Camp Douglas Restoration Project: Urban Archaeology Builds Community while Unearthing History

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.

Continue reading “Camp Douglas Restoration Project: Urban Archaeology Builds Community while Unearthing History”

Politics and Public History in Europe’s WWI Centenary

Plastic red poppies with a photograph of a soldier.
Remembrance Day Poppies. Photo © 2007 Benoit Aubry. Creative Commons BY 3.0 License.

The year 2014 will mark the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. With some European governments planning major commemorations, the centennial is full of opportunity for public historians — but how should we remember a devastating war of nationalist passions in today’s supposedly “transnational” age? While the animosities of World War I may seem a world away from today’s European Union, the anniversary has exposed continued divisions over how to publicly remember the “Great War” a century later, revealing the close ties between historical memory and contemporary politics.

While each country in Europe has a different plan to mark the centenary of World War I, perhaps the starkest division is between Germany and the UK. While Germany plans to quietly participate in a few international commemorations, Britain is preparing for a nationwide series of patriotic events and exhibits. These differences reflect not only the different results of the war for each country, but also their divergent contemporary views on European policy.

Continue reading “Politics and Public History in Europe’s WWI Centenary”

Why the heck did I choose_____________as my research topic?

Should historians try to change the world? Can we make a difference with our research? Do we want our work to be relevant in our society? How do historians pick their research topics?  Why didn’t I choose I different profession?

These are questions that haunted me as I was struggling through my undergrad years in Spain. When I decided to apply to enter into a PhD program I thought that I had to do something. I came to believe while studying Public History at Loyola University Chicago that historians (without qualifying adjectives) must find a research topic that they are passionate about but that, at the same time, serves a higher purpose than a merely academic one, e.g. collecting dust in a forgotten shelf.

SNL actor Chevy Chase developed the catchphrase “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead” even weeks after his passing, mocking the coverage that his illness received in the US media.

In 1975, Francisco Franco Bahamonde, dictator of Spain and victor of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), died after a long and painful illness. His death prompted a period of reforms within the regime that crystallized in the dissolution of its fascist institutions, and the call  for democratic elections for the first time in forty-one years. In 1978, Spaniards ratified a new constitution, and their political representatives, from both sides of the ideological spectrum, agreed to build the new democracy not on the ashes of the forty-year old war but on the consensus that dismantled the dictatorship.

However, things didn’t run as smoothly as planned.

Continue reading “Why the heck did I choose_____________as my research topic?”

Plans for Summer 2013, Part Two

LFH

What do public history grad students do with their summers? Learn about the exciting internships and projects that students are undertaking across the country and beyond.  Be sure to check back over the summer and  fall for students’ reflections on their work.  To read what our first batch of students are doing with their summers, click here. And, to see about what our students did last summer, click here and here.

Joshua Arens, First Year Public History Masters Student: This summer I will be in the great state of Wisconsin eating cheese and brats (duh), hanging out by Lake Michigan, and going to Summerfest and Brewers games! Oh, I have an internship too. I’ll be spending my summer working at the Milwaukee Public Museum in the anthropology department cataloguing and researching Bronze Age artifacts from the Hopi Tribe. Check out my blog to read all about my happenings this summer!

Kristin Emery, Second Year Public History Masters Studient: Well, I just graduated from Loyola and let me tell ya, it feels totally awesome. In addition to insisting that my friends and family call me “Master” and signing all of my correspondence “Kristin Emery, M.A.,” I recently started a new position as the Programs Assistant at the Newberry Library’s Hermon D. Smith Center for the History of Cartography. In my role there, one of my primary charges will be researching and selecting images, then obtaining permissions to use them in “Make Big Plans:  Daniel Burnham’s Vision of an American Metropolis,” an NEH-funded online resource that explores Danial Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago and its influence on urban planning in the subsequent century. I will also be promoting and coordinating several public programs including, “Pictures from and Expedition: Aesthetics of Cartographic Exploration in the Americas,” a Newberry Symposium on June 20 and 21, and the Eighteenth Kenneth Nebenzahl, Jr., Lectures in the History of Cartography which will focus on the War of 1812 and its effects on American Cartography. There may also be a mail merge or two in there…Oh yeah and if anyone has any suggestions for post-grad hobbies, tweet them to me @PublicKristory.

Laura Johns, Second Year Public History Masters Student: Like Kristin, I recently graduated and agree that, “it feels totally awesome!”  I am looking forward to catching up on sleep, reading for pleasure, walking on the beach, and watching all the films I missed while in graduate school (based on recommendations by Lakefront Historian posts, of course).  How, you may ask, will I find time for these activities?  I am invoking the “eight-hour day.”  That’s right!  No more sixteen to eighteen-hour graduate student workdays.  My wonderfully abbreviated workdays will include contract exhibit design and curation for Rush University Medical Center, submission of applications for the ever-elusive permanent public history job, and continued work on personal projects related to history, memory, and the Civil War.

Cambray Sampson, First Year Public History Masters Student: I will be spending my summer on the shores of Lake Huron interning at Tawas Point Lighthouse.  This lighthouse, first lit in 1877, is located at Tawas Point State Park in East Tawas, Michigan and is part of the Michigan Historical Museum System.  While there, I will be giving tours, working with guest lighthouse keepers, working in the museum store, and assembling educational and programming materials.  When I’m not working, I look forward to living at my grandparent’s cabin, reading, and spending time with my family and friends in my home state of Michigan.  If you’re interested in what I’m doing, please feel free to check out my blog.

Joshua Wachuta, First Year Public History PhD Student: This week I will be starting my eighth season with the Wisconsin Historical Society at its longest running historic site, Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien. Located on an island in the Mississippi River, Villa Louis encompasses a War of 1812 battleground, a nineteenth-century fur warehouse, and the country estate of the H.L. Dousman Family, meticulously restored with its original 1890s furnishings. When I’m not leading house tours after our hands-on Victorian breakfasts or exploring the fur trade with fourth-graders on field trips, I expect to keep busy looking after object collections and sorting through the institutional archives that have accumulated since Villa Louis opened as a museum in 1936. I also hope to continue my study of American Indian, French, British, and U.S. cultural interaction in the Mississippi Valley and help keep the Villa’s public interpretation fresh with new research and perspectives.

Digital Exhibit: The Civil War and Chicago

The countdown to the new semester has begun and with it the frantic attempts to get ahead before falling perpetually behind.  As you try desperately to check things off your growing to do list, remember this may be your last week to take some time to relax and rejuvenate before four months of caffeine induced reading and writing.  Although I heartily support getting out of your cramped apartment and getting some fresh air, I understand if the temperatures that are currently hovering around freezing keep you huddled inside.  How about we compromise?  You can stay in, sip your cocoa, pet your dog/cat, and still explore one of the largest green spaces in Chicago.  I’ll even throw in some history to ease your already nagging conscience.

Take a break from your break and check out The Civil War and Chicago: Memorialization, Commemoration, and Remembrance at Rosehill Cemetery!

Civil War Section of Rosehill Cemetery

A digital exhibit created as the capstone for Dr. Elizabeth Fraterrigo’s Material Culture course, The Civil War and Chicago utilizes the Omeka platform to explore how veterans, families of deceased soldiers, and the country as a whole, memorialized, commemorated, and remembered the sacrifices of the over half million soldiers who perished between 1861 and 1865.

Check out the site here and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Lincoln Review: Courtney M. Baxter

In this five-part series, Lakefront Historian contributors respond to the critically acclaimed blockbuster Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis.

Memory and Reimagining in Lincoln

As I walked into the movie theater to see Steven Spielberg’s newest movie Lincoln, I was struck by the audience in the packed theater. An audience of silver-haired White people filled nearly every seat. It came as a shock to me considering my location in a Chicagoland suburb where the residents are mostly Black and Latino Americans.  Eventually, along with my family and me, a few Black people trickled in (also of an older crowd).  It was a stark sight to see and I considered the topic of Lincoln and the memory of the man. Who was Abraham Lincoln to this audience?  I cannot presume to fully know.

Continue reading “Lincoln Review: Courtney M. Baxter”

Revising the “Fort Dearborn Massacre” [Roundtable]

For the 9th Annual Loyola History Graduate Student Conference, the LUC Public History Committee will host a roundtable on “Revisionist Public History.” This is a post that introduces a case study on the topic. The Committee welcomes participation both online and at the conference. If you have an example of “Revisionist” Public History, please feel free to mention it as a comment on the blog, or contact the blog editors to request the opportunity to author a guest post. For more information on the Conference and the Roundtable–to be held November 3 at Loyola’s downtown Water Tower Campus–click here

The Battle of Fort Dearborn Park (WBEZ/John Schmidt)

The bicentennial of the War of 1812 has received depressingly little notice even here in the Great Lakes region, home to several important sites of that conflict. An exception to this general apathy relates to a space on Chicago’s Near South Side where, on August 15, 1812, a band of Pottawatomie overwhelmed about 100 evacuees from the US Army’s nearby Fort Dearborn. The confrontation was a rout: 28 American soldiers were killed and 28 were captured. Civilian losses–a complicating matter in the ongoing memory of the event–amounted to 14 killed and 15 captured, including 3 women and 12 children.

The Anglo-American perspective of the event prevailed as the dominant interpretation of the violence, most notably in the seemingly undisputed appellation “The Fort Dearborn Massacre.” However, as many American Indians have sardonically noted over the years about white-Indian conflicts, ‘When the whites win, it’s a “battle,” when the Indians win, it’s a “massacre.”‘ Continue reading “Revising the “Fort Dearborn Massacre” [Roundtable]”

Around the Web (October 2012)

Periodically, a Lakefront Historian contributor surveys recent public history-related content that emerges on the Internet.  In this installment, Anne E. Cullen shares pop cultural videos, Facebook happenings, and a recent public radio controversy raising significant questions about oral history practice. Follow  The Lakefront Historian on Twitter (@LakefrontHist) for news updates as they happen.

  • Did you see the Lincoln Unite trailer that premiered during the latest Presidential Debate on October 3, 2012? What did you think of the trailer and the choice to air it during a presidential debate?
  • On the quirky design tumblr Branding the Presidents of the United States, the creator captures the character of each president with historic photographs and fonts.
  • If you’re a new public historian in the Chicago area, make sure to join the Facebook group “Chicago Emerging Museum Professionals” by clicking here.

teddy roosevelt

  • Have you heard about the recent controversy surrounding the interview of Eng Yang, a Hmong immigrant living in Minnesota,  by Robert Krulwich, RadioLab co-host? The Minnesota Public Radio News blog provides some thoughtful commentary in addition to sharing both a clip of the interview and the entire segment that aired on RadioLab on September 24, 2012.  The incident forces us to think about the politics of power, popular memory, and the relationship between interviewer and intervewee that lie at the heart of oral history theory and methodology.  Read Kao Kalia Yang’s response to the incident (the niece of Eng Yang who also served as translator of the interview in question) by clicking here.
  • PERIODS. is a critically acclaimed comedy film series that, among other things, reimagines the past in a variety of hilarious ways.