With the winter holiday season coming to a close, it is time to look forward to a new year, and perhaps a new home for an exciting historical acquisition. Last November, the Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) launched its eighth annual exhibition showcasing nativity scenes from around the world. However, a rather unique object stood among the works more typically displayed in Art and Faith of the Crèche. Greeting guests from inside a vitrine as they entered the exhibit space was a 42 cm tall statuette of the infant Christ. LUMA hopes to raise the donations necessary to acquire this object, with senior curator Jonathan P. Canning saying, “I envision it exhibited at the beginning of the annual crèche exhibition, connecting it to the D’Arcy [Collection of medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art] on the floor above.”
Photograph courtesy of David Kogan.
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.
This story originally appeared on the Loyola History Department’s website in October 2015. It has been modified for the Lakefront Historian and updated to reflect Public History Lab activity since then.
On August 23, 2015, Loyola history master’s student Kristin Jacobsen led a walking tour of the Glenwood Avenue Arts District in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood for the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society (RP/WRHS). Her walking tour stemmed from a project organized by the Public History Lab, in partnership with the RP/WRHS, and undertaken by student groups in Dr. Patricia Mooney-Melvin’s graduate Public History Methods and Theory course (HIST 480) during the fall 2014 semester. For the project, HIST 480 students produced walking tour scripts about Rogers Park and West Ridge history for the RP/WRHS. Jacobsen’s group, which also included master’s students Blake Kennedy, Lauren O’Brien, and Andrew Paddock, produced a tour that explored Rogers Park’s Glenwood Avenue Arts District and presented the concept to the RP/WRHS President and Vice-President in December 2014. Jacobsen agreed to lead the tour for RP/WRHS members the following August.
I spoke to Jacobsen about her experience.
Many people are familiar with Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp that held Union soldiers during the Civil War, but fewer know of Camp Douglas, a Union camp that held Confederate prisoners on Chicago’s South Side. Between October 8th and 14th, we—and others from Loyola, DePaul, and the community—worked as volunteer archaeologists on a dig with the Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation, uncovering elements of Chicago’s Civil War past, and learning some basics about archaeology and the processes that go into a dig.
From 1861 to 1865, Camp Douglas occupied about 80 acres in what is now the Bronzeville community. Initially, Camp Douglas was a training ground for Union soldiers, and would later train enlisted African Americans. The camp was designed to be temporary, since the Union was confident the war wouldn’t last long. But by February 1862, Camp Douglas had become a prison camp for Confederate soldiers captured in battle, since the Union Army had nowhere else to put them. Camp Douglas became one of the largest prisoner of war camps in the nation and had the most Confederate deaths of any camp. Poor sanitation and overcrowding in makeshift wooden shelters spread disease among the prisoners, resulting in approximately 4,500 deaths (the prison housed roughly 30,000 prisoners through the course of the war). Security was slack and escapes were frequent; an estimated 500 Confederate prisoners escaped during the camp’s operation. After the war Camp Douglas was quickly dissolved, and for the most part, forgotten.
The Broadway smash hit Hamilton: An American Musical, a “hip-hopera” about the nation’s founding, is a bona fide phenomenon. Tickets are nearly impossible to come by, and celebrities flock to every performance. (President Obama has seen it twice.) The show and its composer and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, are receiving recognition for fantastic performances, an energetic blend of musical theatre tradition and hip hop innovation, and the choice to cast people of color in the roles of the lily-white Founding Fathers.
But Hamilton is also being praised for its potential to teach its audience members, to get them excited about a period of history they may only remember from dry classroom lessons. Miranda based the musical on Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton, and the historian served as a consultant to the show. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History recently partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to provide discounted tickets for low-income New York City high school students and develop accompanying educational programming.
Hamilton is the latest in a long line of musicals based on historical events: 1776, Les Misérables, Evita, and the recently-opened Allegiance, about Japanese internment in the U.S. during World War II, among many others. So why has this particular show seemed to inspire its audiences, particularly those who are not otherwise musical theater fans, more than these other worthy musicals?
Last Friday, I pedaled my butt to 6500 N. Clark Street to visit the Gerber/Hart Library, Chicago’s premier LGBTQ research space. At first I wondered if I was at the right building, as construction equipment and workers occupied the ground level, but the second floor was attractive and very open for business. An exhibit on LGBT music and a community bulletin board/table, offering free materials such as The Windy City Times, greeted me before I even entered the library. Once inside, I received an enthusiastic welcome from the staff member who offered a tour of the library, exhibits, and even the archives and special collections. The space was bright and inviting, equally embracing its academic mission and community-development role.
October is American Archives Month. #AskAnArchivist Day marked the start of the month by having archivists and archival institutions respond to Twitter questions that utilized the aforementioned hashtag. Questions could be directed to specific institutions or individuals by directly tweeting that museum, archive, or person in combination with the hashtag. #AskAnArchivist worked in exactly the same way as #AskACurator Day that took place on September 16, 2015. The importance and success of these social media events can be found in the statistics:
In the digital age museums and archives have turned to the internet to find ways to reach larger audiences. Institution information such as hours of operation, events, and collections can be found online. Social media plays an important role in reaching audiences that may not otherwise seek out museums, historical sites, or archives. Events like #AskACurator and #AskAnArchivist encourage a social media collaboration of institutions worldwide to promote their respective professions. The more people taking part in the event and using a defined hashtag ultimately will help to move the hashtag up in the queue of trending Twitter topics. Trending hashtags reach even larger audiences because they are promoted within Twitter’s trending topics and are seen by people who may not have any idea that such a day existed.
The following review evaluates the latest exhibition on display at the Newberry Library. It is free and open to the public from 8:15 am – 7:30 pm on Tuesdays through Thursdays, and from 8:15 am – 5:00 pm on Fridays through Mondays.
Chicago-area scholars are most assuredly acquainted with the diverse array of historical resources available at the Newberry Library. However, what would happen if pieces from their acclaimed collections found a way off the shelves and into a gallery space? The answer can be found in a new exhibition called “Stagestruck City.”
According to the first didactic panel visitors encounter upon entering the exhibit, the show’s story is about the venerable Goodman Theatre, Chicago’s oldest center for performing arts. It aims to explore “the theatre’s founding within the context of a remarkable heritage of live performance and popular amusement in the city.” This mention of “context” is critical for the exhibition as a whole, as one of its greatest strengths is delving into the intricacies of the Goodman’s founding while not overwhelming the audience with details about just one location. Indeed, the exhibition begins by examining theatres that reigned over the Second City’s entertainment industry decades before the Goodman was even conceived.
The first segment of gallery space succeeds in drawing in the visitor. The vibrant posters from places like the Adelphi Theatre and Col. Wood’s Museum (left) are mesmerizing examples of ephemera, and scanning through them could make readers feel like they themselves are late-nineteenth century theater buffs. Before 1871, contemporary plays could amusingly share the stage with more carnivalesque attractions such as the world’s largest lion! Everything changed, though, with the Great Chicago Fire. The conflagration consumed Chicago’s entertainment venues, providing an opportunity for more grandiose theatrical arenas to rise in their wake.
Experimental rock group Yeasayer released its second album, Odd Blood, in 2010 to a generally favorable reception. As compared to the band’s previous work, critics appreciated the foray into much more accessible pop sensibilities. But beneath the catchy hooks and upbeat affirmation of the album’s first single, “Ambling Alp,” lies a kernel of historical inspiration. Unlike the mysterious and somewhat impressionistic vocals of their other songs, the lyrical allusions of “Ambling Alp” reference a particularly notable figure in sports history: the great boxer Joe Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” heavyweight champion of the world from 1937-1949.
Oh, Max Schmeling was a formidable foe.
The Ambling Alp was too, at least that’s what I’m told
Joe Louis fought Primo Carnera in 1935, the Italian boxer whose nickname, “The Ambling Alp,” provides the song its title. He knocked out the massive Italian in six rounds, with the powerful victory setting off his career. At that time he was still on his way to the heavyweight title, a road that would hit an unexpected bump in his first fight with German boxer Max Schmeling in 1936. Though few expected Louis to have any trouble, Schmeling handed Louis his first professional loss with a knockout in the twelfth round. Louis had underestimated his opponent, and Schmeling had carefully prepared. But the importance of the fight extended beyond the ring: Max Schmeling fought under the flag of the Nazi regime, and his victory made for excellent material in the Nazi propaganda machine. Though not a Nazi himself, Schmeling’s victory over Louis, a black American, was twisted into further justification for German theories of Aryan racial superiority.