Public Historians at Work: Restructuring a Historical Society

In October 2013, Loyola University Chicago public history graduate students launched Public History Lab, a student-driven effort to apply public history skills at organizations and sites of history in the Chicagoland area. This post belongs to a series that chronicles efforts undertaken by members of the Public History Lab.

When Public History Lab (PHL) formed, several students decided to undertake a partnership with the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society (RPWRHS). Loyola is located in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood and we knew that the RPWRHS needed assistance in several areas. Our early meetings to define the PHL’s goals and the first few months of our partnership with RPWRHS are topics for future blog posts, but for now I will say that the Society welcomed us. One of the first large projects that we undertook with the RPWRHS was the planning and execution of a strategic planning meeting.

PHL students and RPWRHS Board members and volunteers work together to develop a strategic plan. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Boyle.

PHL students and RPWRHS Board members and volunteers work together to develop a strategic plan. February 2014. Photograph courtesy of Rachel Boyle.

The strategic planning meeting yielded a working strategic plan, complete with projects that the Society’s committees (including PHL student volunteers) began working on to meet the plan’s one-, five-, and ten-year goals. Soon after, three PHL students were invited to join the RPWRHS Board of Directors. The students—me, Katie Macica, and Dan Ott—were elected to the Board in March 2014.

The strategic plan provided both the PHL and the RPWRHS with a better idea of the Society’s immediate needs. It also helped PHL students understand how the Society and its committees worked to meet organizational goals. With this knowledge, after two months of serving on the Board of Directors, Katie, Dan, and I, along with Board member Dona Vitale (not part of PHL), noticed that the Society might operate more efficiently if we redefined some of its committees. Specifically, we wanted to take educational programs out of the events committee, which also handles fundraisers, and put them under the purview of a new education committee. We brought our concerns to the rest of the Board and the Board asked us to explore the issue further and report back to the group.

Over the next month, the subcommittee found that it could not address the education committee issue without also considering how the entire organization communicated internally. Without an Executive Director or full-time administrative staff, the Society’s committees struggled to talk to each other. Chronic problems included committees duplicating the efforts of other committees, a lack of clarity about committee responsibilities, and some important areas abandoned completely. Our subcommittee brainstormed possible solutions and developed an organization-wide committee restructuring plan.

The plan we drafted provides a structured way for the Society’s committees to converse with one another and with the Executive Committee, reorganizes committee responsibilities so that logical tasks are grouped together, and makes sure that all tasks, even the less popular ones, live within a committee and aren’t forgotten. We presented it to the Executive Committee and, after multiple emails and a meeting to discuss and tweak it; the Board passed it at the end of July. We met once more in August to make sure that everyone understood the plan, and it has been in effect since.

Visualization of the restructuring plan. Author's image.

Visualization of the restructuring plan. Author’s image.

The restructuring plan, in its final form, works by dividing the Society’s operations into five major areas: governance, education, outreach, fundraising, and media. Everything that the RPWRHS does – membership, collections, fundraisers, finance, the website, exhibits, public relations, publications, etc.– falls into one of these areas. These five major areas are now the Society’s official committees, taking over any and all committees that existed prior to the plan. Each committee has a chair that is appointed by the Society president, who is also the chair of the Governance Committee, and the responsibilities of each committee and team are clearly defined in a separate document provided to each RPWRHS Board member and volunteer.

Many of the groups that we used to call committees – membership, collections, finance, oral history, etc. – are now called teams. Each of the five committees has several teams within it, and each team has a team leader. Committee chairs must belong to the Board of Directors, but team leaders do not need to sit on the Board.

In practice, teams and committees meet as needed and follow the team and committee responsibilities document, and each team leader checks in with her or his committee chair as new developments arise. The chairs, armed with information from each team, check in with each other and the Executive Committee at meetings held every other month. The chairs keep their team leaders informed about activities going on in other areas of the organization. This ensures that team X, under chairperson A, will know what team Y, under chairperson B, is working on.

While the restructuring plan is a practical response to many of the issues that were identified at the strategic planning meeting, it is also a major step forward for the relationship between Public History Lab and the RPWRHS. We worked together to find a solution to some of the Society’s most pressing issues, while simultaneously strengthening our relationship and laying the groundwork for future PHL-RPWRHS projects.

When Police Brutality Protest Was White

The killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, and the resulting community reaction, has put police brutality protest in the spotlight. The mass marches, limited looting, and confrontations with aggressive or ‘militarized’ law enforcement that typified the Ferguson protests seem like a relic of an earlier age. Many have been quick to draw parallels to Harlem (1964), Watts (1965), Detroit (1967), and Camden (1971), among others. I would like to add one more historical note, pulled from a chapter that I just so happen to be drafting this month. My case involves several similarities to Ferguson, but it is remarkable mainly because of a difference. The August 12, 1966, Summerdale March in Uptown Chicago was almost exclusively white.

A bandaged Uptown protester marches on the local police precinct. (Edgewater-Uptown News, August 16, 1966)

A bandaged Uptown protester marches on the local police precinct. (Edgewater-Uptown News, August 16, 1966)

An uncommon density of vacant low-rent housing in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood and a postwar job crisis at home attracted tens-of-thousands of working-class and poor whites from Appalachia and the south through 1970. By 1960, many considered Uptown the nation’s foremost “Hillbilly Ghetto,” even though the area’s low-income community also consisted of American Indians, non-southern whites, a smattering of African Americans, and a growing Latino population. Uptown’s postwar southerness has been ‘discovered’ time after time by various segments of the dominant culture: urban renewal advocates, social workers, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, country music radio executives, the New Left, sisters religious, the War on Poverty, and on and on up through…urban historians.

When the SDS created the Economic Research and Action Program (ERAP) in 1964 to work towards an interracial solution to urban poverty, Uptown was a natural choice for one of the early projects. By 1966, SDS members were clamoring to be part of the Uptown ERAP effort known as Jobs or Income Now (JOIN). Noted organizers like Rennie Davis, Richard Rothstein, Vivian Leburg Rothstein, Todd Gitlin, and Casey Hayden lived in Uptown, undertaking the slow and uneven process of pushing locals towards political action. Early successes included a sit-in at the city welfare office, and tenant strikes that resulted in contracts between collectivized renters and landlords. These efforts antagonized most of the local political and social elites. The notorious “Red Squad” of the Chicago Police Department quickly placed JOIN under surveillance, and soon relied upon information from a local JOIN member who had become disgruntled with the outside activists’ “Unamerican” opinions about increased involvement in Vietnam. A law student soon infiltrated JOIN on the CPD’s behalf.

Meanwhile, patrolmen from the local precinct prosecuted an aggressive policing of Uptown low-income teenagers and young people. When outside JOIN organizers—operating under the banner of “participatory democracy”—sought to create political consciousness around the grievances expressed by locals, police brutality came to the fore. JOIN leaders were mostly unprepared and unwilling to base organizing around the issue, preferring instead to confront economic injustices and the shortcomings of the local War on Poverty “Urban Progress” program. Yet anger simmered, most notably with the politicization of the “Uptown Goodfellows,” a street organization of southern and Appalachian tough guys. The Goodfellows took cues from similar black and Latino groups that were beginning to evolve from gangs into political units.

Read the rest at dvhunter.com

Deadline Extended for 11th Annual Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Conference!

Originally posted on Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Conference:

 

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Call for Papers

Eleventh Annual

Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Conference

November 15, 2014

Loyola University Chicago Water Tower Campus, Chicago, IL

Masters and doctoral graduate students in any field of historical study are invited to submit proposals to present individual research papers at Loyola’s Eleventh Annual History Graduate Student Conference.  Panel applications and individual papers focusing on borderlands and transnational studies, urban history, gender history, and public history are especially encouraged.  We also welcome papers about history projects in the digital humanities. The goal of this conference is to provide an opportunity for students to gain experience presenting original research projects and to receive feedback from their peers on their work.

Prizes of $150 and $50 will be awarded to the top two conference presentations.  Loyola graduate students are ineligible for these monetary awards, but an honorable mention will be given to the top Loyola presentation.

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My Favorite Historical Lecture

James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Debate Video

(Click the link above to skip the commentary and watch the debate)

Since I finished my summer independent study course last week, you will finally stop seeing book reviews on “The Black Atlantic” posted on this blog. For those of you that read some of those reviews, thank you for giving me an audience. Now, I have decided to followup my weekly tradition by posting a video. My favorite historical video.

Recently, I have been struggling to deal with, to talk about, and to understand the Israeli/Palestinian crisis in the Middle East. I have felt a lot of pain and a lot of anger. Not only at the conflict, but at my seeming inability to have any recourse to have my voice heard.  I have tried to work my way through some discussions on Facebook about this topic, but they always seem to end in gridlocked, polarized, and intractable monologues. I find myself very eager to assert my opinion in the beginning (backed by righteous self-affirmation), but after the arguing continues, I become weary, and I cannot find the energy to keep up.

This week, I was involved in one particularly exciting back-and-forth about the crisis in the Middle East. When I became weary of the debate, I logged off Facebook and I turned to YouTube. I decided to revisit my favorite lecture (as I often do when my frustration with the world mounts). While this lecture has nothing to do with the Israeli/Palestinian crisis directly, it touches on some very basic and shared issues of human co-existence. It is this lecture that I want to share with you today. As you will see, I have posted a link to it below.

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Review of Avengers of the New World by Laurent Dubois

LAURENT DUBOIS. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, York: The Dial Press, 2004. Pp. viii, 357. $17.95.

Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (... Cover Art

Avengers of the New World is the first book written by Laurent Dubois, the historian, anthropologist, and literary scholar of France, the French Atlantic, and the Caribbean. Dubois wrote Avengers as a new history of the Haitian revolution (1791-1804), updating the anticolonial work of the Caribbean scholar C.L.R. James with Atlantic and African scholarship and social and cultural methodologies. Whereas James tended to “essentialize the differences” between groups within San Domingo, and focus on defending the actions of black revolutionaries and condemning those of planters from within a racialized discourse, Dubois is interested in creating an understanding of the revolution’s wider context within the “Age of Revolutions.” Although his book lacks the passion, verve, and spontaneous philosophical insight that characterized The Black Jacobins, it succeeds at drawing a more holistic portrait of the transatlantic republican forces that contributed not only to the “crucial moment” of the Haitian revolution, but to “the overall destruction of slavery in the Americas,” and to our ongoing battle for global democracy and human rights.

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Review of The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James

CYRIL LIONEL ROBERT JAMES. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: The Dial Press, 1938. Pp. xi, 396. $3.75.

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Introduction:

The Black Jacobins is the seventh and most famous work written by C.L.R. James, the late Afro-Trinidadian historian, journalist, playwright, professor, social theorist, and essayist. It is a vivid and nuanced historical narrative of the San Domingo Revolution, popularly known as “the only successful slave revolt in history,” and its “courageous leader,” Toussaint L’Ouverture, from the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 to the declaration of independence for Haiti in 1804. Written in anticipation of widespread African decolonization, with sincere Marxist-socialist leanings and a defining sense of solidarity for oppressed peoples, The Black Jacobins is widely hailed as a classic critique of imperialist and colonialist historiography. James immerses himself in the complex transatlantic drama of the protracted San Domingo Revolution, all while keeping his pen on the pulse of the longue durée; as he makes clear with poignant references to Abraham Lincoln, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and, in the amended edition, figures like José Martí, Fidel Castro, and Patrice Lumumba, the tumultuous plight of Haitian Independence was not an isolated historical event. Rather, it was one of the most dramatic, edifying, and formative chapters in an enduring struggle for global liberation.

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Review of The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker

MARCUS REDIKER. The Slave Ship: A Human History. New York: Viking Press, 2007. Pp. 434. $27.95.

Introduction:

Slave Ship Book Cover

The Slave Ship is the fourth book written by Marcus Rediker, a prize-winning American historian of the early-modern era and the Atlantic world and a Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh. Through evocative language, fluid narration, poignant imagery, dramatic vignettes, diverse sources, dynamic characters, and bold statistics, Rediker synthesizes the violent nature of the Anglo-American slave trade during its so-called Golden Age, from 1700-1808, for common readership. Like Walter Johnson’s multi-perspective approach to the American interstate trade in Soul by Soul, Rediker captures the phenomenon of the transatlantic trade from the perspectives of its many, diverse participants: merchants, underwriters, captains and officers, seaman, slaves, and agitators. At the core of this visceral, conceptual history is a special focus on the gruesome yet calculated “hardware of bondage,” most aptly characterized by that “vast and diabolical machine,” the Guineaman slaver. To borrow a metaphor used elsewhere by Walter Rodney, although The Slave Ship offers very little new information, the book presents one of the first nuanced and comprehensive portrayals of the Atlantic slave trade as “capitalism without a loincloth.” It not only reminds us that “violence and terror were central to the Atlantic economy.” It shows us, time and time again.

Sources:

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