Edward Ayers on Confederate Monuments

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Last weekend Edward Ayers gave a stirring and inspiration presidential address at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento. (See our coverage here). The title was “Everyone Their Own Historian.”  I was not in Sacramento for the conference, but I followed along eagerly as Liz Covart of “Ben Franklin’s World” fame live-tweeted:

Over at Salon, Chauncey Devega interviews Ayers about Trump, Confederate monuments, and Civil War history.  Here is a taste:

The Republican Party is in many ways the Confederacy and the Jim Crow South updated for the 21st century. There has long been a neo-Confederate element in the post-civil rights era Republican Party. With Trump’s election they have fully empowered. And in the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence, we actually saw the president of the United States, suggesting that there are “some very fine people” among neo-Nazis and white supremacists. How do you make sense of this?

I was in Charlottesville that day. I was going to teach a class that afternoon at the University of Virginia. I would start by explaining how there are people who turn to the symbols of the Confederacy as a native, indigenous rebellion against the power of the federal government. That appeals to a lot of people. But when you see that Confederate flag being mingled with Nazi flags, suddenly that claim upon an indigenous, pure and non-racialized argument about politics and “traditions” is gone. It has been forever entangled with white supremacy.

You might be surprised by the number of people who will come up to me after I give a lecture and tell me, “Slavery was wrong, I would never defend it. But the fact is that Robert E. Lee was a fine man and he was fighting for his home, right? He was fighting for what he thought was right.” You hear that a lot. It makes you realize all the evasions that are built into this defense of the Confederacy.

We have all these formulas that people use to say that they are proud of their ancestors. For example, he was a “good” slaveholder. Two, he didn’t really believe in slavery. Three, he wanted to get rid of slavery. Four, most white Southerners weren’t slaveholders so they could not have been fighting for slavery, and so forth. I listen to these folks and I then say, yes, let’s think about this. Let’s forget about whatever you might think about the character or identity of Robert E. Lee. What if the Confederacy had won? What if those men on horseback had actually accomplished what they set out to do? They would have created a nation explicitly based on perpetual bondage that would have been the fourth-richest economy in the world with a monopoly over the single most valuable commodity in the world. How would world history have been different? Other parts of the world would have looked to the South and said, “Ah, the path to the future leads through slavery.”

If you try to argue with them on the same ground that they form the question on, you will have a hard time persuading them. But it’s also the case that white Northerners and Westerners have a smug belief in the inevitable end of American slavery that is not warranted either.

Read the entire interview here.

 

OAH 2018 Dispatch: Digital History

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Messiah College students engaged in the Digital Harrisburg Initiative

We are pleased to add this dispatch from Gabriel Loiacono to our coverage of the 2018 meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento. Gabe is Associate Professor of History and Director of the University Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and is currently writing a book tentatively titled: “Five Lives Shaped by the Poor Law: Stories of Welfare in the Early Republic.”  Gabe writes:

This dispatch is about two digital history panels. I had a wonderful conference overall, including my own panel, “Beyond Northern Exceptionalism” (#AM2347). I will say nothing about that panel except that its genesis was on this blog when I read an interview with my co-panelist Christy Clark-Pujara about her book Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island. I read the interview and the book, reached out to Christy, and with Chad Montrie, Stephen Kantrowitz, and Sharon Romeo, we had a thoroughly enjoyable panel.

Now on to Digital History….

Giddiness and Guilt. I alternate between those two sensations when using digitized primary sources for my research and writing. The OAH panel “Consequences of Digital Technologies for History: A Roundtable Discussion on the Digital Future of the Historian’s Craft” (#AM2675) helped me to think about why that is. Panelist Lara Putnam caused much introspection in the audience when she said, and I paraphrase: “if you are feeling shameful about having used digitized sources, and that’s why you’re not citing the sources’ digital formats, we need to talk about that.” I, for one, have felt that shame and this panel helped me to think about why.

Panelists Andreas Fickers, Lara Putnam, Jason Rhody, and Jennifer Guiliano offered really thoughtful critiques about how, precisely, primary sources and the historian’s craft are changed by digitization. Fickers emphasized how we really need to think about the digital tools we use, how search engines are not neutral, and how sources are manipulated in the process of digitization. He offers a model of “thinkering,” thinking while tinkering, in order to come up with updated methodologies to fit our updated tools. Putnam pointed out how there have always been problems with how our sources are collected, preserved, and found, but some problems are new, like algorithmic bias. Now is the moment to “retro-engineer” old problems while thinking about new ones.

Putnam also pointed to what is lost in moving from the “analog” methods of finding and reading an old newspaper, and the digital method of encountering it as a search result. In particular, much of the contextual information about the newspaper, from other issues to what the rest of the issue says to where you can find this newspaper can disappear in a digital search. Rhody and Guiliano both referenced the ethics of google searches and Guiliano called into question the ethics of ancestry.com’s business model. Leaning on the work of communications studies scholar Safiya Noble (see Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism), they underlined how google searches of women or people color often turn up biased results. To what extent do biased results shape our and our students’ historical research? Moreover, how are historians of our period going to cope with using billions of tweets as sources?

The panelists only began to answer these questions. Guiliano warned that we better start learning statistical methods and how algorithms work. All underlined how important it is that we develop some methodology that takes into account the differences that digital tools make in our research and understanding.

This Digital History panel had my mental wheels spinning, and I decided to take in the next session in that room: “Teaching Historical Literacy in the Digital Age” (#AM2581). To my surprise, the rest of the audience was totally different, which was too bad. These panels spoke to the same big questions and there could have been a rich inter-panel conversation had more people listened to both. Four two-year college professors and one high school teacher made up this panel: Abigail Feely, Chris Padgett, Elise Robison, Rob Marchie, and Sara Ball. Where the first panel focused on theory and research methodology, this panel focused on the practice of teaching. The teaching expertise of the panelists shone in one after another example of how to harness digital platforms for teaching and how to help students think critically about digital sources. One of my favorites was to assign students to critique a website or even a google search in terms of what was missing and how dated or well-rounded the sources behind these digital resources were. Another favorite was to ask students to take digital photos of something (such as the suburb nearby) before students even knew they would be focusing on Levittown the following week.

Perhaps the single most exciting point I took from this panel was that historians’ skills are precisely the skills that students need to navigate the digital age. Evaluating the source (archival or digital) that you are looking at is what we teach. Likewise, building up context and the ability to take apart the argument being presented to you are skills that we teach! This was an exciting clarion call for us historians. Let’s tackle these new problems in research and teaching with our old methodologies, and develop new methodologies for new sources.

There were other digital history panels that I could not make. I bet those were good too. What an exciting series of issues to tackle at the OAH.

OAH Dispatch: Sometimes “I just need to listen”

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Mary R.S. Bracy teaches history at Warner College in Lake Wales, Florida

Here is Mary R.S. Bracy‘s latest post from the Organization of American Historians meeting in Sacramento. Click here for Mary’s previous OAH post: “She Persisted: A New Assistant Professor Tells Her Story.”  Enjoy!

As is usually the case when I go to conferences, I have about five million things rattling around in my head at once. Yesterday was a full day. Today I’m headed back home, so I feel like this  has just been too quick!

I sat down to write this dispatch last night, but I was simply too tired to type any words on the screen. Our panel started off the day at 8:00 am. I was excited to get going, but was a bit disappointed when we only had three audience members.  I guess this is what happens when you’re up against a panel on “Hamilton!” I have participated in a lot of conference panels, but this was one of my favorite.  It was first panel I’ve been on where I’m the one with the most experience!  I would have never been brave enough as an MA student to even think about presenting a paper at a big conference like the OAH…so I was really happy to see my fellow panelists doing that.

I like to get out of my comfort zone when I go to conferences, so the other panel I attended yesterday was “When All That Is Left Is Words: The Writing Sensibilities of Civil War Soldiers.” Sarah Gardner (Mercer University), Peter Carmichael (Gettysburg College), and Timothy Williams (University of Oregon) each presented papers. I was especially intrigued by Professor Williams’s paper “Prison Pens: The Culture of Writing in Civil War Prisons,” which focused on prisons as intellectual spaces.

I only made it to two panels overall, which is about what I expected.  I gave up trying to do everything at conferences a few years ago.  If there are papers I really want to see, or colleagues I want to support, I do that, but otherwise I simply try to absorb the intellectual atmosphere.  Sometimes this is exhausting; other times it’s completely inspiring.

This time, I’m taking away a deep sense of inspiration from my fellow panelists, who are all young and excited and passionate about what they’re doing.  I am in no way old, but I am disillusioned.  The academy has hurt people I care about.  It hurts to see my friends leave the profession.  It’s been frustrating to talk with them as they fill out hundreds of job applications, only to have nothing.

But I’m an optimist at heart, and being on a panel with graduate students fed that optimism.  They know that this job market is terrible. But they love the job so much that (at least for right now) the problems seem like a distant future.  I tried to offer a dose of reality.  I mentioned that the job market is terrible and graduate students need to be thoughtful about the future.  But when they started talking excitedly about passing comps, planning dissertations, and writing grants, I just shut up.  Because in my disillusioned world, I just needed to listen.

OAH Dispatch: Historians on “Hamilton”

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The editors of Historians on Hamilton sign books! (From Rutgers University Press Twitter feed)

We are happy to have Julianne Johnson writing for us this weekend from the floor of the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento.  Julianne is a Ph.D student at Claremont Graduate University and Assistant Professor of History at College of the Canyons in San Clarita, California.  Enjoy!  –JF

Friday morning’s 8am session Historians on Hamilton at the OAH conference was uncharacteristically full.  Scholars Patricia Herrera of the University of Richmond, Claire Bond Potter of The New School and Renee Romano of Oberlin College led a panel discussion surrounding their contributions to a new book from Rutgers University Press titled Historians on Hamilton; How a Blockbuster Musical is Restaging America’s PastRomano and Potter are both editors of, and contributors to, the book.  The panel discussion approached the phenomenon of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton The Musical by interrogating how the show has been received, how the show is revolutionary, and what historians can learn from the show about how to communicate the past to popular audiences.

All three panelists challenged the audience to consider how Hamilton The Musical does history.  Renee Romano, Professor of History, Comparative American Studies, and Africana Studies at Oberlin, considered Hamilton in the context of historical memory and what she describes as a “new civic myth.”  Romano questioned whether Hamilton The Musical is expanding the circle of “we” for Americans by offering young people of color a sense of belonging and challenging white audiences to accept minorities in the roles of our founding generation.

Patricia Herrera, Professor of Theater at the University of Richmond, told a heartwarming story of her experience listening to Hamilton The Musical with her children while taking a road trip throughout our nation’s national parks.  Her young daughter’s desire to be Angelica Schuyler for Halloween pushed Herrera to interrogate how Hamilton The Musical conflates the historical figure of Angelica the slave owner with the beautiful African American actress playing her on stage.   For Herrera, the national parks and the musical perform a similar function.  The parks represent beautiful democratic vistas and leisure for white Americans on the backs of a tragic narrative for Native Americans.

Finally, Claire Bond Potter, Professor of History at the New School, discussed her interest in Hamilton The Musical and Miranda from a social media perspective.  Her chapter in the book, “Safe in the Nation We’ve Made,” looks at how the musical reaches a large audience on social media, allowing for a more authentic connection and turning fans into cultural investors.

Palpable throughout the panel discussion was the historians’ respect for Miranda’s work and a hope that other historians will use the musical as an entry into teaching and talking about history. At the end of the session, the line in the exhibit hall to purchase the book had the Rutgers staff sweating.  I secured my copy and am happily reading it now.

The Organization of American Historians Announce It’s 2018 Award Winners

dd137-oahmastheadHere are a few of the winners that caught our eye:

Roy Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award for an individual or individuals whose contributions have significantly enriched our understanding and appreciation of American history.

Linda K. Kerber, Emerita, University of Iowa

Friend of History Award recognizes an institution or organization, or an individual working primarily outside college or university settings, for outstanding support of historical research, the public presentation of American history, or the work of the OAH.

The Civil War Trust, civilwar.org

Frederick Jackson Turner Award for a first scholarly book dealing with some aspect of American history.

Brian McCammack, Lake Forest College, Landscapes of Hope: Nature and the Great Migration in Chicago (Harvard University Press)

Merle Curti Intellectual History Award for the best book published in American intellectual history.

Brittney C. Cooper, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women (University of Illinois Press)

Merle Curti Social History Award for the best book published in American social history.

Tiya Miles, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits (The New Press)

Avery O. Craven Award for the most original book on the coming of the Civil War, the Civil War years, or the Era of Reconstruction, with the exception of works of purely military history.

Edward L. Ayers, University of Richmond, The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America (W. W. Norton & Company)

Ellis W. Hawley Prize for the best book-length historical study of the political economy, politics, or institutions of the United States, in its domestic or international affairs, from the Civil War to the present.

Richard White, Stanford University, The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865–1896 (Oxford University Press)

Liberty Legacy Foundation Award for the best book on the civil rights struggle from the beginnings of the nation to the present.

Ula Yvette Taylor, University of California, Berkeley, The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam (University of North Carolina Press)

Mary Nickliss Prize in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History for the most original book in U.S. women’s and/or gender history.

Tera W. Hunter, Princeton University, Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (Harvard University Press)

Mary K. Bonsteel Tachau Teacher of the Year Award for contributions made by precollegiate teachers to improve history education within the field of American history.

Christopher W. Stanley, Ponaganset High School, North Scituate, Rhode Island

Click here for a list of all the winners.

Write For Us From The OAH In Sacramento

a971a-oahI am a bit late to the game here, but if there is anyone in Sacramento for the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians conference who would like to serve as a correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home we would love to publish your dispatches.

What am I hoping for out of these posts/reports? Frankly, anything. Let the spirit move you. I would love to get general observations, reports on sessions you attend, job market updates, or any other kind of stuff you might have the time or inclination to write about.

Feel free to be as creative and journalistic as you want.  My only requirement is that you write material while the conference is in session.  I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

Though we can’t pay you for writing, we can introduce you, your writing, and your online presence to a several thousand readers a day and over 14,000 Twitter followers.  Our posts on the AHA are regularly picked up at other sites and blogs as well.

If you are interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu and we can get the ball rolling.  In the meantime, check out our posts from other conferences to get an idea of what some of our previous correspondents have done:

2016 Organization of American Historians

2016 American Historical Association

2018 American Historical Association

2017 Organization of American Historians

Teaching American History after Charlottesville

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Process, the blog of the Organization of American Historians, is running a round table on teaching in the wake of Charlottesville.  Participants include Jarred Amato, Beverly Bunch-Lyons, Michael Dickinson, Emily Farris, Kevin Gannon (don’t miss him on Episode 26 of the TWOILH Podcast), Nyasha Junior, and Heather Cox Richardson.

Here is a taste:

Did the events in Charlottesville change the topics and questions you were planning to address this semester or quarter? If so, how?

Beverly Bunch-Lyons: No. The events in Charlottesville did not change the topics and questions I planned to address this semester. I am teaching the first half of African American History this semester, which covers 1450-1865, so while these issues are certainly important, timely, and relevant, I believe they are better suited to the second half of the course. I have an obligation to my students to cover historical topics that fall within the time period we are covering. I will discuss Charlottesville this semester, but only if students initiate the conversation. I realize that events like Charlottesville can be important teaching moments, but as educators I believe it is important to make sure that we provide deep and thorough historical context for students if we choose to broach these recent issues in classes where the topic may be outside of the historical scope we are covering.

Michael Dickinson: The recent events in Charlottesville did not directly change the topics I planned to address. The events did, however, demand that I alter the timeline of my syllabus. I am currently teaching an undergraduate seminar in early African American history. While concepts of race and racism are critical to the entire course, discussions of the Civil War necessarily fall toward the end of the semester. That said, recent events posed an opportunity more than a challenge. Events such as those in Charlottesville remind historians that our work is about more than the past; our work is vital to the present. Tragic moments of national mourning and conflict, while certainly unfortunate, are opportunities to help students better understand—and develop the skills of critical analysis to combat—ignorance and hate. These are objectives neatly built into syllabi but the events in Charlottesville and elsewhere pushed me to consider concepts of historical memory, race, and slavery in ways temporally out of place in the syllabus but pragmatically necessary for the contemporary moment.

Emily Farris: The events in Charlottesville occurred right after I put the finishing touches on my syllabus this fall for Urban Politics. While Charlottesville and the monument movement aren’t officially on my syllabus, I do plan on talking about these issues (and others) with my students as examples for the concepts we are going to study. For example, one section of the class looks at power and representation in the city. During those days, we will analyze what power looks like in cities and assess which groups have power and are represented in city decisions. I plan on bringing two recent events in our city, Fort Worth, into the discussion: the racially divided decision by the Fort Worth city council to not join the #SB4 immigration lawsuit and the movement I helped lead to rename Jefferson Davis city park. I find current events like these and Charlottesville help ground students in larger ideas, particularly more theoretical ones.

Kevin Gannon: As director of my university’s teaching center, I’ve certainly observed a “Charlottesville effect.” Issues of diversity, inclusion, and justice have been at the forefront of many of our conversations since last fall. There seems to be more urgency for some of us, as well as many students, in the wake of Charlottesville. An urban campus, our university is diverse compared to our state as a whole, but that’s not saying much. The student body is 90% white, and getting at issues of structural racism and historical memory, as well as privilege and power, can be fraught. Much of my work with faculty centers on handling difficult discussions, teaching inclusively, and classroom climate, and my center’s programming on these topics is well attended (faculty have requested even more, which I am glad to facilitate). It’s one thing for an institution to say it values diversity and inclusion and stands against racism. It’s another to actually commit the time and resources to doing the work behind those proclamations. Charlottesville isn’t that long ago, but my initial impression this year is that more faculty (adjunct and full-time) are thinking intentionally about these issues than is usually the case. Our students certainly are.

Read the entire round table here.

 

How To Fight Trump’s Cuts to the Humanities

 

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Here is a press release from the Organization of American Historians (published at History News Network);

The OAH strives to keep its members informed of issues that could affect the history profession and the humanities more broadly. As part of our effort, we periodically issue alerts to help our members take action.

On May 23, President Trump sent his proposed fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget request to Congress. As expected, it included devastating cuts to federal history and humanities funding including elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and Title VI/Fulbright-Hays international education programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

House Appropriations Committee subcommittees will be drafting their spending bills between now and the end of June. It is critical that you contact your members of Congress in support of these vital federal programs.

This year we are urging you to send your messages to Congress via email. The volume of calls congressional offices have received has grown exponentially since January and often the voice mail of staffers are full, making it difficult to leave messages.

Our colleagues at the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) have created a legislative action center that allows you to send multiple emails to Congress on NEH, NHRPC, IMLS, and education funding from a single website. Each alert includes a pre-written letter that you can personalize or send as is. The system uses your zip code to identify your House member and Senators.

If you prefer to make a phone call, members of Congress can be reached through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202)224-3121. We suggest you use the letters found at the NHA’s legislative action center as talking points. You can find your representative on the House website. Contact information for your senators can be found here.

No matter which means of communication you choose, please personalize your message as to your background or interest in history. If you are employed in the field, mention the institution where you work in your state and congressional district.

Never before have federal history and archival programs been under attack to this extent. Members of Congress are under tremendous pressure to hold the line on spending, so you must make your voices heard today!

 

History of Capitalism Month at “Process”

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The history of capitalism is hot right now.  Over at Process, the blog of the Organization of American Historians, June is “History of Capitalism Month.”  Here is a taste of the announcement:

It’s history of capitalism month at Process! Inspired by The American Historian’s May issue on consumption, we will be featuring posts on the history of labor, taxation, infrastructure, consumption, and more.

If you are interested in contributing a post on American history and capitalism for this month, please contact us.

The latest post is Ryan Patrick Murphy’s “Labor History and Passenger Outrage in the U.S. Airline Industry.”

Teaching History Within the Carceral State

 

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Patrick Alexander (far left) and Otis Pickett (far right) with the 2015 graduation class of the Prison-to-College Pipeline program at Parchman Prison in Mississippi. (Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Dept. of Corrections

The reports from the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians continue to roll into The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  In this installment Otis W. Pickett of Mississippi College writes about a session on Mississippi’s Prison-to-College Pipeline Program.  –JF

On Saturday, April 8, 2017, members of the Prison-to College-Pipeline Program (PTCPP) teaching team gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a panel at the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting entitled “Teaching History within the Carceral State: A Panel Discussion on Mississippi’s Prison-to-College Pipeline Program.”

The panel featured the founder of the PTCPP (Patrick Alexander, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at The University of Mississippi) and its co-founder (Otis W. Pickett, Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi College), as well as two history faculty who have been course instructors in the program since its creation (Stephanie Rolph, Assistant Professor of History at Millsaps and Robby Luckett, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University). The panel “moved beyond the call for new scholarship” and examined “the role of historians who teach in and about the prison [industrial] complex in Mississippi – a state that numbers among the top in imprisonment.”[1]

Patrick Alexander, serving both as panelist and chairman, began the discussion by taking the audience back to the roots of the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program, which involved his prison education work in Durham, North Carolina. As a graduate student at Duke University, Alexander established an academic enrichment program called Stepping Stones for incarcerated students at Orange Correctional Center (OCC). These students, many of whom were working on degrees at neighboring University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, lacked the opportunities for office hours, a writing center, email correspondence with professors, and tutoring opportunities that UNC students in free society could easily access in order to ensure academic success. Alexander created Stepping Stones to fill in these gaps, better prepare OCC students for college-level coursework, and also sharpen their skills in critical thinking, academic writing, creative writing, and public speaking. Alexander knew he would want to continue this work wherever he received a teaching appointment after graduation. He stated, “I knew from research and life experience that higher education programs in prison drastically reduce recidivism and radically affirm the humanity of imprisoned people, so I felt compelled to persist in establishing prison education opportunities in any community in which I lived and worked.”

Otis W. Pickett then shared about his journey in prison education. Pickett’s expedition also began in Durham. At the time, he was finishing a Ph.D. in history at The University of Mississippi and was asked by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation to attend the Reconciliation Summer Institute at Duke Divinity School in the summer of 2012. One of the panels at the conference proposed “what are Christians doing to serve incarcerated Christians and others in incarcerated spaces?” When scholars mentioned that Mississippi had the second highest incarceration rate in the country, many of the eyes in the room shifted to Pickett. Pickett noted, “I was clueless. I had no idea what was happening within the carceral state in Mississippi. However, I knew when I got home that I had to do something.”

Little did they know what was in store for them, but both Alexander and Pickett accepted assistant professorships at the University of Mississippi and met during faculty orientation. Glenn Hopkins, then Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, mentioned on three occasions at that meeting “if you want to teach in prison, like Patrick, let me know because we have funding in the College to support you.” Pickett recalled, “I made a beeline for Patrick. I told him I wanted to meet with him and talk about what we could do to address mass incarceration and especially teaching incarcerated students.” Hopkins became a tremendous supporter of Alexander and Pickett. The College of Liberal Arts funded Pickett and Alexander’s pilot course for a prison education program at Parchman/Mississippi State Penitentiary in the summer of 2014.  It was then that they taught their first interdisciplinary course on African American literature and Civil Rights history at Parchman entitled “Justice Everywhere: The Civil Rights Stories of Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Barack Obama.”

Pickett and Alexander had also launched the course and the PTCPP as the chief initiative of the University of Mississippi’s very first “Rethinking Mass Incarceration in the South” conference, which was held in April 2014.  This is a biannual interdisciplinary conference that focuses on mass incarceration and is hosted at the University of Mississippi Law School. After a long summer of teaching and learning, Pickett and Alexander’s first seventeen students at Parchman successfully finished their course, earned certificates of completion, and received a sentence reduction of one month. One student, because of his outstanding work in the course, earned three hours of M.A. History credit at Mississippi College.  Pickett and Alexander redeveloped their “Justice Everywhere” course at Parchman in summers 2015 and 2016, which resulted in many more students earning college credit in History from Mississippi College and in English from the University of Mississippi (UM).  Alexander also taught a course on African American literature creative writing with fellow UM professor Ann Fisher-Wirth in fall 2016 that yielded 10 more students from Parchman earning credit from UM.

In Spring 2015, just prior to Pickett and Alexander offering their second course at Parchman, Pickett met Stephanie Rolph at the OAH annual meeting in St. Louis, MO, as Pickett recalled during the panel discussion:  “It is appropriate that we are having this conversation at the OAH. The idea for teaching incarcerated students in central Mississippi was born in conversations I had with Stephanie at the OAH in St. Louis.”  Pickett later joked, “Stephanie and I teach about 10 minutes from each other, but we had to go to St. Louis to meet.” Rolph was preparing to teach a course with a colleague at the Federal Prison in Yazoo City, MS. At the Spring 2015 meeting of the OAH, she and Pickett began to talk about education needs for imprisoned communities in central Mississippi. “I was incredibly passionate about creating higher education opportunities for incarcerated women in Mississippi,” said Rolph. Pickett and Rolph reached out to the Mississippi Department of Corrections and found that many women at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) were very interested in taking courses for college credit. “We wanted to teach them, but we needed funding,” Pickett remembered. Stuart Rockoff, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council (MHC) offered to partner with the Prison-to College Pipeline Program.

The MHC funded Picket and Rolph’s summer 2016 course at CMCF entitled “‘Turning Oppression into Opportunity’: Understanding Justice, Human Rights, and Gender through the Lens of Southern Women’s Experiences from the Indigenous Era to the Modern Civil Rights Era.” Rolph noted that the women loved the class and “really connected with the material especially on issues related to maternity, labor and family. They all had children and family members with whom they wanted to share what they were reading and writing.” Each student finished the course, and many earned college credit through Mississippi College.  This was the first time in the history of the state of Mississippi that incarcerated women had earned college credit from a Mississippi institution of higher learning.[2]

Robby Luckett closed out the panel discussion by sharing about his experiences working as a guest lecturer for the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program ever since its inaugural class in 2014. Luckett is excited that he will be serving as a full-time instructor for a PTCPP course this summer at CMCF. “The guest teaching day at Parchman or CMCF is always my favorite day of the year,” he said, adding that, “when I get to go into the prison space and interact with students there, it always reminds me of what teaching is really about.” Luckett then described how the history of social control in Mississippi from the convict lease system, to the constitution of 1890, to the state’s continued underfunding of education today contributes to the contemporary system of mass incarceration in Mississippi. In Luckett’s words, the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program is “dealing with the consequences of over one hundred years of failed state policy toward the poor and disfranchised, which, in Mississippi, usually means African Americans.” Luckett also noted the racial and gender diversity of panelists, and the wide variety of institutions that they represent. “Today, the PTCPP has a black guy who teaches at Ole Miss, a white guy who teaches at an HBCU, a faculty member from a private Christian university, and another from a traditional liberal arts college. This is an amazingly diverse group of professors going into prison spaces across the state and doing social justice work.”

The panel closed with questions from the audience ranging from the future of the program to nuts and bolts questions about how the program got off of its feet.

For more on the Prison-to-College Pipeline check out the following pieces:

“Teaching Behind Bars”

“Prison-to-College Pipeline Program Takes Humanities Behind Bars”

“Professors Make Investments in the Future”

Footnotes:

[1] Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting 2017 Conference Program, page 73.

[2] The work at CMCF has since expanded and will offer three new core curriculum classes in the Spring and Summer of 2017: American Literature, Interpersonal Communications and First Half U.S. History.

The Mississippi River: The Flow of Religion, Tourism, and Music

Dagget

R to L: Aaron Miller, Melissa Daggett, Cam Addis, and Jodie Brown

Our reports from the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) continue to roll into The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  This report comes from Melissa Daggett, an instructor of United States history at San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas and the author of Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey (University Press of Mississippi, 2016).  Melissa reports on a panel sponsored by the OAH Committee on Community Colleges.  Enjoy!  –JF

On April 8, 2017, the Committee on Community Colleges opened the Saturday sessions with a panel of three, who presented papers that were informative, entertaining, scholarly, and timely. All three papers contained the common theme of the influence of the Mississippi River upon the course of American history, and it was fitting that the presentations were done in a location next to the river.

Melissa Daggett of San Jacinto College discussed the circulation of people and ideas into New Orleans from the Northeast, and from France and the French colony of Saint-Domingue in her paper, “Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans.” This circulation helped to establish New Orleans as the premier city for Spiritualism within the confines of a very conservative South during the late antebellum period through the early years of Reconstruction. Daggett began with a description of the genesis of Modern American Spiritualism, recounting the Fox sisters’ early forays into séance Spiritualism in New York. The new non-mainstream religion eventually crossed the Mason-Dixon line and because of its diversity and openness to new cultures and religions, New Orleans provided fertile ground to nurture Spiritualism. Daggett emphasized mediums and speakers from the Northeast who traveled to St. Louis across the mid-West and then boarded a steamboat for the final leg of the journey.

Many séance circles flourished in the Creole Faubourgs of Tremé and Marigny as well as the American sector of the city. Daggett focused on Le Cercle Harmonique, the francophone séance circle of Henry Louis Rey (1831–1894), a Creole of color who was a key civil rights activist, author, and Civil War and Reconstruction leader. Daggett included scans of spiritual communications from the René Grandjean Collection, rare photographs, and maps indicating the flow of peoples and ideas into New Orleans in her PowerPoint. Melissa Daggett’s presentation was based upon her recently published book, Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey (University Press of Mississippi, 2017).

Jodie Brown of American Public University focused her presentation, “The Voodoo That You Do: Exploration of African Traditions in Louisiana Tourism,” on the disconnect between reality and myths perpetuated on tourists in New Orleans. Brown pointed to the simplistic narratives of secondary school textbooks that are based on nationalism and morality as being one reason that the typical tourist accepts tour information dispensed by Crescent City tour guides. Brown, like Daggett, emphasized the importance of the Haitian Revolution and the resulting diaspora, upon New Orleans’ rich and complex history. Voodoo is a religion of African origins with strong Haitian influences that incorporates Catholic priests, and not simply a cult led by Marie Laveau.

The haunted house on Royal Street is a stable of tour guides, who delight in gory tales of mutilation and torture of Mme Lalaurie’s slaves. Brown argued that these tales are exaggerated and reflect the noble cause of abolition whose advocates often sensationalized the treatment of slaves to make a point. History was used as a tool to lecture the masses on moral lessons.

Brown discussed the importance of history education at both the secondary and post-secondary levels to present a more accurate picture of complex issues, events, and people. With a good history education, tourists to the Crescent City can understand the true events that form New Orleans’ history, and not sensationalized and simplistic stories.

Aaron Miller of Ivy Tech Community College focused on the importance of environment on music when he presented “Big River: The Mississippi Delta in the Life and Music of Johnny Cash.” Miller, a huge fan of Cash, said that the distinct geographical features of Cash’s boyhood home of Dyess, Arkansas had a profound impact on his childhood and served as a source of inspiration for his music. Dyess was created in 1934 as a new community which directed federal aid to impoverished and desperate people. The immediate goal was to help the residents to survive the Great Depression. As a young man, Cash struggled with poverty, spending much of his time picking cotton growing in the thick Arkansas mud, sometimes called “gumbo.” Music was Cash’s salvation. During the day, he sang songs while toiling in the cotton fields,and at night, he absorbed various genres of music, listening to the radio which managed to rely stations from far away cities like Memphis and Chicago.

Two of Cash’s early hits with the iconic Sun Records, “Five Feet and Rising” and “Big River,” are indebted to Cash’s formative years in the Mississippi Delta. Aaron Miller’s paper is based upon a book project.

Cam Addis of Austin Community College acted as Chair.

Saturday and Sunday at Last Weekend’s OAH Conference

OAH

I did not get to post these links earlier in the week, but the Organization of American Historians have posted updates on day 3 and day 4 of the annual conference in New Orleans.  The posts, along with highlights from day 1 and day 2, can be found at Process.

Here is a taste of the Saturday report:

A late addition to the program, “Historians Respond to the Advent of Trump,” took place during the 11:00 am session slot and drew over 150 attendees. The session was chaired by Robert Self, Brown University. Panelists included Benjamin L. Alpers, University of Oklahoma (Authoritarianism in America), Ibram X. Kendi, University of Florida (Race and Racism), Joanne Meyerowitz, Yale University (LGBTQ Rights), Maria Cristina Garcia, Cornell University (Immigration and Refugees), and Jennifer Nelson, University of Redlands (Reproductive Rights). The session was added to the program in response to the belief that the rise of Donald J. Trump to the U.S. presidency demands the attention of historians, regardless of partisan affiliation or conviction. Trump’s ascendancy has amplified, and potentially normalized, a civic discourse grounded in racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia, and derived from political scripts with long histories. His presidency seems destined to alter public policy dramatically on a range of issues, including immigration and refugees, policing and incarceration, reproductive rights, health care, climate change, corporate regulation, public funding of scientific research, arts, and the humanities, and much more. Since Donald J. Trump is the second president in sixteen years to be elected while losing the popular vote, the November 2016 result raises additional historical questions about the mechanics and democratic character of U.S. elections. While no single session can capture the full range of historical issues and entanglements raised by Trump’s rise, the historians featured in this panel will frame a number of key questions for broader discussion and reflection.

Read the Saturday report here and the Sunday report here.

Friday at the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians in New Orleans

Bunch

Friday appears to have been a busy day for American historians in New Orleans.  The OAH offers some highlights at Process blog.

The highlight of the day was the afternoon plenary session “African American History, Art, and the Public Museumfeaturing Lonnie Bunch III, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

Here is a taste:

“This plenary session was a unanimous ‘no brainer’ for the program committee and OAH president Nancy Cott to organize,” said program co-chair Robert Self of Brown University. “We wanted to recognize and honor one of the most important developments in public history in the last decade or more.”

“The audience was not disappointed,” Self continued. “Lonnie Bunch explained the political strategy (make congressional allies before you need them), the economic strategy (tap corporations and the wealthy black donor class), the collecting strategy (encourage ordinary people to donate materials to local museums, which would feed the national museum), and the rhetorical strategy (African American history is American history). He and Richard Powell reflected on the decade-long process of collecting and curating more than four centuries of black history in North America. Bunch also revealed that an astonishing 70 percent of the museum’s permanent collection came from the attics, basements, and storage closets of ordinary people. The plenary offered a fascinating look at how Bunch guided the museum from an idea to an architecturally powerful new building on the National Mall, curating an intellectually honest and unflinching portrait of black American history and culture. Thank you, Lonnie, Richard, and the excellent moderator, Darlene Clark Hine.”

Read the entire post here.

The OAH Recaps Day 1 Of Its Annual Conference

OAH arch

A lot is going in New Orleans this weekend.  The Day 1 recap includes news about the first plenary session, the OAH mentoring program, the opening reception, and the States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories exhibit at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

Here is a taste:

“On behalf of the Local Resources Committee for OAH 2017, welcome!” write co-chairs Mary Niall Mitchell and Rosanne Adderley. “You’ve arrived in New Orleans at the start of our festival season, when tourists from around the world arrive in New Orleans to fill up on music and food. In fact, this is the time of year when the city’s reputation as a place to party is most well deserved. But New Orleans is also a city that celebrates history, so visiting historians can expect to receive a warm welcome in the midst of all this activity.”

Read the entire post here.

Grounded

Atlanta

Well, it looks like the bad weather in Atlanta has kept me from making it to New Orleans for this year’s meeting of the Organization of American Historians.  It has been a terrible year of travel to conferences for me.  Back in November I had to miss a session at the American Academy of Religion devoted to my book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society because of a family commitment.  Now I have to forgo leading two chat rooms at the OAH.

But life goes on.  I will definitely miss working with Beth Marsh, Ed Ayers, and Kevin Schultz.

And despite my absence, the coverage of the conference will go on here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Our correspondents are in NOLA ready to report. And if you are also writing about your experience at the OAH (or would like to write about it here) send me your stuff and I will be happy to post or link.

Stay tuned.

Correspondents Wanted: 2017 OAH Meeting in New Orleans

OAH

Anyone interested in a writing a post or two (or three or four or five…) from the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians in New Orleans from April 6-9 2017?

Once again The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from the conference.

What am I hoping for out of these posts/reports? Frankly, anything. Let the spirit move you. I would love to get general observations, reports on sessions you attend, job market updates, or any other kind of stuff you might have the time or inclination to write about.

Feel free to be as creative and journalistic as you want. If at all possible I would like to get some stuff as the conference is going on, but general summaries would also work. Feel free to write as few or as many as you would like. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

Though we can’t pay you for writing, we can introduce you, your writing, and your online presence to a few thousand readers a day.

If you are interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu and we can get the ball rolling.  In the meantime, check out our posts from other conferences to get an idea of what some of our previous correspondents have done:

2016 Organization of American Historians

2016 American Historical Association

2015 American Historical Association

Lecturing in the Age of Trump

distringuishedFor the last few years I have been honored to serve as an Organization of American Historians (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer.  You can learn more about the Distinguished Lectureship Program, and see a list of other lecturers, here.

In the wake of the recent inauguration, the OAH has expanded its Distinguished Lectureship Program to help Americans make sense of the Donald Trump presidency. Several historians have added Trump-specific lectures to their profiles.  I have as well.  In addition to my regular lectures I will now be offering two new lectures: “Historical Thinking in the Age of Trump” and “Understanding American Evangelicalism in the Age of Trump.”  I’m read to hit the road!

Again, if you are interested in booking a lecture through this program, details can be found here.

Benjamin Irvin is the New Editor of the *Journal of American History*

irvinThe Organization of American Historians has announced that Benjamin Irvin, currently of the University of Arizona, will be the new editor of the Journal of American HistoryAs many of you know, the Journal is the most important scholarly journal of American history in the world.

Congrats, Ben!

Here is the formal announcement:

The OAH is pleased to announce that Benjamin H. Irvin, associate professor at the University of Arizona, has been named the new Executive Editor of the Journal of American History and associate professor in the department of history at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is the author of Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors (2011). Irvin has worked on the editorial boards or staffs of Common-Place: The Journal of Early American Life, History Compass, and the Journal of American History. He is also a Distinguished Lecturer with the Organization of American Historians.

Irvin will begin his term as Executive Editor of the Journal of American History in August 2017.

Sunday at #oah2016

a971a-oahProcess blog concludes its excellent coverage of the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians with a Sunday wrap-up.  Read it here.

Here are the storified sessions: