Why the September Issue Still Matters: The Power of Visuals in American Culture

By Camille Davis

Photo taken by Tyler Mitchell, the first African American to shoot the cover of Vogue

When Julie Andrews sang My Favorite Things in Roger and Hammerstein’s 1965 musical, The Sound of Music, she really wasn’t singing about things.

Well, at least not in the sense that we are used to talking about them. This was not a tune about buying or collecting “stuff.”  No. This was no ode to materialism.

Instead, Andrews was singing about how the sight of certain things gave her a sense of pleasure and delight because she associated them with ideas and values that she esteemed.

Arguably, the extraordinary power of sight is what keeps the 126-year-old Vogue magazine publishing its famous September issue despite the tentative status of print culture in American society and in the world.

Background- What is the September Issue?

It’s no secret that a panoply of digital news and entertainment sites have caused print publications to struggle. Last September, The New York Times discussed the crises of the print world in an article called “The Not-So-Glossy Future of Magazines.” The Times seemed settled on the idea that print culture was fighting an inevitable decline, and it explained, “Magazines have sputtered for years, their monopoly on readers and advertising erased by Facebook, Google and more nimble online competitors.”[1]

Two years ago, The Times mentioned some of the specific obstacles that affected Vogue’sparent company, Conde Nast.  According to NYT, “Its digital business is up nearly 70 percent…but that component, as with virtually every other legacy media company, represents a much smaller percentage of overall revenue, which has declined in recent years.”[2]

Despite these realities, Vogue still continues to print a large, ornate, and expensive commemorative edition of the magazine each September.

This yearly commemorative edition is not merely a guide for style and self-presentation. It is an attempt to provide an analysis of American culture while simultaneously making cogent assessments about important international issues.

Vogue’seditor, Anna Wintour explains: “I think we’re living, in terms of media, in a very democratic age, but I think that we still look at everything through the lens of Vogue and through our own point of view. Vogue…can help guide enormous audiences through this fascinating world.”[3]

In other words, Vogue still feels like it has something unique to offer its readers. This something is an intricately illustrated periodical that uses aesthetics as an impetus for describing, explaining, and editorializing changes in the national and international spheres.

This month’s issue celebrates global beauty and the democratization of decisions regarding what is legitimately considered a style trend. Vogue explains that the proliferation of digital media and social media sites have allowed those outside of the fashion industry and outside of the Western World to make important contributions and commentary about what is virtuous, appropriate, and/or attractive.

What is Inside this September Issue?

One of this month’s stories discusses the politics of clothing in Muslim societies and promotes a Muslim fashion exhibition at San Francisco’s de Young Museum with articles of clothing from research conducted in Indonesia and Malaysia. The article depicts the myriad ways in which Muslim women express their personal identities through their garb. It also mentions that the exhibit displays documentary photographs of women who protested the wearing of a chador, a traditional cloth worn over the head and upper body, during the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Another story discusses dinners for refugees that are hosted by a food-event, start-up company called Komeeda. The organization sponsors “refugee-chef dinners,” that allow those who have fled from their countries to introduce their plights and their countries’ cuisines to American participants. Dinners have occurred in the Lower East side of New York, Austin, TX, and Washington D.C. Vogue reports there is a French catering company called Les Cuistots Migrateurs that has done something similar in Paris, Lyon, Madrid, and Rome.

Back Cover of Vogue: Serena Williams advertising Nike’s Virgil Abloh collection, specifically designed for her post-childbirth body.

There is also an article advocating the global initiative of raising the minimum age of working models to eighteen to combat the emotional turmoil and sexual abuse known to be pervasive in the modeling world.

The September Issue has lighter touches, as well. There are profiles of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new director, Max Hollein, and the man recently responsible for designing Serena’s Williams court ensembles that have been praised throughout the sports and aesthetic worlds, Virgil Abloh.

And, of course, there is an essay written by the cover star, Beyoncé, who waxes poetically about the evolution of her mind, soul, and body. She recently gave birth to twins, and like her friend Serena Williams, who also gave birth within the last year, Beyoncé experienced complications in childbirth. Both she and Williams have advocated societal acceptance of women’s bodies post childbirth.

Additionally, Beyoncé uses the pages of Vogue to express her unequivocal belief that modern communication platforms must express the voices and the struggles of those marginalized within the United States and around the world.

All of these articles are illustrated, and Vogue argues that printed illustrations are the best ways to ensure that the messages of the brand continually resonate with its readers.

Vogue’seditor, Anna Wintour puts it this way: “I think what you have to do in print is to create even more memorable images and more memorable pieces because what one consumes online or in social [media] has a much shorter shelf life, so to speak, so what print has to have is no more weight, but it has to be something that you can’t find so easily online. It has to really stand for print.”[1]

There is a desire by Wintour and her staff to appeal to their readers at a level beyond the simple transmission of rhetoric. They want their readers to remember the people, the values, the events, and the moments that they believe are notable. And with all the print and digital competition that is constantly vying for the modern consumer’s attention, it helps to have an intricately illustrated “cheat-sheet” to refer to and to collect for posterity.  

Examples of Iconic Images in American Culture

In using print images to commemorate important people and moments of American culture, Vogue is continuing a tradition within America of representing and commemorating the country’s most poignant times visually. Below are a few iconic examples:

President George W. Bush encouraging firefighters at Ground Zero in NY City on September 14, 2001. Photo: U.S. News & World Report

This photo was taken on September 14, 2001, three days after the historic terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. President George W. Bush flew to New York and stood at Ground Zero where the World Trade Center’s twin towers lay in ruins. Bush climbed on top of some rubble and placed his arms around one of the fire fighters, took a bull horn, and began thanking and encouraging the first responders on the scene. His famous line, “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked down these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”[1]created a defining moment in his presidency and was a crucial step in solidifying support for the war on terror.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama together in a freight elevator at an Inaugural Ball, January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images

This image was taken on January 20, 2009 during the inaugural ball of President Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American president. It captures a private moment between the President and the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and contributed to the popular belief that America’s new president wasn’t just smart; he was “cool.”[1]

President John Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy in Dallas on Nov 22, 1963, the day of his assassination. Irish Central

This image was taken on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, TX only a few moments before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, which resulted in America’s loss of “Camelot.”[1]

Photo taken of Phan Thi Kim Phúc, a 9-year-old girl in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Photo taken by Nick Ut of the Associated Press. Courtesy of the Associated Press.

For many, this photograph of 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phúc, running while burned and naked in 1972 represented the horrors of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, despite the fact that this particular incident of horror came from a napalm bombing carried out by a South Vietnamese Air Force pilot.  The photo earned a 1973 Pulitzer Prize.

President Truman enjoying a moment of irony on November 3, 1948, after the Chicago Daily Tribune incorrectly published the results of that year’s Presidential election.

This photograph reminds us that the results of an election cannot be known until every vote is counted. The prevailing wisdom of the time was that President Truman would lose the presidency to New York governor, Thomas Dewey. The day after the election, November 3, 1948, President Truman delighted in being underestimated.

 

Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, World War II, February 1945. Photo by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, 1945. Time Magazine.

This Pulitzer Prize photo by Joe Rosenthal illustrates the raising of an American flag by five Marines and a Navy corpsman who were ordered by a commander to hoist the flag to encourage American troops and to discourage the Japanese enemy.

These images affirm that visuals are as much a part of American history as our ideas, our rhetoric, and the moments that embody, challenge, and shape us. Vogue realizes this and is continuing to contribute to our visual history. For this reason, the September issue still matters.

 

[1]Sydney Ember and Michael M. Grynbaum, “The Not-So-Glossy Future of Magazines.” The New York Times. September 23, 2017.

[2]Ravi Somaiya, “Conde Nast Adapts to New Forces, Leaving Some Employees Unsettled.” The New York Times. January 31, 2016.

[3]Alexandra Steigrad, “Anna Wintour on Vogue at 125 – and Defining Print in the Digital Age.” Women’s Wear Daily.September 13, 2017.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Kenneth T. Walsh, “George W. Bush’s ‘Bulhorn’ Moment.” U.S. News and World Report. April 25, 2013.

[6]Julia Azari, “A Challenge for Obama’s Successor: Being a Casual, Cool President.” Politico Magazine.

[7]“JFK and the Public View,” The Kennedy Era: A CYOU project about John F. and Robert F. Kennedy. (pages.shanti.virgnia.edu) A University of Virginia site. The article sites the original publication that used the Camelot reference. Life Magazine. December 6, 1953.

[8]“Confronting the Myths of the ‘Napalm Girl.’ “ The Baltimore Sun. March 31, 2017. The article discusses the initial article that it printed about this image on June 9, 1972.

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Graduate Student Professional Development at SMU and Greater DFW

By Kyle B. Carpenter

When I first entered graduate school, one of the last things from my mind was how to develop as a professional historian. I was worried about classes, keeping up with the readings, trying to maintain some semblance of a family life, etc. However, during my first semester it became apparent that participating in professional development outside the classroom was one of the most important activities to build my career in academia. I came to see that conferences, outside speakers, interdisciplinary events, and numerous other occasions help graduate students to learn from other scholars how the craft works. These events all help young historians make important contacts both within and outside their field that can pay dividends in the future. Even historians have to network. It can seem overwhelming, though. How can one totally swamped grad student keep up in the classroom and do all this stuff? Travel can seem totally out of the question as it would take way too much out of necessary reading time, therefore I thought it would be helpful to put together a brief and wholly unexhaustive overview of some the most accessible professional development events at SMU and in DFW.

At SMU, the Clements Center for Southwest Studies offers a variety of resources to build professional historians. The center brings in a group of four fellows of very high academic standing every year and each one gives a free public talk about their research. Further, their offices are located right on SMU’s campus in Dallas Hall where graduate students can pick their brains or just get to know them. The Clements Center also puts on an evening lecture series that hosts some of the best scholars from across the world. Additionally, the center organizes annual symposia of scholars who focus on the Southwest and borderlands who get together and produce a book of essays that relate to given theme. Last year, the “Understanding Global Migration” symposium delivered a two-day public event where scholars of world migrations shared their research.

For those interested in topics outside the Southwest and borderlands, there are similar academic centers located throughout SMU. Anyone interested in politics should definitely check out the Tower Center. The SMU Cox School of Business has the O’Neil Center which often has events about contemporary and historical economic issues. Finally, the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute produces several lecture series and fellowship opportunities for graduate students across campus.

SMU also offers resources for graduate students to become better teachers and to achieve funding for research. The Center for Teaching Excellence has multiple programs, workshops, and even a symposium designed to aid new and seasoned faculty in becoming more effective instructors in both the physical and online classroom. The Office of National Fellowships and Awards guides graduate students to the often-complicated processes of applying for scholarships and funding opportunities. In addition to their comprehensive online guides, the office also provides services to review grant applications so that you submit the best possible application to get the research funding you need.

If you want to meet some outstanding scholars in the DFW area and get out of the SMU bubble, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Most conveniently DASH (Dallas Area Society of Historians) meets monthly in locations at SMU and at TCU in Fort Worth. The organization draws in historians at all levels of the profession, from full professors down to graduate students, that allows for a comfortable atmosphere to socialize and present research. It really is a wonderful way to meet local historians, make connections, and learn how our craft is practiced at the highest level. Additionally, for those interested in religious history should attend the annual conferences of the Southwest Commission on Religious Studies in Irving, Texas every March.  Their annual meeting marks a great way to interact with scholars across disciplines in religious studies. DASH and SWCRS make up two excellent local organizations to network and develop professionally.

Another great organization that is inviting and provides an excellent setting for professional development is the Transatlantic History Student Organization at UTA. Not only is THSO a great organization to meet other graduate students at neighboring universities, they host an annual graduate student conference that draws in grad students from all over the country. Their annual conference is a highly professional event that is well organized and allows for young, inexperienced historians to get their feet wet to learn how history conferences work. Whether you want to present a paper or just attend to get the conference experience without having to travel, THSO’s annual event remains a fantastic resource for grad students in DFW.

Obviously, this brief blog post is not an exhaustive list of all the professional development opportunities in DFW. These organizations and opportunities are the those I know about or have experienced first-hand. Those I have experienced have all not only helped me become a better scholar but taught me some of the most important aspects that go into being a professional academic. For those who read this and have additional suggestions, please contribute in the comments.

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Women at Work in Agriculture: Discovering a New Field

By Jonathan Angulo

In Professor Ariel Ron’s Graduate Colloquium,
U.S. History, 1812-1877, I wrote a historiographical paper on the early development of agriculture in California. Since I wanted to broaden my understanding of U.S. agriculture, I knew that I wanted to continue to research themes that related to agriculture in forthcoming courses. Thus, I met with Professor Crista DeLuzio on a September evening to discuss my intentions for her fall colloquium on U.S. History from 1877-1929. In her office, we discussed my research interests, which helped me choose a topic for my historiographical assignment. During our conversation, I realized that I wanted to study women’s role in agricultural labor during the decades surrounding the twentieth century. I presented my idea to Professor DeLuzio and she approved my topic. As the semester progressed, I found only a handful of books and articles that addressed the subject in depth. Historians, of this field, raised questions about women’s role in agriculture. For example, what was the role of African American women in agriculture? How did women affect family farms? How did women’s labor differ throughout the United States? How did women perform agricultural labor alongside their husbands and sons? Ultimately, I was surprised to find that there are few works that discusses women’s role in agricultural labor from 1870-1920.

Marion Barthelme’s Women in the Texas Populist Movement: Letters to the Southern Mercuryreveals the speeches, essays, and letters women wrote to the influential Southern Mercury. The Farmers’ Alliance recognized the Southern Mercury’s significance in advancing policies of the Populist Movement. In her work, Bartheleme publishes the original documents, so readers can understand how women felt about everyday experiences. Women wrote letters that discussed themes such as: politics, farm life, women’s suffrage, education, clothing, temperance, as well as other matters. Through government advancements of the nuclear family, women were often characterized as individuals who focused on the nurture of their households. However, Texan women worked outside of their homes by helping men in fields and pastures. Women collected goods in gardens and pastures to exchange them for necessary commodities. During periods of economic downturns, however, women continued to financially struggle. While they kept on working in and outside of the home, their work did not bring them the financial security they needed. Thus, through Barthelme’s work, I was able to observe one trend of women in agricultural labor.[i]

From Mary Neth’s Preserving the Family Farm: Women, Community, and the Foundations of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900-1940, I learned about women’s agricultural labor in a different region. Neth acknowledges the gender inequalities that existed even in most cooperative family farms; however, men, women, and children cast aside such inequalities to preserve their farms as agribusiness grew in the Midwest. While historians have characterized such instances as opportunities for women’s resistance, Neth argues that Midwestern women put their families before themselves. By participating in field labor and family care, women created commodities such as poultry flocks and eggs for their families as well as the market. Also, young boys and girls dug and planted potatoes, picked berries, and set tobacco. Families utilized these subsistence mechanisms to stabilize their household budgets, so they would not be bought off by agribusiness agents. Neth describes how certain commodities required women’s labor. For example, in Wisconsin, mothers and daughters gathered tobacco. Since farmers could not afford to employ many laborers, all family members often worked together in tobacco fields. Thus, families kept some of their purchasing power by not hiring additional labor. Women’s work in pastures and field was clear. In times of government surveys of agricultural production, however, women reported that they only helped in production. Therefore, women’s full participation in agricultural production was unintentionally overlooked.[ii]

By the turn of the twentieth century, women’s role in agricultural labor significantly increased during World War I. Cecilia Gowdy Wygant’s Cultivating Victory: The Woman’s Land Army and the Victory Garden Movement examines British and American women’s role in agricultural labor during both World Wars. Wygant argues that between 1900 and 1950 both British and American governments utilized images of agrarian women as symbols of nationalism which questioned their roles in farming and gardening. Once the U.S. joined the Allies in World War I, the federal government created the Women’s Land Army of America (WLAA). The WLAA trained women, so they could serve as agricultural workers. Women’s groups and college campuses created agricultural training programs for women with the WLAA’s help. For example, the University of Virginia taught women how to plow, harrow, till land, and prepare land by horse-drawn plows. Women who completed the training were known as “farmerettes.” Through such endeavors, women contributed to the war effort by producing food for their respective nations. More importantly, women’s strong participation in agricultural labor reinterpreted women’s role in agriculture as well as society. For example, the WLAA recommended better labor standards for agricultural laborers. They advocated for better cleanliness in living quarters to protect workers and the food supply. Also, the group called for improved boarding, compensation, and working conditions when they were employed. Women used these organizations to change some of the unfair practices in agriculture. While they were not always successful, their activism altered perceptions of normal agricultural practices such as conditions of living quarters.

While these were not the only books I reviewed for my historiographical paper about women’s role in agricultural labor during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, they were the most influential. I learned a great deal from this assignment. However, I concluded there are still many questions that should be addressed about this topic. What was the role of women in agricultural labor in regions such as the Southwest or the Southeast? Did these roles vary by ethnic groups? How did women’s roles change through their participation in agricultural labor? While I have not solely focused on such questions, I will continue to observe how the scholarship has changed. As my research continues, I may be able to answer some of these questions in the future.[iii]

[i]Marion K. Barthelme, Women in the Texas Populist Movement Letters to the Southern Mercury (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997), 3,4,7,12, 14, & 17.

[ii]Mary Neth, Preserving the Family Farm: Women, Community, and the Foundations of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900-1940(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 2,7, 12, 19, 20, 21, 23, 31,39.

[iii]Cecilia Gowdy-Wygant, Cultivating Victory: The Women’s Land Army and the Victory Garden Movement (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013), 4,8,11,31,32,44,51-53, & 63.

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The Digital Present and Future of the Past: Digital History at the 2018 Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting

By Joel Zapata

The 2018 Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California (April 12-14) featured seventeen digital history sessions and workshops. Within the sessions that I had the opportunity to attend, critical questions for history practitioners—elementary school teachers, graduate students, university professors, archivists, museum professionals, and more—abounded. What does it mean to be a twenty-first century historian? In producing historic knowledge, who is excluded and what communities are included? How do we take history beyond paywalls and costly books that exclude the vast majority? How can educators reach native digital students? How can scholars blend traditional print medias and digital medias to reach broader audiences but still fulfill academia’s print-based publication requirements? How can we present complex ideas clearly to the widest audience possible? Undoubtedly, the ways we answer these questions will determine the future of the past.

And if the future of history is digital, the sessions I attended made clear that history’s future is also collaborative. One thought-provoking session, titled “Teaching Contested History: Digital Archives and Digital Maps,” was composed of librarians, professors, archivists, and a public-school official. The panelists described the collection and digitization of primary sources regarding the court-ordered integration of Boston Public Schools in various mediums, including Beyond Busing: Boston School Desegregation Archival Resources. In the citywide effort, educators, archivists, and activists created an approachable primary-source-based curriculum focused on teaching historical and civil literacy to Boston public school students by documenting the city’s profound racial strives. The panelists concluded that the endeavor countered fake history—or “the liberal myth”—that minimized Boston’s divisive and yet to be completed school desegregation process, brought social and social justice awareness, demonstrated the hard truths of history at grade level, and taught students how the past informs society’s present state. Hence, the panelists demonstrated how digital collaboration can result in achieving the highest aspirations within the practice of history.

Another forward-looking session, “Writing Race, Gender, and Education: Digital Book and Video Projects,” showcased work by professors and students, which included a discussion over Educating Harlem. This project, out of Teachers College, Columbia University, is a multiyear and multifaceted collaboration between students and professors regarding Harlem’s educational history from the Harlem Renaissance through the twentieth century. The project’s creators intended it to become a digital platform that contains a curated archival collection and exhibits, an edited scholarly volume, as well as an after-school program for Harlem high school students to learn the educational history of their community. With these different outlets, the creators of Digital Harlem hope to connect the historically oppositional white university to its surrounding African American community, attempting to work with the community instead of against it.
The session also featured a presentation by Jack Dougherty (Trinity College) on open access scholarly books, of which he has published two and is writing another, On The Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs, in collaboration with fellow professors and students. This web-first book, under contract with Amherst College Press, “makes visible the hidden [school] boundaries that divide the Hartford region, and tells the stories of civil rights struggles to cross over, redraw, or erase these lines.” As Dougherty demonstrated, the book’s narrative is enhanced through interactive maps, documents, and video—an impossibility within traditional books. Moreover, Dougherty and his collaborators are writing On The Line openly online, allowing for readers to explore and comment before completion. The book’s development demonstrates how editing can go beyond the closed editing of conventional books while remaining part of a university press. Perhaps most promisingly, On The Line is an example of accessible and easily discoverable scholarship that is not hidden behind paywalls. From this session, I left with a sense that open-access (i.e., freely available) digital books are a meaningful way of democratizing history, opening the past to the wider public, students, and scholars. Such a publication medium may be especially attractive for civil rights historians, providing another avenue to connect with and include the people they write about. The session chair and commentator, James Fraser (New York University), rightfully concluded that the panelists were “part of what we all need to become” if history is to remain—or become more—relevant in the twenty-first century.

Digital history is a broad field that encompasses distant reading or textual analysis, the digitization of documents or artifacts and related metadata, data manipulation, mapping methodologies, digital publishing, and more. The sessions I attended did not focus on all the possible ways of doing digital history. Yet, they all centered on one of the most significant outcomes of digital history—provoking empathy from an audience through the growing ways of doing history. That is, digital history can provide us additional avenues of humanizing the past. The sessions I attended also focused on growing the audiences that historians and other history professionals reach. Overall, at 2018 OAH Annual Meeting, presenters along with audience members reimagined how history can grow within an increasingly connected digital world.

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Musing on the United States Consulate in Matamoros

Kyle B. Carpenter is a PhD Candidate in SMU’s William P. Clements Department of History

I study European-born immigrants who traveled to Rio Grande Borderlands in the mid-nineteenth century.  This past month, I sat down with the records of United States consular dispatches from Matamoros, Mexico to see if the consulate recorded any intersections with Europeans in the region.  While I found a few choice documents for my own research, I came across a lot of interesting material within the consular dispatches that I wanted to get out there in case any other historians are interested in the topic.  What I have noticed, at least in the context of Matamoros between 1826 and 1867, is that consuls individually and the consulate in general often acted as agents for U.S. imperial ambitions.  They denigrated the local Mexican population and Mexican government, imposed upon Mexican law outside of necessary U.S. interests, and regularly called for U.S. forces to intervene in Mexican territory.

The United States consulate system was designed to protect American seaman from injustices imposed by foreign powers as well as extend commerce and preserve trade for U.S. mercantile interests.  Even though the consuls in Matamoros executed that agenda, they tended to partake in a few extracurricular activities to push the United States to extend beyond its territorial boundaries.  For example, Daniel W. Smith represented the United States as consul in Matamoros and remained one of the longest standing consuls in that port discharging those responsibilities from 1826 to 1842, which was no small feat in the age of executive patronage.  In 1829, he crafted a report to then Secretary of State Martin Van Buren complaining about Mexican officials practicing extra judicial policies in which he concluded that, “The most intelligent natives of this country manifest an anxious solicitude that something decisive may be effected in relation to our commercial intercourse. They have been often heard to remark…that under the Administration of General Jackson it would be sooner and better adjusted.”[1]   This statement offers a wealth of detail to unpack.  First, by the term “natives,” Smith was describing Mexicans.  However, by using that careful choice of words he takes away their ownership of the land and associates Mexicans with Native Americans, who Jackson was at the time forcing to remove from their Eastern lands.  Smith’s statement also implies that the Mexican government was incapable ensuring profitable trade and the best of the Mexican population would prefer to live under Jackson’s administration.  Smith would continue to suggest that the Mexican government was incapable of protecting commerce and that the whole region would greatly benefit from more sound government, like that of the United States.[2]

Even after the United States’ successful conquest of the Southwest in the U.S.-Mexico War, consuls continued to push for expanding U.S. power beyond the border.  Thomas Slemons, U.S. consul in Matamoros in 1848, declared that the United States should waste no time claiming sovereignty over the entire Rio Grande so that “it opens to our commerce and agriculture a valley almost equal to that of the Mississippi.”[3]  Further, he notes that the continued development of American towns along the river would ensure that the United States would control the commerce of all of Northern Mexico.

Slemons’s soft colonialism turned into overt calls for the use of more military force by the time Richard Fitzpatrick took over the consulate.  In 1860, Fitzpatrick witnessed the peak of the Cortina raids north of the Rio Grande and the outbreak of a violent civil conflict within Matamoros and could not withhold his vitriol for Mexico.[4]  Penning a letter to Secretary of State Lewis Cass, the fiery consul claimed, “These people are and always have been deadly hostile to every American (unless he is a negro or mulatto)…It is an entire mistake if our government believes that the people of this country are or ever will be friendly to Americans…if our government intends to protect the lives and property of our citizens it must be done by force, for it cannot be done by treaty stipulations.”[5]  In this letter, consul Fitzpatrick clearly implies that the United States needs to invade Matamoros because he believes Mexicans to be an inferior people who have no regard for their American superiors.  By demanding violent interference, Fitzpatrick hoped for military occupation and possibly further conquest below the Rio Grande.[6]

The above mark just a few examples I found in the consular dispatches of one port in Northern Mexico and even there I have barely scratched the surface.  The historiography on the United States consulate system remains quite sparse, at least in my cursory review of it.  Considering that it has officially been in existence since 1792 and created abundant sources that are well organized and easily accessed, the consulate system marks a gaping hole in American historiography.  Gautham Rao’s history of the U.S. custom houses could even provide an excellent model for how to tackle such a large bureaucracy.[7]  I think it’s a worthwhile and significant topic, not to mention the documents are quite entertaining to read.

[1] Daniel W. Smith to Martin Van Buren, July 01, 1829, “Despatches from United States Consuls in Matamoros, Mexico, 1826-1906,” Microfilm Mf79.01, reel 1, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.

[2] Daniel W. Smith to Louis McLane, January 01, 1834 & Daniel W. Smith to John Forsyth, January 01, 1835, Ibid.

[3] Thomas Slemons to James Buchanan, November 12, 1848, , “Despatches from United States Consuls in Matamoros, Mexico, 1826-1906,” Microfilm Mf79.01, reel 3, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.

[4] For more on these conflicts see Jerry Thompson’s book Cortina: Defending the Mexican Name in Texas, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007).

[5] Richard Fitzpatrick to Lewis Cass, January 06, 1860, “Despatches from United States Consuls in Matamoros, Mexico, 1826-1906,” Microfilm Mf79.01, reel 4, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.

[6] An added note: Fitzpatrick was from South Carolina and quit his post as U.S. consul in November to join the Confederacy.

[7] Gautham Rao, National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

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Crosspost: Some Thoughts on the First Ever Mexican American Civil Rights Tour

SMU PhD Alum Ruben A. Arellano wrote a post about this exciting Spring Break trip, in which he collaborated with fellow SMU history PhD Carla Mendiola:

Carla contacted me only a few weeks ago to help her find Dallas activists who could speak to the students surrounding issues relating to the Chicano movement.  Due to the suddenness of the request, I found it difficult finding speakers, but with the help of Evelio Flores (long time Chicano activist and jefe de danza azteca), we were able to track down Luis Sepulveda to speak to the students.  Sepulveda grew up in West Dallas, a neighborhood that he cares about deeply, and he’s been fighting against lead contamination and radiation pollution in that part of the city since the 1980s.  In addition to all of his accomplishments, he served as Dallas County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, for many years.  There was no doubt in our minds that he was the perfect candidate for the job.  Moreover, when Carla discovered that I was part of a danza group, she asked if the group could do a brief presentation for the kids—we did and they loved it!

The resonated with Arellano’s own background as an SMU student, when he participated in the school’s famous Civil Rights pilgrimage, led by Dennis Simon.  Read the full post here:

Some Thoughts on the First Ever “Mexican American Civil Rights Tour”

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The Dangerous Game Donald Trump is Playing with MS-13

PhD Student Roberto Andrade Franco has a piece in the March 7, 2018 Washington Post.

Here’s a taste:

Of course, this is not the first time politicians have used a Latino group as a boogeyman for political gain. Seventy-five years ago, it was the fear over pachucos — a group of Mexican and Mexican American youths who lived along the United States’s southwest border — that rose to a hysteria, culminating in a riot that remains a historical scar. The riot alienated many Mexican Americans, which in turn helped shift their politics away from what some would consider assimilation.

Many believed that the pachucos originated in the El Paso-Juárez borderland in the early 20th century, where El Paso still bears the moniker El Chuco. From this nickname came the term “pachuco,” a name that, in many ways, symbolized the mixing of two cultures in an area that may have been defined politically as part of Mexico or the United States but still was contested in terms of cultural identities. In this space, pachucos created a bicultural identity — one that was not quite Mexican but also not accepted as American.

Read the whole piece here.

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From the Outside In: How the World Should View Meghan Markle 

By Camille Davis

 

At the end of 2017, a sense of elation was shared by many women in the African American community. There were hashtags such as #blackprincess, #blackroyalty and #princessmeghan floating all over social media to celebrate the royal engagement of England’s Prince Harry to American actress, Meghan Markle.

Although there may have been previous members of the royal family with African ancestry[1] and although Markle’s official title may be “Duchess” instead of “Princess”—as in the case with her future sister-in-law, Duchess Catherine Middleton—many in the  African American  community will continue to see Markle as the  “first black princess.”

Meghan Markle’s bi-racial identity is often referred to when discussing she and Harry’s courtship and subsequent engagement. In fact, when the couple’s relationship first became public in November 2016, the British Daily Mail infamously published a headline stating, “Harry’s Girl is (almost) Straight Outta Compton.”[2]  This and other derogatory remarks from the English press prompted Prince Harry to make a speech in defense of Markle and to publicly affirm his commitment to her.[3]

Ongoing Discussions of Markle’s Racial Identity

Criticism of Meghan Markle’s ethnicity came from across the Atlantic Ocean, as well. Ironically, the source of the criticism was from a black woman. Elaine Musiwa, “a Zimbabwean writer based out of New York City”[4] complained shortly after the royal engagement about African American women referring  to Markle as “black” since she is biracial. Musiwa began her article by recounting how hard it was for her to celebrate Meghan Markle as a “black” woman because of her biracial identity. The following are her words posted to Vogue magazine’s November 28th  online  edition:

“Meghan Markle  is half black. She is biracial, Her father is white, and her mother is black. I wrote it out and then hit send. This was my response to nearly all of the texts from friends about Prince Harry’s new black finance. With some  black  friends who I knew needed  this celebration  of  a black woman’s beauty being internationally recognized, I feigned joy: So cool! A dead giveaway of a lie—I  rarely ever use the word cool to  describe a cultural event other than modern art shows, and those will only be reduced to cool if they are hard to recognize as art…”[5]

Musiwa spent most of her article arguing that the challenges of being biracial are different than those of being “black.” She argues that “Meghan Markle is the type of  black that the majority of right-leaning white America wished we all could be, if there were to be blackness at all.”[6] In other words, Musiwa believes that main stream America’s history of preferring the appearance of some biracial blacks to the aesthetic of  blacks with more Sub-Saharan African features (dark skin, broad nose, coarse hair) makes biracial blacks not black.

Since the other Vogue  writers who have written about the royal engagement have been extraordinarily positive, it is clear that Musiwa’s views don’t reflect the general opinion of Vogue magazine. However, one ponders why Musiwa was allowed to post such an historically incorrect and professionally distasteful essay about Markle. Most people with a very rudimentary understanding of American history know that very few “black Americans” have only black/African ethnicity in their racial makeup. Additionally, Musiwa is ignoring the historical fact that since the time of slavery, blacks who have had any known percentage of black ethnicity within them were—and are—considered black. Even with the well-documented jealousies among African Americans regarding skin tone, there has been a coalescence within the  African  American community of shared identity and shared suffering– no matter the darkness or fairness of skin tone or the percentage of African or “other” blood. One wonders if Musiwa had similar troubles celebrating Barak Obama as the first black president, since he has a white mother and black father.

The Transition from the Outside to the Inside: Markle’s Character

Markle’s Second Royal Engagement with Prince Harry on January 9th

The reason women in the African American community are celebrating  Markle is because her inclusion in the royal family represents a historical turning point in Western history. Very rarely is a woman of African descent considered the ideal representation of beauty, nobility, or virtue in Western standards of positive aestheticism. Most depictions of femininity in its most ideal form are still very Euro-centric in the Western World. Women in the Western world who aren’t of pure  European descent are often seen as beautiful  and alluring in a type of sexualized or eroticized way.  They are exotic creatures to be gazed at, studied, and even conquered for sexual experimentation or exploitation. But very rarely is a black woman viewed as a woman with the whole package: beauty, brains, character, and ability. By choosing Markle,  Prince Harry is showing the whole world that an abundance of good qualities can come in unconventional packages.

The Rare Quality of Servanthood

Vanity Fair magazine placed  Meghan Markle  on the cover of its October 2017 issue. Instead of focusing on Markle’s race, they discussed her character. In the feature article of that month, journalist Sam Kashner, mentioned that “one of the strongest bonds Prince Harry and Markle share is their philanthropy.”[7] As a  strong advocate for veterans’ rights, Prince Harry began  his  Invictus games  in 2014 for “wounded, injured, and sick soldiers,”[8]  and he has recently become an advocate for mental health. Markle has been an advocate for the U.N.[9] and has brought awareness about issues such as poor water quality[10] and the  need for increased education  of women’s health  in developing countries. Arguably, this shared commitment to concern of  others’ welfare is what has  solidified their compatibility, and this will be what  makes both of them a credit to their country and to the rest of the world.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on World Aids Day, 2018.

The ability to look beyond one’s  own circumstances—whether those circumstances be pleasant or painful—is a rare quality for  any person of any race. This quality is so rare that history commemorates the few who have it.  A Mother Theresa, a Princess Diana, a Martin Luther King, Jr. come once in a lifetime, and their service and sacrifice to mankind is not ultimately remembered because of their ethnicity or nationality. They are remembered because they elevate humanity and pierce the darkness of this world  with light. Those who have a problem with Markel’s racial identity—with either the black or the white  part of it— do well to remember this.

As a woman who devoted her life  to service  before  she had  ever met Prince Harry, Meghan Markle challenged  herself to look beyond the comforts and the success of her acting career to become someone that very few people really want to be: a servant. In choosing  servanthood, she met someone who was like-minded.  This person was a prince who elevated her personal and professional status to that of royalty.

To be sure, Meghan Markle’s ethnicity should be celebrated. She will always be an example to the world of the excellence that often emanates from women of color. Most importantly, she exemplifies that entrée onto the great stages of life does not always come  from  narcissism,  calculation and/or self-promotion. (Remember: this is the area of “the selfie.”) Sometimes, the entrance onto the great stages of life comes the old-fashioned way. Martin Luther King, Jr. once explained the old-fashioned way when he quoted this principle  from  an ancient text “ He who would be great, must first be a servant.”[11]

A Servant. This is what the world should see when evaluating “Princess” Meghan Markle.

 

[1] Tatiana Walk-Morris, “Five Things to Know about Queen  Charlotte,” November 30, 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews-arts-culture/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-queen-charlotte-180967373/.

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3896180/Prince-Harry-s-girlfriend-actress-Meghan-Markles.html.

[3] Zach Johnson, “Prince Harry Defends Girlfriend Meghan Markle From Sexism and Racism” on Social Media.” November 8, 2016. http://www.eonline.com/news/807834/prince-harry-defends-girlfriend-meghan-markle-from-sexism-and-racism-on-social-media.

[4] https://www.vogue.com/contributor/elaine-musiwa.

[5] Elaine Musiwa, “The Problem With Calling Meghan Markle the “First Black Princess.” November 28, 2017. https://www.vogue.com/article/meghan-markle-biracial-identity-politics-personal-essay.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sam Kashner, “Meghan Markle, Wild About Harry,” https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2017/09/meghan-markle-cover-story.

[8] Invictusgamesfoundation.org

[9] Amy Mackeldon, “6 Times Meghan Markle Used Her Celeb Status for Advocacy and Charity.” December 5, 2017. http://www.harpersbazaar.com/celebrity/latest/a13945782/meghan-markle-charity-work-philanthropy/.

[10] Worldvision Press Release: “Event hosted by Suits star Meghan Markle brings clean water to children.” https://www.worldvision.ca/about-us/media-centre/meghan-markle-brings-clean-water-to-children.

[11] Martin  Luther  King, “The Drum Major Instinct,” February 4, 1968.

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The Grad Experience at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting

Andrew Klumpp is a Ph.D. Student in American religious history in the Graduate Department of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University.

Shortly after ringing in the new year, I made my way to Washington, D.C. for the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. The weather was unusually frigid, which made trekking between hotels a bit of a chore. Charter buses did shuttle us between venues, resulting in some of both the nerdiest and best bus trips that I’ve ever taken. Luckily, though, the charter busses full of historians weren’t the conference’s only highlights.

First and foremost, AHA offered some of the most robust programming for graduate students that I have seen in my conference travels as a grad student. It provided frequent opportunities for graduate students to receive mentoring from established scholars, attend sessions about the job market, or explore career diversity for historians.

In particular, I managed to attend two sessions that focused on work for historians in the federal government and in think tanks. These sessions highlighted several excellent opportunities outside of the professoriate that are available to historians. In each case, the panelists shared their experiences and also how they used their skills as historians in the current roles. Historians from the National Museum of American History, the Center for American Progress, and the Heritage Foundation all shared about their journey to and work in their current positions.

On Saturday these opportunities conversations about career diversity extended into a career fair. During this event, graduate students could meet individually with historians working in a variety of fields. I chatted with a historian working in the Office of the Historian in the U.S. House of Representatives, a historian at the Department of State, curators at the Smithsonian Institute, and many historians working in exciting roles. I learned about opportunities like the Council on Library and Information Resources Fellowships and the Presidential Management Fellows Program. In each case, these historians offered examples of how to use skills as a historian in fields beyond the professoriate.

Beyond grad student-focused sessions, AHA also offered particularly engaging panels on digital history. Each of the panels on digital history that I attended gave excellent examples of current digital projects and also identified some of the challenges faced by those employing new methodologies. I got to hear more about a number of projects, such as Lincoln Mullen’s America’s Public Bible Project, Kyle Robert’s Jesuit Libraries Project, and Denise Burgher’s work on the Colored Conventions Project. These projects offered outstanding examples of what can be done through digital methods and also helped to emphasize some of the particular challenges of working with digital methods in research, writing, and in the classroom.

In addition to these digital history panels, I also made sure to take in a panel on urban history while at AHA. Admittedly, I am a rural historian, yet one of my favorite things to do at a large conference like AHA is to attend panels that discuss urban history. I always find myself interested in the methods and explanations being used by urban historians. These types of panels sharpen my own analytical approach.

This year I attended a panel focused on urban environments on the edge of what some deem urban. The panel discussed ranches in Nevada, the Black Hills in South Dakota, and the Burning Man festival. Of all of the panels I attended throughout the conference, this is the one that has stuck with me the longest because I continue to wonder if I agree with the whole panel’s basic premise. From my perspective, the spaces explored in these papers appear more rural than urban. What is more, even if they are situated between rural and urban space, as my colleague Joel Zapata reminded me, they may be better understood as borderlands.

I came away from the panel with a bevy of questions. Does any built environment constitute an urban space? Are a cluster of ranches in Nevada really urban or are they a small town like those found throughout rural America? What makes these rural and borderlands spaces appear urban? What are the benefits or drawbacks of such a classification? I still wrestle with the premise of classifying rural communities as simply the edge of urban ones; however, the panel has certainly driven me to examine many of my own presuppositions.

Finally, the last panel I attended got heated, providing some fireworks for the close of the conference. During the question and answer session on a panel focused on religion and good government, a debate broke out about the negative tone taken toward conservative political and cultural figures. An audience member argued that many scholars present the conservative agenda in a negative light while presenting more progressive movements in a more positive light. The audience member highlighted that eight years ago, there were no panels ending with the phrase “in the Age of Obama” while there were multiple panels ending with the phrase “in the Age of Trump” at this year’s meeting.  One of the panelists—a Democratic congressional candidate—shot back rather forcefully and a spirited debate ensued.

By nature, I am inclined to stay out of the fray and did so during the debate. Nevertheless, the moment reminded me that many of the tensions that continually bubble up in our current political environment are not far from the surface even in professional meetings.

As AHA concluded, I happily traded frigid D.C. for Dallas’s temperate winter weather, and I left with a much better sense of the field and the opportunities available to me as a graduate student. I’m grateful for the financial support from my department, SMU’s office of Research and Graduate Studies and the American Historical Association that made the trip possible. Ultimately, I leave grateful for the trip, enlightened by the conversation, and looking forward to continue to pursue my future as a historian.

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As American as Apple Pie: Understanding Kneeling within the History of American Protests

By Camille Davis

New England Patriots kneeling during the National Anthem – CBS

NBC recently quenched suspense regarding whether they would show coverage of players who kneeled during the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. They said they would.

Super Bowl executive producer, Fred Gaudelli, explained NBC’s rationale to the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour. Gaudelli stated: “The Super Bowl is a live event … and when you’re covering a live event, you’re covering what’s happening. So if there are players that choose to kneel, they will be shown live.”[1] In other words, Gaudelli argues that showing players who kneel is not an endorsement of those players’ political opinions; instead, showing kneeling players is providing full coverage to Super Bowl viewers of a live event.

Background: How This All Began

Colin Kaepernick (center) and two of his teammates kneeling during the National Anthem. ABC.

The “kneel or not to kneel” debate began during the 2016 NFL season when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial inequality. When Kaepernick began protesting, he explained: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”[2] Kaepernick made his statement as a response to the outcry from minority communities about the recent deaths of black men and women due to what was perceived as police brutality. Do you remember Alton Sterling? Philando Castile? Sandra Bland? These are just a few examples of unarmed African Americans who died during interactions with police or while in police care over the last three years.

Eventually, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers after being told by the team that his contract would not be upheld in its existing form after 2016. The team’s decision not to allow Kaepernick to operate under the existing contract originated from Kaepernick’s need to play less after an injury in 2015. After his injury, his position as starting quarterback became tenuous. During the 2016 season, Kaepernick’s questionable playing ability after his injury and his protest of the National Anthem culminated into a situation that made the 49ers leadership see him as less than an ideal candidate for their leading position.  General Manager John Lynch stated the following: “We  [the team leadership  and Kaepernick] had a great meeting, and I think we had a very frank and honest discussion, and what we both agreed [to] was that under the current construct of the situation… it wasn’t going to work.”[3] Colin Kaepernick has not played football since the 2016 season. No team has signed or recruited him. Kaepernick is currently suing the NFL because he believes that the league’s owners made an agreement among themselves not to hire him.

 Kneeling as a National Movement and a National Debate

Although Kaepernick has been ostracized from the NFL, his form of protest has been subsequently imitated by many of his former teammates and by other players throughout the NFL. There are those, particularly the President of the United States, who find the protest of the players unpatriotic and offensive. This post won’t quote the detractors verbatim because they have been challenging the protest for over a year, which means their rebuffs are well-documented.

Essentially, critics argue that the unwillingness of players to stand during the National Anthem is an overt sign of disrespect to American values and to those who fight and have fought for American freedom. Some even argue that Kaepernick is hypocritical for taking a public political stance after not voting in the last presidential election.  GQ magazine’s pronouncement of Kaepernick as “Citizen of the Year” for its December issue made critics of Kaepernick and his fellow protesters even more strident. NBC’s subsequent decision to show those who may protest during the Super Bowl will unquestionably fuel the debate. Despite the controversy, one must not look at the recent NFL protests as historical anomalies. Instead, they are best understood within the context of American history. When seen in this light, Kaepernick and others who kneel are obviously more than agitators or provocateurs.  They are citizens who are using their public platform and their right to free speech to  bring  about  what they believe  is  necessary moral  change.

Protests of the Past

Vietnam War Protest, Year Unknown. Getty Images

If we think about it, our country was founded upon the idea of protests and it continues to  become   “a more  perfect union”  because  of them. Consider the following:

Wasn’t the Boston Tea Party of 1773 a protest of what the colonists perceived as unjust British taxation policies?  Didn’t the whole American Revolution occur because the colonists believed that their rights as British citizens were being compromised? Remember that the American Revolution  became a moment of separation of the  colonies  from   the English government because the colonists believed—either justly of unjustly—that the  English government dismissed the rights granted to them by the English constitution.

Kaepernick has not said that he is rescinding his citizenship. However, he is making the argument that the constitutional rights of people of color are not consistently protected.

The Women’s March the day prior to the Inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, 1913.

Consider the women who marched for suffrage on March 3,1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as President. These women were Progressive reformers who argued that precluding women from the vote kept them from fully engaging in citizenship.

Have you heard of the Bonus March of 1932? It was a movement when World War I veterans marched to ensure the government provided appropriate compensation and benefits for those who served during WWI.

Have we forgotten that thousands of Vietnam War Veterans protested the Vietnam War after serving in the War?

Finally, remember that Martin Luther King’s venerated “I have a Dream Speech” was delivered during a protest. The March on Washington occurred on August 28, 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement began as a series of protests against segregation and Jim Crow laws of the South. 

If one correctly views Kaepernick and others’ recent protest with the right historical eye, he or she is able to see that today’s protest of  the  National  Anthem fit  within  the  long history of political and social discourse within  our nation.

Those who kneel are not isolated from the larger historical context of American challenges to government. They are not unpatriotic or un American.

It is characteristically American and unquestionably patriotic to use one’s position to challenge the perceived wrongs that are perpetuated by those who are in power. NFL players are using their public profiles to speak for those whom they believe society has forgotten. They have done this with the display of a gentleman’s knee.

Today’s protestors are not political or social outliers. They are as American as apple pie.

 

 

[1] Jason Lynch,” NBC Will Cover Any National Anthem Protests During the Super Bowl : Kneeling players‘will be shown live.”Adweek. January 10, 2018.

[2] Steve Wyche, “Colin Kaepernick explains why he sat during the National Anthem” August 27-28. http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000691077/article/colin-kaepernick-explains-why-he-sat-during-national-anthem

[3] Nick Wagner. “If Colin Kaepernick didn’t opt out, 49ers would have released QB” March 3, 2017. http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/18808233/san-francisco-49ers-released-colin-kaepernick-opt-out

 

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