Reporter's Notebook: The New England American Studies Association -- World History Association
Conference:"Global New England: The Meaning of Region in the Nation and theWorld" signaled a celebration of the publication of Dane Morrison’s and NancySchultz's Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory and a coming out, of sorts, for the Salem State College (SSC) faculty and the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) and its staff (13 of 35 presenters were SSC faculty or PEM staff). A primary goal of the conference was to re-contextualize Salem's history as mainly maritime and literary, instead of a history hung up with witches and warlocks, a near Sisyphean effort in the"Witch City."
Friday, April 16
The keynote address,"A Past Much Bigger than Its History: R
Rethinking the U.S. History Survey," by Maggie Favretti, history teacher atScarsdale High School, set the general outline for the conference. Favretti,using her own family history, told of how any history can be told several different ways depending on the occasion and the storyteller. Thus, she urged teachers of the U.S. history survey to tell a new," contextualized" or as the OAH and Thomas Bender prefer “internationalized,” story of the United States. She also attacked notable conservative figures like Paul Gagnon for his attempts to limit the story of the U.S. as only the rise of democracy and radio host and author Michael Savage for his lack of inclusiveness, for example his claim that,"America's multi-culti pot becomes a chamber pot." Favretti recommended that teachers and professors of the survey should build on the work of Thomas Bender and the “La Pietra Report.” The address was met with long applause, but she was obviously preaching to the converted.
Saturday, April 17
In the morning, I attended two sessions given by SSCfaculty. The sessions previewed the NEH Landmarks of American History Workshop:"Salem, Massachusetts (1801-1861): National Culture, International Horizons" being offered by Gayle Fischer and Patricia Johnston of SSC. The first session,"Antebellum Salem: International Horizons" focused on Salem as a world port. Brad Austin of SSC explained how Salem had ties with the Caribbean, especially its slave trade. Li Li of SSC followed, focusing on Salem's connection with China, especially the actions of Frederick Townsend Ward of Salem who, for the price of $75,000, led the Manchu's"Ever Victorious Army" against Hong Xiuquan's rebellious Taiping army - a foreign devil helping the northern devils – until his death.
The second session, “Antebellum Salem: National Culture” looked at Salem more parochially. The three panelists used journals and letters of the Peabody Sisters, Charlotte Forten and, Nathaniel Hawthorne to try to see early nineteenth century from a variety of viewpoints – outsider, feminist, literate, etc. After three hours of dwelling on Salem’s Antebellum period, Patricia Johnston, the chair of the second session, summed up Salem as"a city that never recovered from the War of 1812."
The afternoon session,"American Travelers in Inner Asia: Foreign Devils Alongthe Silk Road" looked at Owen Lattimore’s and Langdon Warner's different views of twentieth century China. The former saw it romantically, the latter saw it as barbaric in comparison to civilized and industrialized Japan. Both took artifacts from China back to the states.
Sunday, April 18
The strongest of the weekend's panels,"Salem as a GlobalCommunity," included Morrison and Schultz, the authors of Salem. The panelists tried to navigate the tricky waters of redefining Salem as a literary and maritime home instead of one of ghosts and ghouls. Schultz told how many students come to her English classes with a composite Salem village in their heads created by conflating Hawthorne’s biography (born in Salem), Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (which takes place in Boston), and Henry Miller’s The Crucible (uses Salem Witch Trials as an allegory for McCarthy’s witch hunts) – books often read in the same year. She called Hawthorne, “America’s dark prophet,” and said, “Hawthorne is to blame for what most people think of Salem” by casting “a shadow of the natural into the supernatural.” She encouraged the audience to look past the composite Salem village that has been created with the misuse of Hawthorne and instead to focus on Hawthorne’s literary accomplishments. Morrison explained how “antebellum thought focused as much on the eastern frontier as a western frontier.” And that 2004, the 200th anniversary of Hawthorne’s birth was a good year to focus on Salem and the east after being “Lewis and Clarke’d to death” for the past three years.
The last panel, “New England Metropole: Home Port / World Capital” ended with a paper by Charlene Mires of Villanova University, which traced the competition among many small to mid-size towns in New England to become home to the United Nations in 1945. Salem as well as other cities in New England claimed rich ties to the old world, especially Britain, and prospects for leading the new world. Judging from the content of the conference and its setting at the newly renovated Peabody Essex Museum, it still does.
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Jeremy Greene - 4/21/2004
Dane Morrison and Nancy Schultz are the editors of
_Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory_ and not the sole authors.
I have read several of the chapters of the book and recommend it.