Monday, October 26, 2015

History...Yesterday in the Present

Ole Miss removes state flag from campus

Updated 2:23 PM ET, Mon October 26, 2015

(CNN)The University of Mississippi has removed the state flag from campus, according to a university statement issued Monday.
The move comes after student senators voted 33-15 with one abstention last week to ask the school administration to furl the banner, which includes the Confederate battle emblem in its upper left corner.

"University of Mississippi Police Department officers lowered and furled the state flag in a Lyceum Circle ceremony as the campus opened Monday morning," a school statement said. "The flag will be preserved in the University Archives along with resolutions from students, faculty and staff calling for its removal."

Like many students and observers, Buka Okoye, president of the school's NAACP chapter, had the impression that the school wouldn't act on the student senators' vote until a new chancellor was appointed. The NAACP was in the process of organizing a march in two weeks to pressure the university administration to take down the flag immediately. He was "shocked" to learn the school had removed the banner Monday, he said.

"It was huge that the university came on the right side," he said. "That was huge for me. It really shows me how much the university has progressed."
How a Southern college is combatting its racist history

How a Southern college is combatting its racist history 03:29
He is proud that his school has sent the message that it wants to "distance itself from Confederate iconography in general," and while it certainly doesn't mean the end of racism, it's another step in taking down the structures that support racism, he said. 

The next step for him and the NAACP chapter is to pressure the university to do something about the obelisk honoring "Confederate dead" that is located in the area of campus known as The Circle, where the state flag flew. The monument has been there since 1906.

Elation, disappointment

Allen Coon, a student senator and president of the College Democrats who was at the forefront of the fight to take down the flag, told CNN he, too, was surprised and elated by the decision.
"They didn't announce anything. They did it early this morning," he said. "The leadership acted swiftly, and despite the opposition from the governor, who two days ago said college students act emotionally, they took it down. It's exciting."

Another student senator, Andrew Soper, who organized a petition that drew more than 1,800 signatures (at least 1,500 of which came on the day of the vote or after the vote) urging Ole Miss to keep the flag on campus, said he was disappointed to see the flag taken down. 

"I think it's the wrong move. They should have done it through the state of Mississippi. They didn't do it the right way," he said. 

'A flag that speaks to who we are'

Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks, who called for the state to change its flag in June, applauded the civility with which student senators came to their decision, saying, "Their respect for each other, despite genuine differences of opinion, was an inspiration to us all."
Confederate flag supporter: I will not turn my back

Confederate flag supporter: I will not turn my back 04:48
"I understand the flag represents tradition and honor to some. But to others, the flag means that some members of the Ole Miss family are not welcomed or valued," he said."Our state needs a flag that speaks to who we are. It should represent the wonderful attributes about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us."

Confederate tributes have come under increased scrutiny in the South since the killings of nine African-Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June. Shooter Dylann Roof apparently revered the flag as a symbol of white supremacy.
In that state, the Confederate banner that flew on the Capitol grounds in Columbia was taken down on July 10, less than a month after the shootings.

Many Mississippi cities furl the flag; some keep it flying

The vote by the Ole Miss student senators follows a decision by aldermen in Oxford, where Ole Miss is located, to remove the flag from city property in August. That was around the same time actor Morgan Freeman, author John Grisham, musician Jimmy Buffett and others signed a letter calling on the state to come up with a new flag.

Other Mississippi cities -- including Macon, Columbus, Grenada, Magnolia, Hattiesburg, Clarksdale, Starkville, Yazoo City and Greenwood -- have voted or issued executive orders to remove the state flag from city property since the Charleston shooting. (Conversely, the cities of Petal and Gautier have voted since the massacre to keep the flag flying.)

The City Council in the state capital, Jackson, which hasn't flown the state flag on city property in more than a decade, voted in July to urge the state to create a new flag, CNN affiliate WAPT reported.
Also taking action since Charleston were Leflore County, which took down the flag this summer, and the Gulf Coast Business Council and Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, both of which said they'd endorse a new flag without the Confederate canton in the corner.
The Ole Miss vote is also in line with the stances of three other public state universities that don't fly the flag on their campuses: Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University and Alcorn State University.

Mississippi State University's Faculty Senate voted before a 2001 statewide referendum to support efforts to change the state flag. Delta State University and the University of Southern Mississippi, too, have issued statements calling on the state to redesign the banner. 

The Mississippi University for Women is the only state university that has not issued a statement or removed the flag, but an article last month in the school's weekly newspaper reported that faculty and school leaders are discussing the matter. 

The issue of changing the flag was last brought before the state's voters 14 years ago, when Mississippians chose, by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1, to leave it as is. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

2015 AL Champions

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum, Vol. I, No. 22

Breen, T.H. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. xviii + 320 pp.

            T.H. Breen, William Smith Mason Professor of American History at Northwestern University sought to answer one of the pivotal questions that historians of the American Revolution have spent centuries trying to answer. Just why did the people of thirteen British North American colonies come together by 1776 in a generally united body to oppose what was considered the most powerful and richest nation in the world? It is thought by many that these colonists opposed taxation, but their own writing proves that this was not the case. They believed that taxation was something to be expected and to be willingly paid to provide for the common good. What they opposed was taxation without representation. More specifically, they felt they were not represented in Parliament like they were represented in the colonial legislature or towns. Yet, what was being taxed that caused the rebellious demeanor of ordinary men and women to come into existence?

            Breen did a marvelous job in compiling a deep pool of primary sources from the ordinary people of the 18th century. Often people think of the men we call the Founders when they respond to the people of the Revolution. As modern historiography has been showing us over the last three decades, the American Revolution did not begin with the actions at Lexington and Concord, but rather with the reaction of the British colonists to Parliament’s attempts at raising revenue in the colonies. This should be well known because the people of that era recognized that fact as well. John Adams stressed that point himself in multiple forms of correspondence. Breen’s research into this reaction provided him with an illuminating view of how those ordinary people saw their world and their role in it change over a two decade period of time and precipitate the Revolution. 

            What really stood out other than Breen’s thesis are the words of the people in the sources he used. In quite a few cases, if the wording was adjusted to reflect modern speech, the words from the past would be the same as uttered throughout America regarding how people envision the “good old days.” While that wasn’t Breen’s intent for positing his thesis, it is extremely poignant in demonstrating that successive generations have all experienced the same myopic nostalgic opinion of the past when compared to the present. Breen also used the words of the past to show how the people of the 18th century changed their views on the mother country and its manufactures from 1764 to 1775. In the process, Breen also shows that the real revolution took place among the people of the colonies.

            The people of the colonies experienced a significant cultural change which was among the first examples of consumerism to appear in history. Both the colonists and the British were dealing with a completely new phenomenon, and both had no clue what to expect from this new and extremely significant economic development. Breen’s research shows how the colonists embraced the British manufactures willingly albeit with some grumbling from the more conservative elements of colonial society. He also showed how those same colonists slowly came to realize that their participation in this new consumerist exchange could also be used as a weapon against what they considered abusive government. As Parliament sought to increase revenue from the colonies to pay down the tremendous debt the British had incurred in the Seven Year’s War, it blundered badly in the way it sought to do so. 
            Despite these blunders, Parliament repeatedly backed down from its imposition of new taxes on the colonists twice although the attempts by the colonists to use the transoceanic commerce as a form of economic weaponry had also failed twice. What baffles so many historians is the tax that proved to be fatal to the British rule was a tiny, insignificant, but highly symbolic tax on tea. That tax proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for the colonists. As Breen showed through the building up of the thesis through the primary sources and analysis of their meaning, the colonists came to see British manufactures and tea as symbols of tyranny because of the way those items were used in the taxation without representation argument. It was these items that formed a common bond between all colonists and these items that the colonists used as economic weapons to resist the British taxation. In the process, the non-consumption of these items or non-importation united the colonists to the point that they began to see themselves differently through their common use of the items. 

            As Breen progressed through each chapter he made a deliberate effort to include gender in how the colonists viewed the issues as well as class. He definitely wrote the book from a social history perspective as a result. While the idea of the marketplace being heavily involved in the Revolution seems a bit Beardian, Breen’s real conception of the era is that the marketplace was made up of individuals who made individual choices. His vision of the Revolution is that of a bottom up interpretation where it began among the common people. This is in line with much of current historical thought. Whereas Beard relied upon economic reasons for the Revolution to occur, Breen sees the economic situation as part of the overall Revolution. The people made the economy respond to them in causing the Revolution rather than the other way around.

            I was a bit disappointed that Breen didn’t take this thesis one step further into the much larger context of the Atlantic World. I think he did a great job in developing this thesis and delivering the conclusion, but the colonies were also part of international trade albeit limited by the Navigation Acts. What I particularly liked the best was that if anyone wonders why tea became the sole item that seemingly triggered events that brought about the Intolerable Acts, this book answers that question quite well and uses plenty of primary sources in the process. As a result, Breen has delivered a good explanation of how the colonists used the marketplace during the Revolution to resist the taxation with representation issue. Rather than restate an economic interpretation of the Revolution, Breen has given us a well detailed explanation of how the marketplace became the battleground in the Revolution.

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum, Vol. I, No. 4 Reprint

Fea, John. Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. ix + 182 ppg.

            Why it is important to study history may be the most difficult question a history teacher faces every semester. To the teacher it is obvious, yet trying to prove why is not so easy, especially when you have to convince a roomful of students that history has a purpose beyond taking up their time. John Fea, history department chair at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania answers the question with this well thought out exploration of the reasons why history is so important and worthy of study by all people. John is no stranger to discussing this subject. He has operated his blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home at for several years and has been talking about the importance of history every day for his audience. In fact, his blog seems to have helped him articulate about the subject so much that he was able to take what he had learned from it and put it in a book.

            The result is a very compact, extremely thoughtful, and amazingly deep look at why history is important to everyone. No one reading this should be surprised to understand we live in the middle of a large culture war where the events of the past are used in many ways, mostly incorrectly, in order for people or groups to present their opinions and beliefs to the public. John does not shy away from this fact. He uses it to its utmost effect in demonstrating just why the public should know their history. He gives several examples of people who try to pass themselves off as historians who then deliberately distort history in presenting their own beliefs. Fea doesn’t shy from naming the worst offenders either which makes the statements he delivers ring home. David Barton and Glenn Beck are presented exactly as they are, individuals who are mangling history to give legitimacy to their ideologies and beliefs. 

            Fea is a devout Christian teaching at a Christian college. He does not shy away from making that announcement either. The fact that Fea is calling out other Christians for their lies establishes Fea as a man who believes the means have to justify the end. As a historian, Fea recognizes the importance of truth in any message, truth which is extremely important in any religion if anyone expects faith to be anything but shallow. He explores this in the book and explains why historical accuracy is critical for evangelical faiths. Fea isn’t calling on a liberal interpretation of history either. He constantly points out the importance of truth and accuracy for all historians as well as anyone who seeks to use history in explaining their beliefs and opinions.

            This book is written for students taking their first history courses, but it has a great deal of meaning for anyone and any historian. It is usable at all levels of academia as well which should be refreshing for graduate students who are in historiography courses grappling with the question of why history is important. Each chapter explores a facet of historical study and does so in a clear and rational manner. Chapter Six, History for a Civil Society, is a very moving chapter. John lays out the importance history has for everyone in American society. He follows that with Chapter Seven, The Power to Transform. These chapters form a one-two punch that literally crushes those that would distort the past to their own ends. 

            In the process, John answers why history is so important. He uses examples of actual students who struggled with the questions history presented to them and how they let the facts speak for themselves. The truth revealed by the facts allowed the students to make decisions based upon the facts which in turn deepened their appreciation of the past and allowed them to see things through a different lens. Instead of manipulating the past to reach a desired outcome that fit in with their beliefs, these students learned that the people of the past did things for their reasons, expectations, and beliefs which are in many ways incompatible with ours today. The results made the students look at themselves as well. The realization that they were as flawed as the people of the past were was a maturing process. 

            All in all, as an instructor who teaches the beginning American History survey courses, I found this book to be an outstanding resource. Fea’s sources are cited throughout the book. He cites historians and educators and their works which have had an impact on him. This is a valuable resource for instructors seeking to explain why the study of history is so important to their students. Considering the fact that we live in a culture war where history is used to mislead people for many reasons, accurate historical knowledge helps arm people against those that would mislead the public for their own gain. I would be quite happy to make this required reading in my courses.  

           Also, John has a series of videos that can be used in conjunction with this book.  He calls them Virtual Office Hours and I find them to be very useful. They are short and compact discussions about the study of history. I have shown them to students and they were interested in them. One day I will have an actual history major come through one of my classes and I have a feeling they will really find these to be great references.