Seeing the Founding Space: Israel’s Independence Hall

Angela visited Israel in May 2018 on a Birthright Israel trip at a very contentious political moment for the country. In this post, she will analyze how Israelis interpreted the history of their Independence Hall and its degree of success as spaces for public history. All opinions belong solely to Angela.

The exterior of Independence Hall

When I visited Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the white windowless exterior was unassuming. The enticing shops and sunny weather of Rothschild Ave seemed more entertaining than going indoors on a sunny afternoon – which I think was the preferred option of some of my traveling companions. However, I was very excited to see the museum. I wanted to observe how it represented its history almost 70 years later. As an American historian, I was curious to hear another country interpret its founding moments and documents. I’ll explain in this post what I learned, how it was presented, and what conclusions I came to afterwards.

Continue reading “Seeing the Founding Space: Israel’s Independence Hall”

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Chicago’s Innovative Sisters of Theater: A Reflection on the Mundelein College Drama Department

Chicago has made a name for itself in live theater and the performing arts, as a hub for off-broadway plays, epicenter of the Little Theater Movement, and with students from its improv comedy schools ascending to fame on Saturday Night Live. But with all the ink spent on Chicago theater, very little has splashed for the rich history of college drama departments in the Windy City. These institutions have not only trained up many of America’s stars of stage and screen, but also feed into the important local arts and multimedia production sectors, raising up the next generation of high school drama coaches and local television producers. We can see an amazing example of such an institution in the drama department at Mundelein College, which lasted from 1930 to 1991 as one of the first – and also the last – private Catholic women’s colleges in Illinois. Far from an insular, strictly academic program, the theater department at Mundelein College shone brightly as both very communal and highly innovative.

A still from a performance of Twelfth Night taken from the Chicago Tribune

While Mundelein College was named for Cardinal George Mundelein, the funding, planning, and administration of the school came from the dedicated Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the BVMs, led by the school’s first president Sister Mary Justitia Coffey. They chose a modern design, with the school primarily comprised of a tall skyscraper adjacent to Loyola University in Rogers Park so the two schools could share lecturers and access to the Red Line Train stop. (The Mundelein building primarily serves as classrooms for Loyola University today.)

Early photo of Mundelein Skyscraper, built 1930

The building featured excellent theater space according to a 1932 pamphlett: “The entire eighth floor of the college building is devoted to drama and art. At one end of the broad corridor which leads from the elevators is the Little Theatre. Complete in its equipment, the stage furnishes an excellent workshop for the drama student.” The floor also included studios “for private instruction”, ventilation, mirrors, “other necessary equipment”, and a club room with “modernistic furniture and attractive window hangings”. The Little Theatre was sufficient for smaller productions, including one-act plays, student-written scripts, and events like teas and revues. For larger productions, the young thespians worked their magic in the large auditorium on the ground floor of the skyscraper campus. It offered patrons of the arts 925 floor seats and 325 balcony seats. “Beautiful in its simplicity,” one pamphlet reads, “it carries out the architecture of the rest of the college in the long lines of its mural decorations and in the immense chandeliers which epitomize the structure of the building… The stage has the distinction of having the first successfully-operated electrical rigging in this country.”

The Little Theater at Mundelein

In addition to its modern construction, the auditorium, in the words of alumni and Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, possessed strange aural properties:

When empty the auditorium at Mundelein College was acoustically quite unsound… When it was full of people, the acoustics were great. But in the emptiness there was booming and echo… a perfect place for me to work on my voice… I literally learned to play my instrument by ear. The reverberations that hit back at me from the walls and the deep hole of the balcony let me know that nasal tones are scarcely ever effective, that each word deserves its completeness or it is received as garbled garbage…

Sister Mary Leola Oliver served as the department’s first director from 1930-1938, and began the program’s long history of innovation. She not only produced an impressive array of productions ranging from Shakespeare to the tragicomedies of Henri Gheon, but also organized her students into a verse-speaking choir, a new concept from Europe where combinations of light and dark voices performed texts in half-spoken, half-sung arrangements. The program proved so successful that Sister Leola won her choir a 5-year radio contract with NBC, exposing Mundelein Drama to millions of listeners and giving students like Mercedes McCambridge a jump-start to their acting careers. The much-loved Sister Leola counted famous thespians – including Ethel Barrymore and Claude Rains – among her friends, leading to exciting guest speakers for her students.

Photo of Sister Leola and her most famous pupil after Mercedes McCambridge won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in All the King’s Men, 1949.

From 1938 to 1960, Sister Carmelia Hanses directed the department, which contained both the drama and speech programs at Mundelein. Sister Carmelia innovated by using theater to treat speech disorders, much as Viola Spolin created improv theater (also in Chicago) to help children develop socialization skills through play. Under Sister Carmelia’s leadership, the Mundelein students coached a theater program for the children of Chicago, and many went on to work in the field of speech pathology.

A Mundelein student leading a speech clinic for children.

Although Sister Carmelia technically directed the program until 1960, the real director of the drama portion of the program from 1952 to 1980 was Sister Jeanelle Bergen, who prolifically produced three major plays a year in addition to smaller reviews and mosaics written by her students. Sister Jeanelle, while still incorporating the classics, also introduced her students to post-modern theater and plays with controversial topics, such as her 1968 production of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey which tackles subjects including alcoholism, racism, and homosexuality.

But perhaps Sister Jeanelle’s most innovative contribution to the program was her commitment to preparing her students for the television age. Despite a dearth of equipment, she arranged classes on television production, created local television programs related to the Catholic church, and even took a summer internship at a game show so she could learn the tricks of the trade to teach her students. Once an executive hoping to score complimentary tickets called her “Jeanie Baby” on the phone, shocked to find on his arrival that “Jeanie Baby” was a nun in full habit, holding a clipboard while helping film “The Match Game”.

Sister Jeanelle learning the ropes of television production while interning at a game show.

Much work remains for cultural historians in studying both the Mundelein College Drama Department and the history of Chicago academic theater departments generally. Scholars should particularly consider the outcomes of these programs for women seeking careers in fields such as drama pedagogy, performance, television production, and speech therapy. For those of you interested in the Mundelein College Drama Department, please reach out to me at mamyx@luc.edu and I will send you my entire paper on the subject, or visit the Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University and ask to see the Mundelein Drama Department files. (Ask nicely, and maybe they’ll show you Mercedes McCambridge’s Academy Award.)

Mundelein College Remembers Them: Alumnae Files in the Archive

Have you ever wondered what happened to your parents’ college materials, or what could happen to your own file from your undergraduate or graduate career? After working with the vast archival collection of Mundelein College (MC), I’m tempted to call my parents’ universities and see if they have archival records.

The Women and Leadership Archives is built on the collection of MC, which was run by the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In my work at the WLA as a graduate assistant, my assignment these last few months has been to process certain MC collection series, or topic subsets within an archival collection.

Continue reading “Mundelein College Remembers Them: Alumnae Files in the Archive”

The Chicago Tribune Tower Competition

The Chicago Tribune’s sale of Tribune Tower, the media company’s home for 93 years, has prompted reflections on the meaning of the building and its place in Chicago’s cityscape. Editorials have praised the building for its monumental appearance and Gothic inspired facade, as well as its interior lobby.

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Tribune Tower

But Tribune Tower was not always recognized as a paragon of architectural design. Upon its completion in 1925, the Gothic inspired tower, characterized by long, vertical piers and topped with flying buttresses modeled on Rouen Cathedral’s Tour de Buerre, was not universally praised. In fact Louis Sullivan, the Godfather of Chicago architecture, condemned the building’s design, writing that it was “evolved from dying ideas.”[Louis Sullivan, “The Chicago Tribune Competition,” Architectural Record 53 (February 1923): 153]

A deeper look at the story of Tribune Tower reveals the building as we know it today was the result of a hotly disputed design competition; one which would burst open a debate about the the value of “historical” architectural styles and the very nature of modern design.

On June 10, 1922 the Chicago Tribune announced it would be holding an international competition to choose the design of its new headquarters, the outcome of which would produce “the most beautiful office building in the world.”[Chicago Tribune, November 30, 1922.] The awards jury, firmly under the Tribune’s corporate control, ultimately received over 200 entries from architects on three continents. By November 29th, they had reached a consensus. Unanimously, jurors awarded the winning prize to the Gothic inspired skyscraper of New York-based architects John Howells and Raymond Hood.

However, later that day, a late entry arrived that sent the committee into a frenzy of astonishment and indecision.

Telephones and automobiles got into action and the advisory committee of city officials and citizens – who thought on Wednesday of last week that their work was done – hurriedly responded to consider the new entry…The latest arrival…smote them with its message of silent majesty from a distance of fifty feet. [Chicago Tribune, November 30, 1922.]

This late arrival, No. 187, was the entry of Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.  Saarinen’s modern, minimalist design, characterized by a tapering tower and vertical lines of fenestration, so impacted the jury members that the awards committee was reformed and deliberations began all over again. After three days of round-the-clock deliberations, the jury reached a final decision at midnight on December 2nd. Their verdict was this: Howells and Hood would retain first place, Saarinen received second, and Chicago firm Holabird and Roche received third.

The decision was not without controversy.

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Eliel Saarinen’s 1922 entry to the Tribune Tower competition. Public Domain, By Eliel Saarinen – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25715974

Continue reading “The Chicago Tribune Tower Competition”

Extended Call for Papers and Posters: Submit to the Loyola HGSA Conference 2017

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Extended​ ​Call​ ​for​ ​Papers
Fourteenth Annual
Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Conference:
“Hearing Silences”
November 18, 2017
Loyola University Chicago Lake Shore Campus, Chicago, IL
EXTENDED​ ​deadline:​ ​September​ ​22nd,​ ​2017

Masters and doctoral graduate students in any field of historical study are invited to submit proposals to present individual research papers at Loyola’s Fourteenth Annual History Graduate Student Conference. In keeping with this year’s theme, Hearing Silences​, we solicit presentations that address gaps in the historical record, especially those related to marginalized subjects. We welcome original research on any topic of historical interest, but we encourage presenters to consider the ways in which historical silences hinder, motivate, or inform their scholarship. Potential frameworks may include, but are not limited to: borderlands and transnational studies, urban history, gender history, and public history. 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 will be awarded to the top presenters.

Individual proposals should include the submitter’s name, contact information,
institutional affiliation(s), a one page abstract of the paper (with a title), and a sentence listing up to three historical subjects your paper addresses (e.g. French history, sport history, gender). Please also include a brief biographical statement indicating your academic status along with a return address and current email address. Please note that submissions will be accepted as time and space permit.
Email your proposal as a PDF attachment to the HGSA Conference Committee at:
HGSA@luc.edu. Use the subject line Re:​ ​CFPapers​ ​Loyola​ ​History​ ​Grad Conference​.

For more information about the conference, visit
https://loyolahistoryconference.wordpress.com or our department webpage. For
any further questions, contact the HGSA Conference Committee at HGSA@luc.edu.
Sponsored by the History Graduate Student Association, Loyola University Chicago

Fascists at the Fair: A Deep Dive into Chicago’s Balbo Monuments

Monuments to problematic figures and historical events are increasingly the focus of issues relating to race and violence in the United States. Chicago’s own monuments to Italo Balbo are at the forefront of such discussions here in the city. The following is an abridged version of a research paper written for Loyola professor Dr. Timothy J Gilfoyle’s Urban History graduate seminar in 2015, meant to give historical context to the monuments, as well as to contextualize current calls to have them removed.

In Chicago’s Grant Park, just east of Soldier Field, stands a single, solitary, classical Roman column. An inscription in English and Italian at the base of the column, badly faded, reveals its surprising origins:

THIS COLUMN

TWENTY CENTURIES OLD

ERECTED ON THE SHORES OF OSTIA

PORT OF IMPERIAL ROME

TO SAFEGUARD THE FORTUNES AND VICTORIES

OF THE ROMAN TRIREMES

FASCIST ITALY BY COMMAND OF BENITO MUSSOLINI

PRESENTS TO CHICAGO

EXALTATION SYMBOL MEMORIAL

OF THE ATLANTIC SQUADRON LED BY BALBO

THAT WITH ROMAN DARING FLEW ACROSS THE OCEAN

IN THE ELEVENTH YEAR

OF THE FASCIST ERA

The column, mounted on a travertine base, was presented as a gift to the city of Chicago by Benito Mussolini in commemoration of the Italian Air Force’s 1933 transatlantic flight led by Italo Balbo, Air Marshall of the Aeronautica. Balbo and his squadron of pilots completed the final leg of their record-breaking flight in a spectacular landing in Chicago on the waters of Lake Michigan during the 1933-1934 World’s Fair. The column was unveiled a year later outside of the fair’s Italian Pavilion and has not moved from that spot since.

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Crowds gather to hear Balbo give a speech at the dedication of the pillar at Italian Day at the Fair. Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1934.

And the column is not even the only monument to Balbo in Chicago. Two other memorials include Balbo Avenue, formerly 7th Street, which was renamed in Balbo’s honor in 1933, and a plaque on the side of the statue of Columbus in Grant Park, which was presented to Chicago by the Italian community at the Century of Progress World’s Fair.

Chicago Alderman Ed Burke (14th) summed up many Chicagoans feelings when he recently commented to the Sun Times

“I’m amazed the citizens of Chicago have not demanded that these symbols of fascism – a street and a statue bearing Balbo’s name – donated by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, a sidekick of Adolf Hitler, be removed decades ago from the city’s landscape…It is now time Chicago does something permanent about this embarrassing anomaly.” [1]

The US was not always vehemently opposed to Mussolini’s brand of fascism. David F. Schmitz has written extensively on why the United States remained friendly towards right-wing dictatorships such as Mussolini’s during the interwar years. He argues that a desire to support order and stability in Europe, as well as anxiety over the Bolshevik threat, led United States policymakers to welcome Mussolini’s rise to power and support his regime in direct contradiction with US ideals. [2]

Historians have also argued that monuments such as Balbo’s remain because, in American memory, the actions of Mussolini’s brutal regime are eclipsed by the atrocities committed by Hitler and the Nazis. [3]

Despite the United State’s tacit support of fascism in the interwar years, Alderman Burke’s campaign to have the monument removed and to rename Balbo Avenue is not the first. Individuals and politicians have periodically challenged the monuments and their place in the city since they were installed more than 80 years ago.

The 1933 flight and dedication were protested by the Italian Socialist Federation and the Italian League for the Rights of Man, who circulated a pamphlet at the fair titled “Who is Balbo?” which described him as a terrorist and murderer. In 1946 residents waged a contentious battle in city council to rename Balbo Avenue after World War II hero John C. Waldron (Waldron did eventually get his own, different street). Opposition again arose during the 50th anniversary celebration of the flight in 1983, and as recently as 2011 a group of academics submitted a petition to Alderman Bob Fioretti to have Balbo Avenue renamed for Enrico Fermi, the Italian physicist who built the first nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago and came to the United States to escape fascism. [4]

The monuments and the discussions they generate about how history should be remembered illustrate a complex process in which public memory is created and reinterpreted through time. The narrative of Balbo’s transatlantic flight and monuments began as a triumphant story of innovation and technology propelling humanity towards a more enlightened future. Today, they are seen as outdated at best and offensive at worst. Following the trajectory of how the flight was memorialized and the arguments that centered around the appropriateness of the monuments shows that public memory is a fluid and dynamic force, continually defining and redefining how individuals and institutions such as cities incorporate memory of historical events into the fabric of their identity.

Continue reading “Fascists at the Fair: A Deep Dive into Chicago’s Balbo Monuments”

Call For Papers 2017: Submit to the 14th Annual Loyola HGSA Conference!

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Fourteenth Annual

Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Conference:

“Hearing Silences”

November 18, 2017

Loyola University Chicago Lake Shore 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 Fourteenth Annual History Graduate Student Conference. In keeping with this year’s theme, Hearing Silences, we solicit presentations that address gaps in the historical record, especially those related to marginalized subjects. We welcome original research on any topic of historical interest, but encourage presenters to consider the ways in which historical silences hinder, motivate, or  inform their scholarship. Potential frameworks may include, but are not limited to: borderlands and transnational studies, urban history, gender history, and public history. 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. Certificates will be awarded to the top presenters.

Additionally, graduate and undergraduate students in any field of historical study are invited to submit proposals to present during our morning poster session. Posters may feature original research or showcase public history projects. Presentations related to the conference theme are especially encouraged. Certificates will be awarded to the top graduate and undergraduate poster presenters.

Individual proposals should include the submitter’s name, contact information, institutional affiliation(s), a one page abstract of the paper or poster (with a title), and a sentence listing up to three historical subjects your paper addresses (e.g. French history, sport history, gender). Please also include a brief biographical statement indicating your academic status along with a return address and current e­mail address. Please note that submissions will be accepted as time and space permit.

The deadline for submissions is Friday, September 1, 2017. Please email your proposal to the HGSA Conference Committee at: HGSA@luc.edu. For papers, use the subject line Re: CFPapers Loyola History Grad Conference. For posters, use the subject line Re: CFPosters Loyola History Grad Conference.

For more information about the conference, visit our department webpage. For any further questions, contact the HGSA Conference Committee at ​HGSA@luc.edu​.

Sponsored by the History Graduate Student Association, Loyola University Chicago

Changes to U.S. Copyright Office Could Impact Public Historians

On April 26, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to transform the Register of Copyrights from a position responsible to the Librarian of Congress to a political appointment chosen by the President and confirmed by the Senate. If passed by the Senate, this legislation could impact public historians and others who rely on the Library of Congress to represent the interests of educators, scholars, librarians, and archivists when administering copyright law.

The James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress houses the U.S. Copyright Office. 2011 U.S. Government photo by the Architect of the Capitol.

The “Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017,” or H.R. 1695, passed the House with bipartisan support on a vote of 378 to 48. Proponents claim that the legislation will help modernize the Copyright Office, which has been overseen by the Library of Congress since 1870. The text of the bill, however, does nothing to update the Copyright Office’s systems or procedures — it simply gives the President rather than the Librarian of Congress power to appoint the Register of Copyrights. Critics of this change, including the American Library Association (ALA), the Society for American Archivists (SAA), and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), argue that it would further politicize the copyright office and elevate the influence of entertainment industry lobbyists over other copyright system stakeholders.

The U.S. Constitution authorized Congress to grant copyrights “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Courts have interpreted this clause to mean that copyright law must balance the rights of authors and creators with the public’s fair use of copyrighted works to advance art and science through research, education, and other fields. Locating the Copyright Office within the Library of Congress, a research institution, helps keep the administration of copyright law accountable to its constitutional mission.

Historians, archivists, librarians, and others rely on the Register of Copyrights to maintain the official historical record of copyrighted materials, as well as tools like the Fair Use Index that compile legal decisions on the use of copyrighted works for education and research. The Register of Copyrights is also responsible for recommending exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s prohibition against circumventing copyright protection systems. Under current law, the Register must consider the “use of works for nonprofit archival, preservation, and educational purposes” among other factors in granting exemptions — a consideration  that may determine whether historians in future years can access electronic sources published with software based copy-protection or D.R.M.

Continue reading “Changes to U.S. Copyright Office Could Impact Public Historians”