Ambidexterity and Ambition: The Tuskegee Model Legacy

Last year Fazila Kabahita and I decided to nominate the Ambidexter Industrial and Normal Institute in Springfield, Illinois, to the National Register of Historic Places as a part of our Historic Preservation course. Fazila and I learned that the Ambidexter Institute was modeled after Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. Deemed the “Tuskegee of the North,” Ambidexter was a private industrial school intended to teach trades and provide academic education to African American students. It received the name “Ambidexter” because its founder, Springfield clergyman G.H. McDaniel, believed that the students would have to be ‘ambidextrous,’ (in some sense-suggesting that they would have to be doubly as skilled as whites) using both their minds and their might, in order to make it in competition for employment with the white labor force. McDaniel intended to “accomplish for the negroes of the north what Booker T. Washington’s great school is doing for the colored people of the south.” He opened the school in 1901 with funding from prominent Springfield residents.[1] As we continue to work toward nominating the site through the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, I thought I’d share a little about the history of the school and similar institutions that followed the Tuskegee model.

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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”

From Preservation to Community Engagement in Chrysler Village

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.

Spanning several years and spawning multiple course projects, the Chrysler Village History Project offers unique insight into the dynamics of a long-term collaboration between a local community, history graduate students, and faculty. The following account presents the evolution of the project to foster continued reflection on the practice of public history inside and outside the classroom.

The Origin Story

In early 2013, an energetic young alderman from the Southwest side of Chicago reached out to Loyola professor Dr. Theodore Karamanski with a request to nominate the neighborhood of Chrysler Village to the National Register of Historic Places. Located in the Clearing neighborhood just south of Midway Airport, Chrysler Village was one of the few housing construction projects undertaken in Chicago during World War II. It was strategically located near the Ford-Chrysler plant where workers assembled B-29 “Superfortress” bomber engines. Characterized by winding streets and a centrally-located park, Chrysler Village also represents an important link between prewar planned communities and postwar suburban development. As part of a preservation course led by Dr. Karamanski in the Spring of 2013, fellow Loyola history graduate students and I unearthed the neighborhood’s historical significance through extensive research in the archives and on the ground in Chrysler Village.* We continued to develop the nomination in the months after class until the nomination was officially accepted in early 2014 and Chrysler Village was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Aerial photograph of Chrysler Village, ca. 1950, courtesy of Clear-Ridge Historical Society
Aerial view of Chrysler Village, ca. 1950. Photo courtesy of Clear-Ridge Historical Society

Now What?

As satisfying as it was to help put Chrysler Village on the National Register, we couldn’t help but ask how the listing could better benefit the community.  At the 2014 Annual Meeting of the National Council on Public History, Kim Connelley Hicks and I joined a roundtable on preservation to discuss how we could build on our nomination to create a sustained, financially soluble, and socially relevant project for a changing community. The roundtable generated a host of great ideas, but as the original core of students moved on in their lives and careers, we needed leaders with a plan to move the project forward.

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Manufacturing Sustainability in the Postindustrial Age

Image of Meiji-Jingu forest on the outskirts of Tokyo

 Ninety years ago, citizens of Tokyo, Japan, asked their government for permission to honor the passing of their imperial leaders by cultivating a sustainable, forest shrine on the outskirts of town. The result was Meiji-jingu, an “eternal forest” of 120,000 trees, planted on 700,000 square meters of previous “marshland, farms, and grassland.” Based upon the Shinto religious belief that natural deities, called Kami, reside within the wood of sacred forests, the shrine was designed to be a paragon of sustainability. But, while the model of Meiji-jingu proves to be sustainable, it is also anything but natural. An examination of literature in the sub-fields of environmental and urban history reinforces this relationship, suggesting that sustainable environments have indeed existed in the past, but that they have suffered as a consequence of failed stewardship during the industrial era.

It is no coincidence that the forest shrine of Meiji-jingu was planned on the outskirts of the most populated city in the world. While the historian David Owen lamented the analogous Central Park because he believed that it constituted an inaccessible border zone where human activity was generally absent, Patricia Garside has argued that sustainable, urban parks serve necessary functions in relation to their respective cities. In examining the Green Belt on the outskirts of London, Garside has claimed that the parks were “above all a strategic planning instrument to limit, or where necessary shape, the expansion of London at a regional scale.” In this sense, urban parks recreated the natural restraints that geography once placed upon island and coastal cities like Venice, Boston, Manhattan, or Miami. As the American historian Michael Rawson contends, scholars cannot understand the development of Boston without first understanding these initial, geographic limitations.

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Preservation and Ephemerality in Public History: Reflecting on NCPH 2014 from a Mile High

This post is part of a series from Loyola public historians attending NCPH 2014.

I am currently sitting in the Denver airport on my layover to Chicago after a fantastic annual meeting of the National Council on Public History.  I was reluctant to leave sunny Monterey for the snowy Midwest, but as always I feel invigorated the conversations with other historians committed to engaging and serving the public.  Two panels in particular remain fresh in my mind as dynamic counterpoints that framed the conference’s theme of sustainability: one on preservation, the other on ephemerality.

People > Things

It occurs to me that the title of the panel on “Sustaining Historic Preservation Through Community Engagement” should’ve be swapped around to read, “Sustaining Community Engagement through Historic Preservation,” as it became clear through the course of the panel that preservation should be used in the interest of community engagement and not vice versa.  In other words, people are more important than buildings.  This theme was echoed by Sheila Brennan in the “Ephemerality in Public History” panel, who suggested that public historians should resist hoarding objects for prosperity and instead focus on digitizing objects for greater access or allowing the public to touch and use objects for a full transformative tactile experience. (Check out the notes and slides from her presentation here.)

Rethinking Sustainability

Another recurring question in the panels: how should—or shouldn’t—a project be sustained after the public historian has concluded their involvement? Approaching the end of her dissertation work, Abby Gateau is currently mentoring a successor, while also having successfully aroused a strong and energetic community base who can carry forward the public history work she instigated.  Mark Tebeau reinforced the value of thinking about the end from the beginning, suggesting that recognizing ephemerality of products and projects can lead to better best practices. Finally, Thomas Cauvin, from the audience, reminded us that archives are not the only repositories for saving the past and documenting public history projects—people preserve memory.

The panels on preservation and ephemerality, and the NCPH Annual Meeting as a whole, served as a refreshing reminder to base our public history work in the contemporary community.

Historic Preservation in Poland

Cross posted from From Auschwitz to Skokie where I discuss my recent trip to Poland to study Jewish history, heritage, memory, and the Holocaust as well as my work with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, IL.

Historic preservation is an important aspect of the work that many Public Historians in the United States do.  So important, in fact, that my program requires all Public History students to take a course on historic preservation, which I took last semester.  Ask me about the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, particularly Section 106, and I can bore the pants off of you with information about the federal government’s role in historic preservation.[1]  Then, of course, there are all the state and local regulations that impact historic preservation efforts as well.

There are multiple theories of historic preservation about what we mean when we use the term “preservation” and what goal we should have in mind.  There are three main schools of thought:

1. Restoration to a former state

2. Preservation in the current state

3. Adaptive reuse

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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.

Continue reading “Section 106 in Action!”

Plans for Summer 2013

PH Students
Loyola Chicago Public History students at Historic Pullman, Chicago
Photo by Greg Ruth

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 about what our students did last summer, click here and here.

Anne Cullen, Second Year Public History Masters Student: After a whirlwind summer in New York City last year, I plan to stay put in Chicago this time around. I’m currently employed as a Public History Consultant at History Works, Inc. and a Project Assistant on the Chicago Community Trust Oral History Project, both of which will continue into the summer months. In June I’ll also be partnering with the Women and Leadership Archives to curate an online exhibit using materials from the Mundelein Collection. Since I’ll be finishing my degree this May, I can’t wait to spend my newly-found free time on the Lake Michigan beach reading for pleasure.

Chelsea Denault, First Year Public History PhD Student: This summer, I am headed to “The Best Island in the World” (thanks National Geographic!), Nantucket! I’ll be working there as a Public Programs and Visitor Experience Intern at the Nantucket Historical Association. Over the summer, I will help the NHA staff run their summer programs, including family art classes, evening concerts, lectures & cocktail nights, and – the community favorite – a (very) dramatic reading of Orson Welles’ play “Moby-Dick Rehearsed” in the NHA’s Whaling Museum. I will also be working on a yet-to-be-determined individual project (look for the big unveiling on my blog!). When I’m not caught up doing public history-related work, I plan on spending my New England summer enjoying clambakes, harvesting quahogs, whale watching, and learning how to sail!

William Ippen, Second Year Public History PhD Student: I plan to devote most of my time this summer to completing my dissertation proposal, along with the occasional backpacking trip. In the realm of public history, I will be collaborating on a National Register nomination with Devin Hunter for The Plant, a self-contained vertical agricultural complex occupying the historic Peer Foods building in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. The project will pioneer new avenues for industrial preservation and public history sustainability. I will also continue my work as a member of the NCPH Task Force on Sustainability and Public History. We are currently developing a white paper to be presented at the 2014 NCPH Annual Meeting in Monterrey that will address the intersection of public history and sustainability, the issues therein, define the role of the task force, and recommend NCPH policies and practices regarding sustainability. Sustainability will be that meeting’s theme, and members of the task force will be organizing panels and roundtables around that theme.

Maisie O’Malley, First Year Public History Masters Student:    I plan to spend this summah dropping my R’s, eating lobstah, and having a wicked good time interning in Boston.  I will be splitting my time between the South End Historical Society and the Boston College Archives.  I will primarily intern at SEHS, where I will work on a variety of projects geared toward the preservation of the South End’s historic built environment.  At BC, I will work on the Emmett Larkin Papers.  Larkin, a prominent Irish history scholar, is famous for his work on the role of the Catholic Church in Ireland after the Great Famine.  During my free time I’ll be taking advantage of all the history Boston has to offer, so check out my blog about life in the “Hub of the Universe”!

Laura Pearce, First Year Public History Masters Student: This July I will be heading to Poland through a Fellows Program from the Auschwitz Jewish Center for an intense three-week experience learning about the Holocaust and Jewish heritage in Poland.  The other Fellows and I will visit Kraków, Warsaw, Łódź, Treblinka, and Oświęcim (Auschwitz) as well as South-Eastern Poland. We will meet with local leaders, learn about the areas Jewish heritage and pre-war Jewish culture, hear what life was like under the Nazis and Communism, and explore the state (or lack thereof?) of Jewish communities and memory in Poland today.  I’m especially excited for a workshop with collections and education staff at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum!  In August, after I return to the states, I’ll begin my fall internship with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  While a focus on the Holocaust won’t make this a particularly upbeat summer, will without a doubt be engaging and educational to say the least.

Jessica Hagen, First Year Public History Masters Student: I’m going to be spending my summer as an archival intern at the National Archives and Records Administration regional office here in Chicago. I am going to be working on a variety of projects this summer, some alone and a few with another intern (yay group projects!). I am also the graduate student intern at the University Archives and Special Collections at Loyola, and I am looking forward to employing the archival techniques I have learned at LUC to my work at NARA Chicago. I am  anticipating that I will learn so much more throughout this summer as well. I am super excited about this experience and cannot wait to get started! I’ll be blogging throughout the summer so if you like archives, old documents, entertaining stories about experiences with the public, or are curious about why keeping records of the past is important, check it out. I will also be actively documenting my internship throughout the summer on my twitter machine with the hashtag: #SummertimeChiAtNARA. (For those of you familiar with the twitter, yes, I do realize how stupendously long that hashtag is. I will probably be amending it sometime during the summer, but I will put that update on my blog as well.)