Tag Archives: public history

Immigration in Public Education and Public History: A Brookline Non-Profit Makes an Impact

By: Katie Burke

When I entered a graduate program in Public History I was often met with a resounding “I hated History in high school!” from friends and acquaintances. I could actually relate in some ways. In History class there was often a sense that we were being fed regurgitated, cliché narratives that were, well, old. Without connecting to these stories, they never really came alive.

I spent summer 2017 as a graduate intern at the Brookline-based non-profit organization, Facing History and Ourselves. Facing History works with high school educators to develop lesson plans on the Holocaust and other instances of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism. Their goal is to promote awareness of these events, and help students use historical knowledge to make thoughtful and ethical decisions in their own lives.

My main project at Facing History and Ourselves allowed me to strategize effective ways to implement their resources into regional curriculums. I researched high school social studies standards for the seven states in which they are based, and worked with my supervisor, Dimitry Anselme, to match Facing History’s educational resources to each state. As I reviewed the required content, Dimitry encouraged me to make conclusions about how immigration history is taught in these states as well, in order to tie the project into my interest in immigration in Public History.

In the past, immigration history in schools has often fallen victim to a problematically stereotypic narrative. Students heard about European immigrants sailing into New York Harbor at the turn of the 20th century, with the Statue of Liberty in the distance, ready to embark on the “American Dream” in the “Land of Opportunity.” This overly-simplified narrative perpetuated a false nostalgia that prevented students from reckoning with the complex history of immigration in the United States. It also alienated students with the most recent ties to immigration when this narrative was a far stretch from their own experience.

Newspaper illustration of an ocean steamer passing the Statue of Liberty from the steerage deck, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1887

I was surprised to discover that many of the states’ standards outlined immigration history with nods to various ethnic groups and legislative acts. I did not remember this as a part of my own learning experience. However, immigration reporter Ted Hesson argues that, in practice, the actual teaching of immigration history is sparse or clings to the Ellis Island narrative. Additionally, state standards often stop shy of bringing lessons of immigration full circle to modern day debates. In today’s environment, where debates on immigration have become so contentious, it is important for students to be well informed on how immigration has impacted the past and present.

Facing History and Ourselves, along with a number of other organizations, have made efforts to help teachers utilize immigration history in their classrooms. Immigration has been a part of some of the major Facing History units, such as Race and Membership and Holocaust and Human Behavior. In some locations, Facing History also runs a hands-on workshop “Immigration in a Changing World: Identity, Citizenship and Belonging,” to guide teachers in creating a four-week unit that highlights the Chinese American experience from the mid-1800’s to the present. As with all Facing History lessons, these units are designed to use historical case studies to assist students to have greater worldly awareness about instances of genocide and persecution, and to make informed and conscientious choices in all their interactions in the present.

This immigration unit raises questions about American identity, and examines the tension between race, democracy, and citizenship. Students are encouraged to face their own prejudices while considering reasons that the Chinese and other immigrants have met resistance from many Americans. The questions are also a tool to help students make connections to the current debates and issues surrounding immigration today.

Photograph of Chinese American men and three children in traditional dress in Chinatown, San Francisco, between 1896-1911

I attended two days of Facing History’s immigration workshop and learned a lot from the comments of the teachers in attendance. Many wished to better serve their diverse student populations by offering broader narratives beyond the Ellis Island paradigms that focus predominantly on white immigrants. Others commented that they felt a responsibility to focus more on immigration history in response to a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment, especially towards Hispanic and Muslim immigrants, in the past few years.

Cover of Facing History and Ourselves’ educator’s guide to the documentary film Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

This workshop also revealed that Asian Americans have been hugely underrepresented in history lessons and popular culture. Many of the teachers at the workshop appeared dismayed that there was so much of the Chinese immigrant experience they did not know. This is perfect evidence that many of us adults received a homogenous immigration narrative, if any, while we were in secondary school. Now it is the responsibility of teachers and immigration public historians to make sure this does not persist.

As Dan-el Pedia Peralta, a professor at Princeton and Dominican immigrant wrote in a 2016 op-ed, “My hopes for immigration reform lie with the young. Their education is what’s next for reform, since the urgency of teaching about the immigration experience has rarely been so acute as it is now.” I would add that public historians also have a role to play in teaching about immigration outside of the schools. Both teachers and public historians have a lot to gain from Facing History’s approach to teaching immigration in this moment.

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“Where is Cambridge From?”: Tackling Historic Research, Interpretation, and Programming for the Cambridge Historical Society

By Taylor Finch

In the summer of 2017, as a new programs intern, I caught the Cambridge Historical Society in the midst of a great institutional transition. With few resources and a staff of four, the CHS has spent the past few years struggling against its reputation as an antiquated institution. As such, planning for future programs takes all hands on deck, and my role as a programs intern soon evolved from the architect of a single event to one where I wore multiple hats as a researcher, community development representative, historical interpreter, and program creator.

Hooper-Lee-Nichols House, home of the Cambridge Historical Society. Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Society.

The Cambridge Historical Society (CHS) has been a community institution since 1905. The Society focuses on preserving, researching, and educating residents about Cambridge’s history. The Society has sought to diversify and expand to meet the changing roles of historic houses and their search for new audiences in the twenty-first century. Through their programs,  CHS seeks to focus on community partnership, shed light on the historical background of contemporary issues, and share the historical narrative of Cambridge with its community members.

To meet these goals, the CHS designates a ‘theme’ for each year’s slate of programs. I helped define, develop, and plan programs for their 2018 season– “Where is Cambridge From?” This theme offers opportunities to broaden Cambridge’s historical narrative to include often overlooked communities, cultures, and stories.  Our first task as an institution was to explore the meaning of the 2018 theme. What were we trying to find out? What historical stories were we hoping to share? How could we uncover those histories? Defining “Where is Cambridge From?” occurred across several staff meetings. Eventually, we found it helpful to outline some discussion questions on the subject that could steer the research and program selection process. We narrowed the focus down to: (1) Where do Cambridge residents come from? (2) Who considers themselves Cantabrigian? (3) What does it mean to be Cantabrigian? and, (4) What do these answers mean for the future development of Cambridge?

While wrestling with these questions about definition, we also needed to think about the practical goals of our small historical institution. The CHS needed programs that appealed to its current membership base, but could also attract new populations that the Society had previously ignored. We also needed to consider our limitations as a small venue and as a staff made up solely of white, middle-class, educated women.

We identified program goals that were in line with the institution’s new mission. Every program would link to Cambridge’s past, present, and future.  Each selected topic was designed specifically to challenge the institution’s authority over Cambridge’s history and the process of interpreting it. We quickly decided to seek out any community group, committee, or club that could provide voices from populations across Cambridge. Any community members willing to participate became part of our “Advisory Board.” Today, the board’ continues to grow, guide the society’s efforts, and share authority in creating Cambridge’s narrative.

One community group we quickly identified was the Caribbean-American population of Cambridge. The CHS decided to expand the narrative of Caribbean-Americans in Cambridge into a walking tour of the Port, one of the city’s historic neighborhoods. My task as the tour’s advisor was to condense the Caribbean community’s general narrative and supplement it with historical resources and materials. As I am neither a Caribbean-American or a resident of the Port,  I quickly recognized the importance of first-person narratives as a foundation for the tour. I relied heavily on community members and oral histories compiled in the book We Are the Port: Stories of Place, Preservation and Pride in the Port/Area 4, by Sarah Boyer. The book is made up of oral histories gathered by hundreds of Port residents. These oral histories offer first person accounts of Port residents’ experiences in the neighborhood and the Port’s meaning to them.

A map of “The Port”, or “Area 4,” in 1901. The map features several landmarks chosen for the walking tour, including the Boardman School. Courtesy of Harvard Libraries.

In order to establish an authentic narrative, community voices were paramount to our project. I set about establishing partnerships with members of the Port’s community. One of these individuals was Andrew Sharpe, a Jamaican-American whom I met at a Dorchester Historical Society/UMass event. Andrew’s organization, the Authentic Caribbean Foundation, focuses on celebrating Caribbean culture and history and interpreting them in contemporary issues. With the help of Andrew, Marian Darlington-Hope, and several members of the Caribbean community, we were able to bring together a committee who will oversee the “Stories from the Port” walking tour and discuss the continuing challenges the Caribbean community faces at a 2018 History Café.

The goal of CHS and our community partners was to provide a working narrative that showed inaccuracies and ignorances in the larger narrative of Cambridge and the United States in general. In our meetings, these Caribbean-Cantabrigians discussed how they don’t find their history in the popular historic narrative of Cambridge, New England, or even America. Their large population of residents and vast contributions are generally ignored by the western, colonial-centered narrative perpetuated in Cambridge – largely by the tourist industry.

Neighborhood children on Clark Street in 1901. Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Commission.

According to the Cambridge Historical Commission (an institution that has worked with the Caribbean community in the past)  some of the earliest Barbadians came to Cambridge against their will as slaves in the eighteenth century.  Though their freedoms and identities were stripped, these early Caribbean-Americans brought their culture and values to Cambridge. A century later, in the mid-nineteenth century, Caribbean immigrants to Boston and Cambridge brought with them education and skilled trades, but they faced discrimination in employment and educational opportunities. Still, they built lives for themselves, and raised children who became second, third, and fourth-generation Caribbean-Americans with dual identities. The role for the Cambridge Historical Society in this project, then, was to present an authentic history of Caribbean-Americans in Cambridge, recognize how they shaped Cambridge’s neighborhood, and serve as a platform for Caribbean-Americans to share their stories and discuss what they think it means to be Cantabrigian.

The objective for our tour was to capture ordinary, day-to-day life as a Caribbean-American in the Port and to rely as heavily on the recollections of community members as possible. As such, it was to be heavily informed by first-person narrative. We wanted “Stories from the Port” to show how a collection of individual experiences shaped the neighborhood and life in Cambridge. As such, each location was carefully selected for its historic value and practicality. I relied heavily on schools, places of business, and churches – the centers of day-to-day life. Each stop provided historical context for individuals’ stories, but mainly relied on quotations from the Port residents. To supplement these experiences, I found historic images and maps at the Cambridge Historical Society and Cambridge Historical Commission. These resources not only proved invaluable to the research, but also supplement the tour by adding visuals for its audiences. The end result was a blend of historic research and cultural interpretation that captured early life in the Port.

The Cambridge Historical Society provided me with an opportunity to be in the room where it happens. I was part of creating a shared historical and cultural narrative, which will go on to inform community members in Cambridge. Above all, my time as a programs intern showed me exactly how much effort, research, and careful planning goes into each and every initiative at a historic house. Sometimes it takes several months of brainstorming sessions, wide research, missed and made connections, and even the occasional shot in the dark to turn a question, such as “Where is Cambridge From?” into a platform for community development and discovery.

Taylor workshopping a walking tour of North Cambridge with CHS interns Joe Galusha (left) and Katherine Hobart (center). Courtesy of Lynn Waskelis.
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“Abandoned His Duty”: Uncovering the 1919 Boston Policemen Strike

By Nina Rodwin

In the fall semester, my HIST 600 class had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative project between UMass Boston and the Boston Police Department Archives. We were tasked with documenting the lives of the officers involved in the police strike of 1919. Policemen had demanded a higher yearly salary, adopting the slogan “$200 or nothing” (Puleo, 143). When their demands were ignored, 1,400 police officers walked out. From September 9th to the 11th, Bostonians rioted and reacted violently (often towards the striking officers). President Wilson found the found the strike so disturbing that he described it as a “crime against civilization” (Puleo, 155-156). The police head clearly felt the same, firing all striking officers with no chance of re-employment. The men’s duty cards, which detailed each officer’s employment history, were stamped with a large “abandoned his duty, September 9th 1919.” These duty cards lay in the BPD archives for years, largely forgotten. It was only by chance that a former BPD archivist discovered these cards and was immediately filled with questions: who were these men and what happened to them after the strike?

Image of Hugh P. McGuire’s Duty Card

The scale of the project required collaboration, not only between UMass Boston and the BPD archivists, but also volunteers, the police officers’ descendants, and finally, my own class. While we entered the project in order to learn genealogical research skills, it was gratifying to see that our small contribution helped in a large-scale project. Each student was instructed to pick an officer and fill in vital information into a worksheet. We used public records to uncover these men’s lives, searching through the census, birth and death records, military records and newspapers. To me, the most engaging records were the census records, as they not only reflected a specific officer’s life, but also larger changing trends in America.

Image of Hugh P. McGuire from the 1901 “The Officers and The Men The Stations Without and Within of The Boston Police.” This book’s yearbook format was a great source for photographs of the striking BPD officers.

I choose Hugh P. McGuire, who seemed to have a relatively good life before the strike: he lived in his rented house with his wife and four children and had been on the police force since 1896. However, his whole family was drastically affected by the strike. Just one year later, McGuire was working as a watchman for a lumberyard. His eldest son and daughter, then in their twenties, continued to live in his house. These two children may have stayed home to contribute to family finances, as both were employed. By the 1930 census, it is clear that he was experiencing still more trouble: he was now unemployed, and while his sons seem to have left home, his two daughters remained as the sole breadwinners in his household.

By 1940, Hugh McGuire was 74 years old. According to census records, he was “unable to work.” His eldest daughter, Anna, now 40, continued to care for her parents as a secretary for the Veterans Bureau. As the sole breadwinner, she received a yearly salary of $1,980, which in today’s money ($34,500) would relegate the McGuire family to the lower class. However, this census information has its drawbacks: even though it offers us Anna’s yearly income, we don’t know, if McGuire’s sons contributed to the household, if McGuire received Social Security benefits, or if the McGuire family saved money before Hugh lost his job. In other words, the whole family may have been struggling to make ends meet.

Image from the United States Census, 1940.

The census records also leave out vital information about McGuire’s wife. Was she unemployed because she was fulfilling the stereotypical duties of white women at the time, or did her lack of education (she only completed the further grade) shut her out of the scant opportunities women could obtain? As much as the census can aid researchers, it will never be able to answer these compelling questions, and may often leave researchers with more questions!

Image from the United States Census, 1930. In the “Home Data” section, it asks the family to report if they own a radio set.

While census records offer the bare facts of an individual’s life, they are quite useful to demonstrate large-scale changes in health, education, immigration and even leisure through their questionnaires. For example, in both the 1900 and 1910 census, participants are asked to list the number of children born, as well as the number of children living. This distinction reflected the high child mortality rate during the time; Hugh’s wife was quite lucky that all four of her children survived. However, by the 1920s, efforts to combat childhood diseases increased, and the census no longer included this category. The most amusing category was in 1930s census, which included a category simply titled “radio set” reflecting the growing number of families with radios, including the McGuire family. This category disappeared by the next census in 1940, reflecting both that radio sets were no longer novelties and the assumption that most households owned a radio.

This research was so engaging that I chose to volunteer my time to help the project further. While completing the worksheets of three more policemen, I learned a valuable lesson about genealogical research: researchers should not always trust their internet searches. When attempting to find the birth records for a man named Owen Katon, I was unable to discover his information. It was only with the aid of UMass Boston archivist Joanne Riley that I noticed there had been a transcribing error between the physical documents and the online search results. When I searched for Owen Katon, I had only found one record for “William Katon” and promptly assumed it couldn’t be the correct person. However, Riley taught me an important lesson: never assume that the online search results are always correct. When I actually looked at the scanned records for “William Katon,” I discovered that the records were really for Owen Katon after all! This is not to say that websites are untrustworthy; rather, researchers must be aware of these human errors, and conduct their research accordingly.

The BPD Strike Project still continues, with the goal of completion by the 100th anniversary on September 9th, 2019. If you are looking to improve your genealogical skills, for your own personal or scholarly projects, I strongly I strongly recommend getting involved.

Reference

Puleo, Stephen. Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press, 2004.

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In the News: Public History Program Helps Dorchester Uncover Its Past

UMass Boston News featured a story about the exciting work that our Public History program has undertaken this spring. Text from the following article was written by UMass Boston News writer, Anna Fisher-Pinkert.

When most people think of Boston history, the images that come to mind are the Old North Church, the brownstones of Beacon Hill, or the Old South Meeting House. UMass Boston history professors and students are working to expand our knowledge and understanding of the history right in the university’s own Dorchester neighborhood through two new projects.

“Building a People’s History of Dorchester.” a community event that occurred in April.

On April 22, Jane Becker, internship coordinator and history lecturer, and Monica Pelayo, assistant professor of history and director of the public history master’s program, collaborated with John McColgan, Archivist, Boston City Archives, to host “Building a People’s History of Dorchester” at the Dorchester Historical Society. The event was designed to encourage current and former Dorchester residents to take part in telling the story of their neighborhood.

Approximately 30 people attended this initial meeting, and contributed ideas for building a timeline of Dorchester history. For Pelayo and Becker, this is just the beginning of a conversation about how to help the community tap into their own history.

“What’s important about this process is that it comes from the bottom up, not from the top down,” Pelayo said.

She added that people don’t always realize that their family photos, documents, or keepsakes are potential historical resources for their communities. Pelayo and Becker plan to have more events in the future to encourage individuals and community organizations to participate in the project.

UMass Boston public history master’s students are also involved in revealing a piece of Dorchester’s history. This semester, students partnered with city archaeologist and UMass Boston alum Joe Bagley to tell the stories of women and girls who lived and worked at the Industrial School for Girls in the 1860s. The school was founded in the 1850s to train poor girls to work as domestic servants.

Online exhibit documenting the history of Dorchester Industrial School for Girls.

The history graduate students wrote about the women and girls at the school, and created a website to share their findings with the public. Much of the information on daily life in the school came from the objects uncovered by Bagley in a 2015 archaeological dig.

Exhibition Opening & Reception: Dorchester’s Industrial School for Girls.

Want to learn more about the rich history of Dorchester Industrial School for Girls?

The graduate students and Bagley will present their findings on May 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Massachusetts Archives and Commonwealth Museum.

Join us at this event–it’s free and open to the public.

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Beloved UMass Boston Professor and Scholar Passes Away

We mourn the loss of Professor Emeritus James R. Green, who passed away in Boston on June 23 after nearly two years struggling with complications of leukemia.

James Green, Professor Emeritus of History, College of Liberal Arts
Jim Green, Professor Emeritus of History, College of Liberal Arts, UMB.

Jim Green was a prolific scholar and beloved teacher. One student commented:

“Jim Green was my favorite teacher. He inspired us to read, understand and learn from workers’ history. Most of all he showed us he cared about us as students. He was a gift to working people!”

 

Cover of The Devil is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom (2015).
Cover of The Devil is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom (2015).

His two most recent books received wide acclaim: Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America (2006) and The Devil is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom (2015). The latter was the basis for an “American Experience” PBS program, The Mine Wars, broadcast on January 26, 2016; four million viewers tuned in.

A prominent member of a wave of historians who transformed labor history in the 1970s and 1980s, Jim Green deeply influenced the broader field of social history. In 2010, Jim was named Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. Indeed, he was the recipient of many awards, including in April of this year the Labor and Working Class History Association’s Award for Distinguished Service. The text of the award reads in part: “In seven books, many articles, films, exhibits, local tour guides, and other cutting-edge labor education and public history projects, Professor Green has opened new avenues of scholarly inquiry and pioneered new ways to communicate historical narratives to broad audiences.”

Jim received his doctorate in history from Yale University, where he studied with C. Vann Woodward, who proved a model for writing history with a purpose. Jim came to UMB’s College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) in 1977. At CPCS he developed the Labor Studies Program, served as Acting Dean for a year, and held several other positions of academic leadership. In 2006, he joined the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts, where he founded and directed the Public History Graduate Track, from 2009 until his retirement in 2014.

Not only were Jim’s publications distinguished by their scholarly rigor and depth of analysis, but, as one colleague put it: “Reading his books was like reading novels. He was a marvelous story teller.” Jim worked hard to be that story teller, but he was fundamentally committed to helping people tell their own histories. Jim worked to bring historical scholarship to audiences outside the academy, and democratize the writing and telling of history in both academic scholarship and public venues.  His work across multiple contexts—as university teacher, historian of the labor movement, participant in neighborhood history projects, editor and contributor for the journal Radical Ame51Q8TRWJRJL._SX369_BO1,204,203,200_rica, co-founder of Massachusetts History Workshops, President of the Labor and Working Class History Association (LAWCHA), and partner and collaborator on documentary films–Jim’s personal and professional commitments serve as models for public historians and indeed, all publicly engaged scholarship. Jim tells his own story eloquently in his 2000 publication, Taking History to Heart: The Power of the Past in Building Social Movements.

Jim’s work as a scholar was matched by his devotion to his teaching. Students over the years viewed his courses as life-changing. One former student commented: “Jim Green was my favorite teacher. He inspired us to read, understand and learn from workers’ history. Most of all he showed us he cared about us as students. He was a gift to working people!”

In 2014, Jim Green was interviewed at the UMass Boston Mass. Memories Road Show about his work at UMass Boston and as part of union activities on campus.

In 2011, he donated his papers to University Archives & Special Collections. This collection details his career and activist history from 1964 to 2010. View the finding aid for the James Green papers here.

Jim Green is survived by his wife, Janet Grogan; their son, Nicholas Green of Somerville; his daughter by an earlier marriage, Amanda Green of Cambridge; his former wife, Carol McLaughlin; his mother, Mary Kaye Green; and three siblings and several nieces and nephews.

The family asks that people wishing to honor Jim’s memory to make a contribution either to nurses at the bone marrow transplant ward on Feldberg 7 at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center—send to BI Deaconess Medical Center, Office of Development, 330 Brookline Avenue-OV, Boston, MA 02215, with “James Green/Nursing General Fund” on the memo; or to the “James Green Scholarship in Labor Studies,” and send to University Advancement, UMass Boston, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02125.

An open house will be held at 5 p.m., Thursday, June 30, in Dr. Green’s Somerville home (72 Mt. Vernon St.). A larger, public memorial gathering will be announced for later in the year.

A great deal more information about Jim can be found at http://jamesgreenworks.com/ obituaries appear in the Boston Globe and New York Times.

 

 

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