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HNN Readers Who Attended the 2004 OAH Annual Meeting: Their Observations

General Observations

By Jeremy Greene (Teacher,Chelmsford (MA) High School )

•  In the future register on-line: If not, you were blocked from all walking tours even if you pre-registered, as I did, by mail.

•  The food: I was struck that the World History Association conference (see http://hnn.us/articles/4311.html ), held two weeks ago in Boston at nearly the same location for lower cost, had continental breakfasts, free lunches (yes there is such a thing) and a dinner for all participants and the OAH did not. But the $27 a pop breakfast and lunch I attended at the OAH were a step above the buffets of the WHA.

•  It would have been nice to invite local area teachers and teacher-candidates to the sessions for a reduced price ($20?); and offer them professional development points for attending – this would have increased attendance and membership.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

A Town Meeting with Howard Zinn

By Marvin Gettleman

Several factors drew an overflow crowd to Boston 's historic center of dissent, Old South Church, on March 25 th to hear Howard Zinn talk about his take on U.S. history, its uses and abuses. Some wanted to honor a historian who, after his early study of Fiorello LaGuardia's congressional career, wrote a series of immensely popular books on contemporary events – civil rights, the Vietnam War – culminating in his best-selling A People's History of the United States . Others came out of affection for a beloved teacher and comrade at whose side were fought many good fights. Some were also there with Historians Against the War to promote opposition to the current U.S. occupation of Iraq , a cause the speaker enthusiastically endorsed.

What was heard was vintage Zinn: eloquent pleas for searching the past to help in struggles against war and injustice in the present, and for assisting fellow citizens to escape from the historical amnesia that allows the country's conservative leaders and pundits to justify their dubious policies by false historical rationales. Few in the pews of Old South Church that evening found fault with Zinn or with his sometimes overly simplistic views. Instead he received acclaim as a public intellectual whose historical and political views have broken through the miasma of conservative discourse -- even getting exposure on the Hollywood screen in the form of one of Matt Damon's riffs in Good Will Hunting.

Friday March 26, 2004

Massive White Resistance Over Place and Time

By Derek Catsam

For the sake of full disclosure, not only was I on this panel, I also put it together. I did not know either of the other panel participants before the OAH proposal process began, though I did know Professors Charles Eagles (Ole Miss) and Jane Dailey (Johns Hopkins).

The connecting theme for this panel, as the title indicates, was white supremacy as it manifested itself in different places at different times in the post-Brown era. My paper, “Crossing State Lines: The Freedom Rides and White Supremacy, 1961,” was first. In it I used the example of the Freedom Riders crossing from North Carolina to South Carolina to illustrate the importance in local and state politics in determining the nature of massive resistance not only to the Freedom Rides, but to civil rights generally. It is a fortuitous thing for me as a writer that the first arrests on the rides happened in Charlotte, but the first violence happened once the Freedom Riders passed into the maw of the Deep South in Rock Hill. But more than that, it should come as no surprise that things happened as they did, and further that things on the Rides exploded in Alabama, and not Virginia .

George Lewis's' paper was “The Virginia Commission for Constitutional Government: ‘Respectable' Resistance to the Civil Rights Movement.” Lewis, who teaches at the University of Leicester in the UK presented a first-rate piece of work. In it he explored how the Commonwealth of Virginia formed a commission, the main goal of which was to serve as a sort of outreach organization to promote opposition to integration in the schools. Lewis showed how states were able to develop a culture of resistance that prevented most forms of violence while still allowing for rigid maintenance of the status quo. Virginia is still relatively understudied terrain in the literature on the Civil Rights Movement and massive white resistance, and many of us look forward to the release of his book by the University Press of Florida later this year.

Milla Rosenberg also chose a fascinating topic. An independent scholar who does not come from a history background, Rosenberg's paper, “(Un)packing Northern Racism: The Deerfield case and White ‘Resistance' to Open Housing,” used personal experiences, reportage, and a modicum of historical work to explore northern resistance to black equality. One of the biggest problem's came with Rosenberg 's presentation. It took several false starts just to get even the first rows to hear the presentation, and from what I can tell, even after the third attempt most beyond the halfway point in the not-enormous room could glean very little of the paper. Further, since Rosenberg was not primarily concerned with deep historical analysis, it seemed that many in the audience, if they could hear the paper, did not feel they had much there to, well, unpack. One of the prevailing themes in “(Un)packing Northern Racism” was an overarching but not sufficiently explored theme of identity, issues with which Rosenberg clearly struggles in daily life and which either needed explication or excision.

Jane Dailey gave a first-rate synthesis of the themes of the panel, which came as a surprise to no one who knows her work. The question and answer period was lively, with George Lewis fielding the most questions. When answering questions, Rosenberg was nearly impossible to hear, which was endlessly frustrating to the audience – I was sitting two feet away at the front of the room and could not figure out the responses myself.

In all, it was a solid panel with much of substantial merit. The room was packed and the audience was engaged. One could not ask for much more from a conference panel.

Friday March 26, 2004

Nat Turner and Murder at Harvard: Revolutions in Documentary Filmmaking

By Jeremy Greene (Teacher,Chelmsford (MA) High School )

This panel exhibited the interesting avenues such films are taking and also their internal and external limitations.

New attempts to gain and sustain viewer interest for documentaries include the use of juxtaposing old and new as in Frontier House or Patriots Day and the use of the blue screen in Dateline Valley Forge – a weather report from history that has James Woods at the scene of the soldiers' encampment. Also PBS has adopted the popular Antiques Roadshow format to its History Detectives show – in a Cold Case meets the historical research process sort of way.

Both featured documentaries show a more skeptical and historiographical approach to the history documentary. History not as we know it, but as we think we know it. Films that leave the viewer left with as many unanswered questions as definitive answers.

Limitations on these documentaries, and the medium as a whole, were time and accurate representation. With only several months to shoot and 54 minutes and 20 seconds to present (for the American Experience) filmmakers are left with dilemmas of what to keep and what to leave in: should one mention no one knows for certain Nat Turner's real name? Should you search in June for several weeks for a sycamore you think look likes the sycamore Turner was hanged on in November when you film in June? Both filmmakers lamented cuts they had to make in editing.

One is left to ask, are the directors' cuts for PBS videos coming soon?

Friday March 26, 2004

Representing Sacco & Vanzetti: Culture, Politics and Memory

By Jeremy Greene (Teacher,Chelmsford (MA) High School )

The Sacco and Vanzetti panel expressed two themes growing in importance in historical studies: the internationalizing of U.S. history and the importance of public memorials on public consciousness.

Lisa McGirr, of Harvard, showed that sympathetic strikes and acts of terrorism took place in S. America and Europe on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti probably at the urging of the International Communist Party.

Stephanie Yuhl, of the College of the Holy Cross, showed how Boston has continually rejected and delayed a prominent public memorial for Sacco and Vanzetti despite the promises of Boston 's Mayor Menino.

Panelists and members of the audience agreed the Sacco and Vanzetti case still stirs up a mixture of feelings in Boston and has continuing importance in light of 9-11.

Friday March 26, 2004

Byrd-Dogging the Profession: The Department of Education Teaching American History Grants and State History Standards Movement

By Jeremy Greene (Teacher,Chelmsford (MA) High School )

The “Byrd-Dogging the Profession” panel stated how to receive a Teaching Traditional American History Grant from the Department of Education in three simple steps:

•  write a grant request which pays close attention to what the federal government is asking for – read, the TRADITIONAL political American history narrative,

•  have a plan for implementation, and

•  have a plan for sustainability after the money is all gone.

Needless to say, participants were pleased with their TTAH programs and the money doesn't hurt either.

Friday, March 26, 2004

A Retrospective on the Scholarship of Alfred F. Young

By Bill Pretzer

On Friday, more than 100 people crammed into a room on the second floor of the Old State House in Boston overlooking the sight of the Boston Massacre. Just outside the room hangs the portrait of George Robert Twelves Hewes, the shoemaker-revolutionary who is the subject of Alfred F. Young's 1999 meditation on the making and meaning of the American Revolution, The Shoemaker and The Tea Party .

This session, “A Retrospective on the Scholarship of Alfred F. Young” was, in fact, less a retrospective on his scholarly impact than on his impact as a mentor, colleague and collaborator. Ron Hoffman convened the session by reminiscing about the time in the late 1970s when he and Young were mistaken for terrorists attacking an American Express office in Milan .

Pulitzer Prize winner Alan Taylor described Young's influence on his sense of the profession by gently chiding Taylor's overly aggressive criticism of another scholar by noting simply that historians should engage in “conversations” that open discussion and not polemics that close minds.

Linda Kerber reminded the audience that Young was a pioneer in public history with the collaborative exhibit at the Chicago Historical Society and publication, We the People: Voices and Images of the New Nation. Not only had Young enlisted the assistance of other academicians in the work but had shown them and the museum staff how to tease out the meaning of objects in the exhibition context and then encouraged an even more public exhibition opening which included descendents of individuals encountered in the exhibition.

Marty Blatt of the National Park Service noted that for years Young has exchanged information with Park Service interpreters on Boston 's Freedom Walk, to the benefit of both his scholarship and the public interpretation of the revolutionary movement. This was extended by Josh Brown of the American Social History Project who noted that the slide presentation of Young's story of the shoemaker in the Revolution has been enthusiastically received by tens of thousands of high school students.

David Waldstreicher emphasized Young's egalitarian persona and willingness to take risks intellectually and personally by remembering Young's early experiences with McCarthyism and anti-Semitism within the academy.

Jesse Lemisch rose to remind the gathering that for 50 years when an issue of political repression of historians within the academy has become an issue, Young has been “the first to make a phone call and raise the alarm.” And Staughton Lynd emotionally acknowledged Young's comradeship over decades of scholarly inquiry, political activism and personal support.

In the end, it was vintage Al Young…democratic rather than domesticated, and engaged, engaging and inspiring.

Friday March 26, 2004

A Retrospective of the Brown Decision with Judge Robert Carter

By Jeremy Greene (Teacher,Chelmsford (MA) High School )

The Brown versus BOE “superstar” panel was, for me, the most surprising and provocative of the weekend. According to the majority of the panel, Brown did not do much.

Some highlights:

•  A prayer to start the meeting (at the Union United Methodist Church )!

•  Judge Carter, Southern district of New York, said in 1954 he thinks he knew every black lawyer in the country

•  John Hope Franklin explaining the different receptions Brown received: rejoicing in the black community, but planning and plotting in the white community (this was met with some of the loudest applause of the evening)

•  John Hope Franklin pointing out that black male incarceration rates should lead us to question the importance of Brown

•  “Racial solidarity for whites is a way of compensating the white underclass.” Lani Guinier, Harvard U.

•  Integration has led to black downward mobility – L.G.

•  “We don't have a way, in this country, of talking about race” L.G.

•  When whites don't succeed race becomes the issue – L.G.

•  Derek Bell, NYU formerly of Harvard U. , explained how Brown, like the Emancipation Proclamation, did nothing in real terms. It created a useful fiction.

•  In a not entirely serious manner, Bell said, “black people can't be free till white people get smart.” (this received the biggest laugh of the evening)

•  The best summation of the evening was by Charles Ogletree who asked the panelists: do we see the glass as being half empty instead of half full? Unfortunately, due to acoustics and soft spokenness I often had a hard time hearing Judge Carter and John Hope Franklin.

Saturday March 27, 2004

A Thirty Year Perpsective on the Garrity School Desegregation Decision and the Boston Order: Teaching the Case and Its History to High School and College Students

By Jeremy Greene (Teacher,Chelmsford (MA) High School )

The panel on the Garraty Decision to desegregate the Boston Public Schools (BPS) was surprisingly, having lived in white South Boston for three years in the 1990's, more positive than Brown. Panelists old enough to know, said the Boston schools currently are better than they were in 1974. Participants also shared how they teach the Garraty decision in the BPS. There is a website coming next week at cityofboston.gov/archivesandrecords/desegregation with many of the City of Boston 's archives.

Saturday March 27, 2004

Colege Board Breakfast

By Jeremy Greene (Teacher,Chelmsford (MA) High School )

The College Board breakfast ($27) with speaker Pauline Maier (MIT) was the most easily to digest (pardon the pun) session of the weekend, for me. Maier urged AP teachers to continue to place new scholarship into their teaching – this is easy to do she claimed, pointing to the demographic work done by historians in the 1970's. She also stated there are probably more things you can't do with the first half of the survey than you can, and listed three teaching commandments:

•  Thou shalt not tell the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – it must be multicultural

•  Thou shalt not make the story move from east to west – pointing to her home state of Minnesota which had French and Indian place names pre-dating English ones

•  Thou shalt not make the U.S. have a story unto itself

She also said she needs a textbook to teach, as much for herself as for her students. And lo and behold, she and her colleagues at MIT have a new textbook that might be perfect for the AP Survey – Inventing America. Needless to say, Maier did not have to reinvent the sales pitch. All those interested I'm sure visited the W.W. Norton booth and requested an examination copy.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Creating CD-ROM and Web-based Databases of Cultural History

By Jeff Donnelly (Miami Design Preservation League)

A small, but informed and interested gathering awaited the start of the session while ragtime played in the background, presaging the multimedia activities to follow. The session gave the participants a chance to review two different public history projects and compare two related but distinct media. The College of William & Mary's Williamsburg Theatre Project (WTP) is accessible at: http://www.wm.edu/CAS/ASP/WTP/ and the email addresses of the presenters are available there.

Robert Nelson and Arthur Knight (WTP) described their project's objectives in an informal workshop style: demonstrate a creative use of the world-wide web in teaching, capture data not otherwise easily available, and make the data widely available. The data gathered include: the names of movie theaters and related venues in the area of Williamsburg , Virginia , from 1900 to the present; the names and of the films shown at these theaters and their presentation dates; other material, including oral interviews and photographs, that might provide historical and cultural context for the theaters and films.

The project intends not only to gather, but to interpret and process the data. Undergraduate students did the data gathering, mostly from local newspapers, and entered the data into the searchable data base. Context and resources have been developed, though the presenters acknowledged that it was not possible to predict how the data might be used and to know which contextual material would be most helpful to researchers using the database. The technology involved an open-source data base program, MYSql, and PHP programming. The presenters plan to make this technology available to anyone who requests it.

The pedagogical rationales for the project include the development of research skills among undergraduates and the chance for them to participate in a collaborative research and publishing project. It may not be a coincidence that the most successful undergraduate participant in the program has gone on to medical school. Philosophically, the presenters believe that, while the 90s were the “me” decade, the 00s may turn out to be the “us” decade. They see this type of data gathering and presentation not just as a collaborative with their undergraduate students but as part of a larger collaboration making data available to a world-wide audience.

The principal technological challenge to spreading this type of collaboration they see as the problem of shared protocols for designating and accessing data. They also see the problem of verifying data as an issue, but would prefer making data available for correction than limiting its collection. Lauren Rabinovitz is the author of For the Love of Pleasure and the author and producer of the CD ROM, “Yesterday's Wonderlands.” The purpose of the CD ROM is to present materials “showing how early 20th-century amusement parks helped popularize urban modernism and consumerism in the United States for use in United States history and American Studies courses.”

In the unavoidable absence of Rabinovitz, the panel moderator, Kathryn Fuller Seeley, presented the CD ROM briefly. The CD ROM material relies to some extent on postcards from the early 20th century, but includes films from the Library of Congress and other resources. The CD ROM is sorted and searchable by location, park features, rides and other items. The CD ROM will be available in September 2004 from the University of Illinois Press and will be accompanied by “a Teacher's Guide booklet for instructors in a variety of secondary and college subjects.”

The participants discussed several issues arising from the presentation of the two methodologies: cost, accessibility, presentation/production values, multiple/single authors. This participant took away a greater appreciation of both media and a greater recognition of their advantages and disadvantages. For an historic preservation and community organization, the ongoing web site option might have achieved more at less cost.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Reconsidering Scientific Authority in Postwar American Culture

By Marvin Gettleman

A poorly named panel on the last morning of the OAH meeting offered three very diverse papers on “Reconsidering Scientific Authority” in the late 1940s and ‘50s and drew few attendees. That was a shame, for important academic work was presented.

David Kaiser of MIT presented a gripping account of the demonization of theoretical physicists who were found almost solely responsible for creating the atomic bomb (leaving out the contributions of engineers, chemists and other contributors to the vast industrial plants built at sites around the country) and then for revealing the bomb's secrets to the Russians. Skillfully weaving together media presentations, congressional hearings, and the ravings of anti-Semitic pundits, Kaiser made an interesting contribution to the iconography, politics, and even physiognomical discourse of the McCarthy era.

Independent scholar Mark Solovey examined the Cold War emergence of “behavioral science” as a more rigorous scientific approach than the politically suspect social science of the preceding era. Tracking Ford Foundation grants and programs, and then then congressional assaults on the Foundation and the researchers that were supported by public and private funds for being too scientific, Solovey showed how mainstream U.S. social science was caught between churning social and ideological forces.

Selecting the field of psychology from her broader work in progress on U.S. social science, Marga Vicedo of Harvard examined the research on mothering by psychologist Harry Harlow who, using rhesus monkeys in his experiments, found that machines could supply mothering as well as live mother monkeys. Attracting much public attention in the post-war era, Harlow 's research brought down charges of sweeping away all traditional determinisms and undermining motherhood, thereby posing a threat to some of the defenses against the competing Communist system

Commentator Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University placed the papers in the historiographical context of Richard Hosfstadter's 1963 classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life and offered an agenda for a fresh examination of Hofstadter's work taking off from the three papers and other recent scholarship.

Chairperson-commentator David Hollinger of the University of California at Berkeley looked at these papers from the standpoint of whether there were some truths in the exaggerated representations of social and natural scientists in post-war America, and whether researchers and their patrons in the foundations and universities might have unwittingly contributed to the public dissatisfaction with the science they practiced.