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Tag Archives: Alumni Thoughts

Julia Foulkes ’97PhD, UMass History

Why does the U.S. incarcerate more of its people than any other nation? Historians are just beginning to tackle this complex issue that has led to an explosion of prisons and people in them since the 1960s. (The latest issue of the Journal of American History brings together the most current research.) Public historians, however, have had little to say. With the exception of Eastern State Penitentiary, there have been few museums or public institutions that have delved into this controversial topic. Now an innovative practice-oriented consortium of 20 universities (including UMass!) is tackling it head on.

The Humanities Action Lab (HAL), headquartered at The New School in New York City, brings together public historians, activists, and scholars across the country to foster dialogue on contested social issues. The pilot exhibition was the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, which explored the 100-year history of the U.S. naval base that has been at the center of debate in the fight against terrorism. (UMass public history students worked on this exhibition, which appeared in Herter Gallery in the fall of 2013.)

Solobia Hutchins, Ruby King and Holly Richardson of the Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC) protest at the construction site of a new women's jail in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 2006. Photo courtesy of the Arise for Social Justice Records, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Solobia Hutchins, Ruby King and Holly Richardson of the Massachusetts Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC) protest at the construction site of a new women’s jail in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 2006. Photo courtesy of the Arise for Social Justice Records, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

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This post originally appeared on the National Museum of American History’s blog O Say Can You See

Smithsonian Curator Dr. Katherine Ott invited students in Dr. Samuel J. Redman’s Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar to explore the museum’s disability history collections and write blog posts sharing their research. The blogs are part of the celebrations commemorating the 25th anniversary of the passage of the American Disabilities Act.

Rebecca Schmidt, M.A. alumna, UMass History

Curator Dr. Katherine Ott invited students in Dr. Samuel J. Redman’s Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar to explore the museum’s collections and write blog posts sharing their research. 

Screenshot of the museum's Pinterest boards, including a

The museum’s Pinterest boards cover a variety of themes, from American flags to retro mathematical devices.

On the surface, disability history and social networks such as Pinterest do not appear to have anything in common. One is a story of a fight for the passage of laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability. The other is a popular social media site that allows people to exchange information and ideas on everything from recipes, to crafts, and more.

White pin. Red text in bold typeface:

“Civil Rights Sign the Bill!” Button from 1989, in the museum’s collection.

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This post originally appeared on the National Museum of American History’s blog O Say Can You See

Smithsonian Curator Dr. Katherine Ott invited students in Dr. Samuel J. Redman’s Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar to explore the museum’s disability history collections and write blog posts sharing their research. The blogs are part of the celebrations commemorating the 25th anniversary of the passage of the American Disabilities Act.

Kayla Pittman, M.A. alumna, UMass History

I wanted much to go to war
and went to be examined;
the surgeon looked me o’er and o’er
my back and chest he hammered.
Said he, “You’re not the man for me,
Your lungs are much affected,
And likewise both your eyes are cock’d
And otherwise defected.”
“So now I’m with the invalids,
and cannot go and fight sir,
The doctor told me so, you know,
And so it must be right, sir!”

Despite being jeered by songs like the one above (which appears in The Civil War Letters of Colonel Charles F. Johnson: Invalid Corps edited by Fred Pelka) and nicknamed “the Condemned Yanks” and “the Cripple Brigade,” the Union Army’s Invalid Corps eventually grew to twice the size the U.S. Army had been prior to the Civil War. In desperate need to free up fighting men for the front lines, the Union established the Invalid Corps in April of 1863.

Poster with headline in bold text:

Invalid Corps recruitment poster. Courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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Emily Oswald, Alumna, UMass History

17. mai i Slottsparken (May 17th in Castle Park), c. 1975. From the Oslo Museum collections available on oslobuilder.no.

17. mai i Slottsparken (May 17th in Castle Park), c. 1975. From the Oslo Museum collections available on oslobuilder.no.

“Oh look,” one of the elderly women said, pointing towards the image projected on the screen. “He decided to lie down because, you know, you get so tired standing all day to watch the parade.” It was a recent Tuesday in May, and my presentation of historical photographs of May 17th, Norway’s national day, was winding down. The other women around the table nodded. “That’s right, you do get tired,” another said. We paused for a moment, and I could almost see the memory of aching feet and tired legs travel around the table.

Since January 2015, I’ve been coming to a senior center on the east side of Oslo every other Tuesday evening. I bring a USB drive with a PowerPoint slideshow and my best Norwegian grammar to sit down with men and women in the 70s and 80s. We spend about an hour together, looking at historic photographs from the digital archive, Oslobilder.no, projected onto the wall of the senior center’s cafe. We’ve seen pictures of Oslo winter from the 1890s and more recently Oslo in spring from the 1970s. We’ve flipped through images that document the working lives of Oslo residents, and photographs of the city’s schools and breweries and newspaper kiosks.

Overselling this program is easy: imagine a grant application that declares ‘Historic photographs inspire reminiscing and conversation, and build community among nursing home residents! Use digital resources to draw out analog memories!’ In reality, I’m not sure how to measure the success or the impact of the program. The number of participants varies according to so-far indiscernible rhythms of life in an assisted living facility: as many as 15 and as few as three participants have showed up. It’s often not clear who came knowing there would be pictures, and who happened to wander in for some company or a snack before bed. Sometimes, the people who do come think the pictures are boring (one woman said as much on the evening we looked at pictures of Oslo cinemas). Sometimes, everyone is in a bad mood because the weather is rotten or there was a funeral earlier in the day.

But what I do find exciting and satisfying about the project is the way it solves a real problem. The project meets the only explicitly articulated goal that I and the senior center’s activity director laid out when we first talked about collaborating. “We’re really happy for just about any kind of evening programming,” I remember her saying. “It can be easy for conversation to get stuck on what they didn’t like about the lunch menu.” I want to recognize what’s been accomplished with modest resources at a small scale. For five months, elderly people at the senior center have continued to show up, smile as I turn on the projector, and say thank you at the end of the presentation. I know a bit more about their lives and the city I now live in, and they seem to appreciate that I keep coming back, even if the pictures I bring are sometimes boring.

It can be easy for community-oriented public history projects to get wrapped up outsized objectives (reach all the kindergarten-aged children in the city) or abstract measures of success (participants will experience a new connection to the history of their neighborhood). Such objectives and measures of success have their place, but volunteering at the senior center in Oslo has been a good reminder of another way we can approach public history programming. A public historian’s skills, like curating images and facilitating conversations, and resources, like online historical photo databases, can meet concrete, everyday challenges, and solve small-scale, intimate problems. We can give people something to talk about besides the food.

Emily Oswald is a 2013 graduate of the Public History program. She has lived in Oslo, Norway, since August 2014.

By Margo Shea, Alumna, Department of History

Margo Shea completed an M.A. in Public History in 2005 and a Ph.D. in History in 2010 (both from UMass Amherst), with specializations in public history and memory, Irish history and Urban history. She is currently an assistant professor in the History Department at Salem State University, in Salem, Massachusetts. Shea is currently revising her doctoral dissertation, “Once Again it Happens: Collective Memory and Irish Identity in Derry, (Northern) Ireland 1896-2008,” for publication.

“Return to Sender” originally appeared on Shea’s personal blog. See Shea’s blog here.

On Tuesday, May 6th, Boston College’s Director of Public Affairs, Jack Dunn, announced that “The Belfast Project” oral history initiative would honor all requests from participants to return recordings and transcripts of interviews not currently in use as evidence in the murder investigation of Jean McConville, a Belfast widow abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1972. The college will keep no copies. The information in the interviews will remain known only to the interviewers, a few Boston College employees, and William Young — a federal district court judge who read the transcripts to determine which ones should be delivered to Northern Irish authorities under a treaty governing exchanges of information between nations for the purposes of law enforcement. Read More

By Kate Preissler, Digital Media Marketing Manager at the Berkshire Museum and Alumna, Department of History

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road…So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

–President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, February 12, 2013

kindergarten 2
In Kindergarten was distributed to all new kindergartners in Berkshire County

There is currently a movement amongst some museums to become involved in the development of our very youngest citizens. Spending significant resources to create opportunities for toddlers used to be the exclusive realm of children’s and maybe science museums, but now many more institutions — historical, arts, music — are getting into the game. The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, founded in 1903 by Zenas Crane to be the Berkshires’ version of a Metropolitan Museum of Art or Smithsonian, is one of them. Finding ways to integrate early learners into a setting designed for adults presents many challenges but also makes for some very innovative programming. As a part of this initiative, titled WeeMuse, the Museum has added an Early Childhood Specialist staff position in the Education Department, started a series of programs and activities in the Museum for kids 18 months to 3 years, increased networking and direct outreach to early childhood education and care providers, and become a partner in the Pittsfield Transition Team — a group of educators, school administrators and organizational representatives who meet to address the needs of young children, especially as they transition from home or daycare to the public school system.

Out of the Museum’s participation in the Transition Team came the newest WeeMuse offering: In Kindergarten, a book for parents and children that addresses many of the things that kids will experience when starting school for the first time. It’s not a manual, but appears in the style of a storybook with engaging graphic images, activity pages, and even stickers. Read More

Read more entries by UMass History alum Brian Bixby on his blog Sillyverse.

By Brian Bixby, Alumnus, Department of History

The Shakers are best known now for the chairs they produced, a fact which obscures their history as a celibate communal religious movement. Similarly the interest in the Shaker founder, Ann Lee (1736-1784), has obscured interest in other Shakers who played a prominent role in the movement. Recently, historians have turned to documenting the lives of these other leaders. UMass’s own Glendyne Wergland (Ph.D. 2001) wrote One Shaker Life: A Biography of Isaac Newton Youngs, 1793-1865 (2006), about a lifelong Shaker who lived at the center of Shaker society in New York. Now Carol Medlicott, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Northern Kentucky, brings us Issachar Bates: A Shaker’s Journey (2013), about a man who only joined the Shakers in his forties, and spent most of his life with them traveling about the upper Midwest.

This biography of Issachar Bates (1758-1837) is a good read. Bates was a paradox, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, a husband with many children, a sometimes alcoholic, and a cantankerous individual, yet he became one of the most important missionaries for the Shakers, a sect which prized pacifism, abstinence from both sex and alcohol, and submission of the individual to communal guidance. His travels took him through the Revolutionary battlefields, out to the frontiers from New York to Indiana, and to the heartland of the Second Great Awakening around Cane Ridge, Kentucky. Along with two other Shakers, Bates was responsible for bringing Shakerism to Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. And while it is often forgotten there were Black Shakers, their second convert in Ohio was an ex-slave named Anna Middleton. Read More