All posts filed under: History

A Photograph and a Painting: William Henry Jackson, Thomas Moran, and Capturing Yellowstone Vistas

  William Henry Jackson is one of the best-known photographers of the nineteenth-century, publishing images of the Yellowstone wilderness as a member of the government-sponsored Hayden Survey before it was a national park and documenting the White City during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition for tourists and posterity. He became a legendary figure in the narrative of National Park history, and living to almost one hundred years, served as a link between the twentieth-century obsession with the west and the myth of the frontier. Through the antebellum era there was a widespread assumption that the West was uninhabitable for “civilized men.”[1] It was too desert-like to be worthwhile. Eventually, this belief gave way to a large-scale welcoming of frontier expansion by the general population for Euro-American settlers as a result of conclusions derived under the directorship of Ferdinand V. Hayden (1829-1887) during the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. These surveys helped to “[destroy] the myth of the desert and legislat[e] the myth of the garden in its stead.”[2] Hayden approached Jackson in …

“Proud – I’ll Say!”: Images of Patriotic Service and Domestic Responsibility in World War II

When asked, “Why did you volunteer for military service?” very few female veterans will say that it was a propaganda poster which inspired the commitment. Common responses reflect a brother/cousin/friend’s enlistment or conscription. That they felt it was their duty and responsibility as a citizen of the United States. Moreover, female friends who wished to join, or had done so already, encouraged the decision. Frequently women felt their lives needed a change and they saw potential for independence and education with the military. Volunteerism was exciting, but also many thought it was necessary. At the core of all volunteer military enlistments is patriotism. Yet, visual imagery had a major impact on their decisions. As curators William L. Bird, Jr. and Harry R. Rubenstein write, “World War II posters helped to mobilize a nation. Inexpensive, accessible, and ever-present, the poster was an ideal agent for making war aims the personal mission of every citizen.”[1] It seems the advertising firms behind the messages seem to have done their job well, since few veterans acknowledge the poster as …

The Western Association of Women Historians 2015 Conference, Sacramento

Ok, folks. Here is a brief run-down of the conference I attended May 15-16, 2015. Many bits of conversations from this trip will find their way to a future AD blog posts. I love that I was able to talk through ideas with other scholars and feel inspired to pursue both academic writing and “on the side” blog topics on various issues. Until then, here is the Western Association of Women Historians 2015 conference, in brief. Historian Jane DeHart (emerita, UC Santa Barbara) declared, “Research and writing is a collaborative effort.” This contradicts much of what the public perceives of as the historian’s burden. In fact, it challenges the typical working experience of many intellectuals! But I trust the words of an incredibly successful academic when she proclaims that relationships are of utmost importance to the researcher-writer. (Additionally, one might notice a grammatical error in the statement. Are “research” and “writing” two separate actions? Deeply and somewhat obviously, no. If one writes, one researches, and vice versa.) So, here I am at the Western Association …

Why Know History? A Case for Spatiality

This week I was lucky enough to assist a friend/colleague with an end-of-semester classroom activity. Tiffany Weaver [@tileenweaver] teaches Popular Culture to freshmen and sophomores (and the random senior seeking additional credits) at Penn State Harrisburg. Each semester she concludes with a poster session that showcases the students’ final projects. As groups they are asked to evaluate a decade in American culture through the broad themes of music, film, or television and are required to create an argument that identifies features of that decade, and to integrate this with class materials. The students seem to love this project. I participated as an “official judge” and was able to talk to the students directly about their work. Clearly, they were excited about their topics – that they could “study” music or television or film history and it would actually count as a class!! Typically, when I speak to students about their assignments in my American studies courses, or when I see them in an arena like the poster session, I present a question to get at …

“Trees and the Wild”: Matt Pond, the American Pastoral and the Sublime [Condensed Version]

*The article below is a shortened version of a conference paper of the same name that I presented at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference held in New Orleans, LA on April 4, 2015. Additionally, the presentation is portion a longer work exploring the role of musicians in the twenty-first century speaking to the idea of the landscape in American culture. Scholars show that American culture, in part, developed around the people’s reaction to nature and the wilderness. Americanist Henry Nash Smith describes the pull of the frontier in Virgin Land (1950), Perry Miller depicts a nature-manipulated change in the Puritan mind in Errand into the Wilderness (1956), and cultural variations are explored in Roderick Frazier Nash’s meticulous search for American interpretation and interaction with the outdoors in Wilderness and the American Mind (1965). This nature-driven response permeates American cultural production. American nature, and the wilderness, serves as an unavoidable topic of discussion when asking the question, “Who – or what – is America?” In the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson reflected on …

ASEH 2015, Day 4: It’s what you DO.

From my perspective, the final session day of the 2015 American Society of Environmental History national conference connected general threads of conversation, rounded the jagged edges of exchange, and ultimately set us up for new work this year. National conferences are fantastic because clearly they function as the literal meeting ground for wide-scattered scholars. Colleagues who worked together for decades “caught up” socially and professionally, while newbies like me met other graduate students and season veterans, and we cherish these connections. The sessions I attended today seemed to tie up loose ends and touch on topics that might be on the periphery, but also topics that hold a continual place in academic conversation. This was a long week and the morning sessions materialized early. Early. Normally a morning person, there was a real struggle to get out of the hotel bed. I was glad I did, though, because the EnviroTech breakfast was well worth it. I had the opportunity to talk with numerous ASEH members – professors and graduate students alike – which is extremely …

ASEH 2015, Day 3: Questions of Activism and Engagement

All are getting into the groove of the American Society of Environmental History 2015 conference. Today contained a half day of sessions and followed by an afternoon of field trips. Unfortunately, I did not attend an excursion, but can speak to the morning panels. From the talk in the lobby (an exciting gathering that lit up the lounge like a house party on a dreary Friday afternoon) it sounds like the trips were a success, even in the rain and cold. The downside to a conference like the national ASEH is that one cannot hear each and every paper presented. There must be a way to access the content in our twenty-first century digital world. I implore the organizers of ASEH to consider posting abstracts on their website for the benefit of attendees. Alas, this synopsis will contain only the sessions I attended, but again – I was not disappointed. “Art into Activism, Activism into Art,” Chris Wilhelm (moderator, College of Coastal Georgia), Elizabeth (Scout) Blum (Troy University), Michael Commito (McMaster University), and Britanny Luby …

ASEH 2015 national conference, Washington D.C.

At the end of Day One of the 2015 American Society for Environmental History national conference titled “Turning Protest into Policy: Environmental Values and Governance in Changing Societies,” I can see that it will be a real “branching out” for this Americanist. While my home base at Penn State Harrisburg provides a varied and deeply rooted study of American culture, this conference allows me to extend my reach beyond American studies into other realms of environmental history: transnationalism, legal history, and the sciences. The conference also (clearly) provides an opportunity to interact with academics and non-academics alike. A few environmental “celebrities” (well, at least in my mind!) are in town [including Donald Worster, who wrote Nature’s Economy (1977) which is on my comprehensive exam reading list]. The first session today was a workshop hosted by the National Archives and facilitated by a historian at the NA, a retired historian for the Army Corps of Engineers, and a scholar from Wellesley. Immensely informative, this session presented the details, challenges, and benefits of working with federal records. …

The Womanhood Issue, #3: “Are Women’s Colleges Necessary in 2014?”

Recently, I talked with a friend about the changing status of women’s colleges in the twenty-first century. We are both affiliated with a small liberal arts college that freshly transitioned to a co-educational institute after nearly 150 years as a women’s college. While the decision to change enrollment standards was rooted in financial considerations, it is fraught with emotion on all sides of the argument. Alum who find a strong bond to each other and the college through tradition wished for little change in this area. Faculty and staff who hoped for job security reluctantly conceded a change. Current students were caught in the middle, not fully realizing the weighted history of the woman’s college as viewed by alum and professors emerita, nor the financial burdens of the institution, and the students fell on one side of the argument or the other. It is not my goal to question the validity of the decision or critique one of these opinions, but rather to take a step back and ask: “Are women’s colleges necessary in the …