On Book Exhibits and World War II Material Culture (#AHA19)

Megan Jones of The Pingry School offers one more post from the floor of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago.  In this post, Megan reflects on her last day of the conference with a nod to the book exhibit and a panel on visual culture and the end of World War II. (Read all of Megan’s posts here).  Enjoy!  –JF

The book exhibit is one of the best parts of an academic conference, particularly for someone who does not have the time to keep up with book reviews in academic journals. A scholar browsing the exhibit hall for new titles is like a child perusing a candy store, and the feeling of ecstatic curiosity is probably about the same. Kevin Gannon (@TheTattooedProf) had a great GIF of the wizard from Disney’s “Fantasia” to represent his analysis of historians in book exhibits. I spent about two hours walking through the hall. Here’s a screenshot of my camera roll showing the books I found particularly appealing:

megan pics

I’m going to (hopefully) be teaching a course on American environmentalism, Atlantic World and modern European revolutions, and Modern World History in the future, so my selection is fairly broad. I even persuaded a few publishing reps to send me free samples. Score.

The best panel I attended on Day 3 was session #173, “Visualizing Victory, Visualizing Defeat: The Material Culture of Occupation in the Wake of World War II.” Two PhD candidates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison gave fascinating talks on the afterlives of visual artifacts in the postwar period. Abigail Lewis discussed the various uses and changing meaning of photographs taken by French photographers during the Vichy regime. These images depicted a relatively happy and peaceful France under Nazi occupation, which can be best explained by the fact that only photographers who agreed to abide by Nazi rules could obtain material with which to actually shoot photos. These images were used after the end of WWII to depict occupation in a blockbuster show at the Grand Palais in 1946, and also during a 2008 retrospective.  Jennifer Gramer spoke about German war art and the confiscation of such work by the American Captain Gordon Gilkey with the Roberts Commission, and the choices made to determine which art was deemed potentially capable of inciting violence in the future.

Both Lewis and Gramer discussed how the images and works they studied had different meaning for the French and Germans depending on the time under consideration. Both also questioned how the meaning of images changes depending on the context – should we look at an image divorced from its historical context and deem it “artistic” as in the case of German war art, some of which is objectively beautiful and clearly drawn by a talented artist? Do the images taken by French photographers indicate their complicity with the Vichy regime, or were they subversively collaborating with the idea that their images would serve as a documentary record for posterity? Who gets to determine the meaning of an image? The questions Lewis and Gramer posed, which I am probably doing no justice to, speak to a broader question of who owns history and who has the right to interpret historical artifacts.

Thanks, Megan!

Envisioning New Jersey

Envisioning NJ

I am glad to see that Maxine Lurie and Richard Veit‘s new book, Envisioning New Jersey: An Illustrated History of the Garden State (Rutgers University Press), has made it into print.   The book contains 654 photos and images covering New Jersey history from prehistoric times to the present.

Recently Lurie talked about the book with Kelly Heyboer of NJ.com.  Here is a taste of the interview:

How did you get the idea to put together a book of images spanning the state’s entire history?

Actually, the director at Rutgers University Press, Marlie Wasserman, had suggested it quite a while ago. My first reaction was it was going to be too hard. There was no easy, reasonable way to gather all of the images.

And it turned out to be much harder than we thought. We started out thinking we could do an illustrated history using images from about five institutions. In the end, we had 654 images and they come from about 150 different institutions and individuals.

Did you have trouble finding the photos and paintings you needed?

We found more than we could use. So, we picked what we thought were the best illustrations for New Jersey history. Just getting that many permissions was very time consuming.

Where did most of the images come from?

Rich personally took about 50 pictures. He travelled around the state. Otherwise, we got the biggest number from Rutgers University’s Special Collections and the New Jersey State Archives. Most came from New Jersey people or institutions.

But there are a few that came from England or other parts of the United States. A number came from the Library of Congress. We were working using grant funds and a very limited budget. People were very generous. Many let us use their images for free or gave us a discount.

Were you surprised by any of the photos you found?

A number of them did surprise me. Someone I know suggested an image of German POWs working on a farm in South Jersey in World War II. I had no idea that was part of the state’s history.

Was there any image you wish you could find that you couldn’t?

It took us a while to find images of the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey, but we did and we are using two other them in the book. There were other images we wish we had. Some things were just too hard to find or we just gave up on them because in many cases they were just too expensive. Some of the commercial images we just couldn’t begin to afford.

Read the entire piece here.