Check out GPRS PhD Candidate Andrew Klumpp’s lastest post over at the US Intellectual History blog. The Midwestern “Heartland” has a contentious and “hardscrabble” history — a different kind of borderlands. You’ll never think of small town Iowa in the same way…
In 1850, Rembrandt Peale, one of the last living portraitists of George Washington, painted his 80thcopy of one of his most famous depictions of America’s first President. This painting – called Patriae Pater – was originally created in 1824, and its name is a variation of the Roman appellation: Father of the Country. Although Washington passed in 1799, his role as the inaugural leader of America was still being celebrated in 1850, and portraits of him – like the Patriae Pater copies—were still being commissioned. The celebration continues today. Here’s why:
When Washington took office in 1789, he came with a well-established track record of prioritizing the needs of the country before his own. He exhibited this most aptly in his conduct as Commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Although Washington masterfully projected confidence and competence in public settings, he privately anguished about the ways to lead those who entrusted their lives and fortunes to him. This apprehension infused his style of leadership with a rare sense of sobriety and magnanimity.
Those who served in the Continental Army saw myriad examples of Washington using his power to protect and serve. One poignant example is described in Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch’s recently released book called The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington. Meltzer and Mensch describe the famous episode of August 1776 when the British possessed control of New York and continuously thwarted attempts from the American forces to gain control over it. Once it became clear that Washington’s opponents outmaneuvered him, it seemed that he had only two choices: attack or surrender. The first option meant certain death or capture for his men, and the other meant placing his men at the mercy of their enemies. Washington considered and executed a third option — a great escape. He arranged for all of his men to secretly take boats across the East River from Brooklyn Heights into Manhattan. What makes Meltzer and Mensch’s account of the story worth discussing is that they emphasize Washington’s decision to be the last person in the army to take a boat to safety. He ensured that his troops evacuated first.
Such instances of valor and unselfishness were what made Washington respected among his troops and venerated among the American public. They also led to comparisons of Washington to well-known Classical figures from ancient Greece and Rome who gained their reputations by their virtue. This perception of Washington was promoted by America’s leading intellectuals who sought to construct a new American government based on the idea of meritocracy – a proven ability to lead –instead of presumption – a desire to lead without having earned the right to do so. Painters of Washington, like Rembrandt Peale, were a part of the intellectual class that used words and images to teach Americans the importance of picking leaders who possessed the merit to govern.
With full knowledge that subsequent Presidents would not always be military heroes or even veterans, the founders bequeathed elections to us as a mechanism for deciding who would best represent the interests of the nation. Their hope was that we would overcome our own personal biases and petty preferences in order to choose presidents and other elected officials who could serve the common good.
To be sure, George Washington was not perfect. No politician will ever be. We human beings share a penchant for error.
However, what made Washington remarkable as a general and as a President was his desire and determination to overcome his shortcomings in order to rise to the great challenges of his time.
By the time that the fighting of the Revolution began, Washington was the most famous man on the American continent. Because of this, he could have become a great tyrant who worked for political expediency and political glory.
However, instead of resting in fame, Washington chose to prove to his fellow Americans that he was worthy of their trust by behaving with personal honor. His conduct as general and later as President solidified something greater than fame. Washington earned respect and the right to be the sole American bestowed with the honor, Patriae Pater.
Before California’s gubernatorial primary election, four Democrats and two Republicans faced off in a televised debate on January 25, 2018. Moderators Jorge Ramos and Ilia Caldéron asked candidates Antonio Villaraigosa (D), Delaine Eastin (D), Gavin Newsom (D), John Chiang (D), John Cox (R), and Travis Allen (R), about many issues, including immigration in general and in particular—they asked questions on sexual assault against undocumented women, on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and on immigrant farm work. Candidates Chiang and Cox alluded to the Bracero Program, a guest-worker program enacted between 1942-1964, during the debate. The discussion demonstrated how the program is remembered and how guest workers should be treated. The comments suggest the United States should remember workers’ hardships, so they are treated humanely when legislators propose immigration policies.
A fourteen-year old, Benjamín Zepeda, asked the candidates, “How can you help families like mine that are scared to be separated due to deportation?” this prompted Chiang’s indirect reference to the Bracero Program. As he highlighted immigrants’ contribution to California’s development, he recalled that during World War II the nation invited Mexicans to labor in our farms. Acknowledging the country’s failure to advocate for fully just immigration policies, he declared that our economic future would be shaped by immigrants. In recalling braceros’ contributions, the candidate pledged his support for immigrants because our country should represent dignity, decency, and respect for all people. He accordingly vowed to solve such issues with all governors by pushing Washington D.C., to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Thus, Chiang’s comments alluded to the significance and importance of the Bracero Program. 1
Chiang’s statement referring to this country’s failure in advocating for just immigration policies had merit even in regard to the Bracero Program, whose resurrection is sometimes promoted as a solution to current immigration problems. The binational agreement originated when the agribusiness and railroad industries lobbied Congress for a guest-worker program. President Franklin Roosevelt subsequently signed an executive order which caused Mexico and the United States to create the Bracero Program from 1942-1951; Congress later extended the program from 1951 to 1964. Contracted Mexican workers, known as Braceros, traveled from their homes to migratory stations in Mexico before reaching the border. Then, they traveled from the stations to U.S. reception centers where they were formally contracted. Braceros were to be paid a minimum wage, provided with housing, given food, and promised a small pension from deducted funds in their paychecks.2
The program brought numerous laborers to the United States; however, there were not enough jobs for them, which led the applicants to take desperate measures. For example, on June 13th, 1958 a bracero bought a peer’s identity, so he could move up in the waiting list. Contracted by the Ventura County Citrus Growers Committee, the bracero, after his six-month contract, used the peer’s name again. Migratory officials, however, found that he was using the fraudulent identity. Thus, Mexicans who could not attain a contract through formal measures used such informal means and increasingly crossed the border as undocumented immigrants. The Eisenhower administration, subsequently, enacted Operation Wetback in 1954 which resulted in the deportation of over a million Mexicans. Mexican officials were upset at the deportations as they argued that the U.S. had invited workers to cross the border, then punished undocumented workers, instead of the employers who hired them.3
Moderator Ilia Caldéron later in the debate asked John Cox, “Do you know that more than 60% of the people harvesting fruits and veggies here in California are undocumented immigrants? Isn’t it pro-business to give them a legal status?” The candidate answered by sympathizing with Central Valley Farmers. According to Cox, the farmers advertised higher wages; however, they continued to endure labor shortages. The candidate then argued for a labor importation program, basically another Bracero Program already shown to be flawed. He claimed that Latinos came from dysfunctional and corrupt countries such as, Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, and Guatemala. Cox continued by describing them as nations where special interests, cronies, and monopolists receive government favors. The candidate ended by stating that Latinos come to the United States because it is a country of laws. But some farmers’ actions during the program tell a different story.4
The Bracero Program demonstrated that the United States often acted as a nation without laws, as the government frequently served farmers’ interests despite written agreements. For example, in November 1942, a frost damaged pea crops in the Imperial Valley of California. At the time, braceros were contracted to harvest peas, but were instead ordered to tie carrots. In addition, farmers paid braceros and domestic workers six cents per bushel instead of the normal eight-cent piece rate which challenged the prevailing wage agreement in the program. Objecting against such “cheap” labor, discontented domestic workers organized a strike on January 9, 1943 advocating for the original rate. In response, the California Farm Labor Transportation Program and the Imperial Valley Farmers Association worked together to deport braceros who refused to be strikebreakers. Thus, forty workers were deported between January 9 and February 3. The tying season finished before the strike gathered momentum.5
The United States, nevertheless, continued to break laws. Before 1952, the U.S president and the Mexican government informally re-approved the Bracero Program. Once President Harry Truman signed Public Law No. 78, the program required Congress’s approval every two years. The next renewal was accordingly discussed in 1954. Although both countries had failed to come to an agreement in early 1954, U.S. Border Patrol officials encouraged Mexicans to cross the border under an undocumented status. Tony Gose, a resident from the Imperial Valley, verified this claim in a House Agriculture Committee report. On one occasion, he witnessed a Mexican official grab a former bracero to prevent him from being hired as an undocumented laborer. A U.S. official, however, in a tug of war fashion, grabbed the laborer in an attempt to take him from the Mexican agent. Finally, both governments after tense negotiations agreed on a new renewal in 1954.6
After the program, society has demonstrated that braceros have been remembered, but policymakers need to study their experiences more closely. Providing assistance for such study, the National Museum of American History has created the Bracero History Project to tell the complex history of braceros. Also, the Bracero Justice Movement has sought to recognize the exploitation and injustices guest workers faced, as well as to recuperate pensions and wages withheld from them. Policymakers should remember that braceros often found ways to alleviate the wrongs they experienced. They also developed agency when confronting state power in ways that might give politicians pause in promoting new guest worker programs As Mireya Loza argues in Defiant Braceros, braceros participated in deviance and defiance when they participated in the vice and sex industries along the border. Their shared leisure experiences gave them agency but also demonstrates that the importation of temporary male workers might be less preferable than admission of permanent residents in families.7
Policymakers, nevertheless, must agree that the United States and California was built on the backs of immigrants, that our country represents dignity, decency, and respect for all people, and that our nation should recognize and avoid repeating historical injustices when composing new immigration laws.
Univision Noticias, “Forum with California’s gubernatorial candidates 2018.” YouTube video, 1:36:14, January 25, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcWa-X0RxwA&t=2044s&index=13&list=WL. ↩
Henry P. Anderson, The Bracero Program in California. (New York: Arno Press, 1976),43, 108. ↩
Peter N. Kirstein, “Agribusiness, Labor and the Wetbacks: Truman’s Commission on Migratory Labor,” The Historian, vol. 40. no. 4 (1978): 651; Richard B. Craig, The Bracero Program Interest Groups and Foreign Policy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971), 4. ↩
Univision Noticias, “Forum with California’s gubernatorial candidates 2018.” ↩
Don Mitchell, They Saved the Crops: Labor, Landscape, and the Struggle Over Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012), 35-36; Warne D. Rasmussen, A History of The Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program 1943-47(Washington D.C., Agriculture Monograph No. 13, U.S. Department of Agriculture Bureau of Agricultural Economics, 1951), 202. ↩
“Valley Hopes for Border Labor Pact,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 1, 1954; “Violence Halts Wetback Crossing,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 25, 1954; “Policy Shift Traps Mexican Farm Workers,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 26, 1954; Robert S. Robinson, “Taking the Fair Deal to the Fields: Truman’s Commission on Migratory Labor, Public Law 78, and the Bracero Program, 1950-1952,” Agricultural History84, no. 3 (Summer-2010): 394-398.; House of Representatives, Committee on Agriculture, Mexican Farm Labor. 83rdCong., 1954, 67, 69. ↩
Mireya Loza, Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial Sexual and Political Freedom, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 17, 173, 182. ↩
The 2018 Western History Association Annual Conference featured over a dozen digital, public, and teaching sessions or workshops. These sessions and workshops considered how history practitioners—K-12 educators, students at all levels, university professors, museum professionals, and public historians—study, record, and communicate the past. As in most contemporary history meetings, the question of what it means to be a twenty-first-century historian arose. While neatly answering this may be high-reaching, conference participants did consider more attainable questions: how do we democratize history, how can we make invisible history visible, how can historians present their work clearly and to the widest audience possible, how can public historians co-create historical projects with communities, what digital or traditional tools should we utilize, and how can history practitioners better collaborate with each other and others?
Public historians, digital historians, design technologists, professors, K-12 educators, librarians, archivists, as well as students considered and answered most of the above questions at the Dynamic Digital Methods for Integrating Local History into Public History Institutions and the K-16 Classroom Workshop (see page 52 of the Conference Program), which the WHA Committee on Teaching and Public Education sponsored. Linsey Passenger Wieck, Director of the Master of Arts in Public History Program at St. Mary’s University, hosted the workshop at her home campus one day after the annual conference. The workshop featured four speakers: Rebecca Wingo, Shannon Murray, Jason Heppler, and myself.
Rebecca Wingo, Director of Public History at the University of Cincinnati, opened the workshop. Wingo’s presentation centered around the History Harvest, a community-based and student-driven digital archival project in which community participants bring items of historical significance and give oral histories about their items while students digitize the objects. Participants then take their family and community heirlooms back home where they belong. While teaching at Macalester College (St. Paul, Minnesota), Wingo and her students partnered with Rondo Avenue, Inc., the governing body of St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood. As countless African American communities across the nation, the Rondo neighborhood was deliberately bifurcated by the construction of I-94 during the 1960s. Keenly aware of this history and the positionally of Macalester College as a privileged and majority white institution, Wingo discussed the importance of community leadership in the project. Honoring this, Rondo Avenue, Inc. and community members took leadership status in the partnership. Thus, Wingo and her students entered the community as welcomed partners. The resulting digitized items and oral histories provided valuable additions to Rondo Avenue, Inc.’s online history collection of photographs, historic maps, other archival materials, and oral histories housed at Remembering Rondo. Through the History Harvest process, historians, students, and community members democratize history while helping make a too often invisible local history visible.
Shannon Murray, Indigenous Programming Manager for the Calgary Stampede (a rodeo, exhibition, and festival held every July in Calgary, Alberta), presented on the work of her organization’s education team. Seeking to connect K-12 students to local history, particularly the history of First Nations, Murray’s team focused on building collaborative relations with the First Nations whose history was being told. Through such collaboration, the education wing of Calgary Stampede founded an Indigenous Youth Program to teach life skills while emphasizing the importance of culture and tradition. This collaborative focused work has also produced exhibition signage in Blackfoot for the Calgary Stampede. Perhaps most impressively, the collaboration aided Siksika Nation’s Old Sun Community College and Board of Education in creating the Blackfoot language application. In a similar vein, Jason Heppler, Digital Engagement Librarian at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, presented on making local history accessible to the public through digital archives. Heppler showcased his project Silicon Valley Historical, “a mobile app and website that lets you explore the history of Silicon Valley through location-based essays, oral history, archival images, and documentary film.”. Heppler then lead the workshop in brainstorming how digital tools can be used to improve the teaching and exhibition of history along with what tools could work for chosen projects. I presented on my digital history project, Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space, which I envision as an accessible, digital museum for both scholars and the wider public. You can read about the project in my previous post, “Digitally Mapping and Exhibiting the Plains’ Chicana/o Movement.”
Together, the workshop’s presenters and participants posited and answered many questions concerning the future of the history profession. As the number of history majors shrink alongside the job openings for historians in academia, what struck me the most profoundly from the workshop was the innovative pedagogical, civic, and research approaches that the presenters followed. One can hope such innovations will counter or solve some of the profession’s most pressing issues. Overall, I left the workshop thinking that perhaps answering what it means to be a twenty-first century historian can be done by collaboratively answering more attainable questions regarding the future and betterment of the history profession.
“About,” Silicon Valley Historical, accessed October 26, 2018, http://svhistorical.org/about/.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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:
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!”created a defining moment in his presidency and was a crucial step in solidifying support for the war on terror.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Sydney Ember and Michael M. Grynbaum, “The Not-So-Glossy Future of Magazines.” The New York Times. September 23, 2017.
Alexandra Steigrad, “Anna Wintour on Vogue at 125 – and Defining Print in the Digital Age.” Women’s Wear Daily.September 13, 2017.
Kenneth T. Walsh, “George W. Bush’s ‘Bulhorn’ Moment.” U.S. News and World Report. April 25, 2013.
Julia Azari, “A Challenge for Obama’s Successor: Being a Casual, Cool President.” Politico Magazine.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
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.