American Moments: The Legacy of Greek Immigration
(National Hellenic Museum: Chicago, IL)
“The story of American immigration is universal; yet, each immigrant community has brought along a unique culture and a history, now entwined into what Walt Whitman called the ‘composite American identity of the future.’” American Moments: The Legacy of Greek Immigration is an exhibit currently on display at the National Hellenic Museum which effectively communicates the unique story of Greco-Americans from the late nineteenth century to today through the use of videos, photographs, artifacts, interactives, and audio oral history accounts. Following a linear and roughly chronological format, the overall argument of AmericanMoments is the notion that Greek immigrants, while determinedly preserving their own heritage, were nonetheless successful in assimilating to American culture and have since then had a profound effect on the nation’s history.
While the exhibit is celebratory and focused on the Greek immigrant narrative, the introductory label asks every visitor regardless of their ethnic background to contemplate the trials and hardships of all immigrants past and present through the lens of the Greek immigrant experience in the United States. This statement is crucial for it actively engages visitors of all ethnic backgrounds to consider questions and construct parallels either to their own immigrant ancestors on a personal level or to contemporary immigrants today; “through a long process of struggle, failure and success, immigrants became Americans and their various cultures became integral parts of the American mosaic” Thus, American Moments: The Legacy of Greek Immigration, is a scholarly and engaging exhibit that all people, not simply Greeks, can enjoy and appreciate. Continue reading
The Kurokawa Gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago is a unique and unusual setting for an exhibition. As both exhibition space and as a transitional area between the Art Institute’s Modern Wing and the Impressionism Galleries this gallery is a busy thorough-fare populated more by patrons on their way to the popular Caffé Moderno than by those willing to stop and study an exhibit. Many exhibitions would find themselves at a disadvantage placed in such a highly trafficked space, but Project Projects: Test Fit, an exhibition designed by the New York-based graphic design firm Project Projects on display until April 28th, is not like most exhibitions. Using reproductions of objects from the Art Institute’s permanent collection, this exhibition seeks to comment both on the traditional curatorial process and on how museum exhibitions are designed. Rather than suffering from the fact that the majority of visitors will simply glance at a few of the pieces and neglect to read the text in the labels, Project Projects: Test Fit embraces this inevitability and uses it to its advantage. The average visitor will enjoy experiencing Project Projects: Test Fit for its visually striking images while the engaged visitor will appreciate the exhibit for its witty, thought-provoking, and at times poetic label text.
The visitor does not approach the Kurokawa Gallery from the side in a way that would provide an obvious beginning space for the exhibitions housed there; instead, the visitor first sees the middle of the exhibition space. Rather than place the introductory text panel in this middle area directly in front of the opening onto the gallery space the designers chose to immediately confront their visitors with some of the most visually engaging pieces in the exhibition. The view of these images provokes interest and discussion on the part of the visitors whether or not they read the accompanying labels. With the intentional selection of images and design of labels throughout Project Projects: Test Fit, the visitor, whether she engages with the image alone or the image and the label in combination, will invariably be prompted to consider larger issues than simply the aesthetics of the images shown.
The view upon entering the Project Projects: Test Fit exhibition
While Project Projects: Test Fit has the ability to encourage all visitors to engage in a deeper way with the material on display, the real engagement occurs for those visitors who take the time to read the labels throughout the exhibition. Continue reading
This upcoming May, I will be getting married. My future in-laws, The Hicks family, are multi-generational residences of Columbus, Georgia. They are proud of their city and eager to share its history with anyone who will listen, and as a Historian I am. In our most recent visit to Columbus, the Hicks invited us to explore Columbus’ Heritage Park.
The names and families that contributed to the building of Heritage Park.
Heritage Park is located in Columbus’ Historic District between Front Street and Broadway. Set next to the Chattahoochee River and the Columbus Iron Works (also known as the Convention and Trade Center). The site’s location implies the importance the river and the iron foundry played in Columbus’ development from a trading town to an industrial powerhouse. The interpretation presented at Heritage Park is focused on the industrial entrepreneurs and Columbus workers from 1850 to 1910. The Hicks shared that the families of these entrepreneurs are still running these businesses or others in and around Columbus.
The sculptures and structures represent the entrepreneurs of Columbus in the textile, gristmill, brick and foundry industries, as well as agriculture and forest products, dams and river trade, and Coke-Cola. Fact I did not know prior, Dr. John Pemberton, the creator of the Coke-Cola recipe, was once a pharmacist in Columbus. Looking at Heritage Park with a critical eye, the statue of Pemberton seems out of place compared to the other blue-collar representations. The interpretation provided little indication that Coke-Cola had changed or affected Columbus’ economic face or citizens’ lives. Steve shared that there is a continual debate between Atlanta and Columbus about the birthplace of Coke-Cola (of course he argues for Columbus because Coke-Cola continually funds Columbus events, buildings, and public programs). However, I understand the “claim to fame” Coke puts Columbus on the map within National history.
This is one of two reviews of “Django Unchained” by Lakefront Historian bloggers. See also ajdilorenzo’s post on the film.
Who would guess that in the past year two of the most talked about movies would be about American slavery? If you have not noticed yet Lincoln and Django Unchained deal with the history of slavery very differently. Some Americans, interestingly a select few African Americans, have decried the film as irreverent in its revisionism of slavery or paradoxically for its use of the “n-word”. I suggest that the film memorably revises the remembrance of slavery and, in particular, plays of the emotions of modern descendants of enslaved people.
American slavery remains as a stain on our history, one of its greatest philosophical hypocrisies. Slavery for many contemporary Americans is widely considered immoral and shameful yet socially irrelevant in our daily lives today. On the other hand, bring up slavery with an African American and you may get reaction ranging from ambivalence to anger to, more insidiously, shame. What Quentin Tarantino really does with his film is counteract the shame or guilt that occurs when someone asks: ‘why didn’t they fight?’ or ‘why didn’t we fight back?’ when referring to slaves. In fact, Tarantino includes that theme in his dialogue. The character Django is not the slave who is simply worked, branded, sold, and tortured (even though all of those things happen to him) he is the symbol of retribution and the black hero who independently delivers his bloody judgment on the institution of slavery. Django is the answer to the question, at least in fantasy.
This is one of two reviews of “Django Unchained” by Lakefront Historian bloggers. See also Courtney Baxter’s post on the film.
In the wake of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western inspired take on antebellum American slavery Django Unchained risked misinterpretation of its tone and message. Throughout the film, however, Tarantino deftly strikes the right balance between genre bending playfulness and respect for the weighty subject matter. Like his last film Inglorious Bastards, Django Unchained is a revenge fantasy, empowering an oppressed group against powerful enemies. Taking on two of the darkest chapters in human history, the holocaust and racial slavery, while maintaining his slick sense of humor and film geek B-movie references seems a recipe doomed to trivialize and offend. Yet somehow Tarantino pulls it off.
For the record, I have never been as enamored with his work as others. Prior to Inglorious Bastards, I respected his craftsmanship and flare for dialogue, but his movies always seemed hyper referential and lacking in authenticity. It is often difficult to tell where the film geek allusions and homages end and Quentin the auteur begins. His breakthrough film Pulp Fiction, while bursting with style, offered few genuine insights or emotional depth. The promise of this recent turn toward historical (or counter-historical) subject matter is that he has found a way to employ his talent for subverting genre as a means to analyze the process of historical memory. For better or for worse, the movies have become probably the most powerful medium for the transmission of historical knowledge. There have been plenty of films that have focused on the Civil War, but few have engaged with the savagery of slavery in an immediate way. In Django Unchained Tarantino seems to be saying, “why not remember it this way?” But the key to the success of this approach is that he delivers a serious counter-narrative within the guise of a celebrated and seemingly benign genre, the spaghetti western.
Two brothers, one mustache, one soaring moment in history.
Over Thanksgiving break, I visited North Carolina’s Outer Banks, home of sprawling vacation homes, wild horses, and the site of the humankind’s first flight on December 17, 1903. On that day, Orville and Wilbur Wright (respectively) piloted a self-powered aircraft, achieving four separate flights of increasing distance and duration. A monument to the brothers was erected in 1932 on the top of Kill Devil Hill, overlooking the field where they conducted their flight experiments. The National Park Service took over the site’s administration in 1933 and built a visitors center in 1960.
I accompanied my father, an ex-Air Force Pilot and aviation history enthusiast, to the Wright Brothers National Memorial on November 21, 2012 and was impressed by how NPS uses several different types of material culture to interpret the first flight and commemorate the men who achieved it.
The holidays are all about traditions. We all understand that the coming of the holiday season means honoring the same family practices and hearing the same family stories from our aunts and uncles, grandma and grandpa, mom and dad. Our holiday traditions become a part of our heritage, a personal history that deeply affects who we are. But even these traditions change as we change.
One tradition that defines the start of the holiday season for my dad and me is the annual Holiday Nights walk at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. Actually, all of the seasons and holidays have at one time or another been marked with a trip to Greenfield Village, May Day? Yes. Halloween? You bet. The opening of baseball season? Why not? They have a baseball team after all. In this way Greenfield Village has become a part of my DNA and without a doubt influenced me to go into Public History now. From its romanticized Main Street with fleets of Model Ts speeding down the street at a steady clip of 10mph, to its “Working Farm” that allows visitors to milk cows, feed chickens, and weed gardens, Greenfield Village packs the entirety of 19th and early 20th century American history into one whirlwind history attraction. Make sure you wear good walking shoes.
So my dad and I heralded in the holiday season as we usually did: Model T ride first (the line gets too long later on), a visit to the printing press and blacksmith, a 1910 Carrousel ride (or two or three rides), a caroling-required wagon ride, a walk through Thomas Edison’s laboratory, and a visit to Santa who calls out to the children (and to 22-year-old Public History graduate students) by name due to helpful elves with a walkie-talkie system. Yet the highlight of our visit is always the dramatic telling to “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by a man named Anthony. He tells the same story over and over, but tells it each time with the same passion and excitement as the first time. At the end of his telling people thank him, hug him, take photos with him, and treat him with so much love that he becomes part of their family for that moment. All of these holiday activities are generally ahistorical, but still warmed my heart with holiday cheer and reminded me of the many memorable father-daughter moments from visits past.