Regional Libraries and the Rural/Urban Knowledge Schism


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Gregg Mitchell, M.A. Student, History Department


South Hadley Public Library

This post originally appeared as part of the Living New Deal project

Since the earliest years of the American Republic, but especially since the mid-nineteenth century, there has been a divide between rural and urban communities. This conflict persists today in several forms, one being the disparity of available knowledge between these spaces. Different states have their own unique divides, and for various reasons—and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is no exception to this rule. Eastern Massachusetts, built around Boston, is more densely populated and more developed as compared to the western half. In fact, even though Western Massachusetts is home to one-third of the state’s total area, its population amounts to only one-ninth of the state total. Consequently, Western Massachusetts has had to be a constant advocate, pressing for access to knowledge in the forms of various institutions. In the 1930s, an innovative program spawned out of the New Deal worked to address this deficit of available knowledge in rural America.

Recently, I became involved with a project exploring the history of the Massachusetts Library System (MLS). This organization operates as a collaborative. Its goal is to ensure that all public libraries within the state of Massachusetts can work together and freely share their resources. The MLS also decides how state funds are allocated to each library, depending on the wants and needs of each institution. For a state that is over 200 years old and known for the value it places upon education, it is surprising that the MLS did not expand to all libraries within Massachusetts until 2010. Until the MLS brought all of these libraries into their organization, many isolated regional library systems existed within the state. The last holdout to this consolidation of regional libraries was the Western Massachusetts Regional Library System (WMRLS). This organization was created in 1940 through New Deal funding via the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was seen as a way to share resources and materials across various institutions within the four most western counties of the state. This group-sharing system worked quite well for the libraries and academic institutions that participated. These other academic institutions could include any organization that owned a library, archive, or records and wished to join into this group sharing network. During the first two years of WPA funding, this library collaborative effort grew to 92 member institutions, including local universities, community colleges, public libraries, schools, hospitals, and even courts. Over the years, this regional entity would grow to total 312 members before ultimately being absorbed into the MLS in 2010.

While the WMRLS no longer exists, its mission lives on through a sister organization called the Western Massachusetts Library Advocates (WMLA), founded in 1898. This organization overtook the role the WMRLS played in advocating for rural libraries following their consolidation into the MLS. Many members of the former WMRLS have become members and even officers with the WMLA organization. They continue to advocate for rural libraries and work to improve access to knowledge in a variety of ways. Many rural communities in the United States suffer from this lack of attention by the more urban and populous sectors of society. This may start with access to educational options, but in time leads to limited access to higher paying jobs, less market activity, and ultimately spirals back to the area’s social services including local libraries, which are forced to pool their resources and band together in order to take care of their sparsely populated regions. What solutions are available to address these problems? Do the answers already exist in lessons from our past? Many rural libraries and library systems, including the WMRLS, were created through New Deal funding under the Roosevelt administration. Would it be possible to emulate these programs such as the WPA, which have proved successful in the past? During its time, programs such as the WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) reinvested billions of dollars into local municipalities in order to both alleviate unemployment and provide an updated infrastructure for community services. Examples of this new infrastructure included libraries, museums, post offices, bridges, and many more. These institutions and structures are still a part of the fabric of the many towns and cities they were created in. Could pumping either state or federal funds into rural communities reverse this intellectual schism that still persists today? While I cannot say for certain this is the answer, there is enough historical precedent to at least give it a try.

Living In Another Language



Hunter Oberg, History Major, UMass Amherst

Hikone, Japan

Hikone, Japan

During the summer of 2014, from June through the beginning of August, I undertook what was the most challenging, yet rewarding academic experiences of my undergraduate career: studying Japanese in Japan. Having been fascinated by Japan and its language, culture, and history for a number of years, I had finally gotten the opportunity not only to spend time there, but to study the language and culture up close. The program I studied at, Japan Center for Michigan Universities, requires that only Japanese be used during classroom hours. The instructors communicate with students using only Japanese and the students, in turn, respond in Japanese, unless asking permission first to use English, which may be, and usually was, denied. Initially this was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life. One of the biggest challenges of living in another country, especially when the language used is not your own, is communication. English isn’t uncommon in Japan. There will be signs in English, stores or restaurants that use English names, like say a Starbucks, and the names of Japanese places might be translated into Romaji, which is the translation of Japanese into the Latin alphabet, but the English Language itself will be rarely used outside of big cities.

Part of the Peace Park in Hiroshima

Part of the Peace Park in Hiroshima

I got my first taste of this after leaving the airport in Nagoya when I was attempting to make my way to the program. Having next to no usable Japanese, I was lulled into a false sense of security at the airport, the flight attendants spoke English, announcements were made in English, so I was little prepared for trying to buy a subway ticket, a train ticket, and further, trying to read and make sense of what was on the ticket, which happened to be mostly in Japanese. This isn’t to say getting around or experiencing Japan is impossible if you don’t speak Japanese, but it will be tremendously helpful if you do. One of the most rewarding experiences in all of this, of course was when I was able to understand or communicate in Japanese. But, even when I couldn’t understand, even during the moments when I had no hope of figuring out what was being said, I was still able to appreciate and enjoy the fact that I was surrounded by a language and culture that wasn’t my own.

The dome at Hiroshima

The dome at Hiroshima

The best example of this was when I, along with four other students from my program, hiked ancient pilgrimage route into the small mountain town of Koya to stay at a Buddhist temple. Koya, generally referred to as Koyasan, is home to a large number of Buddhist temples, which offer lodging called Shukubo, where you’re given a room, meals, and the chance to watch the monks perform their morning prayers. Despite having spent almost all of my waking hours studying Japanese, I could barely understand the chanting of the monks. This didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the experience at all, in fact in some ways it might have enhanced it. I stopped any attempt at trying to translate what I was hearing and instead only enjoyed the moment, which was unlike anything I’ve experienced to this point in my life.

Garden at the temple in Koyasan.

Garden at the temple in Koyasan.

Studying Japanese in Japan provided a unique experience, one that isn’t readily available in the United States. I was forced to use the language inside the classroom by my professors and of course, had to use the language outside of it to survive. Whether I was in a grocery store attempting to figure out the price or location of an item or in the train station trying to ask for directions, I had the chance to use what I learned in a meaningful way. I also had experiences in Japan where I couldn’t understand what was going on, but was able to appreciate that moment for what it was. Initially it can be terrifying experience when people are speaking and announcements are being made and you can understand almost none it, but it can also be exhilarating.

Itsukushima Shrine. A famous Shinto Shrine located on the island of Itsukushima, popularly referred to as Myajima.

Itsukushima Shrine. A famous Shinto Shrine located on the island of Itsukushima, popularly referred to as Myajima.

All of this would not have been possible without the help the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. The scholarship, provided by the State Department and only available to those receiving a Pell Grant, seeks to help individuals study abroad that ordinarily might not be able to. You can find out more about the Gilman Scholarship and studying abroad by going to the Education Abroad Office located on  455 Hills South, 111 Thatcher Road on the UMass campus.

Floating Torii

Floating Torii

A Transplanted Historian: Cape Town to Amherst


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Neroli Price, M.A. student, University of Capetown

History is not something which is floating ‘out there’ waiting to be found. It is constantly being negotiated and renegotiated across time and space, influenced by changing paradigms of meaning-making. Historians, or self-appointed ‘guardians of the past’, are deeply embroiled in this perpetual conversation. Being self-reflective about my own role in this ever evolving process is what inspired me to transplant myself from the University of Cape Town (UCT) at the southern tip of Africa to the University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Amherst in the north eastern United States.

Neroli Price at the Brooklyn Bridge

Neroli Price at the Brooklyn Bridge

I initially chose to spend a semester abroad at UMass because of the prestigious Public History program it offers. The core principles of Public History, to expand knowledge and its creation beyond the academy and to engage with communities around history, identity and heritage in an empowering manner, was to me an exciting prospect and one that, in my eyes, had many progressive and democratising ideals at its centre. I was fortunate enough to land amongst a dynamic, warm and engaging group of graduate students and staff in the History department at UMass that allowed me to challenge myself and grow through the process. Evidently, interacting with individuals who inhabit vastly different realities to your own is an incredibly powerful way to challenge your own assumptions. Thus, not only did I learn about a new place and people, but I also learnt about where I come from through the eyes of others.

At home, in South Africa, where the official end of apartheid occurred during my lifetime in 1994, the project of rewriting history has been personally both immediate and visceral on an everyday level. From the changing street names, to the vastly different school curricula my parents and I learnt, to the building of new monuments and museums… History is everywhere in post-apartheid South Africa. Although, on one level, these were arguably cosmetic changes that to some extent obscure the lasting socio-economic inequalities of colonialism and apartheid, their symbolic value is immense. This very obvious refashioning of the historical narrative lies at the heart of my own interest in the past, or rather the stories we tell about it, their impact and their changing meanings.

Engaging with Public History at UMass was a very different experience. There has not been a significant rupture in the national narrative like in South Africa, but rather an ever swelling critique about the silences that the ‘American dream’ necessarily engenders. Why is Native American History popularly referred to as ‘pre-history’? Why does American history seemingly only start with European settlers arriving in the North east? These fundamental assumptions are not unique to the US, they exist in national histories the world over and they are necessarily violent, erasing entire populations by shining spotlights on others. In South Africa, the new national narrative is deeply wedded to the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC); and, as mandated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), has been hemmed into a short thirty year period, starting with the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 and ending with the first democratic elections of 1994. What about the thousands of years before Europeans settled in southern Africa? Does that not count as history? Is that relegated to the realm of archaeology – to the mystical and the ancient worlds that we often view with rose-tinted glasses? Where do we draw lines and distinguish one period, genre, or discipline from another? These are all deeply political and dangerous decisions that require a lot of self-awareness on the part of the historian.

Two weeks ago, a group of students at my home university, UCT, staged a protest, dumping human faeces on a campus statue of the infamous colonist, Cecil John Rhodes. They were literally utilising the sewage that most black South Africans encounter on an everyday basis as a result of poor service delivery in the townships – a legacy of apartheid era urban planning and ideals of separate development – to draw attention to the continued presence and glorification of colonialism in post-apartheid South Africa and more specifically in spaces of higher education that profess to now serve all South Africans. The daily offence caused by the presence of this statue can only be imagined by those of us whose histories, whether we like it or not, are aptly represented by such physical reminders of conquest and subjugation. As Pumla Gqola, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, has argued in response to these recent events, public statues “are powerful concrete reminders and celebrations of the figures they represent. They tell us about who and what matters, who is disposable, who should be invisibilised.” This debate, for me, illustrates the vitally important role of history in the struggle for social justice in the present and future.

students protesting statue of Cecil Rhodes (courtesy Michael Hammond University of Capetown Daily News)

students protesting statue of Cecil Rhodes (courtesy Michael Hammond University of Capetown Daily News)

Although these debates are certainly thriving in the US, most recently in the wake of protests against police brutality in Ferguson and many other parts of the country, some of the historical sites that we visited as part of the field trips organised by the Public History program lacked obvious engagement with the problematic nature of preserving and glorifying settler colonialism. In particular, during a cruise down the Connecticut River, we came across Turner’s Falls, named after a British general who massacred Native American women, children and the elderly while the men were away hunting. Another site that we visited, Historic Deerfield, also seemed to romanticise settler colonialism in North America, by preserving and re-enacting a period of American history that was incredibly violent and destructive from the perspective of the eventual victors. Obviously, I am not advocating throwing excrement at Turner’s Falls or Historic Deerfield – we cannot simply cut and paste these responses. Although the comparison between public history in South Africa and the US is useful in highlighting certain similarities and speaking to my own personal reference points, there are evidently contextual differences and thus no single solution. My aim is to allow the comparison to foster new questions, new ways of thinking and, importantly, to highlight, that these challenges are ones with historians are facing all over the world.

Public History trip to Turner's Falls along the Connecticut River

Public History trip to Turner’s Falls along the Connecticut River

Of course, I do not approach this topic one-dimensionally. I understand the complexities and contradictions present in the contemporary power structures that manifest in the impossibility of trying to please everyone, of the all too real budgetary constraints in the heritage sector, of access to sources of reliable information, of funding lobbies etc. However, as uncomfortable and painful as it might be, we have a responsibility as historians, not to dictate the meanings of the past, but rather encourage popular audiences to engage with the changing meanings of history. It is towards this end that I transplanted myself to learn from a different place, people and history-making and ended up making some life-long friends along the way.

Neroli Price with fellow UMass students Natalie Sherif and Julie Peterson

Neroli Price with fellow UMass students

Reflections on the 2015 GHA Conference


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Chelsea Miller, M.A. student, History Department


One broad theme I noticed during this weekend’s conference was the translation of ideas from abstract forms to material consequences. From aesthetics and political imagination to social justice in the classroom, my attention was drawn to the question of how our ideas and imagination manifest as art, interpersonal interactions, and teaching materials. These can either uphold or resist power dynamics and oppression.

Chelsea Miller asking a question during the opening panel

Chelsea Miller asking a question during the opening panel

Bryn Schockmel, of Boston University, presented a paper exploring how fourteenth-century Italian iconography traveled to the Netherlands to be woven into a sixteenth-century silk tapestry. The movement of ideas, iconography, and design can be attributed to the tastes of elite ruling classes – specifically, in this case, the Medici family. King Henry VIII eventually became the owner of the tapestries central to Schockmel’s thesis, among many more carpets, and several paintings survive of Henry posed with his material conquests. In contrast, Joan Blanchfield, of SUNY Albany, highlighted the interconnected world of avant-garde art following World War II and focused on Richard Stankiewicz’s explicit criticisms of global post-war politics and the artistic tastes of elites in the United States and Europe. Andrew Stahlhut, visiting from Lehigh University, has taken a transnational approach to the interactions between the British Empire, Dutch traders, and the Iroquois Nations in upstate New York in focusing on borderlands history and how the British Empire depended on the precarious cooperation of Dutch and Iroquois actors. Additionally, as Stahlhut posited, the transnational approach that borderlands history provides is a recognition that history still happens “when rich white guys aren’t around.”


Andrew Stahlhut, PhD Lehigh University, discussing early American borderlands

The panel on teaching for social justice outlined how several of our own history professors incorporate learning about social change and oppression into their lesson plans. In Professor Julio Capó’s classes, Professor Capó encourages students to write down their preferred pronouns on an index card at the beginning of the semester. For a number of students, this might be a way to comfortably express their identity. For students who had never before encountered the complexities of gender identity and expression, this might create feelings of discomfort. In either case, this activity offers a subtle, yet powerful, means to engage with the topic of gender identity.

Social Justice Panel left to right: Libby Sharrow, Julio Capó, Richard Chu, Barbara Krauthamer

Social Justice Panel left to right: Libby Sharrow, Julio Capó, Richard Chu, Barbara Krauthamer

Professor Richard Chu highlighted the importance of incorporating activism and service into the classroom experience. Professor Chu’s courses often deal with inequalities experienced by a range of people as a result of imperialism, colonialism, and systems of dependence. In order to bridge the gap between academic learning and activism, community service can be integrated into history courses. I would argue in support of this suggestion: partnerships with local communities can provide valuable experiences for all parties involved and highlight to students that social justice and history are intertwined.

Professor Libby Sharrow also expanded on these issues in emphasizing that educators must always be involved in the processes of learning, and that there are inherent power dynamics in the student-teacher relationship. Thus, a discussion about social change must also be a discussion about power. In promoting classroom diversity, teachers can use their agenda-setting power to make important decisions about constructing the syllabus and gathering resources for students to use.

I think there is one statement that addresses a major focus of this weekend’s conference and how many of us in the department do history. Before Andrew Stahlhut presented his paper on borderlands history and empire, he made this statement: “Academic history is not about finding the right answers. That’s boring. It’s a way of thinking.” The panels emphasized different ways of thinking that have real consequences. By embracing social justice in the classroom and within the field of history, we can more successfully open up conversations about the past and what this means for the future.

GHA Officers left to right: Janelle Bourgeois, Marwa Amer, Emily Pipes, Felicia Jameson

GHA Officers left to right: Janelle Bourgeois, Marwa Amer, Emily Pipes, Felicia Jameson

Reflections on Writing the History of the Holyoke Civic Symphony Orchestra


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By Dr. Jane Rausch, Professor Emerita, Department of History


In 2017 the Holyoke Civic Symphony will celebrate its 50th anniversary. As a non-profit organization composed of 60 mostly non professional musicians who come together once a week to rehearse, it has survived, thanks to generous support from Holyoke Community College (HCC) and local businesses. The organization has also thrived because of the efforts of highly motivated instrumentalists and Boards of Directors. These individuals were determined to provide opportunities for people in Holyoke and the surrounding communities both to play and to hear high quality performances of symphonic works of music.

Last October, having completed my latest book on Colombia and looking around for a new project, I rashly offered to write a history of the orchestra (of which I have been a member since 2006) as part of the anniversary activities. Soon I was happily engaged sorting through the three “bank boxes” of documents dealing with the period between 1967 and 1998 that our current business manger was threatening to discard because they were taking up too much space in her tiny office at HCC (!). Working steadily, I now have a 170- page manuscript that is organized as follows: After a brief description of the city of Holyoke and HCC in the 1960s, I discuss the founding of the orchestra and it first years from 1967-1973; its struggle to find an identity, 1973-75; its survival under six different music directors 1975-1985; Its incorporation and continuing search for stability, 1985-1997; and its renewal and new direction under its current music director, David Kidwell, 1998-2017.

This first experience at writing local history has brought me many joys and poses a variety of problems. Among the joys have been learning about the unique history of the city of Holyoke (about which I knew nothing previously); the founding and development of HCC; the inner workings of an orchestra; especially the role played by the Board of Directors, and finally, the qualities a music director must possess if he or she is to mold a group of amateur musicians of widely varying abilities into an ensemble that can perform symphonic music at a near professional level.

Alas, there are also problems. The biggest difficulty has been that the paper documents disappear after 1998. Fortunately, one of the original members of the orchestra loaned me his collection of all the printed concert programs between 1967 and 2010 (the year he retired from the orchestra) which has been a major source of information, but the other primary source– the minutes of the Board of Directors– are harder to come by. Once computers became the main method of communicating and recording information, successive secretaries and business managers seemed to have made no effort to collect or organize digital files. Some past secretaries have sent me their files, but others have erased the information so that there are many gaps in my account. Other problems lying ahead include: how to incorporate the memories, thoughts, and observations of the six or seven individuals who have played with the orchestra for more than forty years; how to include photographs that appeared on occasion in newspaper reviews; and finally, how to get financial support for the manuscript’s publication.

Well, I have two years to sort these matters out. As Albert Schweitzer allegedly said: “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats,” and I have access to both. Marco, my compañero, is pictured below.


Confessions of a CGSer: The NEMA Career Growth Studio in Review



By Amanda Goodheart Parks, ABD Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History

This past November, I had the privilege of participating in the first ever NEMA Career Growth Studio. Due to work conflicts, I wasn’t able to attend this year’s conference, so as hundreds of my fellow museum folk headed home after three days of NEMA, I wandered into the Cambridge Hyatt feeling as though I had walked in late to a really great party. However, my fears of feeling left out were quickly assuaged when I was greeted by Dan Yaeger, Marieke Van Damme, and Sarah Marcoux Franke, my guides for this exciting new Career Growth Studio experiment.

We began with a cocktail hour, a welcomed opportunity for the twenty-five or so attendees to meet and mingle. Topics of conversation varied. Some dove straight into networking mode, while others debriefed about conference sessions. I chose the “get to know you” route, and quickly discovered I had much in common with my fellow CGSers. Most of us were women in our 20s and 30s with graduate degrees, and though our respective jobs, institutions, and life goals varied, a common theme began to emerge in one conversation after another— “I love working in the museum field, but…” More on that in a bit.

After we ventured upstairs to the penthouse suite overlooking the Charles River, I sat down at a table of CGSers I hadn’t met during the cocktail hour, and over a fantastic spread of seasonal delights such as butternut squash bisque (the food was spectacular!), we began chatting. Sure enough, that pesky refrain began to crop up again— “I love working in the museum field, but…” Shortly thereafter, Marieke joined our table and talked about her Joyful Museums project, an initiative dedicated to inspiring positive workplace culture in museums…and then the floodgates opened. Suddenly, our friendly dinner conversation transformed into a confessional for overworked, underpaid, emerging museum professionals. Comments ranged from, “…I’m grateful for my full time museum job, but I feel trapped and undervalued in my current position,” to “…Every job posting requires 5-7 years of full time experience. How will I ever get hired?” to “…On the outside, my organization looks like a great place to work, but our director’s management style is toxic…”

At first, we feared it was just our table. We feared we were the only ones caught up in a seemingly endless venting session — it wasn’t just us. Sure enough, all four tables of CGSers were using our first meal together as a forum to voice gripes, fears, and guilt relating to working in the museum field. Luckily, Dan, Marieke and Sarah sensed our need to voice these frustrations, so our first activity was filling an entire flip chart with our concerns in an act that seemed more like group therapy than career growth. Afterward, we took our first of many “mindfulness pauses” to reflect and jot down our homework before calling it a night. Yes, I said homework. We were assigned the task of committing the following things to paper: Our biggest professional regret, our proudest professional moment, and a goal we wanted the Career Growth Studio to help us achieve.

Career Growth Studio Blog Photo

When we reconvened the following morning over an array of breakfast delights (did I mention the food was spectacular?), the mood was one of relief and excitement. Relief because we had unburdened ourselves of our worries the night before, and excitement because we were looking forward to gaining new skills and knowledge to help quell said worries. Through a series of modules on topics ranging from Networking to Leadership, we spent the morning getting to know one another’s work situations, identifying solutions to our challenges, as well as sharing tips and best practices. Our facilitators offered points of departure for discussion, but for the most part, the best conversations stemmed from the group itself. Dan, Marieke, and Sarah jokingly referred to us as guinea pigs at the start of our time together, and to some extent, we were, but their willingness to structure the workshop around our specific needs, rather than stick to a pre-determined agenda, was what made the Career Growth Studio so beneficial. After an amazing lunch and some wrap up conversations (seriously, did I mention the food?), we ended with an agreement to create a private Facebook group to continue our conversations. We also plan to meet at next year’s NEMA conference in Portland, just as NEMA welcomes a second cohort of CGSers into the fold.

While the best part of the Career Growth Studio was working toward my individual professional goals, here are a few universal takeaways from my CGS experience:

1. Lead by example regardless of your position in your institutional hierarchy.
2. It can take up to two days for your body to recover from a stressful event, so find a stress management technique that works for you and stick with it!
3. Two words: Elevator Speech. Write it, memorize it, but most importantly, be it! You should have a different elevator speech for each of the following situations: Networking, Social Events, Representing Your Institution, and most importantly, Representing Yourself.
4. Reflective practice isn’t just a conference buzz word! Incorporate reflection and mindfulness into your daily life to inspire creative thinking and positivity.
5. And finally, never underestimate the power of a hand written thank you note.

In conclusion, as a museum professional in the early stages of my career, I found the NEMA Career Growth Studio to be equal parts catharsis and inspiration. In my opinion, the opportunity to talk to colleagues from other museums is the best part of NEMA conferences and workshops. The Career Growth Studio took this one step further. By granting my fellow attendees and I a safe, encouraging, and supportive environment to speak frankly about our professional challenges, goals, and dreams, NEMA allowed us the opportunity to not only better ourselves as museum professionals, but our New England museum community as a whole.

Amanda Goodheart Parks earned her M.A. in Public History from UMass in 2010. Currently an ABD Ph.D. candidate, Amanda works full time in the Education Department at the Springfield Museums in addition to her ongoing work on her dissertation which focuses on gender in the New England whaling industry.

Der Neunte Elfte [The ninth of the eleventh]: A Complicated Date in German History



By Deborah Kallman, MA Candidate, Department of History

Public History students in Professor Jon Olsen’s Introduction to Public History course recently curated an exhibit, Der Neunte Elfte, in conjunction with campus events commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. The fall of the Berlin Wall represented a celebratory moment in German history and heralded the end of the Cold War; but this date is shared with darker moments in German history. The students’ exhibit addresses the complex history behind this date, which has prevented its consideration as a day of national celebration. Instead, October 3, the date of German reunification became the national holiday after 1990.

Der Neunte Elfte

Der Neunte Elfte

Students Rose Gallenberger, Emily Jarmolowicz, Deborah Kallman, and Santo Mammone installed Der Neunte Elfte in conjunction with the November 12 screening of My ’89, six short films by students of director Helke Misselwitz. This screening is just one event in a semester-long series dedicated to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (the series is entitled “Wall Stories 25 Years and After”) and is part of a grant UMass received from the German Embassy in Washington DC. “Wall Stories” is a collaborative effort between German and Scandinavian Studies, the Department of History, and the DEFA Film Library. Members of the community are encouraged to read more about “Wall Stories” and attend upcoming events.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is understandably a moment of light in German history, but what other events also share the date of November 9? In 1918 Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate his throne. Wilhelm II had been Germany’s emperor since 1888 and, facing growing unrest and revolution, (the Imperial Navy had mutinied) he renounced his throne and went into exile in the Netherlands. In the wake of his abdication, two republics were declared: the Socialist Republic and the Democratic Republic. The Democratic Republic¾later known as the Weimar Republic¾survived but was weak and plagued by numerous revolts and hyperinflation. The Republic collapsed in 1933 with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power as Chancellor.

Film Director Helke Misselwitz

Film Director Helke Misselwitz

In 1923, Adolf Hitler mounted his first attempt to take over the Republican government in a failed coup known as the Hitlerputsch or, as it is known in America, the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler, General Erich Ludendorff, and 2,000 ill-armed putschists seized the military headquarters in Munich and took members of the city council as hostages. They marched to the Felderrnhalle, a monument to Bavarian army leaders, where they clashed with police. Sixteen putschists and four police officers died in the skirmish. Hitler was tried and convicted of high treason but given a lenient sentence. He served a mere eight months in prison during which time he wrote Mein Kampf, outlining his ideology and world view. Hitler learned from the failed putsch and he carefully reorganized and built the Nazi Party. His election in 1933 as Chancellor enabled him to fulfill the nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic aims outlined in Mein Kampf.

1938 marked the darkest event that shares the date of November 9–Kristallnacht–or “Night of Broken Glass.” On this night, Germany’s streets erupted in violence as Nazi rioters destroyed Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues, and cemeteries. Dozens of Jews were killed and hundreds wounded. Tens of thousands of male Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. This violence marked a turning point in the Nazis’ anti-Jewish policies and began a staggering escalation of radically anti-Semitic measures that ultimately culminated in the Nazis’ “Final Solution” and the Holocaust.

The culmination of a series of mass demonstrations throughout Germany during the previous year, the actual fall of the Wall on the evening of November 9, 1989 was somewhat serendipitous.   A member of the government mistakenly announced that East Germans could travel to the West on the night of November 9, 1989.  The announcement was meant to convey that the number of travel permits would be increased. In the immediate aftermath of Gunter Schabowski’s announcement, thousands of East Germans gathered at the seven major checkpoints. Unable to hold back the crowds, border patrol guards disobeyed standing orders and permitted East Berliners to cross into the West. Germany was reunited on October 3, 1990. Although the newly reunited government would face many cultural and economic challenges, the fall of the Wall heralded the end of Communist Eastern Germany and the Cold War.

Santo Mammone discusses the fall of the Berlin Wall as Emily Jarmolowicz looks on

Santo Mammone discusses the fall of the Berlin Wall as Emily Jarmolowicz looks on

This timely exhibit provided valuable experience for these aspiring public historians but more importantly it represented an important service for the community: a means of educating the public about these painful and sometimes overlooked dates in German history. As we celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty-five years later, we remember the other legacies and complex history associated with the date of November 9.

The Med Student’s Museum?


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By Meghan Gelardi Holmes, alumna, UMass Public History

Almost ten years ago now, I heard Linda Friedlander from the Yale Center for British Art talk about the museum’s innovative program for first-year medical students. Using visual thinking strategies well-known to art historians, this class aimed to help future physicians hone their ability to correctly assess patients and clinical situations. Museums as labs for medical students? Or training grounds for police officers? Sign me up. The idea remained lodged in the back of my mind – I, too, wanted to take on the challenge of collapsing disciplinary boundaries in the museum setting.

The opportunity finally presented itself while I was working at the Taubman Museum of Art, developing programs for college students and adults. The Taubman is located in Roanoke, Virginia, where Carilion Clinic is big business. This network of hospitals and providers stretches across rural southwestern Virginia, providing care to over one million Virginians and acting as one of the largest employers in the region. The museum had recently formed a young professionals group to help us organize events and encourage membership; several people in the group had ties to Carilion.

After a few meetings, I learned that one group member directed the Roanoke Brain Study at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute; the project focuses on human decision-making and the ways in which cultural messages affect our decisions. Her research examines the ways our brain assigns value to abstract concepts, and how, for example, these valuations – monetary, social, etc. – might influence our interpretation of art (among other things). A collaboration was born. Not only did this seem like an ideal entry point to explore the connections between visual thinking, medical practice, and neuroscience, but our development office found the possibility of attracting a whole new audience to the museum quite appealing.


– A functional MRI shows increased brain activity in certain areas while volunteers make decisions about certain works of art. (Roanoke Brain Study)

We called our first event “This Is Your Brain on Art.” It was part of a series of programs entitled “Conversations,” designed to bring together people from different backgrounds to share their unique perspective on a particular exhibition. Up to this point, we paired experts in different fields – maybe photography and history, say – but not different disciplines entirely. For this event, Dr. Harvey provided the scientific narrative; our education staff and audience served as the counterfoil, by participating in an interactive exercise assigning value to paintings in galleries. The program got rave reviews from the audience, although the balance of the conversation skewed towards the neuroscience.

Our next step was to develop a more focused set of programs, which we referred to as the Science Café. Admittedly, our project was much smaller in scope than those that served as my initial inspiration. There are so many ways in which the visual arts and biological sciences overlap, and although our constituency included a sizable population of people in both fields, they weren’t talking to each other – and certainly not within the walls of the museum. Our modest goal was to create a space where they could have a regular dialogue, thereby influencing each other’s thinking and methodology. (Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, this model shares some similarities with medical humanities programs. These new initiatives teach medical students to employ narrative or historical context, for example, to enrich their training.) We were concerned about a number of things that could impede the success of the Science Café, but mostly, I wanted our choice of topics and presenters to be very precise. The most crucial component, in my mind, was that we select issues for discussion that were neither squarely in the field of neuroscience (like our first event) nor purely art historical in nature. Our initial slate of topics included an examination of color theory (central in both fields, but conceived of differently) and a discussion about the varied meanings of elegance (elegant design, elegant solutions, etc.).

The Science Café didn’t quite get off the ground. Financial considerations and a changing executive structure meant certain initiatives were benched for a bit. And yet, our initial program had some legs. This spring, the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine turned the Science Café on its head and created a mini medical school targeted towards non-professionals, called “Anatomy for Artists and Other Curious Sorts.” The opening seminar for the program was drawn from our very first event, proving that both communities continue to be interested in finding opportunities to bridge the disciplinary divide.

Later this month, the New England Museum Association will be highlighting these kinds of programs (and many, many others) during their annual conference; the theme is “Picture of Health: Museums, Wellness, and Healthy Communities.” In addition to the presentations from the MFA and other art museums about medical-museum collaborations, I plan to attend a few of the talks that speak even more directly to public historians. I am eager to hear about the myriad creative ways in which museums across the region are meeting new and interdisciplinary goals and serving as a laboratory for students in a variety of professions. Two sessions focus on reading objects; bringing historical analysis to bear with visual thinking skills is an important piece of the puzzle for museums with object-based collections. I am also looking forward to hearing about issues-based exhibitions and programs, like those at the Culinary Arts Museum, the Boston Children’s Museum, and the Yale Peabody Museum, as I am convinced history museums are poised to develop partnerships with medical schools that could simultaneously benefit both medical students and the museum’s own audiences. (Think explorations of historical foodways paired with dietician training or pop-up object analysis on a medical school campus.) Lots of food for thought – I hope to see you there.

Introducing Edith Wharton to the Students of Today


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By Debbie Kallman, M.A. Student, Department of History

Little did I know that the UMass Public History Program trip to the Berskshires last autumn would lead to a rewarding internship this summer at The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts. The Mount, designed and built in 1902, is the onetime home of Edith Wharton (1862-1937), the celebrated novelist and the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This Gilded Age mansion now operates as a historic house museum. In addition to tours of the house and gardens, the site offers a wide range of public programming. The Mount’s on-site school programs were particularly attractive to me. These programs, designed for grades 7-12, in the fields of social studies, language arts, and art and design, provided an opportunity to link the public historian’s important role as an educator with my personal love of literature.

Debbie Kallman in Mrs. Wharton's Library

Debbie Kallman in Mrs. Wharton’s Library

The Mount’s on-site school programs explore Wharton’s life and work, the significance of her Berkshire writer’s retreat, and Gilded Age America.   These programs attract approximately 600 students per year, and while most are drawn from Massachusetts schools, The Mount also attracts students from New York school districts. Sixty to seventy percent of students attend private schools while the remaining thirty to forty percent are drawn from public schools. My supervisor, Kelsey Mullen, was quick to explain that attending a private school is not necessarily an indicator that a student comes from a privileged background. It became essential for me to link Edith Wharton and her world to students from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds and who may have different academic interests other than literature.

Three projects comprised my internship. The first two involved writing educational units for two of The Mount’s current on-site offerings. I selected two social studies programs. For each program, I wrote three pre-visit lesson plans, a step-by-step program for the on-site visit, and two post-visit lesson plans. Each lesson plan included source documents, key vocabulary terms, and activities. I adapted learning objectives and activities for each age group. It was essential that the field experience be integral to the learning outcomes of the unit and tie to the Common Core standards. As many of these students may not know who Edith Wharton was or may not be familiar with her work, these units offer an opportunity to introduce students to Wharton, to the time and place in which she lived, and to draw connections from Wharton and her world to the present day. The issues of wealth disparity, labor relations, working conditions, and class and cultural differences explored in both of these educational units still exist in the present day. Finally, what local connections could I make for the students?

In the first unit, entitled “My Dear Governess: A Portrait of Anna Bahlmann, ” I introduce students to the art of biography but also to issues of class and gender during the period beginning with the Gilded Age and ending midway through World War I when Bahlmann died. Anna Bahlmann worked with Wharton for over forty years–first as her governess and later as her secretary. Irene Goldman-Price recently published the edited letters from Wharton to Bahlmann. These letters offer students a glimpse into the world these two women shared. The primary learning objective for students is to closely read excerpts of these published letters and other sources, visit The Mount to learn more about the day-to-day life of each woman, and then to extract key pieces of information from these sources and their site visit in order to write a biographical sketch of Bahlmann.

A second unit, “Making the Picture Prettier: Edith Wharton and the Fictional Lens,” explores Wharton’s 1907 novel The Fruit of the Tree, juxtaposed against the child labor photographs of Lewis Hine (1874-1940). Wharton’s novel and Hine’s photographs critically depict early twentieth-century mill life in New England. Hine traveled throughout the country photographing child laborers at work in an effort to influence state and federal child labor legislative reform. Wharton’s complex novel addressed early twentieth-century social issues including labor and working conditions at a fictional New England Mill. The purpose of this unit is to explore how these artists framed their work. What did they omit? What did they include? Who were their intended audiences? What may have been the purpose of their work? Were they attempting to influence political action or were these artists simply drawing attention to important social issues of their time? Finally, students are asked to consider how these social issues resonate in the twenty-first century.

The third project is still in progress. As summer ends, I am adapting the current physical exhibit Edith Wharton and World War I to an online format. The exhibit focuses on Edith Wharton’s humanitarian work during World War I. Wharton founded a number of charities and relief organizations during the war and made numerous trips to the front to deliver medical supplies. The current exhibit has been on display for several years and will be taken down in the coming year. Adapting this exhibit to an online format provides future patrons with an opportunity to learn more about Wharton’s often overlooked activities during the war and how the war impacted Wharton both personally and professionally. Mullen helped me to understand that patrons typically visit an online exhibit for less than five minutes. Therefore it is critical that the exhibit capture and hold the audience’s interest so that they experience most if not all of the exhibit. My task will be to edit the images and text in the current exhibit, write a script for the online exhibit, conduct additional research, potentially incorporate new materials, and determine navigation for the exhibit. This promises to be a challenging project for this future public historian, but more importantly it will insure that the scholarship manifested in the current exhibit lives on to be enjoyed by others in future years.

Debbie Kallman with Andrew Hitzhusen portraying Wharton's butler Alfred White and Anne Schuyler portraying Wharton's secretary Anna Bahlmann

Debbie Kallman with Andrew Hitzhusen portraying Wharton’s butler Alfred White and Anne Schuyler portraying Wharton’s secretary Anna Bahlmann

This internship introduced me to the complexities of educational program delivery in a museum setting. While developing school programs that conform to educational standards is indeed important, the public historian grapples with larger issues in terms of how best to tailor programs to the interests of the intended audience yet also fit into the museum’s overall mission and values. How can we link past and present through educational programs? How do we navigate sensitive issues including class, ethnicity, and gender? What activities would be relevant to the learning objectives but also interesting and engaging to students? Similarly, when adapting a physical exhibit to an online format, it is not simply a matter or replicating material on the museum’s internet pages, but rather it is vital to consider the viewer’s needs and perspectives. What would our “typical” patron want to learn? How do we best structure the exhibit and navigation for ease of use? What should be the ratio of images to text? Should there be audio bites? Does the material better lend itself to a chronological or thematic format? These are a few of the many larger issues that the public historian must consider when developing programs–yet contemplating these and other issues are also what lends appeal to the work of the public historian.

I would encourage any public history student pondering a career in museum and site interpretation to consider the program and educational aspects of the field as these roles are rewarding and truly make a difference and a summer internship is a great way to learn and experiment with program delivery.

Historians and Our Planet’s Future: Reports from the People’s Climate March



 Compiled by Dan Chard with Jessica Johnson, Mark Roblee, Sigrid Schmalzer, and Miriam Wells.

Historians spend a great deal of time writing and teaching about history, and occasionally we like to participate in it as well.

Faculty and graduate students from the UMass Amherst History Department were among the 400,000 people who descended upon Manhattan on Sunday, September 21, for the People’s Climate March, an event organizers dubbed “the largest climate march in history.” The March brought together a diverse coalition of indigenous peoples, students, religious groups, community organizations, unions, environmentalists, and others from throughout New York, North America, and the world. More than 500 buses transported participants there, including 22 from Western Massachusetts, 6 of them from UMass. Solidarity actions took place in over 150 countries.

The March was timed to roughly coincide with Tuesday’s UN Climate Summit. Though ignored or downplayed by much of the media (whose parent corporations stand to lose from climate action), the March sent a clear signal that people across the planet demand serious political action to stop the advancement of climate change.

Here are some reflections and photographs from the People’s Climate March submitted by History Department faculty and graduate students.

I traveled with my friend Michael on a bus that featured a group from Mothers Out Front (an organization dedicated to combatting climate change) and assorted other folks.  The bus drivers from Amherst did some fancy driving in the Bronx, making U-turns on a stopped I-95 and hard left turns into busy street traffic in order to get us there on time.

At 11:30, the March’s lineup was filling but not yet moving, and we slowly made our way from 83rd street to 75th in order to join the renewable energy crowd.  Along the way we saw all kinds of participants.  I remember community groups from Maine, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, Colorado, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts.  The demographics were encouragingly more diverse than they were at last year’s climate rally in Washington, D.C.  

The great variety of participants in the March shows just how many issues need to be addressed, and how different parts of the country face different challenges.  For example, we spoke with a couple of women from St. Louis, Missouri, about their concerns over a hastily passed piece of legislation misleadingly called “Right to Farm,” which benefitted agribusiness and encouraged inhumane farming practices.

I also think the composition of the March demonstrated that there is a place for nearly everyone in this movement, regardless of race, age, or political ideology.

– Miriam Wells, PhD Candidate


Photo courtesy of Miriam Wells

My partner Winston and I packed our six-year-old Ferdinand and our sixteen-month-old Anarres into the car at 6:00 a.m. and drove to the Metro North station in New Haven. It was fun to see more activists boarding at every stop; the train was standing-room-only by the time we reached Grand Central just before 10:00. But I won’t lie: getting there with the kids was hard, especially since Winston had injured his back the day before. It was a long walk for Ferdinand just to get to 70th street, where we joined the line-up, and I had to carry Anarres the whole time.

History was very much on our minds. Winston kept telling Ferdinand, “Now you’re a part of history,” and we told him stories of earlier marches we had attended: “DC in ’93” for gay rights, the anti-war protests at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, and others. But with the baby on my back and Winston periodically carrying Ferdinand even with his back injury, I also found myself thinking about the Chinese Long March and refugees in historic evacuations — the incredible courage and solidarity it requires for large numbers of people to move from a place of danger to one of relative safety.

The most exciting moment came at 1:00 when, amazingly, everyone around us paused for a minute of silence to recognize those who have already died from climate change – truly, I can’t think when I’ve ever heard the city get that quiet – and then we heard from far behind a roar of voices that grew louder and louder until it swelled around us like an enormous wave… and then moved on to lift the people farther along.

Sigrid Schmalzer, faculty


Ferdinand takes a break from marching.

The People’s Climate March? I liked it better than Cats. It turned about to be a family reunion as well. My partner and I met our son who just started college and my mother-in-law who has been part of the recent action to stop the privatization of public library properties in NYC. We also ran into some friends from the Valley who we don’t often see. Maybe we’re starting to come out of the woodwork around climate change? I was left with the impression that hitting the streets is a necessary ingredient in “re-publicizing” public property, public values, and the public good, that the planet *is* public. No plan(et) B! It was a demonstration of democracy that hopefully sent shivers through our elected leaders and their short-sighted corporate patrons. Our bus captain, David Glassberg, proved that trying to stop (or adapt) to climate change could have a fun side too. We were all left ready for more action.

– Mark Roblee, PhD Candidate


UMass History Professors Laura Lovett and David Glassberg (courtesy of Lovett and Glassberg)

I attended the People’s Climate March with my partner, Julie, and our four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Louisa. We travelled on a bus from Northampton, and made new friends along the way. The bus dropped us off at 86th Street, at the back of the March, and the crowd was so enormous that we quickly realized we would have to let go of our plans to meet friends at 67th. We stayed flexible, met other friends, sang and danced along with drummers and marching bands, and took inspiration from the art, banners, discussion, laughter, and community that surrounded us.

            One thing we know from history is that most changes for the betterment of humanity have come at the behest of grassroots social movements. Will Louisa’s generation, and those that follow, confront climate-induced famine, mass migration, war, and social meltdown on a scale unprecedented in human history? Or will new relationships forged through the Peoples Climate March culminate in a powerful, revitalized global climate justice movement, one with the power to block the apocalyptic tide of corporate-driven ecological destruction? The answer depends on all of us. In the words of the March’s organizers: “To Change Everything, We Need Everyone.”

– Dan Chard, PhD Candidate


Julie, Dan, and Louisa


History was on my mind as I made my way to New York City for the People’s Climate March. As I sat on the slowly moving commuter rail into the city, I found myself reflecting on the way that the March was promoted as an event that would — perhaps in and of itself — “bend the course of history,” to quote the official language around the event. I am certain that the March will change history, though perhaps not in ways that we can easily predict and certainly not overnight. This discourse around the March reminded me of how US social movement history is too often narrated, with a focus on singular, triumphant events. As historians, we know that one-time events rarely change the course of history on their own. Rather, change comes through the hard, unglamorous, and often invisible work of sustained struggle.

            History also teaches us that part of this hard work of making change is the work of connecting, creating community, building alliances and celebrating. While the full historical impact of the People’s Climate March is yet to be seen – or perhaps more accurately, yet to be made – on an affective level, Sunday’s march already felt like such a joyous success. To meet, gather and connect with so many activists from such diverse perspectives and subject positions was such a pleasure and a source of energy.

– Jessica Johnson, Outreach Director


Photo courtesy of Miriam Wells


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