Fascist Italy’s Memory Found Refuge in Chicago For 87 Long Years, But Does Columbus’ Dethroning Signify the End?

Written by: Mikey Spehn

 [1] Anti-fascist protesters surrounding the Chicago Balbo Monument in 2017

2020 generated a great discussion of history in the public sphere. Following George Floyd’s murder on May 5 of 2020, Black Lives Matter protests worldwide brought systematic racism to the forefront of public and political debate. Historical monuments in America became a target for removal or defacement on a scale usually only seen in a government’s overthrow. In Grant Park, Chicago’s Christopher Columbus statue was the target of vandalization and a confrontation between protesters and police. On July 24, 2020, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered the statue’s temporary removal [2]. How come the same fate has not transpired to the Balbo monument, only a mile south of the monument? Both are equally problematic.

[4] Chicago Mayor Kelly (left), Italo Balbo (right)   

You might be thinking, what is the Balbo monument? The monument is a column from the ancient Roman town of Ostia “that is approximately 2,000 years old dating from between 117 and 38 BC” [3]. The column was given by Benito Mussolini for the Chicago World’s Fair, 1933 Century of Progress.

Mussolini dedicated the column in honor of Fascist General Italo Balbo’s famous transatlantic flight to Chicago for the fair. The column placed in Burnham Park became known as the Balbo monument in honor of the Italian aviator. While in Chicago, Italo Balbo also unveiled the Christopher Columbus statue that toppled in 2020. Both monuments reflect America’s good relationship with a fascist Italy that was controversial even before WWII. So, how has one monument been removed, and another is outside Soldier Field to this day? What is it about Balbo?

Christopher Columbus’ stone face does not look over Chicago’s landscape anymore. Oddly enough, the base still stands (shown below in image [6]). On the pedestal, there is a commemoration which reads:    

“THIS MONVMENT HAS SEEN THE GLORY OF THE WINGS OF ITALY LED BY ITALO BALBO JULY 15 1933.” [2]

The Grant Park monument was under attack by protesters not because of Balbo, Mussolini, or Fascist Italy. Columbus is the pinnacle of white colonialism and is a person of celebration every October in America. It is difficult not to envision the commemoration of Columbus as state-sponsored encouragement of colonialism and racism. A poll has found that 35% of voters in the 2020 election “favor eliminating Columbus Day as a national holiday” [7]. The story is well known to Americans; the history of Mussolini, Balbo, and fascism is not common knowledge. Fascism’s pedestal remains. Columbus has fallen.   

[5]  Italo Balbo (far left), Adolf Hitler (far right)   

[6] Base of Christopher Columbus statue after its removal 

Does the pedestal with an inscription for Balbo staying in Grant Park indicate that the Balbo monument will not plummet? It seems so. Even the Columbus statue was only ‘temporarily’ removed by Lori Lightfoot. Chicagoans will see if the removal is actually temporary. 

Americans are well aware of systematic racism and the countries past of slavery. But the history of fascism in America is going largely unnoticed. Do Americans know there was an American Nazi Party and that Charles Lindbergh possessed pro-fascist sympathies? The Balbo monument commemorates Italian fascism and an aviator who is known for more than flying. What is it about trans-Atlantic aviators and attraction to fascism? Who’s next, Amelia Earhart? 

[10] Charles Lindbergh (middle) at a rally to keep the U.S. out of WWII                   

Italo Balbo is not just a supporter of fascism too. Loyola University Chicago professor Anthony Cardoza said, “Balbo was one of the most violent warlords of the Fascist movement and had a pivotal role in bringing Benito Mussolini to power” [8]. He was governor of the Italian colony of Libya and “ordered Jews who closed their businesses on the Sabbath to be whipped” [9].

No one doubts that Italo Balbo was a fascist and committed heinous crimes in Italy. So who wants this monument to stay in Chicago? When there were protests to remove the memorial in 2017 (see image [1]), the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans (JCCIA) opposed the removal of the column. Supporters of preserving the monument argue that Balbo was a hero who was not antisemitic and was opposed to Nazi Germany. Historians like Anthony Cardoza disagree. But for the sake of argument, let us say Balbo was these things. That still means he is responsible for persecuting Jewish people [9] and “oversaw the use of saturation bombing, poison gas, and concentration camps against indigenous people in Libya and Ethiopia” [11]. A man pictured having niceties with Adolf Hitler is also pictured greeting Chicago Mayor Kelly in 1933. Chicago symbolically still welcomes Balbo in 2020.

Will the Balbo monument come down? Not anytime soon. In 2017, when protests about Balbo were the highest, protesters could not pressure the city to rename the street: Balbo Drive, which is a lot cheaper than removing a statue. Italian American groups don’t want a Roman column taken down. The city does not want to admit there is a problem or pay for a fix. But, most of all, Americans are not ready to confront the country’s fascist past, or at the very least pay for removal of it. Columbus’s downfall is a step in the right direction and confronts America’s systemic racism. Maybe America can only handle processing one historical sin at a time. No one can find a public monument to Italo Balbo in Italy [8]. Others have confronted Balbo’s historical memory in museums and history books. Chicago celebrates his memory with a street name, a monument, and a pedestal without a man above it. Columbus is no longer on a pedestal. Now it is time to protest the man that was below him. 

Mikey Spehn, Loyola University Chicago


[1] Briscoe, Tony. “Anti-Fascist Protesters Want Balbo Monument in Chicago Removed.” Chicago Tribune, August 24, 2017. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-balbo-monument-protest-chicago-0824-20170823-story.html

[2] Silber, Christopher. “Columbus Statue’s Turbulent History Included State Funds, Design Feuds, Mussolini Message.” Book Club Chicago, July 24, 2020. https://blockclubchicago.org/2020/07/24/columbus-statues-turbulent-history-included-state-funds-design-feuds-mussolini-message/

[3] “Balbo Monument.” Chicago Park District, 2014. https://web.archive.org/web/20160328212825/http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/burnham-park/balbo-monument/

[4] Mondadori. Edward Joseph Kelly with Italo Balbo, July 1933, Getty Images, accessed November 22, 2020. https://www.gettyimages.ie/detail/news-photo/the-mayor-of-chicago-edward-joseph-kelly-giving-the-keys-of-news-photo/154068760?language=fr

 [5] BPK, BERLIN/BAYERISCHE STAATSBIBLIOTHEK MÜNCHEN ABTLG. KARTEN U. BILDER/HEINRICH HOFFMANN/ART RESOURCE, NY, accessed November 22, 2020. https://erenow.net/modern/the-devils-chessboard-allen-dulles-the-cia/26.php

[6] Conkis, James. “Base of Christopher Columbus after its removal on July 24, 2020.” Wikipedia, accessed November 22, 2020.

[7] Sheffield, Carrie. “In heightened cancel culture, most voters still want Columbus Day as national holiday, poll finds.” Just The News, June 26, 2020. 

https://justthenews.com/politics-policy/polling/most-us-voters-want-keep-columbus-day-national-holiday-poll-finds

[8] Ackman, Scott, and Schwarz, Christopher. “The (Failed) 1946 Fight to Remove a

Fascist’s Name from a Chicago Street.” Chicago Magazine, July 10, 2008. https://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/August-2008/Dubious-Legacy/#:~:text=In%20August%201938%2C%20Balbo%20visited,down%20his%20plane%20over%20Libya

[9] Sarfatti, Michele. “The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy: from equality to persecution.” Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 102.

[10] Haberman, Irving. Getty Images. https://www.esquire.com/uk/culture/tv/a33293436/charles-lindbergh-nazi-true-story-the-plot-against-america/

[11]  Greenfield, John. “Monument to fascist Balbo likely to remain, but aldermen could still rename street.” Chicago Reader, April 23, 2018.

https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/balbo-monument/Content?oid=46044522

Blackhawk Statue or Black Hawk Statue? Ownership of a Likeness

Blackhawks Logo or Monument to Chief Blackhawk? [1]

Around the country, monuments have come into sharp focus in recent years due to a shifting ideology on memory and history. The gender gap and racial gap have become an important part of the overall monument discussion. In the Near West Side neighborhood of Chicago, there stands a monument to a 19th century Native American war chief. Seemingly, this representation of an important leader to a minority group should be a good thing. But this isn’t a monument to a noble Sauk leader – instead, this likeness is used to represent the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. How, then, do we view the legacy of Chief Black Hawk? How can a monument to a man not be for the man himself? Ultimately, who owns his narrative – his tribe or the hockey team? 

The 75th Anniversary Monument [2]  
Detail of hockey players emerging from the marble [3]

The monument’s inception was to honor a long history of hockey in the city of Chicago. It was erected in October of 2000 to commemorate the 75th anniversary season of the Blackhawks hockey club [4]. Erik Blome, a Chicago native, was commissioned by the team to create the monument of the Chicago Blackhawks logo, colloquially known as the “Indian head” and also acknowledged to represent Chief Black Hawk [5]. The intention of the monument is not related to the Native American profile that towers over the bronze hockey player. But that alone requires answering: why is it so easy to overlook the part of the monument that depicts a real, historic Native American chief? Because to most people, it is merely a hockey logo. 

When discussing the logo, many believe the Blackhawks usage has always been respectful, while other sport teams have failed in that regard. In a 2014 article hailing the logo’s unique nature, the author wrote, “The Blackhawks have never indulged in the kind of cartoonish portrayal of Native Americans we’ve seen in other sports” [6]. The Blackhawks have used an iteration of this logo since their inception in 1926, and it has always featured a drawing or illustration of Chief Black Hawk’s profile. Where is the line between a caricature and a cartoon? 

Older iterations of the logo show questionable levels of respect [7]

The hockey club boasts that its logo is often voted “the best logo in the history of professional sports” [8]. In a 2008 poll that voted the Blackhawks logo as the “best”, Ryan Kennedy wrote the team’s logo “represents everything this competition is about. It is instantly recognizable, has universal appeal and has inspired countless imitations. The logo itself has an unwavering sense of pride and duty to it and looks great on a jersey or a hat. It is truly one of the classics in all of sport” [9]. At no point does Kennedy acknowledge the logo is special because of its connection to Chief Black Hawk; his primary concern was instant recognition and the selling of merchandise.

Many believe the hockey team has not received as much pressure or vitriol due to the respect they show their logo and active participation with Native Americans in Illinois. However, the schism in the Native American community regarding the hockey club’s logo is well documented. Some believe it is an opportunity to educate the public, while others believe there can be no exemption for a racially motivated logo regardless of how team handles its public outreach. Studies have shown the ill-effects that Native American mascots and logos can have on indigenous people. Dr. Arianne Eason of UC Berkeley wrote, “Regardless of what sports fans claim, the outcomes are clear, Native mascots harm and offend Native people, especially highly identified Native people” [10]. Heather Miller, the executive director of the American Indian Center in Chicago and a member of the Wyandotte Nation, is actively against any sports team using Native American names and imagery. The AIC cut ties with the Blackhawks a few years ago, and Miller does not anticipate a reconciliation anytime soon. Miller believes it is entirely hypocritical because as teams were being named after Native American legends, Native American people were massively suffering, on reservations or in cities, even Chicago. She continued, “Our children were being systematically removed from reservations and forced into boarding schools, forced to cut their hair, forced to not learn their language or speak their language, so our culture was being erased. And yet their sports teams and their universities were putting these depictions and images of us in place, saying that this was how we behaved.” [11]. Further, the National Congress of American Indians has spoken about the psychological consequences of using native mascots. They clearly state that the intolerance born in “Indian” sports mascots creates alarmingly high rates of hate crimes against native people. “Specifically, rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples.” [12]. While the NCAI has not spoken for or against the Blackhawks hockey team, they do reference the National Hockey League in their policy on “Professional Sports and Harmful Mascots” [13].

In 2010, Joe Podlasek gave an interview on the topic of the Blackhawks logo. Podlasek is the CEO of Trickster Cultural Center and has worked with the Blackhawks organization in the past [14]. In the center of the locker room, there is a large rug with the logo on it that superstition says players are not allowed to step on. Some call this superstition “respecting the logo”. Podlasek said, “For us, that’s one of our grandfathers. Would you do that with your grandfather’s picture? Take it and throw it on a rug? Walk on it and dance on it?” [15].

Merchandise supporting the team depicts the Chief Black Hawk profile, featuring a bathmat from Rally House [16]  
A Chief Black Hawk tattoo in memorial to the fan’s father [17]

The organization actively celebrates Native American Awareness month on social media, but the awareness and promotion do not solve the issue of their branding and how it devalues Chief Black Hawk. Podlasek specifically informed the organization that they needed to do a better job educating their fans about how disrespectful wearing Native American traditional headdresses to the games was [18]. This summer, the team took the positive step of banning costume headdresses from team-sanctioned events, including home games. The statement put out by the organization specifically mentions “conversations with our Native American partners”, and how the headdresses “are sacred, traditionally reserved for leaders who have earned a place of great respect in their Tribe and should not be generalized or used as a costume or for everyday wear” [19]. While this is one step in the right direction, the thoughts and meaning behind it show incredible promise. The same mentality of establishing respect needs to now be applied to their logo. 

In July of 2020, amid racial equality demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd, many called on the hockey club again to commit to changing its name. The Blackhawks responded by defending their logo and issuing the following official statement:

The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public. We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups [20].

In response, on Columbus Day, or Indigenous Peoples Day, the Blackhawk statue was vandalized. Red paint was thrown on the logo and graffiti on the concrete around the statue read, “Land Back”, and “take your trash with you”. The first photos of the vandalism were posted on Twitter by an account called @zhigaagoong [21], which is a Native American phrase for the land of Chicago. The statue of the logo, the monument to Chief Black Hawk, was covered with a tarp, fenced for safety, and subsequently sent for repairs [22]. 

The Blackhawks 75th Anniversary Monument was doused in red paint in a protest against racist monuments [23]  
The statue covered by a tarp [24]

The team plans to keep the name because it believes the name honors Chief Black Hawk. How can a commercialized logo represent a real-life man? With every t-shirt, novelty license plate, or dog leash manufactured, the story of Chief Black Hawk gets smaller and the narrative of Chief Black Hawk continues to be taken away from his tribe and his people. The name of the team may have been intended to honor Chief Black Hawk, but once his likeness was commercialized, the amount of respect diminishes. As people walk by the Blackhawks statue outside the United Center, they don’t see a monument to Sauk hero. They see a statue to a team they paid money to see play a game. The profile of Chief Black Hawk doesn’t represent the Sauk tribe anymore. It’s permanently attached to a hockey team with its own unique story. Commercializing a historic figure’s memory has devalued the lessons and the history surrounding Chief Black Hawk. While once an honorary recognition, the business using Chief Black Hawk’s name and likeness has usurped his narrative that rightly belongs to the Native American people.

Mary Cole Daulton, Loyola University Chicago


[1] Photo licensing purchased by Mary Cole Daulton, taken by Jim Roberts, December 22, 2018.

[2] Photo licensing purchased by Mary Cole Daulton, taken by Jim Roberts, December 22, 2018.

[3] Photo credit to Erik Blome, https://www.erikblome.com/united-center-blackhawks.

[4] “Chicago Blackhawks 75th Anniversary Commemorative Monument,” Chicago Public Art, accessed November 16, 2020, http://chicagopublicart.blogspot.com/2013/08/chicago-blackhawks-75th-anniversary.html.

[5] Erik Blome, “Chicago Blackhawks 75th Anniversary Monument,” Erik Blome–Sculptor, accessed November 16, 2020, https://www.erikblome.com/united-center-blackhawks.

[6] Adam Proteau, “NFL’s ‘Redskins’ days are numbered – are the NHL’s Blackhawks next?,” SI: The Hockey News, June 18, 2014, https://www.si.com/hockey/news/nfls-redskins-days-are-numbered-are-the-nhls-blackhawks-next.

[7] Copyright “History Of The Chicago Blackhawks”, accessed November 16, 2020, https://tbanyan.neocities.org/html.html.

[8] Brad Boron/Chicago Blackhawks, “THN ranks Blackhawks logo tops in the NHL,” NHL.com, August 24, 2014, https://www.nhl.com/blackhawks/news/thn-ranks-blackhawks-logo-tops-in-the-nhl/c-31173.

[9] Chicago Blackhawks Press Release/Chicago Blackhawks, “Blackhawks Logo Voted #1 in NHL,” NHL.com, accessed November 16, 2020, https://www.nhl.com/blackhawks/news/blackhawks-logo-voted-1-in-nhl/c-476429.

[10] “Offensive to Native Americans, Racist Mascots Have No Place in Sports,” Cision: PR Newswire, accessed November 16, 2020, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/offensive-to-native-americans-racist-mascots-have-no-place-in-sports-301003720.html.

[11] Scott Powers, “Is it time for the Chicago Blackhawks to drop their Native American logo?,” The Athletic, June 25, 2020, https://theathletic.com/1888307/2020/06/25/is-it-time-for-the-chicago-blackhawks-to-drop-their-native-american-logo/.

[12] “Ending the Era of Harmful ‘Indian’ Mascots,” NCAI Policy Research Center, accessed November 23, 2020, https://www.ncai.org/proudtobe.

[13] National Congress of American Indians, “Ending the Legacy of Racism in Sports & The Era of Harmful ‘Indian’ Sports Mascots,” October 2013, https://www.ncai.org/attachments/PolicyPaper_mijApMoUWDbjqFtjAYzQWlqLdrwZvsYfakBwTHpMATcOroYolpN_NCAI_Harmful_Mascots_Report_Ending_the_Legacy_of_Racism_10_2013.pdf.

[14] Scott Powers, “Is it time for the Chicago Blackhawks to drop their Native American logo?,” The Athletic, June 25, 2020, https://theathletic.com/1888307/2020/06/25/is-it-time-for-the-chicago-blackhawks-to-drop-their-native-american-logo/.

[15] “Native-Americans weigh in on “Blackhawks” name,” ABC7, accessed November 16, 2020, https://abc7chicago.com/archive/7479527/.

[16] “Indoor Rug” sold at Rally House, a merchandise partner with the Chicago Blackhawks, https://www.rallyhouse.com/chicago-blackhawks-34×45-all-star-interior-rug-1654475.

[17] Copyright Getty Images, taken by Scott Olson, 2015, https://www.gettyimages.co.nz/detail/news-photo/fans-wait-for-the-start-of-a-parade-to-celebrate-the-news-photo/477600560?adppopup=true.

[18] Scott Powers, “Is it time for the Chicago Blackhawks to drop their Native American logo?,” The Athletic, June 25, 2020, https://theathletic.com/1888307/2020/06/25/is-it-time-for-the-chicago-blackhawks-to-drop-their-native-american-logo/.

[19] Chicago Blackhawks/Blackhawks.com, “A Note to Our Blackhawks Community,” NHL.com, accessed November 23, 2020, https://www.nhl.com/blackhawks/news/a-note-to-our-blackhawks-community/c-317689134.

[20] Chicago Blackhawks/Blackhawks.com, “STATEMENT: Blackhawks Statement on Name and Logo,” NHL.com, accessed November 16, 2020, https://www.nhl.com/blackhawks/news/statement-blackhawks-statement-on-name-and-logo/c-317688782.

[21] “Blackhawks Statue Outside of United Center Vandalized Over Weekend, Team Says,” NBC Chicago, accessed November 16, 2020, https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/sports/chicago-hockey/blackhawks-statue-outside-of-united-center-spray-painted-vandalized/2352999/.

[22] NBC Chicago, “Blackhawks Statue”.

[23] Copyright Twitter user @zhigaagoong, https://twitter.com/zhigaagoong/status/1315560484188434432/photo/1.

[24] “Blackhawks Statue Outside of United Center Vandalized Over Weekend, Team Says,” NBC Chicago, accessed November 16, 2020, https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/sports/chicago-hockey/blackhawks-statue-outside-of-united-center-spray-painted-vandalized/2352999/.

HGSA Statement of Support

Monday, June 22, 2020

We, the Board of Loyola’s History Graduate Student Association, condemn the brutal killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer and grieve alongside Floyd’s family, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the nation for his death and the deaths of countless others. This pain is not new; it is centuries-old and insidious, weaving itself into the fabric of our society. Many groups have spoken out more eloquently and more poignantly than us, yet as historians we feel a particular call to add our voices to the nationwide – and international – outcry.

We recognize the systemic targeting of the black community that dates back to the very foundation of our country. It is our duty as historians to provide context and interpretation of our past so we can better understand our present and change our future. For decades, some members of our profession have manipulated and misrepresented history in order to reinforce and justify white supremacy. As the next generation of historians, we must dedicate ourselves to recognizing, confronting, and challenging the version of history they left us with and the deeply flawed system that narrative has enabled to thrive.

To jumpstart crucial, long-overdue conversations about race in history, Loyola’s HGSA Board of 2020-21 is starting an antiracism initiative. In the coming days, we will be rolling out resources to spark learning, thought, and conversation about race in America. We do not know where this will end up, but we hope it will grow into a valuable project for starting difficult conversations and guiding our individual and collective paths to confronting racism. If you are interested in helping with this project, feel free to contact Rachel Madden (rmadden1@luc.edu) and Erin Witt (ewitt@luc.edu). 

We also urge you to read the statement by the Loyola Black Graduate Student Alliance (BGSA) on recent events and consider their concrete goals for Loyola to better support Black / African-American grad students, found here. In their words, “we look to the University to truly take on the work needed to acknowledge, address, and dismantle unjust structures evident even within our own classrooms.” The HGSA Board stands with them on their demands for measurable change on campus. 

Words on a page and conversation should only be the beginning – change requires a call to action. If you are able, we encourage you to consider donating money, time, or other forms of support to organizations that work to counteract the deep roots and pervasive effects of racial discrimination in our country. The following are a few of the many organizations doing the vital work needed to effect lasting change:

In solidarity with our neighbors, we also urge you to consider supporting local black-owned businesses. Below are a few options:

This conversation is just beginning. While the process of pulling back the curtain of our assumptions and accepted narratives can be painful, it is necessary if we are to understand how we got here and at what cost. This process is a lifelong commitment, one that demands honesty, humility, and open mindedness from all of us. Feelings of pain, frustration, anger, confusion, and guilt are normal and expected. Listen to those feelings, recognize your privilege in your ability to even have them, acknowledge them, and turn them into action. Only with that understanding can we begin the work of creating a truly equitable and just society.

Sincerely,

The Loyola History Graduate Student Association Boards, 2020-21 and 2019-20

2020-21:

President Scarlett Andes, MA Public History

Vice President Rachel Madden, PhD Public History & American History

Treasurer Casey Terry, MA Public History

Secretary Miranda Ridener, MA Public History

Media Coordinator Ve’Amber Miller, MA Public History

Conference Committee Co-Chair Erin Witt, Dual MLIS/MA Public History

Public History Chair Elizabeth Schmidt, MA Public History

2019-20:

President Anthony Stamilio, MA Public History

Vice President Emily-Paige Taylor, PhD U.S. Public History & American History

Treasurer Hannah Overstreet, MA Public History

Secretary Davis Stubblefield, MA History

Media Coordinator Alicia Ziemat, MA Public History

Conference Committee Co-Chair Cate LiaBraaten, PhD Public History & American History

Conference Committee Co-Chair Sophia Croll, PhD Public History & American History

Animal Crossing, Museums, and Space for Contemplation

I’ve never been interested in video games, and up until recently I didn’t even know how to turn on our household gaming console. Not long after the Illinois Stay-At-Home order, my husband suggested I try Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It was a perfect suggestion: building a delightful animated community has been an enjoyable escape. The game involves building a village from a handful of tents on an island, and I was surprised to see that one of the earliest public buildings that can be unlocked and built—even before shops and restaurants—was a museum.

Image 1: Cate and her husband on a date to an art exhibit.

The museum is hosted by a lone employee, a professorial owl who serves as curator (and apparently registrar, educator, administrator, guest services representative, collections manager, exhibit designer, et cetera). The Animal Crossing museum begins as a natural history museum, stocked with fossils, bugs, and fish that players collect. Later, the museum can be expanded to include an art wing.  I’ve been considering what it means for a game (especially one that has been mocked for its overly capitalistic trappings) to include a museum as one of the first buildings in a community.

At first, I found it frustrating—I felt obligated to stock the museum with fossils and fish, but I also knew I could sell them to pay off my unavoidable in-game debts. Choosing between a love of museums and financial solvency is something I have had to do too many times in my real life to feel it was fun in a game.

I’ve grown fonder of the museum and have contributed more to it as time has gone on (and my debts have been paid). As my island community as has grown, the museum remains the only true public building besides the home base “visitor services” center and built-in airport. I’ve yet to see an opportunity to build a school, library, post office, or any other public building.

The Animal Crossing museum is a flat version of a museum: it’s about collecting and displaying. This was my predominate thought until my nephews sent their avatars to my island. We talked on the phone together while our cartoon projections of ourselves ran around the screen. As this global pandemic has worn on, the few times I’ve played Animal Crossing with my nephews has been a perfect example of the social experiences we’ve all been having—separate but together, interacting virtually. My nephews are avid museum goers—curious about the world and their place in it– and right away they wanted to visit my digital museum.

Image 2: Cate and her nephew express delight and wonder in the natural history wing.

Walking around the dimly-lit halls with them, looking at animated fossils, I was reminded of the roles museums play beyond collecting and displaying. I began thinking about museums as space. Although I don’t know when my nephews or I will be able to visit a museum again, we were able to pretend for a little bit. As the realm of acceptable spaces for me to be has drastically shrunk, I’ve been reminded of why spaces are important.

Historians have long discussed the role or need for the real, the tangible, when we have the digital. Are digital exhibits just as informative as in person exhibits? Probably more so, because one can peruse them without the distractions and bodily discomfort of being in a museum space. Various email lists I am subscribed to have recently sent me articles hyping “10 Museum Exhibits You Can Visit Virtually” or other similar promises, and I’ve been interested in how many of these digital tours emphasize a feeling of walking though the museum space more than serving as a virtual exhibit. Without being there, one can imagine they are.

Museum spaces matter for housing and displaying objects, but they also matter because the spaces themselves facilitate our experiences. Museums can be social spaces, and many of us are currently craving places for in-person socialization. As a university educator, I was forcefully reminded this semester that learning can happen anywhere, so while museum spaces facilitate learning they are by no means the only way for this to happen. For social and educational needs, we are forced to confront the fact that museums aren’t “essential.”

The value of museums as physical spaces, then, is neither solely educational nor solely social, though tied to both. The true value is in contemplation. How many public spaces do we have for contemplation? Museums are spaces where we can think. We can sit and process what we’ve learned, we can share it with others, and we can process our wonder, our awe, our confusion, and even our skepticism. In museums (and to a degree, parks and libraries), it’s okay to openly show our delight and our understanding or lack thereof. It’s okay to obviously wowed, bewildered, amazed, or even lost. In museum spaces we can exist fully and without an expectation of spending money to support a for-profit agenda—how many other places can say the same?

Museums across the country have upped their online presence during the pandemic and consistently proven just how important, relevant, and useful their collections and information are. The range of digital resources that have become available or have been highlighted is impressive and vital. Not being in museums has highlighted how much they have and how useful it is in ways that a traditional visit might not have been able to. The biggest takeaway from not being in museums, though, is how magic they are as spaces, and how much we miss them. Even with this vast array of content available, I’ve found it challenging to find wonder in my own apartment. When we’re at home, expressing our feelings is not as significant as the opportunity museums provide to do so in public.

In the Animal Crossing museum, my nephews and I ran up and down the stairs, read exhibit labels, and used our “delight” reaction. But we also sat on a bench together. It was only for a moment, but sitting on a bench made of pixels in an imaginary museum provided a tiny opportunity for reflection—almost like the real thing.

-Cate LiaBraaten

Of Power and Words – On the Origins and Usage of the term ‘Kristallnacht’

The synagogue of Eberswalde burning on November 10, 1938.

Sebastian has a few thoughts on the usage of the term ‘Kristallnacht’ outside of his home country of Germany.

The wide-ranging, state-sanctioned violence that was spread by the Nazi party throughout the German Reich on the night of November 9, 1938, was one of the worst pogroms against German Jews in centuries. When the smoke from burning Jewish shops and houses of worship cleared, more than 400 Germans of Jewish descent were dead. About 30.000  were rounded up in the following days and deported to concentration camps under the excuse of putting them in ‘protective custody’. Almost every single synagogue in the Reich was destroyed that night, along with more than 7.200 shops and residences.

The pogroms were initiated by various arms of the NSDAP, the Nazi party, supposedly as public retaliation to the assassination of a Nazi party secretary in France at the hands of a Jewish man of Polish descent on November 7, 1938. The Deutsches Nachrichtenbuero, the press agency of the Third Reich, published an order to all German newspapers to run news of the assassination as their top headlines the following day, while also ordering the newspapers to demand “the gravest of consequences” for German Jews, held accountable as a collective. Members of the SA and SS, the NSDAP’s paramilitary forces, dressed as civilians began inciting public unrest against Jewish institutions. This was an effort to fan the flames of ethnic hatred and widespread violence by the German populace against their Jewish compatriots.

The event initially did not have an official name. The Nazis themselves referred to it initially as another ‘night of long knives’. It was in Berlin, a city still notorious for its anarchic, cynical and proletarian diction today, that the term ‘Kristallnacht’ was coined on the streets – by people opposing the regime. However, the bitter oppositional cynicism of anonymous Berliners was no match for the cruel, malignant and utterly inhumane cynicism of the Nazi Party, who quickly co-opted the term and used it to refer to the events of November 9 ever since. ‘Kristallnacht’ or ‘Reichskristallnacht’ – originally meant to lampoon Nazi nomenclature that added the prefix ‘Reichs-‘ to many terms – became the descriptor for the pogroms that were a large part of the effort of excising Jewish elements from the German general populace.

The cynicism inherent in the term is that ‘Kristallnacht’, in the Nazi co-option of the word, describes something positive. Something wonderful. In this view, the myriads of shards of glass from smashed windows of Jewish owned shops and houses of prayer, that lay strewn across streets all over the Reich, glistening in the flames of burning synagogues, were as beautiful as shining crystals. Crystals and diamonds for the celebration of destroying the Jewish presence in the midst of the German Volk. It was an expression that illustrates the abject cynicism of the Nazis inherent in so many of their actions, rivaled only by the motivational sayings immortalized in the iron gates of the concentration and extermination camps.

While the term is still in use colloquially in Germany today, it is not a turn of phrase that is used either lightly, or uncritically. Most German writers and scholars do their best to avoid it, lest they unwittingly reproduce the cynicism and belittlement of the victims of Nazism that the Nazis practiced themselves. The alternative terms used instead are ‘Pogromnacht’ (pogrom night) or simply ‘Novemberpogrome’ (November pogroms). If scholars use the term, it is usually put in quotation marks, and often prefixed by a ‘so-called’ to make sure any and all readers or listeners understand the distance the author or speaker is putting between themselves and this loaded term.

This approach, however, is unique to Germany. Outside the country, ‘Kristallnacht’ is still used in everyday and academic parlance alike when referring to the events of November 9, 1938. This presents German writers operating in an international environment with a conundrum. It is a term that is generally accepted to describe the events, however only few people growing up outside of postwar Germany are aware of the word’s origins, and of the more subtle, cynical implications the term is loaded with.

So while it seems unlikely that non-German scholars, writers, journalists, and historians would give up using the term, this makes it even more imperative to raise awareness of its origins, usage, and deeper meanings. By uncritically using terms groups like the Nazis coined, co-opted and perpetuated, by using them without pointing out the deeper implications or at least distancing ourselves from them, we unwittingly perpetuate Nazi propaganda, even if only at a very low level.

But, as we say in Germany today, “Kein Fussbreit dem Faschismus!” (“no ceding an inch of ground to fascism!”). Words and terms have meanings and power that we cannot, must not ignore, especially when it comes to fascism and Nazism. These ideologies were buried on the cemetery of ideas where they belong half a century ago. It is our duty to ensure they stay there, and not allow even the tiniest bit of their corrosive influence to seep out. Kein Fussbreit dem Faschismus! Not in deeds, not in thoughts, and not in words.

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.

column dedication 7.14.34
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”

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”

Resource Roundup: Historical Perspectives on Race, Police, and Crime

Mike Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice.  The deaths of young black men–and the lack of indictments for the policemen who killed them–have ignited outrage and urgent conversations on the structural racism of the criminal justice system and the fraught state of race relations in the United States.  The following list links to articles that utilize historical perspective while participating in contemporary discussions of racism and police violence.

This brief list only contains only one article by academic historian.  Why aren’t more historians contributing to the national discussion on race, police brutality, and the criminal justice system?  Please post additional links in the comments of any articles that employ a critical historical perspective in addressing these current events.