Posts Tagged 'Marquette University history department'

Never Forget: Two Lessons of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre

By J. Patrick Mullins, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not by accident.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

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

By James Marten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intersecting Trails: History, Lovecraft and Epoch-Driven Fiction

By Sean Malone

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

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

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

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

H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

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

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

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

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

Center for Urban Research, Teaching, and Outreach: Year One

By Rob Smith, Director

Alumni mag photoAcademic years fly by. Nine months is indeed a long haul, yet it seems there is never enough time to complete all those well laid plans. Here are a few highlights from the inaugural year of the Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach (CURTO), with some thoughts on what’s next for CURTO.

Key CURTO accomplishments during AY 2017-18?

Our most significant accomplishment has been securing the support, confidence and input of our campus and community stakeholders. CURTO did so through a series of meetings and visioning sessions that gave us insight into how our various stakeholders imagined CURTO’s success. Based on these insights, the following roles and objectives now guide CURTO’s emerging vision.

  • Supporting Faculty & Student Research
  • Serving as a Hub for Interdisciplinary Collaborations
  • Role Modeling Engaged Scholarship in our Research and Outreach Agendas
  • Fully Integrate Community Voices
  • Champion Engaged Scholarship in the Promotion/Tenure Process
  • Anchor a Physical Presence within Milwaukee Communities

 

Another key accomplishment is the cultivation of a robust partnership with Marquette’s Haggerty Art Museum. Because the issues our stakeholders tackle in their scholarship and grassroots activism are varied and complex, in some ways seemingly intractable, engaging the arts gives CURTO stakeholders an important pathway to creative inspiration steeped in mental and emotional wellness. James Baldwin’s comments on The Creative Processsays this with more intellectual force:

The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.

CURTO’s outreach efforts and our partnership with Neighborhood News Service(NNS), an award-winning grassroots media outlet, made invaluable contributions to the community-wide celebration of the 50thAnniversary of the Open Housing Marches, named 200 Nights of Freedom. Most demonstrably, CURTO, NNS, along with the Office of Community Engagement(OCE) collaborated on the publication of The Long March to Freedom, a booklet and multimedia series chronicling the March on Milwaukee and its long-march-to-freedom-900x0legacies a half-century later (it’s available as an ebook here). CURTO also partnered with several organizations on the following programming inspired by the 50thAnniversary. Lessons from the Long Black Freedom Struggle, a half-day workshop on related histories on African American resistance movements. The Voice and Vision of James Baldwin, a public workshop on the famed author’s teachings and his role with the Long Black Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 8.17.21 AMFreedom Struggle. And,A Community Discussion: Civil Rights in Milwaukee Since the Time of Dr. King, featuring local leaders at the forefront of rights-based movements in the city. More broadly, CURTO’s outreach efforts include ongoing support to the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee, and supporting interns who created the “Protests@MU: Dissent on the Marquette Campus” website and another team of interns developing pilot digital archives for community organizations as part of the Near West Side Archive Project.

CURTO is also excited to announce that the Future Milwaukee Community Leadership Program is now housed within the Center.  The connections between this 40-year program and CURTO are numerous – both working to enhance collaborative linkages within our broader community and to build the capacity of leaders to sustain those relationships.  Even before Future Milwaukee joined CURTO, Future Milwaukee participants this year were collaborating with MU, community leaders, and organizations on projects related to:

  • 50th Anniversary of the March on Milwaukee/200 Nights of Freedom (two projects)
  • James Cameron, the founder of America’s Black Holocaust Museum
  • Running Rebels youth-serving organization
  • Social Innovation and the 707 HUB
  • Sherman Park Asset Mapping

These project areas underscore the great synergy Future Milwaukee brings to CURTO – and the opportunity to broaden CURTO’s impact on developing leaders in our professional communities.

What’s next for CUTRO?

CURTO is noticeably lacking a digital presence. This was by design. CURTO will formally introduce itself to the Milwaukee community and the digital world early Fall 2018 once we have constructed a dynamic website and shaped the Center’s digital media strategy. CURTO is also shaping pilot research collaborations that will also be formally introduced Fall 2018. These research collaborations promote undergraduate and graduate student researchers and interns working in tandem with expert voices from campus and local communities.

Stay tuned…

Rob Smith is associate professor of History and John Professor of Urban Studies. After a number of years of teaching and serving in a number of academic positions related to community outreach and diversity issues at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukeee, he took over CURTO in fall 2017.  Rob teaches courses on African American and urban history and is the author of Race, Labor & Civil Rights: Griggs v. Duke Power and the Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008).

Practical Magic: Taking “Witches, Magic, and Demons” Seriously

By Steve Molvarec, SJ

Steve Molvarec reflects on teaching an undergraduate reading seminar on “Witches, Magic, and Demons” in Fall 2017. In the end of the year evaluation of the course, students called it “an amazing adventure,” “exactly what I expect from a capstone course in the history department,” and “enthralling and fascinating and eloquently presented.”

All last semester colleagues, other Jesuits, and even some students would ask me: “How’s that ‘Defense against the Dark Arts’ course going?”  One Jesuit I live with was “convinced” that I was beginning a coven.  Teaching a course on magic and witchcraft is sometimes hazardous—at least to one’s reputation.  I tried to prevent some of this: on the first day that “Witches, Magic, and Demons” (a history department seminar) met for class, I explained to my students: “This course is not a practicum in magic.  It is a consideration of neglected strands of the Western intellectual and religious tradition—things that have often been understudied or ignored by scholars.  The people we’ll be reading and reading about have different worldviews and sets of experiences than we do. We don’t have to believe what they did.  We don’t have to experience what they did.  We will, however, respect their worldviews and beliefs.”

This made for some interesting intellectual navigation throughout the course.  I had to find ways to encourage students to check their biases, to encounter the authors we were studying.  Historians always have to do this while teaching.  In this case, however, there were some challenges that stemmed largely from the scientific perspective inherent in our worldview, a post-Enlightenment emptying of the spiritual and supernatural from our cosmos.  Students would sometimes ask during class if some experience that they were reading about (for instance, ceremonies that are said to allow conversation with one’s guardian angel) was “real.”  And while I assured them that our authors believed so, I would dodge questions as to the reality of magical or supernatural phenomenon.  Still, I would often edit the texts I gave them, especially ones that had practical aspects.  This was to make them unusable.  Students would tease me and say: “Why are there these red bars across parts of this diagram or magic circle?”

And people at Marquette not in the course would write me or find me to ask questions about demons, exorcism, magic, spirits, occultism, etc.  All of this was actually fascinating—to observe the ways that this interested people.  It was also interesting to put what my students expected they would be learning about next to what they were actually learning about. I was very interested in the experiences our authors were having, students were having, and various inquirers were having.  I even told my students that some of the texts we were reading together were designed to alter consciousness and so they shouldn’t be surprised if they began having dreams or nightmares.  And sometimes they did.

In an attempt to understand the experience of practicing ritual magicians while I was preparing the course during the summer, I began visiting some private libraries, archives, and repositories.  I was especially interested in the various 19th century magical and occult brotherhoods and societies.  From my perspective, these were a kind of culmination: they borrowed, stole, found, invented, and misunderstood all kinds of occult and esoteric texts from Antiquity and the Middle Ages.  And when these groups imploded in the early twentieth century, their materials became the seeds for the New Age, modern Satanism, various occult movements—all aspects of our own age that often receive only peripheral attention.  All of this borrowing, inventing, “finding,” creating, imploding, and transmitting were the dynamics that would be featured in my course. Students were often surprised and fascinated by the persons who were involved in such things:  W.B. Yeats, Florence Farr, Alan Moore, Jimmy Page, Grant Morrison, Prince Charles.

So I began tracking down artifacts from some of these groups.  I found the expected manuscripts with diagrams and accounts of ceremonies.  I found manuscripts and documents discussing theories of magic.  And I began finding objects that practitioners had made for various purposes: wands, swords, medallions, disks, chalices, models of ritual chambers.  These were fascinating:  texts are important, but holding objects that some of the authors my students would be reading had made and used was something else.  This was, well, cool.  Or hype. Or whatever people say these days.  I was sometimes allowed to photograph them for use in my course.  I wanted to bring as much of the experience of our authors as I could into the course.  A few of my students ended up working with some of these, especially an unpublished manuscript of a play from the late 19th century by a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn.

As I worked in such libraries, my attention was constantly called to how much was still hidden, how much was secret, what people had not written down, how many artifacts and documents had been lost or destroyed.  The history of magic is truly a history of silence and secrecy, a history of hiding.  Sometimes this was because of persecution (the practice of some forms of magic, after all, has been illegal in various times and places) or fear of what one’s neighbors might think. Sometimes there was secrecy because, as I concluded, being in the know can be a sort of drug for some people.  Occult groups flourished in the 19th century perhaps because of this.

13599_atlantis1Secrecy and hiding, however, make it difficult to look at the experience of groups of people.  I found that each time I was looking at documents or artifacts, a librarian or a curator would say to me: “Have you been to X library?” Or “Do you know Ms. Y?” Eventually, I found myself at Atlantis Books in London. Atlantis is a quiet, unassuming bookshop a few blocks from the British Museum. Despite its unassuming appearance (I had difficulty finding it the first time), it is perhaps one of the most important occult sites in London.  The bookshop has been on that site and in business since the early twentieth century and visitors to it read like a “Who’s Who” of twentieth century occultism.  I walked in out of curiosity.  And discovered that there was IMG_3006a collection of magical wands, swords, paintings, etc. on the back wall created by people I had been reading about.  So I asked the proprietor whether I could photograph them.  She said I could.  And I then struck up a conversation with Geraldine and explained why I had dropped in.  And we chatted for a few hours on a couple of occasions about all kinds of things.  It turned out that her family had been involved in various groups in the city of London and that her father had known Gerald Gardner, the father of modern IMG_6298 2Wicca.  She herself was active in such circles.  I asked if she would consider skyping into one of my class meetings when my students were reading about Wicca.  She agreed.

My students had been reading portions of Gardner’s High Magic’s Aid (1949).  And some scholarly articles on modern Wicca and its practices.  Sometimes they thought the texts were dull, but they came to class excited the day that Geraldine was skyping in.  In so many ways, often the course was not what they expected and that class session was no exception.  Geraldine is a woman in her 50s with purple hair.  She’s grandmotherly and English with a witty sense of humor.  Direct and open.  She was not at all what my students expected of a woman involved with Wicca and the esoteric.  And some of what they learned from her—about her experience as a practitioner and the historic figures that she and her father had known—was unexpected, too.  One student asked her about her first experiences of magic.  She replied, “My first experiences of magic were going to the movies as a child. I found that I was transported to another world.  Or taking penicillin to get well from an infection.”  As you might imagine, this was entirely unexpected–even by me, despite my various conversations with Geraldine and our correspondence.  Students were fascinated too by her matter-of-factness and the way that she considered her practices to be simply part of the fabric of her life, a “lifestyle” she said.  They asked her for an example. “I have rice every Monday,” she said, “because it’s white and Monday is the day of the moon.”  They asked her about various occult figures who had been in her shop or who figured prominently in certain groups and oral traditions.  She told them what she thought of Aleister Crowley—a prominent dark magician in the first half of the twentieth century, whose influence is still found in bands like Tool and the Beatles, groups like Scientology, and various artists and intellectuals, like Timothy Leary.

IMG_4396I had my students write briefly what they had learned after our chat with Geraldine, how it helped them understand the themes of the course and our discussions.  Here’s what one of them wrote: “… One being her opinion on secrecy, which I found to be very interesting. Many of our questions and struggles in class revolve around the fact that we do not know everything about these orders. Or about their practices and most importantly their experiences they often do not even write down. Instead of secrecy, Geraldine said discrete rather than secretive, which has a completely different meaning. One is much humbler less elitist in nature, where they don’t push people away or seek to be left alone but rather simply don’t want to push their thoughts on others or disturb people.”  In many ways, learning about Geraldine’s family history, as well as her own, helped my students to look more deeply at the experience of work with magic and secret orders.  The stories she told them are ones that give voice to lived experiences, ones like those of the dead authors they had been reading all semester.

Dr. Steve Molvarec, SJ, received his PhD in medieval history from the University of Notre Dame.  He is completing the second of a three-year Regency at Marquette, which is part of his training in the Society of Jesus.

Interning at the Milwaukee Public Museum

By Cara Caputo

Our latest blog post is by history major (and student employee extraordinaire!) Cara Caputo.

MPMThis past semester, I worked as an intern for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Anthropology Department. With my majors of History and Anthropology, my minor in Public History, and my career goals of working in the museum field, this internship was an unparalleled experience that allowed me to expand my knowledge of museum studies. Along with the opportunity to work closely with the curator of the museum’s Anthropology Collections, Dawn Scher Thomae, this internship exposed me to the day-to-day operations of a large natural history museum through the variety of tasks I performed during the semester.

My internship coincided with the opening of MPM’s latest temporary exhibition, Weapons: Beyond the Blade. This exhibit, which ran from October 2017-January 2018, featured over 180 weapons from various cultures and time periods, including a sword made from crocodile skin and a full suit of armor. Many interns from Marquette contributed to the development of this exhibit by conducting research on the provenance and historical context of the museum’s vast collection of weapons and assisting Dawn in the process of determining which objects made it into the exhibit.

My primary responsibility during my internship was selecting ten objects from MPM’s collections that were not chosen to be displayed in the Weapons exhibit and researching these objects in order to present them to visitors. Following the opening of the exhibit in October, I presented my objects in the exhibit space every Monday morning to provide visitors with a closer look at various weapons in MPM’s collections, including armored socks worn by samurai and a sword used during the Napoleonic Wars. Many visitors are appreciative of interns’ enthusiasm to share information with them and it is always rewarding to see visitors enjoying their experience in the exhibit.

I was also tasked with developing programs that I would present during two of the museum’s largest events, Halloween Hauntings and Archeology Day. For Halloween Hauntings, my colleague and I developed a program on Egyptian Mummification and examined various objects in storage to determine which artifacts we wished to research Cara 2and interpret. After researching the provenance and history of our chosen objects, we presented our objects, which included an authentic mummified head, to visitors of all ages at the event. Our presentation also featured an interactive aspect, as visitors were able to smell various oils and incense utilized during the mummification process. For Archeology Day, I helped developed a presentation on weapons utilized by warriors from various cultures, including a shark-tooth club from the Gilbert Islands. Developing these collections-based programs and participating in two of the museum’s special events led me to discover how much I enjoy interacting and engaging with museum visitors. It was also gratifying to witness museum visitors’ curiosity and eagerness to learn about the history behind various artifacts within MPM’s collections.

My final project of the semester was performing a summative evaluation of the Weapons: Beyond the Blade exhibit. This project consisted of two main components: unobtrusive visitor observations and exit interviews. For the observations, I recorded the ways that visitors utilized the exhibit space, including whether or not they read the labels and the amount of time they spent in the exhibit. In addition, I conducted exit interviews as visitors left the exhibit, which consisted of asking them a few questions about their opinions of and experience in the exhibit. I was interested in learning more about how museum professionals measure the effectiveness of exhibitions based on the public’s reactions and opinions, and this project effectively provided me with insight into this process and essential aspect of museum studies.

In addition to these larger projects, I also performed various tasks to assist the department, such as moving objects to and from storage and aiding researchers. For instance, a Ph.D. candidate came to the museum to conduct research on the museum’s collection of Phoenician and Punic ceramics from Malta, and I helped him streamline the process of taking 3D digital scans of the objects. I was even able to utilize this technology to scan a few objects, and I really enjoyed learning more about the development of 3D scanning in the fields of archeology and collections research.

Ultimately, this internship was a fulfilling experience that exposed me to various aspects of the public history field and reinforced my career aspirations of working in a museum. Make sure to visit the Milwaukee Public Museum and check out the upcoming special exhibition, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, which opens on February 10!

Scroll down to view gallery of photos from the weapons exhibit.

Cara Caputo is a history major who has studied abroad in London and participated in a number of public and digital history projects. Last fall she was part of the public history class that created an exhibit for the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear (see more at https://medium.com/@MUArtsSciences/class-at-the-museum-25267710f5b). 

Some Guys Get Lucky: Honoring Fr. John Patrick Donnelly

Late in October the History Department hosted a reception in honor of Fr. John Donnelly, S.J., that featured the public launch of the book From Rome to Zurich, between Ignatius and Vermigli, Essays in Honor of John Patrick Donnelly, Kathleen M. Comerford, Gary W. Jenkins, and W. J. Torrance Kirby, eds. (Brill, 2017).  The several dozen attendees included former and current MU history faculty, a number of Pat’s Jesuit brothers, editors and contributors of the book (in town for the Sixteenth Century Society conference), a few former students, and Pat’s beloved nephew and his wife. The book grew out of panels organized and presented in Fr. Donnelly’s at the Sixteenth Century Society’s conference in Vancouver a few years ago (when, through the efforts of his Rector at San Camillus Retirement Community, Pat had Skyped in to one of the sessions!). 

Kathleen Comerford, one of the editors of the book, offered a warm toast to Father Donnelly.  She and Pat shared a dissertation director at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Robert Kingdon (although they received their PhD’s more than twenty years apart).  An excerpt from her remarks, which refer to stories told by and about Pat in their circle of friends and scholaDonnellyrs, follows:

“I’m sure that we all have dissertation-related stories about money, living quarters, drinking, and struggling with languages, but I’ve never heard anyone else having to deal with the kind of crisis which would lead someone to decide to be a missionary in Tanzania rather than take prelims, or spending a few hours in Sicily looking in vain for a church in which to say Mass. That collar tends to invite more confidences, and more responsibilities, than the average student experiences. The events of 1968, recounted as they concerned Madison and Florence, provide a fascinating background for Pat’s interest in the mavericks Ignatius Loyola (who, to my knowledge, did not have to bribe himself to learn a language) and Peter Martyr Vermigli (whose experience with rioting students appears to have been rather more serious than Pat’s).

When I met Pat, about 25 years after the events Lynn recounted, and about 25 years ago, he was an established scholar, and like many graduate students, I was anxious about approaching him. Our mutual mentor, Robert Kingdon, worried little about the niceties of academic distinctions, and eagerly put current students in contact with former ones. He also obviously taught his students to feel the same way about treating junior scholars with genuine interest and respect, and I was fortunate that early in my career I met Pat, who read some of my work as a reviewer for Catholic University Press (it was later published elsewhere) and corresponded with me for a while as I hopped from job to job. It is thus a great privilege for me to be involved in this project.” Kathleen also introduced the several contributors in attendance and thanked other scholars involved with the project.

The highlight of the event was Pat’s short speech; a slightly edited version follows:

“I am very grateful for this award in my honor. . . . This [honor comes] to a scholar for a lifetime or long years of achievement as a scholar. For scientists it usually depends on many good research grants, for scholars in the humanities it means abundant scholarly publications. Winners usually have put in many years of hard work.

But intelligence and scholarship are necessary.

One does not get intelligence on his or her own.

Our raw intelligence largely comes through our genes. Here I owe a big debt to my father and mother. Both were Marquette graduates, my father was a [graduate of Marquette University High School, and Marquette University’s college of Arts and Sciences] and Law School. My mother was a graduate of the MU nursing school. Both were bright and well trained.

I was not a good student in grade school.  My parents sent me to Campion. We had to take an exam right at the start: we were then sent to class A, B, C, D, E, or F. I stated in the E class. After the first quarter I bounced up to C and later to B. At the end of my second year my grades were good enough for A class, but my worst grades were in Latin and I did not want to take Greek, so I stayed in B class. Toward the end of my senior years I took an exam in Chicago in which the best Campion student got a 4-year full scholarship to Loyola University. I beat out the valedictorian. He ended his career as head of the NY Federal Reserve bank. I entered the Jesuits.

I decided as a Jesuit, I had to master Latin, my one bad high school subject. I did, but I was never any good at Greek. That turned out to be very important. Latin was big for our courses in philosophy and theology, the heart of Jesuit training. I loved history. I wanted to work on European history from the Roman days to 1600. I could use Latin for that—most of the scholarly books written then were in Latin. I decided Renaissance/Reformation was the period for me. . . .

At Campion High School: I was best in Physics and Chemistry and before becoming a Jesuit I leaned toward a major in chemistry. . . . Some of my professors urged me to go on for a Ph.D. in Theology. But I wanted to be a historian. I applied to doctoral programs at University of Chicago and the three top history programs in the Big Ten. I was accepted in all four. I went to UW, to be close to home.

Also, I had heard that Robert Kingdon at Madison was a good expert in the Reformation and a good man to work with. This was one of the best choices I ever made.

Kingdon was a fine teacher and had a reputation of getting his Ph.D. students out in good time. I made the best choice. I could also take a bus from Madison to Milwaukee and spend weekends with my mother.

I was lucky—Kingdon’s seminar, which we had to take every semester, had several excellent members; Lynn Martin, Bob Kolb, Jerry Friedman, Ray Mentzer, Fred Baumgartner, Hans Gustafson, Maryanne Cline Horowitz, Luther Peterson and Bob Richgels. Kingdon’s best doctoral student came some years later. She is being honored [this week at the Sixteenth Century Society meeting]:  Merry Wiesner-Hanks, [of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee].

In my first week at Madison, Kingdon asked what I might want to do for a dissertation. I said I had a good background in Catholic theology, maybe I should do a dissertation on a Protestant theologian who was writing in Latin and was understudied. He suggested I consider Peter Martyr Vermigli. For better or worse I have been with Vermigli ever since. Right now I have a 1000-page manuscript in press on his Genesis commentary, and I am working on his commentary on 1 Corinthians. But my last three books have been about the Jesuits, mainly St. Ignatius.

Some guys get lucky. I am one of them.”

Fr. John Patrick Donnelly, SJ, retired in 2011 after nearly forty years of service to Marquette. He has written, edited, or translated nearly twenty books; served on virtually every committee at the university (including many years on the University Promotion and Tenure Committee); and taught the large sections of western civilization in the Varsity Theater for many years (which earned him the Lawrence G. Haggerty Award for Teaching Excellence in 1988). You can find out more about From Rome to Zurich at Brill’s website: http://www.brill.com/products/book/rome-zurich-between-vermigli-and-Ignatius.


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

Join 814 other followers

Advertisements