigliola the Milwaukee native and diplomat 41UoMsfnVzL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_[1]George Kennan, and Stephen Berry Edward Allan Poe. A complete list of a quarter century of Klement Lecturers—many of which have been recorded and can be watched or listened to—can be found here. The first fifteen lectures were published by Kent State University Press as More Than a Contest Between Armies: Essays on the Civil war Era, ed. by A. Kristen Foster and James Marten (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2007).

Although it makes me feel very old to know how many Klement Lectures we’ve had, I think I speak for the entire history department when I say that we’re proud that we’ve been able to bring to our faculty, students, and the larger community such an outstanding array of scholars on so many different topics.

James Marten is chair of the history department. Find out more about Frank Klement in a slideshow prepared for a memorial dinner commemorating his death. http://www.marquette.edu/history/klement.shtml.

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).

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

By James Marten

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

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

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

You can read the blog here.

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

Christmases Past: A Holiday Blog

By James Marten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

With Your Indulgence: Corporal Tanner Redux, for Veterans Day

By James Marten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tanner-2                tanner-1

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

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


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