Gender Gap Set in Stone

Chicago’s 580 parks are littered with statues of historically significant men. Some of these men may be familiar to you: Nicolaus Copernicus, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln. Others may be unfamiliar: Greene Vardiman Black, for example, the “father of modern dentistry.” While the accomplishments of these notable figures vary, their gender does not. In fact, there is not a single statue in Chicago that honors a historically significant woman.

The lack of public statues honoring women has received recent attention in the local media, and for good reason. In a city home to such important female leaders like Ida B. Wells and Jane Addams, how can public depictions of women remain absent in Chicago’s parks?

The Chicago Park District told WBEZ Chicago that this absence is an issue of timing; the heyday of public sculpture in the city occurred before women earned the right to vote and were therefore not involved in public life. Yet this argument does not explain why men continued to be honored in Chicago parks long after women earned the right to vote in 1920. As recently as 2006, the Chicago Park District has added a new bronze statue of a male figure to its expansive park system.

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Neglected, Seemingly Forgotten Chicago Mural Is Now Extinct, Seemingly Forgotten

"IOU": The Uptown Truman College mural, in its deep winter (2013).
“IOU”: The Uptown Truman College mural, in its deep winter (2013).

MIT professor of urban studies Larry Vale recently published a book that deals with what he terms, “twice-cleared” places. A prominent example he employs is the site of the Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago. There, a mixed race low-income and working-class community was cleared in the mid-20th century. After a generation of mass public housing, the iconic—if not infamous—Cabrini-Green towers were then razed as part of the city’s landmark demolition of concentrated projects. Upon this second clearance, officials directed the construction of lower-density mixed income housing, a Target, etc, etc.

As Vale shows, twice-cleared areas represent complicated, layered social and cultural productions of space. In Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood—the city’s perpetual ‘next big thing’ neighborhood—there are an increasing number of twice (and thrice, and more) cleared spaces. The current iteration of ‘can’t miss’ redevelopment in Uptown centers around the $203 million renovation of the CTA Wilson Red Line station. After several years of planning, budgeting, and community feedback, demolition has finally begun. Among the first structures to meet the wrecking ball was a CTA viaduct wall that had borne witness to a contentious clearance of space one generation earlier. This wall hosted a mural painted in direct response to the clearance of a low-income area in favor of a city community college. The mural became faded and obscured by plant growth. Its sun-bleached, mournful, almost seething message could only be seen during the winter. Now demolished, the mural is only a memory, a fitting parallel to the challenge of preserving the history of displacement in Uptown.

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Public Historians at Work: Restructuring a Historical Society

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

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

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

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

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Highlights from the Chicago Metro History Fair, Suburban Regionals

history fair

Official image for the American, academic competition of National History Day, 2014.

On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Niles North High School in the village of Skokie, Illinois, hosted the Suburban Regional Competition for the Chicago Metro History Fair. The top 300 students from nineteen suburban secondary schools came to Niles North in order to present 150 historical projects in the format of poster-board exhibit, research paper, performance, documentary, or website. Emelie and I decided to attend the event as first-time, volunteer judges. After two orientations, the event organizers paired us with a veteran judge and assigned us to Room 2030, where we were tasked with judging a panel of 5 group documentaries. The following blog post is a reflection on that experience.

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Separating Cultures in Opening the Vaults at the Field Museum

Displaying photo 5.JPG

On Friday, October 23, 2013, the Field Museum of Chicago launched its temporary exhibit Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair in their Holleb Exhibition Gallery on the first floor. To be clear, this post is not intended to be a journalistic review of that exhibit. If that is what you are looking for, I can only direct you to reviews by the Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Johnson and the TimeOut Chicago reporter Jake Malooley. Instead, this post is intended to address a singular, structural assumption that other reporters have not fully discussed. This assumption is the strict and continued separation of Western civilization from other cultures—an intellectual separation that was embodied in the structure of the original Columbian Exposition of 1893, and reaffirmed one-hundred and twenty years later in the structure of Opening the Vaults.

Before addressing this assumption, the reader should first understand how Opening the Vaults is experienced. Visitors enter the exhibit by winding around a gray partition and into a small, square room. This room displays some basic information about the Columbian Exposition: a ledger of expenses, a map of the grounds, a blown-up poster of the Statue of the Republic, a timeline of events (from the publication of On the Origin of Species to the opening of the Field Museum in 1921), and a few exotic and practical artifacts, such as a heart-shaped coconut, the skeleton of a giant amphibian, and the original book of collections from the fair.

After leaving this introductory room, the visitor enters the giant, high-ceilinged hall in which the rest of the exhibit will take place. First, they will walk down the right side of the hall, and then they will turn the corner and walk down the left side of the hall, at the end of which, the gift shop awaits. All things considered, this space is both smaller and more basic than I had anticipated. Speaking of content, Opening the Vaults is separated into four distinct sections, indicated by overhanging banners. These sections are as follows:

          Appreciation and Preservation: Animals

          Demonstrating Natural Resources: Plants

          Understanding and Misunderstanding: Rocks & Fossils

          Displaying Other Cultures: Issues and Challenges

The first three sections of the exhibit, dedicated to non-human phenomena like animals, plants, and rocks, take up the entire right side of the giant hall. The final section, dedicated to displaying human cultures, takes up the entire left side of the hall. This separation could not be more conspicuous. The exhibit is like two halves of a single brain, with natural phenomena on the right side and human cultures on the left. But before critics praise the exhibition curators for devoting half of their floor space to the representation of non-Western cultures, they should also remember that this strict separation between Western science and “other” cultures is not exactly a progressive interpretation of the past. On the contrary, this separation was perhaps the foundational principle of the original exposition; it was built into its very structure.

Visitors to Opening the Vaults need only to study the map displayed in the entrance room to understand this strict separation. While the fairgrounds inside Jackson Park contained white, neoclassical buildings that were intended to represent the culmination of Western civilization—scientific buildings dedicated to fine arts, engineering, forestry, horticulture, transportation, and electricity—the fairgrounds outside the park were dedicated to displaying non-Western cultures. It was outside the fairgrounds, on the Midway Plaisance, that visitors beheld such attractions as the Hungarian National Orpheum, the Lapland Village, the Algerian and Tunisian Village, the Chinese Village and Theatre, Old Vienna, the German Village, the Turkish Village, and more. In a stroke of unparalleled symbolism, the Dahomey, West African Village was positioned directly across from an ostrich farm.

One result of the Columbian organizers maintaining a strict and superficial separation between cultures is the idea that natural science is the domain of Western culture. Visitors should contemplate the idea that plants, animals, and rocks are considered separate from non-Western cultures in the exhibit Opening the Vaults, just as disciplines like forestry, horticulture, and manufacturing were considered separate from non-Western peoples in the original Columbian Exposition. Also, as visitors to Opening the Vaults should notice that the right side of the great hall is rooted in individual, exceptional heroes of science. Visitors are encouraged to experience the story of plants, animals, and rocks through a specific taxidermist, anthropologist, geologist, and paleontologist. On the left side of the exhibit, however, visitors largely hear the stories of faceless, non-Western cultures.

Critics might argue that the relative obscurity of non-Western individuals is a consequence of our limited, historical knowledge, but the work of historians like Ian Tyrrell reminds us that reinforcing these imbalances often amounts to a confirmation of the narratives upon which they were originally based—narratives of American exceptionalism and triumphalism. Following this logic, there is likely to be more information about non-Western peoples at the Columbian Exposition than the American narrative would suggest. Also, the imaginative work put forth by the Native Americanist Daniel Richter, in his Facing East from Indian Country, emboldens historians to challenge the empirical restraints of historical sources, and recreate the individual experiences of non-Western participants at the fair in meaningful ways. Just because the Columbian Exposition happened in the past, does not necessarily mean that interpretations of the present have to remain bound to its limitations.

In returning to the gilded age, the American historian Robert Rydell, in his All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916 (1984), argues that “the idea of progress made manifest at the Centennial Exposition of 1876, in short, was presented along racial lines in an organization system devised by several eminent scientists.” By the time of the Columbian Exposition, seventeen years later, this pseud-scientific separation had reached a high-water mark of cultural expression. As the social and cultural historian Gale Bedermann discusses in her book Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (1995), “The White City depicted the millennial advancement of white civilization, while the Midway Plaisance, in contrast, presented the undeveloped barbarism of uncivilized, dark races.” As Bedermann continues, “the Midway provided an implicit comparison between the White City’s self-controlled civilized manliness and the inferior manhood of dark-skinned primitive men…”

As the racial, exceptional, and gender-based analyses of historians like Robert Rydell, Ian Tyrrell, and Gale Bedermann have shown, the primary function of separating “other” cultures from the White City, as well as individual heroes from the unknown, was to construct a conscious and self-aggrandizing distinction. Western visitors could come to the fair and understand the extent of their civilization, modernity, and sophistication not just by visiting the domains of science inside Jackson Park, but by comparing those domains, and their respective heroes, to the massed and foreign cultures exhibited on the Midway. In a comparable way, visitors to Opening the Vaults are encouraged to understand the advancements of Western science generally, and the Field Museum specifically, in relation to representations of non-Western cultures.

I have tried to explain that a strict separation between non-Western cultures and Western science both existed in the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and continues to exist in the current exhibit Opening the Vaults; but why is this separation problematic? Why should we care? The problem is that separating “other” cultures from the narrative of Western science encourages people to think of the latter as something that developed in isolation, without influences and motivations from the rest of the world. This separation obscures the manifold ways in which Western, scientific discourse had utilized foreign cultures in order to define itself against them. But it also obscures the way in which Western, scientific discourse was built in partnership with non-Western peoples. For example, how can we properly understand the taxidermy of Carl Akeley without understanding the role that African guides played in helping scientists on their poaching excursions? Most importantly, the strict and continued separation between “other” cultures and Western science obscures the fact that Western civilization was based, at least in part, on self-conscious motivations that needed to be constantly justified.

In short, this post argues that intermingling Western and non-Western cultures fluidly in Opening the Vaults would more adequately reflect the historic relationships that characterize our past, not just direct connections between individuals like Akeley and their unnamed African accomplices, but more historic relationships between the institution of slavery and the rise of the American economy. In this case, as in the case of the Columbian Exposition, racialized notions of science were very much at play. While the current exhibit at the Field Museum displayed all cultures and peoples from the original exposition with attention, respect, and dignity, they did not seem to question the basic assumption that different cultures inhabit a space which is separate, both intellectually and physically. This seems to suggest that, while Western sensitivities about “other” cultures have matured since the Columbian Exposition, Western notions of inter-connectivity have not.

In closing, this post is about more than just Opening the Vaults. It is about how historians and curators deal with representing cultural space. Whether one group is trying to define itself through comparison, as in the case of the Columbian Exposition, or one group is trying to highlight other groups through isolation, as in the case of Opening the Vaults, can the practice of strict separation really be the most-creative way to represent the past? Is there a better way at hand?

What do you think?

* For more work written by this author, please visit his personal blog, The Zamani Reader: A History Blog from a History Student.

A Dark Double Bind: Criminal Women in the Eyes of Reformers


As part of a summer research project sponsored by the Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University and the Carolyn Farrell, BVM, Professorship in Women and Leadership, I created an online exhibit exploring how the women of the Chicago Woman’s Club (CWC) shaped ideas about crime and proper womanhood around the turn of the twentieth century.  My research yielded troubling questions about the ways in which we historically—and contemporarily—talk about violent femininity.

I encourage you to explore the exhibit for some delightfully colorful language that makes the early Progressive Era an entertaining period of study.  In the meantime, here’s the main gist: the white affluent women of the Chicago Woman’s Club considered it within their distinct purview as wives and mothers to protect and reform delinquent children and criminal women in order to make Chicago a better, safer city.  Members of the CWC saw criminal women and delinquent children as both causes and victims of urban crime, a perspective which positioned the clubwomen as saviors of the women, children, and the city.

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Section 106 in Action!

Section 106 handouts from the CTA. In this day and age, a link to their PowerPoint deck would have been nice.
Section 106 handouts from the CTA. In this day and age, a link to their PowerPoint deck would have been nice.

Anyone with the least amount of training or education related to the management of historical resources knows the importance of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (1966). Section 106 is deceptively complicated and vague, resulting in negotiations between preservation ideals, community desires, and economic development.

The head of any Federal agency having direct or indirect jurisdiction over a proposed Federal or federally assisted undertaking in any State and the head of any Federal department or independent agency having authority to license any undertaking shall, prior to the approval of the expenditure of any Federal funds on the undertaking or prior to the issuance of any license, as the case may be, take into account the effect of the undertaking on any district, site, building, structure, or object that is included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register. The head of any such Federal agency shall afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation established under Title II of this Act a reasonable opportunity to comment with regard to such undertaking.—[16 U.S.C. 470f — Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, comment on Federal undertakings]

As public history graduate students, we are well-versed in the letter and spirit of Section 106. But rarely do we have the opportunity to observe the process in all its messy and contentious glory. Recently I attended a Section 106 public hearing related to the $203 million reconstruction of the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) Wilson Station. The Wilson Station project is using tens of millions of dollars from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and sits in the Uptown Square Historic district—-thus triggering the 106 process.  Uptown is a neighborhood well-versed in community political participation, and has long served host to very diverse expectations of development, preservation, and economic and political justice (Hey, someone should write a dissertation about that). The CTA, FTA, the alderman’s office, and the City of Chicago have an enormous stake in the project that is deemed a necessary infrastructure upgrade and an essential key to the eternally-incipient ‘revival’ of Uptown. These factors, combined with the minimalist and impressionistic nature of Section 106 itself, promised to make for an interesting evening. This initial 106 meeting lived up to my expectations.

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Navigating the Past from our Pockets : Instagram and Public History

Anyone that knows me personally knows I’m quite the nerdy hobby photographer. Just read my archives on this blog to find out for yourself. So, when I caved and finally purchased my first smart phone last December, I immediately uploaded Instagram and started snapping away. For those of you scratching your heads and asking, “Insta-what?”, Instagram is a smart phone app (now also available on iPads) that functions like Twitter for the aspiring photographers of the world. You snap photos, add filters, and can share your photos with other Instagrammers who “follow” your feed. In turn, you can follow others, too.

With Web 2.0 now all the rage, a variety of history-related apps are available for our smart technologies. From the Library of Congress Virtual Tour to Historypin to Oregon Trail, history is literally right inside our pockets and purses. Smart phone technology has in many ways democratized access to history and history-related resources like never before. Which leads me back to Instragram. As a public historian, over-eager photog and smart phone user, I find these three worlds colliding on my iPhone 5 all the time.  In their photo-sharing ways, Instagram users are also sharing, shaping and navigating the past. So, how do we explore history with Instragram? How do I?

Below are just some of the ways. I’ve included my original captions with the images. To follow my Instagram happenings, you can follow my account annie_cullen on your smart technology or take a peek at my online profile here. Disclaimer: yes, I take too many pictures of my cats.

Instagramming History
Dream bathroom. #cuneomansion #oldshit #latergram #publichistory @zhenshchina

Instagramming History
Last set of books for the last semester of graduate school.

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