Talking History–National Museum of the U.S. Army

UMW alumna, Kerri Kline, visited on Thursday, April 9th to speak about her job as the Chief of Operations of the Army Historical Foundation and the building of the National Museum of the U.S. Army.  She spoke about the layout of the museum (set to open about two years from now) and the business aspects of running a museum.  She explained how learning the marketing and finance skills were a challenge when she first began working for the foundation.  However, Kline learned quickly and at one point opened her own consulting firm, which allowed her some flexibility and the ability to learn more about business.  Kline made her way back to the foundation a couple of years after beginning consulting, realizing that working with history was her true passion.  Dr. Devlin asked a question about an exhibit in the museum that explains the stories about both Union and Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War.  The designers call this exhibit a “touch of gray,” because it features both sides of the war.  This opened up questions of how the museum was going to address issues of minorities recognized in the U.S. Army.  This created a discussion about how the museum was taking an approach of not to avoid controversial subjects since they are all important to understanding the history of the U.S. Army.  Kline ended the talk by explaining how her major in History at UMW helped her to develop the skills necessary to work for the foundation–such as reading analytically, synthesizing information, and communicating efficiently.  She gave advice to current undergraduates to take advantage of study abroad and internship opportunities.  She highlighted how important it was to try many different opportunities because it is the only way you will be able to know where your passion lies.

Riley: The White House as a Black Box

Scholars have struggled since Nixon’s presidency in having access to Presidential records.  Scholars tend not to have access to documents until a President is out of office, or if the records have been released by the government to appease the American population.  Since Watergate, US presidents have been wary of releasing all of their information and documents. This led to an executive order made by George W. Bush that limited the amount of documents that are released and the access the public has to them.  Riley mentions how the White House uses press conferences to reveal information, but notes how they typically have a hold on the information that is spread. This leads some journalists to claim that they have ‘unidentified sources” which can cause a problem with the legitimacy of pieces.  Due to the lack of available documents, scholars are now relying on an oral history (public speeches, memoirs) to piece together the information of presidencies.

Heathcott, “Accidental Archive”

In Joseph Heathcott’s article, he describes early 20th century St. Louis, particularly through the lens of the middle class.  Heathcott describes this middle class as the “petit bourgeois,” or those with some capital that tended to have white collar jobs.  Heathcott describes his townhouse in St. Louis and an “accidental archive” found behind the wall of a laundry shoot, to describe the emerging middle class through material culture.  Heathcott describes the house itself as an artifact and shows how its layout allowed for the use of few servants, despite the house’s little space. He also mentions the house’s use of amenities, which limited the amount of domestic work done by the women in the household.  This townhouse is not located in the heart of St. Louis, which shows how the middle class had the opportunity to move slightly away from the city. Heathcott describes how the middle class had the opportunity for leisure activities (which many working-class families did not) by using artifacts such as newspapers, advertisements, and playing cards.  He also gives examples of how fashion and social activities differed among the middle class.  Heathcott presents the idea that this period was when the “petit bourgeois” were able to distinguish themselves from both the working class and elites, creating their own identity that would continue to build throughout the 20th century.

Liebmann, Chapter Five

In this chapter, Liebmann highlights some of the techniques he and his crew used to evaluate the Jemez way of life.  Liebmann uses archeological examples such as tree rings, pottery remains, and pueblo remains to identify how the Jemez lived.  Liebmann also uses Spanish documentation and oral traditions to confirm his findings. Liebmann describes how the Jemez burned their original village (San Diego de la Congregacion) because they associated the village with the Spanish missionaries.  The Jemez then moved to Patokwa after burning their previous village.  Liebmann and his interns attempted to create a topographic map of the area and find the process of building their linear pueblos. These pueblos tell about the family life of the Jemez, especially when Liebmann compares them to pueblos built in an agglomerative fashion. Liebmann uses these pueblos to also estimate the population of the Jemez at different times.  Liebmann explains how some of the Jemez factionalized and moved into a different area, Bolesakwa, where they built similar pueblos with larger rooms. These Jemez who moved to the area were more concerned with Spanish intervention and negative relations with other tribes (which had been caused by Spanish arrival).

Liebmann, “Introduction”

Liebmann sets up the organization of his book in the introduction by first explaining a scene of the Jemez warriors being outnumbered by Spanish and other Pueblo forces in 1694.  In explaining this conflict, he reveals some of the issues that come about in studying indigenous cultures. Liebmann explains how native revolutions tend to be criticized for not comparing to European ideas of revolution and how the memory of indigenous revolution has changed as their cultures have been wiped away.  However, Liebmann states that there are no clear winners and losers in history, but there are those who may seem to have a stronger voice. Liebmann tells of how the Pueblo revolution through the perspective of the natives has typically not been studied by many scholars, due to the fact that the resources are limited.  Many of the resources telling about the conflict are written by the Spanish and do not accurately document the experiences of the natives. Liebmann emphasizes the importance of studying material culture of indigenous groups to find their true history. Liebmann defines many of the natives in the Pueblo region as subaltern groups, meaning that they are underrepresented in historiographies.  This may be because the colonists tend to have control of the signs that tell the story of the revolution. However, Liebmann says that the study of the revolution has shifted in a way that actively reveals the experiences of the natives. Liebmann insists that the Pueblo revolt was a revitalization movement in history and holds much importance for the people of the region. He explains how he has worked to conduct noninvasive research to reveal the stories of those he documents.  However, he notes the importance of how historians must be careful of how they choose to speak for groups that leave information behind in non-textual forms. This piece made me think more about how non-textual resources could be used by historians and how they can be especially important for the research of subaltern groups.

Talking History: Professor Al-Tikriti

Professor Al-Tikriti gave a talk on Monday about the types of routes history majors may choose to take after college.  To explain these paths, Professor Al-Tikriti used his own experiences.  He described his undergraduate career at Georgetown and graduate experience at Columbia.  Here he focused on International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies, which brought him to travel and work for organizations in the Middle East.  He worked for organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, before finding a passion for consulting.  It wasn’t until later that Professor Al-Tikriti realized he had an interest in understanding the history of the places he was living in.  This interest took him to the University of Chicago where he received his PhD in History.  This degree helped him to write articles and reports that would be used by the US Government.  However, Al-Tikriti made it very clear that his accomplishments were the result of working hard and establishing strong connections with professionals in many areas.  He also reassured that his successes were also the result of many failures.  He encouraged the students to take chances by applying for opportunities that they found interesting and studying abroad, because your career could take many turns throughout your life.

Hanna, “Cartographic Memories of Slavery and Freedom”

Hanna’s article describes the changing intention and use of maps through one created by John Washington, an enslaved man during the Civil War.  Washington, a literate man who fled slavery to find freedom, displays a particular point of view since many slaves at the time were not able to read or write.  In 1873, Washington revealed his story in a memoir, where he also provided a map of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  On this map, he points out specific landmarks that tie back to significant moments in his life.  Hanna explains that while Washington’s memoir has attracted much attention from historians, his map is not considered as important.  Hanna challenges this, using arguments made by J.B. Harley, saying that Washington’s map reveals more about southern society than it does about Washington’s cartography skills.  Hanna argues that the places Washington marks on the map represent moments where he was able to defy his position in the slave system.  While Hanna mentions that Washington’s true intention for creating the map is unknown, the current use of the map illustrates how cultural context can change.  Currently, Washington’s map is used by historical societies and the National Parks Service to show the experiences of an enslaved person in Fredericksburg during the Civil War.  Washington’s map allows scholars to connect Fredericksburg today to the lives of those whose stories are not always written.  Washington’s map has changed from a sketch in a book for reference, to a source that symbolizes African American experience during the Civil War.

“Texts and Contexts”

In this piece, J.B. Harley argues that maps are a resource just as important as textual sources.  He talks about how the science of mapmaking has led many to the idea that the main concern of mapmaking is accuracy when really maps display the intentions and goals of many parties.  Harley explains how maps can be looked at in three different contexts: the context of the cartographer, other maps, and society.  In talking about the context of cartographers, Harley mentions how many workers went into creating a map, and also how these creators were under the order of patrons, such as rulers or governments.  This confuses where the goal of creating the map may come from.  In discussing the context of other maps, Harley talks about how the technology of maps has changed, which make it difficult to compare maps to one another.  Also, the texts on maps have been altered due to errors in translation.  When Harley talks about the context of society, he explains how the interests and biases of society impact what the cartographer creates and how they choose to portray it.

The Port: Shipping and Trading

In this chapter, De la Fuente discusses mostly the trading that was conducted out of Havana.  He begins by citing the difficulties of tracking certain ships, as many were not taxed, so some ships have no record of arriving in Cuba.  He also explains Cuba’s connection with the Spanish Empire, especially Seville.  Although Cuba took part in intercolonial trade, many of the ships that arrived in Cuba were reported to return to Seville afterward.  Cuba was a main port for the Spanish Empire because it allowed easy access for European products to be spread to other colonies.  One product that was spread mostly from Europe was cloth or textiles.  While some of this cloth was used for expensive clothing, some was used for ship-building or sent to other colonies to be sold by merchants.  Havana also exported many animals and animal hides.  However, it’s greatest export was wine, since wine was the main part of many European (and sailor) diets at the time.  

De La Fuente also describes the Spanish slave trade, which took off in the sixteenth century.  He describes how the licensing process was monopolized and how the Spanish crown benefitted from the trade.  He also describes where many of the slaves came from and how the Spanish crown distinguished between slave cultures.  De la Fuente then describes how historians have tracked the Spanish slave trade through ship records and baptism records.


Havana and the Atlantic

Alejandro de la Fuente describes in this piece how Cuba and the city of Havana transformed from a poor colony, into an important resource for the Spanish Empire.  He also describes how the Bay of Havana allowed for many different influences.  La Fuente opens with Sores’ attack on Havana, to give an example of how helpless the city was to outside invaders.  However, it wasn’t until the Spanish empire realized the city’s port was great for communication and trade that it began to give more resources to the island so that Cuba could repair its population and economy.  La Fuente cites how the port city was able to influence not just the Cuban society and economy at large.  La Fuente gives examples of sources where the common citizens of Havana were impacted by this change in Cuba’s geographic importance.  He gives examples such as church, land, and marriage documents.  

I found this article very interesting since I am only knowledgeable of Cuba during the nineteenth century.  It is very eye-opening to see how the Cuban economy changed first in response to its location, not necessarily it’s role in sugar production.