Some Friday Links

2011 January 21
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by Ellen Noonan

From Ellen:

This is just as smart now as it was a week ago when he first published it: our CUNY colleague Gregory Downs (City College of New York) on Tucson shooter Jared Loughner and “the vernacular intimacy of politics.” Don’t miss Professor Downs at our February 3rd panel on Civil War scholarship, Did the Real History Ever Get in the Books? or in one of our podcasts.

The New York Times profiled a professional development program for Newark public school teachers where students take a lead role as the staff developers for their teachers. It’s an interesting model, and intriguing to think about what exactly this would look like in a history/social studies professional development program. Surely we could learn something useful if we ask students directly why they find history class so boring and work collectively on ways to make it better.

Did you know about Ithaca, our own Josh Brown‘s serialized graphic novel on Reconstruction? No? Find it here, in the online journal Common-Place.

ASHP Seeks Intern to Research Latino History in the U.S.

2011 January 13
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by Leah Nahmias

We are currently seeking a graduate student intern for Summer or Fall 2011 to research and compile a collection of teaching materials on the Latino experience in the United States. Depending on the research interests of the intern and the guidance of ASHP staff, the topic may be narrowed (i.e., narrowed by region, time period, theme, etc.).

The intern will work with members of ASHP/CML’s education department to develop a set of teaching materials (visual and print primary sources, secondary sources such as background essays or quantitative data, analysis questions, possible teaching activities). The intern will also be asked to draft an introductory essay for the collection. The ideal candidate will be able to research Spanish-language materials and produce translations for classroom use.

The collection will be featured in ASHP/CML’s forthcoming website of teaching materials, HERB. HERB is an extensive archive of primary documents, teaching strategies, and other resources that explore how ordinary people both influenced and were influenced by economic, social and political transformations in U.S. history.

The internship will be part-time (approximately 10-20 hours/week) for 10-12 weeks.


  • Currently pursuing an M.A. or Ph.D. in history, Latino Studies, public history, history education or other related relevant field
  • Demonstrated interest/expertise on topics related to history of Latinos in the U.S., immigration and migration, labor history, U.S. cultural and social history
  • Bilingual (Spanish and English) highly preferred

Help us spread the word to qualified candidates looking to build a portfolio of research, education, or public history projects! Interested students should submit a cover letter and resume/CV and one letter of recommendation to Donna Thompson at by March 1, 2011. In your cover letter, please include

  • Your commitment preference (hours and weeks, summer or fall)
  • Past relevant research or work experience on Latinos in the U.S.

We regret this is an unfunded position, but we are able to pay local transportation costs.

Kicking off Friday Links for 2011

2011 January 7
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by Leah Nahmias

From Leah:

For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights is a traveling exhibit developed by the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. In case you don’t live in one of the cities it’s traveling to, be sure to visit the exhibit’s website, which features short overview essays and many examples of photographs, magazine and newspaper coverage, and film footage documenting the visual culture of the post-war black freedom movement.

Friends of ASHP David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz authored this reflection on the 40th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

From Ellen:

Mike O’Malley at The Aporetic eviscerates the much in the news Our Virginia fourth grade history textbook, and for all the right reasons. The book’s inclusion of “black confederates,” which first brought it to national attention, is only the tip of the iceberg. Its utter lack of historical argument or interpretation leaves it with inclusive factoids, “empty headed and peppy multiculturalism,” and little else. “But crit­i­ciz­ing this book for errors,” Mike notes, “is like crit­i­ciz­ing a mur­der scene for tacky furniture.” Read the whole post, it’s well worth it.

Am I the only historian to feel slightly mortified this week upon reading about the 200th anniversary of a major slave revolt that I’d never even heard of? The New Orleans Times-Picayune has the story of local efforts to commemorate the uprising of more than 200 enslaved men in St. John and St. Charles parishes, led by Charles Deslondes, that took place on January 8, 1811.

Inspired by Dorothea Lange and Studs Terkel, Matthew Frye Jacobson has started the Our Better History project and the Historian’s Eye website, which are an effort to capture our current historical moment in photographs and interviews. His ambition: “to document the experience of sweeping historical forces at street level; to render the diversity of worldviews and outlooks; to give voice to a vernacular analysis and wisdom that outshines our ‘punditry’ more often than we are ever encouraged to imagine.” The site contains both transcripts and audio of the interviews, and has a Flickr group where anyone can post their own photographs.

Up South DVD with Spanish subtitles

2011 January 4
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by Andrea Vásquez

ASHP is delighted to announce that we are now distributing a version of Up South: African American Migration in the Era of the Great War that has optional subtitles in Spanish. We have also created a Spanish script of the program that can be downloaded from the Up South web page.
We hope this proves popular for use in other countries, in classrooms where Spanish is spoken, and for ESL teachers and learners!

He May Ride Forever Neath the Streets of Boston

2010 December 30
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by Ellen Noonan

The MBTA's Charlie Card fare card, with Charlie now a white collar commuter rather than the working stiff of the immortal song

The MBTA's CharlieCard, with Charlie now a white collar commuter rather than the working stiff of the immortal song

With New York City’s subway and bus fares rising today, it seems fitting to point your attention to the Boston Globe story that gladdened this historian’s heart the morning after Christmas. It tells the real story behind the tune known to generations of New Englanders, “Charlie on the MTA,” the tale of “the man who never returned” from his subway ride. It turns out, the ditty was originally a campaign song for labor organizer and Progressive Party member Walter A. O’Brien, who ran for mayor of Boston in 1949. The song protested a (wait for it) transit fare hike, a central issue in O’Brien’s campaign. O’Brien was later blacklisted out of politics, and when the Kingston Trio recorded the song in 1959 , they edited out its more radical lyrics, well aware of what the blacklist could do their nascent music careers. (Google reveals that Dissent magazine actually beat the Globe by two years with this story.)

Hats off to Boston transit officials for their plans to incorporate this history into public displays about Charlie, who is now omnipresent throughout the system as the icon for the MBTA’s fare card, known as the CharlieCard.

How to Honor Frank Emi

2010 December 20
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by Leah Nahmias

Frank Emi, the last surviving member of the Fair Play Committee that led draft resistance among Japanese-American internees during World War II, died earlier this month. His obituary, which appeared in yesterday’s New York Times, set the scene of Emi’s resistance quite beautifully:

[He was] among more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans, most from the West Coast, who were herded from their homes to inland detention centers after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, within three months of the attack on Pearl Harbor, issued Executive Order 9066, deeming them threats to national security.

“The military escorted us to the camp with their guns and bayonets, so there really wasn’t much thought about standing up for your rights at the time,” [Emi] later told the Japanese-American oral history project at California State University, Fullerton.

The phrase he heard among the detainees was “Shikata ga nai”–it can’t be helped.

That would change two years later, after the government had begun drafting detainees into the military. Ordered to fight for the country that had imprisoned them, many were defiant, Mr. Emi among them. At Heart Mountain they formed a protest committee to organize a protest, arguing that they would serve only after their rights had been fully restored. More than 300 detainees in all 10 detention camps joined their cause.

For Mr. Emi, the mantra became “No more shikata ga nai.”

Japanese Internees and Guard "Greet" New Arrivals at Manzanar (War Relocation Authority)

Japanese Internees and Guard "Greet" New Arrivals at Manzanar (War Relocation Authority)

Mr. Emi and six other internees formed the Fair Play Committee to organize resistance against the draft; the group was nicknamed the “no-no boys” by those who feared that the resistors’ stance would reflect poorly on the Japanese-American community.  Though a great number of Japanese Americans did join the military–and proved their loyalty in the most decorated unit in the U.S. Army, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team–resistance to the draft was also very strong in the community. In 1943, more than one out of every four Japanese-American males born in the United States refused to pledge “unqualified allegiance” to the nation. In this video, you can listen to Emi describe the “ridiculous” loyalty questionnaire he and other internees were asked to sign.

Mr. Emi and the other resistance leaders were charged with conspiracy by the FBI.  (He had earlier been arrested for trying to leave the camp, telling the guards that he was an American citizen and they hadn’t done anything wrong.)  For organizing draft resistance, Emi and the other Fair Play Committee members were sentenced to three years in jail, though they were released after 18 months. In this interview, he says he would not do anything differently:

I never felt that we did anything wrong. That if we had to do it again, probably would have done the same thing. ‘Cause, I don’t know why but I felt that injustice that the government perpetrating on us was so great. That uh, I just couldn’t reconcile the fact they would put us in there and then expect us to be put into, respond to the army just like all the people on the outside. That didn’t make sense.

Later in life, Emi led the effort to gain reparations from the U.S. government for surviving internees. He also spoke out about the parallels between the treatment of Japanese Americans in World War II and the racial profiling of Arab Americans following 9/11. Given that the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security plans to hold hearings on the “radicalization of the Muslim community”, I hope that Emi’s death can be a teachable moment to talk about violations of civil liberties during wartime. In particular, in addition to teaching the story of Japanese internment, we should discuss the effects that racial profiling and accusations of disloyalty have on those accused, be they Japanese Americans in the 1940s or Muslim Americans today.

(For educators, I recommend the Wing Luke Asian Museum’s “Day of Remembrance” curriculum to teach about and commemorate Japanese-American internment.  Days of Remembrance, held on February 19, commemorate the day that FDR issued Executive Order 9066, and are more commonly observed on the West Coast. The Wing Luke curriculum also includes an extension called “Struggles in Our Democracy: The Aftermath of September 11, 2001” that makes explicit connections between internment and post-9/11 discrimination towards Arab Americans. One may also want to visit the site and watch the PBS film about the draft resistors, Conscience and the Constitution.)

The Return of Friday Links

2010 December 17
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by Leah Nahmias

What can we say, December is a busy time of year! We’re back in action, though, with some of our favorite history-related posts:

Leah N:

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Frederick Douglass, and Henry David Thoreau reflect on the martyrdom of John Brown (from Reader’s Almanac, the very lively blog of The Library of America series).

Cartoonograph about U.S. spending on oil, 1924, pen and ink drawing by Elizabeth Sabin Goodwin, Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU 7091, Image no. SIA 2010-3711.

Cartoonograph about U.S. spending on oil, 1924, pen and ink drawing by Elizabeth Sabin Goodwin, Smithsonian Institution Archives, RU 7091, Image no. SIA 2010-3711.

I really enjoyed this blog post about Jazz Age “cartoonographs” created by Elizabeth Sabin Goodwin that have recently been identified in the Smithsonian’s holdings. Cartoonographs combined official statistics with comics-style renderings, and often a little humor, to convey “current economic and social trends” of the 1920s. To see an example–one that depressingly confirms how long the U.S. has been over-consuming oil and engaging in questionable foreign policy choices to procure more–see Goodwin’s 1924 cartoon at right.

Time-line to Nowhere

2010 December 7
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by Josh Brown

If you look carefully enough you might find tucked away in today’s New York Times an article entitled “Drawing the Lessons of History, Poster-Size,” lauding a time-line poster series called HistoryStrips. It’s  a peculiarly superficial puff piece about the strenuous and self-sacrificing efforts of Peter Robyn to devise and underwrite a product to teach U.S. history. Obviously, I have no quibble with Mr. Robyn’s determination, nor with his distress at Americans’ general lack of knowledge about the US past. But even a brief perusal of the sample strip on the HistoryStrips website about the “Revolutionary Era, 1763-1812,” indicates that the “poster-size timelines that feature colorful depictions of the bills, battles, politicians and patriots that have shaped the nation,” each strip chronicling a fifty-year block of time, are predicated on the belief that factoids, assertions, and patriotic encomia, placed in chronological order, are the stuff of history, not to mention history education. That the New York Times chose to pump rather than actually examine such a project is, well, inexplicable.

Visions of the City—Lost and Found

2010 December 3
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mp227It’s a rare experience: that pleasant shiver of discovery as your eye settles on an image, a display, a scene that is so evocative (even if you don’t know of what) that you know it will leave an impression for a long, long time (like the glimpse of a young woman on the ferry recalled decades later by the octogenarian Bernstein in Citizen Kane: “I only saw her for one second. She didn’t see me at all, but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.”). I know it might sound hyperbolic—if not hysterical—but, really, no kidding, it’s very close to the sensation I felt earlier this year when the cartoonist James Sturm showed me original sketches by the newspaper artist Denys Wortman.

If the name Denys Wortman does not, itself, evoke some sort of image in your mind, that’s not a failing on your part. From 1924 to 1954, Wortman published six elaborate captioned drawings a week under the title “Metropolitan Movies” in the New York World—which, as the city’s daily newspapers collapsed from the mid-twenties onward, then became the World-Telegram in 1931, and in 1950 the World-Telegram and Sun. A student of Robert Henri, it is no exaggeration to say that each Wortman cartoon was an echo, refulgent of a later era, of the (retrospectively labeled) Ashcan artists: richly-observed vignettes of workplaces, homes, streets, and places of leisure that affectionately captured in numerous narratives (accented by captions written largely by his wife) and a strong sense of gesture, dress, space, place, and social class, everyday life in New York. (See the 1929 profile “All N.Y. Poses For Wortman’s Cartoons” on Allan Holtz’s always valuable Stripper’s Guide website.) Yet, after thirty years and thousands of cartoons, Wortman and his work were pretty much forgotten and rarely mentioned even in histories of newspaper cartooning.

My shiver-of-discovery reaction on seeing Wortman’s actual sketches certainly stemmed from his masterly technique, the incredibly varied and often startling perspectives, and the layering of a multitude of stories in his compositions—and also because they sparked my own very early childhood memories of the remnants of 1930s and 40s New York City, especially in Chelsea and on the Lower Eastside. There was another sensation, though: weirder because I realized I had actually encountered Wortman’s art some twenty years earlier. I was in Providence, Rhode Island, doing research for the first edition of the American Social History Project’s Who Built America?, when I came across a very yellow clipping of one of his cartoons among the archival riches collected by labor historian Scott Molloy (comprising some 9,500 items now in the hands of the Smithsonian Institution). The drawing perched on the upper left corner of this blog posting is a pretty fair approximation of the lousy quality of the reproduction I saw published in the New York World-Telegram on March 25, 1937. But the crude picture of the young sit-down striker crying, “Mama. We’re makin’ history” nevertheless captured, better than any single photograph, the spirit and significance of that wave of activism (not to mention placing women in the center of a largely male-dominated story, Lorraine Gray’s wonderful documentary With Babies and Banners, on the Flint, Michigan, General Motors Sit-down strike, to the contrary notwithstanding). The cartoon appeared in, and has continued to appear in subsequent editions of, Who Built America?, not to mention the second CD-ROM based on the book and on our History Matters website. And over that time I assumed that Denys Wortman was an undeservedly forgotten woman cartoonist (Denys in the kingdom of my head pronounced Den-eese!).

Gender issues aside, only upon seeing Wortman’s much larger drawings did I also realize how poor were the reproductions that appeared in the newspaper: reduced in scale, rather than hiding imperfections, the rich detail was lost, and the crude reproduction techniques smothered Wortman’s subtle shifts in grays and white highlights, and obscured his wondrous handling of line and amazing ability to capture light and illumination.

Which is why I urge those of you near, or planning to be near, the island of Manhattan to make it a priority to go see “Denys Wortman Rediscovered,” the beautifully mounted exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York (at 1220 Fifth Avenue, between 103rd and 104th Streets) that will be open to the public until March 20, 2011. While nothing can quite capture the direct experience of seeing Wortman’s original drawings, the newly-published compendium of his work compiled by James Sturm and Brandon Elston, Denys Wortman’s New York: Portrait of the City in the 1930s and 1940s (with a terrific contextual introduction by Robert Snyder), does an excellent job of showcasing his work, with the reproductions of a sufficient size to allow you the singular thrill of perusing their wondrous details.

Finally, I realize I haven’t devoted space here to the heroic efforts that were involved in getting Denys Wortman’s life and work properly back in the public eye. For that story, and the thanks we owe in particular to James Sturm (and his Center for Cartoon Studies) and Denys Wortman VIII (whose website provides a wealth of material on his father), I urge you to take a look at the recent article in the New York Times by Carol Kino.

Weekly Round-Up of our Favorite Links

2010 November 19
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by ASHP Staff

From Leah:

Be sure to read the recent New York Times’ City Room blog posts as CUNY historian and friend of the Project Josh Freeman answers readers’ questions about working-class history in New York City.  Read Dr. Freeman’s bio here, Part I here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

The Civil War Data 150 project, a collaborative project to “share and connect Civil War data across local, state and federal institutions during the sesquicentennial.” It’s exciting to imagine what possibilities this project might open up for tracing the stories of individual ordinary soldiers through the years of the Civil War.

Confession: I’m a map geek.  So I’m thrilled by the Visualizing Emancipation (Google Earth plug-in required) project, from the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond.  It plots data from official records, newspapers, letters and diaries to track how emancipation spread through the South in the last years of the Civil War.  The goal of the project is “to comprehend the patterns, proportions, and timing of emancipation, to see multiple forms of power in interaction in space and time” as “slavery [eroded]”.  Also be sure to check out this series of maps “Mapping Marriage and Migration in Emancipation-era Virginia,” which complements nicely our collection of visual and text sources showing how freedpeople acted on their freedom by reuniting their families.

I’m fascinated by–and undecided about–the annual reenactment of a 1946 lynching in Georgia.  This article considers the event, which its stagers hope will bring justice to the still un-prosecuted perpetrators, in the context of other types of historical re-enactment.  One of the victims of the lynching was a returning U.S. serviceman; President Truman later cited the death as the final force to desegregate the Armed Forces.  One re-enactor notes, “White folks love their Civil War reenactments, which is mainly one big fantasy about the Lost Cause being so noble, so why not reenact some real history for a change?”

From Aaron:

If you haven’t visited the New Media Lab lately, you can do so this Sunday from the comfort of your own living room. ASHP”s Andrea Ades Vásquez is featured and talks about her role as Managing director of the New Media Lab, in addition to some great student work which was shown at a spring 2009 meeting.  It can be seen at 8:00 am on 11/21 on CUNY TV (and will be repeated throughout the week).

In honor of the blackout that occurred at the Giants vs. Cowboys game at the New Meadowland Stadium it seemed appropriate to link to a write up the Bowery Boys did on the 1965 NYC Blackout. “Business as usual,” some of the pictures show as life just went on (and by the way, there was no birth rate spike nine months after the blackout). For more information check out the Blackout History Project.

and then I leave you with this as a final thought: a Thanksgiving menu from 1899.

Friday links will be on holiday next week, but will return in a couple weeks. Have a happy Thanksgiving!