A Day at the Southern Historical Association Annual Meeting

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

Just two weeks after the annual meeting of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, this year’s Southern Historical Association annual meeting was in Dallas, just two train stops from the SMU campus. I attended Friday’s slate of roundtables, lunches, and panels and found them all quite engaging. A huge program that included a wide range of topics made it difficult to choose which sessions to attend. In the end I chose to start the day with a roundtable on Atlantic Revolutions, spend lunch networking, and finish with a panel on slavery and capitalism. Within each experience, scholars engaged in healthy academic debate that provided great lessons for a graduate student learning how the profession works.

After registering and meandering through all the publisher booths in the main hall, I sat in on a roundtable about the legacy of revolutions in the Atlantic world. Cynthia Bouton kicked off the discussion with her exploratory paper on the role of subsistence in the Caribbean during the era of revolutions. Looking at Haiti particularly, she questioned the role French colonies played in the French Revolutionary program based on the food commitments France made to the island. Building on Michel-Rolph Trouillot, she posited that peripheries drove the centers since they demanded constant attention and maintenance. Manuel Covo, in his paper, asked similar questions about the relationship between Haiti and France, but in the context of the historiography of each nation’s revolution. Noticing that Haiti rarely appears in the French national narrative, he made a call for more global histories, especially regarding the age of revolutions. Also with a nod to Trouillot, Covo claimed that national histories and historiographies too often obscure important trends, themes, and arguments made on the global stage. Caitlin Fitz shifted the discussion to the United States and its role in this period. She provided insights into how Americans viewed the Latin American revolutions, specifically the abolitionist trend that went with them. She concluded that the seeming U.S. support for Latin America’s revolutions was quite shallow as Americans tended to focus on how those revolutions related to the American Revolution. Since Latin America’s push for abolition did not seem to threaten American slavery in the eyes of Southern slave holders, it was easy to support their movements until the Panama Conference drove Latin American abolition to the U.S. political stage. Finally, Lester Langley provided his thesis that the entire Western Hemisphere needs to be studied and taught as a coherent unit. The discussion after the papers proved quite lively as the presenters debated the role the American Revolution played to initiate change while also maintaining slavery as a cornerstone institution in the United States.

For lunch, the Southern Historical Association provided graduate students the opportunity to sit down with established scholars and discuss academic branding. I sat with Drs. Andrew Torget and Max Krochmal alongside five other graduate students in similar fields. The conversation supplied many helpful tips for young historians to make their way in the profession. Dr. Torget gave insightful points about maintaining and protecting an online presence. He offered the simple suggestion that a well-kept website does a lot of the grunt work of making one’s professional history and accomplishments easy to access and consume without the drawbacks that come with social media. Dr. Krochmal gave the equally helpful advice that the networks young historians make with their peers often prove to be the most rewarding down the line. Overall, the lunch provided a wonderful experience to learn from established scholars and meet fellow graduate students from other institutions interested in similar topics as me.

SMU at the Southern Historical Association Meeting

The last panel I attended for the day featured the topic “The Culture of Capitalism and Slavery.” All the papers added significantly to the discussion of that contentious field. Ian Beamish showed that, in fact, planters kept terrible accounting records, meaning they likely did not contribute specifically to modern corporate accounting as the historiography previously hypothesized. Justene Hill presented her research that suggests that ideas of efficiency and paternalism combined in the discourse of the slave economy which fed into the proslavery arguments of the mutual dependence of slaves and slaveowners and slavery as a positive good. John Lindbeck, in the last paper of the panel, connected evangelicalism to the ideas of slavery and capitalism. He argued that planters ran efficient evangelical finance networks to create “God’s proslavery kingdom.” The kinship and finance networks planters built in the church tied faith and family to the business of slavery. Afterward, the discussion revealed the divide among historians about the validity of the study of capitalism and slavery. While the panelists fielded questions about the definitions of capitalism and paternalism, the debate spilled out into the crowd as individuals provided their own commentary to the questions asked. The fireworks that concluded the panel provided insights into how historians work out contentiousness in their field.

I really enjoyed my day at the Southern. I made good connections with other scholars and learned a lot about individual topics as well as how the profession works. The grad lunch provided the most rewarding personal experience since the setting broke down many of the social barriers to initiate conversation, but the roundtable and panel demonstrated the quality of historical work being done and how conference presentations help make an individual’s scholarship better and more polished. I look forward to presenting my own work at the Southern in the future.

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The Annual Meeting of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History: A Graduate Student Perspective.

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

One of the underappreciated advantages of attending graduate school in a sprawling urban area like DFW has to be that every once and awhile national conferences take place right in your backyard. This past weekend the Society for US Intellectual History (#USIH2017) rolled into town, and when the call for graduate student volunteers went out, I eagerly signed up. On Thursday afternoon, I trekked up to the conference hotel in Plano and immersed myself in the four-day event. By helping at the registration desk, I managed to introduce myself to many of the scholars at the conference, learn about some of the logistics involved in pulling off an event like this, and connect (finally) with people I’ve been chatting with through Twitter’s #twitterstorians for months.

Heading into a busy season of conferencing—the Southern Historical Society is in town in a few weeks and AHA is just around the corner—I did what many academics may be prone to do. A few weeks ago, I headed to the Dallas Public Library and checked out books on how to network effectively. (Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone proved particularly useful.) Armed with a fount of new knowledge, I dove into the conference. And, to be honest, it kind of worked. Of course, this was due in part to the size of the conference (around 200 attendees) and the graciousness of many of those in attendance. I managed to hear about fascinating research, get a few leads on archival sources, build relationships with people working on similar projects to my own, and even get one of my books signed by the author (shout out to Andrea Turpin).

Of course, I also attended a spate of engaging panels. The topics ranged from Christian nationalisms in the Early Republic—which included an excellent paper by SMU’s Kate Carté Engel—to grassroots birth control advocates and explorations of resonances between social and fiscal conservatism in the late twentieth century. One of the most thought-provoking questions that undergirded many sessions queried what counts as intellectual history and what kinds of sources might inform it. Are the ideas of self-proclaimed intellectuals necessarily more systematic and consistent than those of everyday folks? If we think so, what might that say about our views of everyday people and their role in intellectual history? If not, what might that mean for the need to reevaluate complex intellectual figures, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson? At times, these questions bubbled up in lively question and answer sessions, but more often, they simmered in enriching ways beneath the surface of the conversation.

This conference also piloted a new “Guided Discussion” session format. More interactive than a traditional roundtable, in this model the four panelists each briefly posed a question to the group around a common theme—in this case, how historians use words with contested or complex meanings. After each panelist posed his or her particular question, the audience broke into groups based on which question each person wanted to ponder and then discussed it with their small group. My group consisted of a historian of religion (me), a historian of science, a historian of disability and two philosophers. This proved to be a remarkably fruitful discussion of terminology. It shone light on the assumptions that particular subfields bring to certain terms and parsed the tensions involved in using terminology that reflects our sources while also attempting to be precise and avoid terms now deemed offensive. Did we solve the underlying problem? Certainly not! Yet, these varying voices did push me to consider my own use of language and to sharpen my own practices when using contested concepts.

On Saturday evening, Annette Gordon-Reed delivered an outstanding keynote address to a packed crowd. She focused her remarks on how memories kept alive the stories of Thomas Jefferson’s relationship Sally Hemmings—an enslaved woman owned by Jefferson. Gordon-Reed recounted her own work to uncover this relationship and how it relied on taking seriously the memories of Hemmings’ children. What is more, she explored how the memories of Hemmings’ children and their descendants shed light onto the relationship between Hemmings, Jefferson and their children. In a spirited question and answer session, Gordon-Reed deftly engaged questions that ranged from how Jefferson ought to be commemorated to how to label relationships between white men and enslaved women.

As the weekend drew to a close, I came to appreciate the privilege of having such an excellent conference take place right here in Dallas. As a native of a hamlet in Northwest Iowa, I’m admittedly rather unfamiliar with national organizations showing up in town—aside from glad-handing presidential candidates, of course. I can, however, now tell you from experience that I’d rather shake hands with a crowd of intellectual historians than road-weary politicians any day.

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Book Review: The Dead March

Patrick Troester is a PhD Candidate in History at Southern Methodist University. His dissertation project studies the evolution of identity and political power in the nineteenth-century U.S.-Mexico borderlands by examining borderland violence and the ways in which the region’s diverse peoples struggled over its meanings. More information can be found at www.patricktroester.org

Review of Peter Guardino, The Dead March: A History of the Mexican-American War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017

Peter Guardino’s new book presents a masterfully constructed transnational account of one of the most influential, yet least discussed events in North American history: the Mexican-American War. While many authors have sought to examine this conflict from both Mexican and U.S. perspectives, none have approached the depth, breadth, and nuance that Guardino has achieved here. Although he spends significant time on traditional military and political themes, the bulk of the narrative focuses on reconstructing the experiences of ordinary people from both countries, constantly illustrating the ways in which the war’s social and cultural history is essential for understanding what happened on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Not only does The Dead March offer perhaps the first truly trans-national history of the war, but it does so in a volume that is both accessible to general audiences and deeply relevant to professional historians.

Throughout the book, Guardino builds a sustained and compelling case against a myth that has long haunted interpretations of the Mexican-American War in both countries. This myth suggests that Mexico lost the war primarily because it lacked the stability and national unity of its northern neighbor. Guardino, on the other hand, shows that the war’s outcome had far more to do with the economic and social disparities between the two countries. An assortment of geographical, political, and social forces combined to give the U.S. a strong material advantage. At the same time, costly mobilization efforts, a violent U.S. occupation, and the U.S. Navy’s blockade of Mexican ports compounded Mexico’s already dire economic situation and aggravated its internal conflicts. The loss of revenue from import duties crippled the financially strapped Mexican state, while the war’s demands further burdened a society already living on an economic knife-edge. Given this harsh reality, Guardino shows that the fierce and sustained resistance that Mexicans made against the U.S. invasion was nothing short of remarkable. Working to overcome deep internal divisions and constantly weighing the stark realities of personal and family survival, Mexicans from all walks of life contributed to and participated in the war effort. In doing so, they unequivocally declared and demonstrated their Mexican nationalism. “In short,” Guardino concludes, “Mexico lost the war because it was poor, not because it was not a nation” (367).

More broadly, Guardino uses the Mexican-American War as a lens through which to compare and contrast the two countries as they approached the middle of the nineteenth century. Despite their vast economic, social, and cultural differences, Guardino highlights the key similarities that Mexico and the United States shared. Most importantly, national identity and central state authority were new and fluid forces in both countries. Nationalism was tightly bound to other pre-existing forms of identity, such as regionalism, religion, family, ethnicity, and race. The war’s outcome has led many historians to mistakenly assume a great deal more cohesion and unity than actually existed in the mid-nineteenth-century United States. This in turn has helped reinforce the false dichotomy between a supposedly strong U.S. nation-state and a deficient Mexican one. However, Guardino clearly illustrates that regionalism, partisan conflict, class and racial anxieties, and political violence were rife in both countries at this time. Indeed, the strikingly parallel paths that Mexico and the U.S. followed in the aftermath of the war underline this point. Although the conflict boosted nationalism in the short term, its results enflamed existing conflicts over what each nation aspired to be, leading both countries into massively destructive civil wars.

Although much material in this book will be familiar to both U.S. and Mexican historians, Guardino also presents a great deal of valuable original research. In addition to expertly synthesizing large bodies of scholarship from both sides of the modern border, he draws on his own deep archival evidence from regional and national archives in Mexico, the U.S., and Spain. The most compelling of this original work uses military court records and other sources to reconstruct the complex processes through which the Mexican nation mobilized itself for war. Especially enlightening are Guardino’s treatments of the gendered politics of conscription to the regular Mexican Army, the multi-layered efforts that organized volunteer units in central Mexico, the previously ignored violent resistance with which Mexico City’s residents met the U.S. invaders, and the harsh experiences of the U.S. Army deserters who formed the San Patricio battalion.

Map of Mexico 1847

If there is anything to critique in this book it is that Guardino seems far more comfortable dealing with central Mexico than with the its northern borderlands. Guardino’s expertise on central Mexican politics, especially his previous work on popular participation, allows him to examine the central Mexican war effort in exceptional detail. However, his treatment of the North sometimes lacks the same richness and complexity. Guardino’s task here is made all the more difficult by the fact that much popular participation in the North was small-scale and decentralized, and northerners were never called upon to assemble large National Guard units like those that defended the capital in 1847. In the grand sweep of this expansive study, this is a minor weakness.

Altogether, The Dead March offers a deeply researched and skillfully written narrative that simultaneously shows the Mexican-American War from both sides, while doing justice to the complexity and humanity of those who lived it. It is a much-needed addition to the growing bodies of scholarship in both Mexico and the United States that have begun the difficult work of re-evaluating this conflict and weaving it into national histories that have long sought to marginalize its importance. Guardino’s work represents a major step forward in that effort and provides an invaluable launching point for further research.

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Book Review: Tejano Tiger

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

Thompson, Jerry D. Tejano Tiger: José de los Santos Benavides and the Texas-Mexico Borderlands, 1823-1891. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2017. Pp. 414. $29.95.

Texas A&M University Press and the Texas Book Consortium

Jerry Thompson’s Tejano Tiger chronicles the life of Santos Benavides of Laredo, Texas.  With a narrative that spans the man’s entire lifetime, the book offers a window into how the U.S.-Mexico War, U.S. Civil War, French intervention in Mexico, Reconstruction politics, and industrialization all impacted the people living on the Rio Grande.  Santos Benavides had a hand in all of these significant events.  As a politician, he adapted quite quickly to the U.S. political system, becoming mayor of Laredo in 1856 and a Texas state house representative in the 1870s.  He also fought Indians, Union soldiers, and Mexican revolutionaries as a combatant in the various conflicts on the border.  Further, he took advantage of the border conflicts and contestations to make savvy real estate and business decisions to build a prominent mercantile house with the Benavides name.  Through boosterism, politicking, smuggling, violence, and bribery, Santos navigated crisis after crisis to do what he thought best for Laredo and himself.  Thompson does a masterful job weaving an engrossing and intriguing narrative of a truly transnational border figure from a wide variety of sources.

Thompson’s source base is astounding.  Santos Benavides did not leave a memoir or extant journal, so the author had to piece together his biography from an assortment of manuscript and archival sources.  From the national archives of the United States and Mexico, regional archives in Texas and Nuevo Leon, down to local archives in Laredo and Nuevo Guerrero, he cites over fifty different manuscript collections, not to mention a wealth of newspaper and secondary source research.  The painstaking hours of research into the lives of people who surrounded Benavides during his life allows Thompson to paint a beautiful and nuanced picture of the man and the borderland in which he lived.

Thompson’s narrative style blends the disparate source base together in a clear, complete whole.  He skillfully keeps Santos at the center of story even though most of his sources engage Benavides peripherally.  Thompson also navigates convoluted border crises with aplomb.  For example, the complex intersections of the U.S. Civil War and French intervention created an atmosphere of chaos along the border.  Thompson, however, finds a narrative balance through the relationship between Santos Benavides and Nuevo Leon governor Santiago Vidaurri.  Benavides fought as an officer for the Confederacy in South Texas while Vidaurri tepidly supported the French imperial push into Mexico.  Through their relationship, Thompson demonstrates the many ways the conflicts in the United States and Mexico overlapped along the border.

The Benavides-Vidaurri relationship is just one of the ways Thompson maintains a transnational scope in the book.  Though the border remains a constant and important concept in the book, the author has no delusions that it was a firm division between two nation-states.  In fact, Thompson constantly shows the international movement of people and goods across a porous, open border.  The central themes for entire chapters center on border crossing.  Chapter four explores how essential the Mexican cotton trade was for the Confederacy, chapter six investigates the complex process of peacemaking after civil war, and the concluding chapter, nine, tracks Santos’s abilities as an international diplomat facilitating peaceful relations between Mexico and the United States.  For Thompson, border crossing was a central theme of Santos Benavides’s life.

Thompson’s masterful biography elicits further questions and offers new paths for historical exploration.  For example, according to Thompson, the Benavides matriarch and her daughters played very important roles in the family’s ranching and mercantile businesses.  Following his sources down that path could reveal a significant analysis of women’s role and their power in the borderland.  Additionally, straying farther from Thompson’s central figure would allow historians to draw out and uncover important research projects.  For instance, when the Confederacy dissolved, angry soldiers roamed around the borderlands wreaking havoc around Brownsville.  A militia made up of Mexican Juaristas helped restore law and order in the city, protecting the lives and property of Anglo-Americans (p. 205).  Why were Juaristas flexing power in and around Brownsville?  What dynamics drove them there?  How did the people of Brownsville react?  Why was Santos Benavides not demanding order from his former charges?  The author cannot cover everything and the book already comes in at 414 pages including notes, bibliography, and index, but it provides a spark for exciting research avenues in nineteenth century borderlands history.

Overall, Tejano Tiger remains a remarkable biography of an important transnational border leader.  The life of Santos Benavides supplies great insight into how an elite conservative Tejano navigated the border in a most tumultuous time.

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Terry: SMU’s Once Great White Hope

Roberto Andrade is a PhD Candidate in SMU’s William P. Clements Department of History

My dissertation examines boxing’s influence on identity, specifically focused on Mexican and Mexican Americans. Concerns over machismo, class, and assimilation inform many of the arguments that use boxing—as well as other sports—as a claim towards authentic “Mexicanness.” In the United States, an equivalent to boxing’s impact on identity is the Great White Hope; a common trope deeply rooted in race that seemingly never fall out of use. In 1972, for one boxing bout, the Great White Hope came from SMU when a student, Terry Daniels, fought for the boxing heavyweight championship. While I was conducting research, Joan Gosnell, an archivist at SMU, mentioned Terry Daniels. As boxers rarely come from affluence, his story immediately intrigued me. After further research, I found a remarkable story that, unfortunately, has an ending that is common for boxing. This is that story.

—————

The first time Joe Frazier knocked down Terry Daniels, it appeared he would not get back up. Daniels laid there, face down and motionless, for about five seconds. It was the type of knockdown that forces spectators to wonder if they witnessed a man’s death. After eight seconds, Daniels struggled to his feet, just as the first round ended. And as the bell rang, signaling a minute’s rest between rounds, Daniels stood there, confused, staring at the referee. Daniels’s trainer walked across the ring and placing his arm on his fighter’s shoulder, guided him back to their corner to prepare for the second round.

Terry Daniel son knocked down while Joe Frazier waits in the background. (Branson Wright, The Plain Dealer).

That Frazier knocked down Daniels was unsurprising. Ten months earlier, Frazier became the first boxer to defeat Muhammad Ali. Frazier is among the all-time great boxers; Daniels is not. But on a Saturday night in 1972 New Orleans, a day before the city hosted the sixth Super Bowl, Daniels, the latest version of the Great White Hope, challenged for boxing’s heavyweight championship.

Daniels’s manager, Doug Lord, was largely responsible for the fight. “I told the fight promoters I’ve got a white kid from Dallas,” Lord said. “He’s friends with the Dallas Cowboys, and everyone knows the Cowboys are going to the Super Bowl in New Orleans…They loved it. They bought it.”[1]

Technically, Daniels was not from Dallas; he only lived there, moving from Ohio to attend Southern Methodist University. The son of a successful, possibly millionaire, businessman, Daniels was intelligent, young, handsome, and—since it is a prerequisite of any Great White Hope—white. Leading up to the fight, promoters emphasized the many differences between Daniels and his opponent. Stories of him being part of his high school choir, or mentioning that Daniels was treasurer of his junior class became part of the narrative. In the hype, even noting Daniels enjoyed reading was worth mention as was his initial plans to study engineering upon first enrolling at SMU.[2] All these things distinguished Daniels from Frazier, who though lived in Philadelphia was originally from South Carolina. Frazier was a sharecropper’s son—far removed from Daniels’s life of privilege. But as it pertained to boxing, these differences mattered little once promoters sold the fight. And those who bought tickets to see a Great White Hope, were on the verge of watching him lose minutes into the fight.

As the second round began the television commentators wondered aloud if Daniels had recuperated from Frazier’s punches. They noted the obvious—that Frazier had won the first round—when seemingly out of nowhere, Daniels connected with a right uppercut that stunned Frazier. “Oh! He landed a beautiful uppercut,” one commentator incredulously screamed. Maybe Daniels was more than just hype. Maybe he was something almost as romanticized as a Great White Hope; maybe Daniels was a natural.

Daniels was certainly athletic, having played football and baseball for SMU before an injury shifted his focus to boxing.[3] As an amateur, Daniels found success even winning local Golden Glove tournaments. When he fought professionally not only did he postpone his graduating from SMU but also angered his father who, understandably, had not sent his oldest son to Dallas to prizefight. By 1972, three years into his career, Daniels had become a local celebrity, accumulating a record of 28 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw; an impressive accomplishment even if against subpar competition. But as his punch connected and forced Frazier to step back, no one cared about past opposition—not when, for one punch, it appeared Daniels may have been on the verge of orchestrating an incredible upset.

In boxing, hopes die fast. Within a three-minute round, hopes of a championship, of wealth and fame, and even, of any future quality of life can disappear. In the third round, Frazier brought Daniels back to reality—again dominating as he had in the first round. Frazier’s signature punch, the left hook, kept connecting and Daniels could do nothing to stop it. Had he raised his right hand slightly to better protect his face, it would have altered, even minimized, his right cross—his most effective punch.[4] And had he used a right hook, a punch he was not prone to using, to counter Frazier, he would have risked everything; as one of boxing’s old adages warned: you don’t hook with a hooker. Frazier was a hooker—the left-handed, boxing type—Daniels was not. So again, Frazier’s left hook dropped Daniels toward the end of round three. He stood up long enough to fall by the same punch not even ten seconds later. As he gasped for air, a look of bemusement on Daniels’s face, the bell rang and once again saved him.

On the final knockdown, Frazier nearly knocked Daniels out of the ring. (Branson Wright, The Plain Dealer).

There was nothing remarkable about the fourth round besides Frazier knocking down Daniels a fourth and fifth time. The latter resulted in Daniels falling back through the ropes, appearing as if he would fall all the way to the floor. Ringside judges braced to break Daniels’s fall but he remained inside the ring and at least, save some dignity. The referee stopped the fight, leaving Daniels visibly upset. “Don’t stop, damn it,” Daniels screamed, before turning to his manager and saying, “Doug, don’t let them stop it. There’s nothing wrong.”[5] Daniels was likely the last person in the world to realize he never stood a chance.

After the fight, Daniels’s manager implored, even begged him, to not fight again.[6] For a time, Daniels took the advice, returned to SMU and earned a political science degree in December of the same year he fought for boxing’s heavyweight title—one of sport’s most prestigious titles. But the title of boxing heavyweight champion can have a seductive appeal on men practicing a sport so inherently tied into ideas of masculinity. “The closer a heavyweight comes to the championship,” Norman Mailer noted, “the more natural it is for him to be a little bit insane. [S]ecretly insane, for the heavyweight champion of the world is either the toughest man in the world or he is not.”[7]

Whether he deserved it or not, the fight gave Daniels a chance to show he was the toughest man in the world. He failed. And whether he was a Great White Hope or not, the loss hurt the same. Six years after fighting Frazier and claiming he had retired, Daniels fought on, partly because dreams of his title fight haunted him. “I daydream a lot about that fight,” Daniels explained. “I fantasize about what might have been if I had blasted Frazier in the third round, when he was so confident, with a right hook.”[8]

Daniels fought until 1981. Counting his loss to Frazier, Daniels’s final 32 fights resulted in only 7 victories against 26 losses. Terry Daniels left Dallas and returned to Ohio in 2004. He now lives in a retirement home, suffering from what some call pugilist Parkinson’s.[9]

 

[1] Peter Finney, “Former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier etched in N.O. boxing history,” The Times-Picayune, November 16, 2011.

[2] Jeff Miller, “The Fight of His Life,” Texas Monthly, February 2015.

[3] Ron Fimrite, “Back-To-School time for Terry Daniels,” Sports Illustrated, January 24, 1972.

[4] Les Thomas, “Student Boxer Believes Punching is his Bag,” The Campus Chat (Denton, Tex.), February 14, 1969.

[5] Don Gardner, “Re-evaluating the Situation,” The Daily Campus, January 25, 1972.

[6] Kevin Sherrington, “Fight of his life amounted to Super letdown,” Dallas Morning News, January 26, 2004.

[7] Allen Barra, “Norman Mailer, Sportswriter,” The Atlantic, December 26, 2013.

[8] Mike Kiley, “Daniels is boxing to keep wolves from his doorstep,” Chicago Tribune, October 26, 1978.

[9] Mark Podolski, “In “My Brother The Boxer,” brother and author Jeff Daniels chronicles pinnacle of Willoughby South grad Terry Daniels’ pro career, a bout with Joe Frazier,” The News-Herald, November 9, 2015.

 

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Digitally Mapping and Exhibiting the Plains’ Chicana/o Movement

Joel Zapata is a PhD Candidate in SMU’s William P. Clements Department of History

The Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement, or simply the Chicana/o Movement, has traditionally been documented as a regional liberation movement centered in South Texas, Northern New Mexico, the Denver metro area, and Southern California. Moreover, scholars have tended to focus their work on the Chicana/o Movement within major cities like Los Angeles and San Antonio. [1]  This is partly because the Chicana/o Movement was a decentralized patchwork of local movements, and partly because the history profession relies on archives and other source materials that institutions outside of progressive, urban areas do not often preserve. As Michel-Rolph Trouillot declared, “the production of historical narratives involves the uneven contribution of competing groups and individuals who have unequal access to the means of such production.”[2]

Thus, Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space, a digital history project, is meant as a step in revealing an understudied portion of the Chicana/o Movement: the way it unfolded on the Southern Plains. Ethnic Mexicans (people of Mexican descent regardless of nationality) in the largely rural region worked towards achieving social justice in their own communities through the Chicana/o Movement and larger Mexican American Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s and 1970s. Through their activism, they made the plains a more hospitable home for Mexican people.

This digital history project takes scholarly research to the wider public. In other words, it is also a public history project. Keeping in mind the community origins and future of Chicana/o history, I initiated the project with the awareness “that Chicana/o history is for everyone (not just historians) and that the investigation of the past can be the engine driving today’s activist passions.”[3]  In my work outside the university setting, my aim is to make history accessible to Mexican origin and Latina/o communities, who may in-turn use knowledge gained from historical research towards the betterment of their social positions—the foundational goal of Chicana/o history and the related field of Chicana/o Studies.[4]

Figure 1. “Interactive Timeline,” Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space

Constructed through Omeka and Neatline, this project is a platform through which both scholars and the wider public can find an Interactive Timeline and Map (Figure 1) along with a curated online collection of materials regarding the Southern Plains’ Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement. A home page introducing the Chicana/o Movement along with a page describing the Southern Plains function in a similar way, as the introductory panels of a museum exhibition, gradually moving visitors into the Interactive Timeline and Map—the heart of this digital history project—and the online collection. Therefore, the project provides an accessible, digital museum experience that has not emerged within the walls of the Southern Plains’ museums and related institutions.

Within the Interactive Timeline and Map, visitors can explore the seminal events that together make the Southern Plains’ portion of the Chicana/o Movement. Visitors can study the events by pointing and clicking on them within the digital map, clicking through the chronological list of the events on the right side of the page, or going through the timeline on the bottom of the page (Figure 2).

Figure 2. “Interactive Timeline and Map,” Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space

The timeline and map provide visitors several avenues of exploration. Ideally a visitor to the project will fully read through each event of the plains’ Chicana/o Movement, but the timeline and map also allow a person interested in a certain city, event, or a type of event (such as police shootings signified through red points), to concentrate on the items that concern her or him.

Figure 3. “Interactive Timeline,” Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space

One can even go down to city level or even neighborhood level geography (Figure 3). Moreover, when possible, event descriptions include images beneath the text.

Moving beyond the timeline and map, items featured throughout the website are available to view with individual item descriptions in the online collection. The final portion of the project is a Resourses page that leads to encyclopedia essays for various groups covered in the project. The Resources page also connects visitors to outside oral history, archival, and multimedia projects, such as the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral Horal History Project. Ultimately, this digital history project is intended to draw visitors to further explore the Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement within and beyond the plains.

[1] Ernesto Chávez, My People First! “Mi Raza Primero!”: Nationalism, Identity, and Insurgency in the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, 1966-1978 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002); David Montejano, Quixote’s Soldiers: A Local History of the Chicano Movement, 1966-1981 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010); David Montejano, Sancho’s Journal: Exploring the Political Edge with the Brown Berets (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012); Armando Navarro, The Cristal Experiment: A Chicano Struggle for Community Control (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998); Armando Navarro, Mexican American Youth Organization: Avant-Garde of the Chicano Movement in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995); Armando Navarro, La Raza Unida Party: A Chicano Challenge to the U.S. Two-Party Dictatorship (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000).

[2] Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1995), xix.

[3] Carlos Kevin Blanton, “Preface,” in A Promising Problem: The New Chicana/o History, ed. Carlos Kevin Blanton, vii-ix (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016), ix.

[4] See Rodolfo F. Acuña, The Making of Chicana/o Studies: In the Trenches of Academy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011); José Cuello, “Chicana/o History as a Social Movement,” in Voices of a New Chicana/o History, ed. by Refugio I. Rochín and Dennis N. Valdés (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000), 1-22.

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Great start to the year!

We had a wonderful presentation yesterday from Lindsay Chervinsky, a new fellow at the Center for Presidential History and a historian of early American politics.  She summarized her discussion here, for those who weren’t able to make it.  Her advice for students really resonated for scholars of all levels.  Here’s a taste:

The overwhelming consensus from everyone I consulted is that your web presence is supposed to enhance your scholarship, not replace or detract from it. So don’t blog at the expense of classwork, don’t build an enormous Twitter following and neglect your dissertation, and don’t get into Facebook arguments while forgetting to politely engage with your immediate colleagues. You get the idea. That being said, here is a condensed version of my talk.

We’ve got so many students working on issues that are not just historically important, but also relevant to discussions going on in the culture — political violence and Southern religion during the Civil War, to name just two.  I’m excited to see what we can come up with!

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Becoming a historian in 2017

What a moment to start a graduate career in history.  Anxiety about the decline of the humanities has come to be tempered by whiffs of hope that critical thinking about society is highly valued, not just by intellectuals but by Capitalists.  But even more important, as the United States has been overtaken by a violent contest over its own past, historians – and historical thinking – have become a part of mainstream discourse.  A recent graph created by the Southern Poverty Law Center has been shared widely across the internet, explaining in a snapshot something that Americans desperately need to understand: public monuments praising Confederate military heroes were produced many years after that war, not to memorialize the dead but rather to intimidate and terrorize those Americans whom the likes of Lee and Jackson committed treason to enslave.

Image from Southern Poverty Law Center

 

It’s a complex argument, but it’s been amazingly successful: Confederate monuments don’t represent the Confederacy, but the tyranny of the Jim Crow era and resistance to African Americans being included in full citizenship rights. Even the descendants of Stonewall Jackson have made the argument.

For the moment, and in the present context, I’m focused less on the civics lesson being made here than on the role of historians in the process, and the wider trend of historians using new media to build historical knowledge in the American public.  The SPLC graphic is a great example of the kind of visualizations being done by digital humanists.  The growth of graphical interpretations of history is one of the most exciting trends in the field.  It has allowed historians to present enormous amounts of careful research to a much wider public audience, encapsulating complexity and encouraging exploration of humanistic data.  The New York Times’s Upshot series bends towards the social scientific, but its influence on public discussion has included more than a little history as well.  Then there are the many ways that this argument has been disseminated.  The Washington Post has a new series that presents historical arguments.  Scholars like Kevin Kruse and Joanne Freeman have leveraged Twitter to build followings.  Group blogs, like Religion and American History and the Junto, get thousands of hits, and they use their platforms to speak to issues that are topical and historical.  Podcasts, like Ben Franklin’s World, bring scholarship to a public that might be scared off by a book full of footnotes, but is more than willing to hear the complex insights contained within.

The current generation of history graduate students has an opportunity, and a challenge, to think through what these various mediums mean for the discipline.  What kinds of arguments are best suited to what venue?  How can we best help inform public discussions about issues that cry out for historical framing?  How can we bring what we study – the arcane questions that animate us – to the public arena at the right moment?

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Welcome to the SMU History Grad Student Blog

The world seems to afford us endless opportunities to apply the past to the present, and graduate students in history have a special vantage point from make those connections.  The graduate students in the William P. Clements Department of History specialize in a wide range of areas of history.  Our department has long pioneered the study of the region of the southwest borderlands between the US and Mexico, through the incredible work of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies.  We interpret “borders” widely around here, however, and our students study borders, boundaries and crossings in many places around the world.  More recently, we’ve broadened our interests to include a range of other areas, and we benefit greatly from the presence of the Center for Presidential History.

Over the next few months, this blog will grow to include the voices of many of our students, and we hope some guest posts for those who might offer us some guidance.  If you have comments or suggestions, send them our way!

Kate Carté Engel, Director of Graduate Studies

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