Commonplace
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Publick Occurrences 2.0

May 31, 2012

It is a small publisher. And yet there are those who love it!

Filed under: Academia,Missouri,Publishing,Regionalism — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 3:30 pm

State and Local History, Forever.

Charlie "Mad Dog" Gargotta, assassinated in downtown KC Democratic Club, 1950

That was a title I was planning to use for a future post. I had some scholarly points to make about the power of state institutions, including arbitrary jurisdictional boundaries, to shape society, culture, and economy, and the continuing value of understanding people’s lives and thoughts in particular localities rather than in universal generality or world-historical significance as our academic scientism so often drives us to do. Kansas history and Missouri history were my first loves as a budding junior high historian. Missouri history I particularly loved, and not out of sheer patriotism or parochialism. Missouri’s past is a rich stew, but the elements are often distasteful: pro-slavery guerillas tore the state and its neighbor apart in one era, gangsters brutalized and corrupted it in another, and enough internal armed conflicts broke out at various times to qualify the state as a small Third World nation. Our greatest contributions to world culture include music that was developed to play in brothels and gambling dens (i.e., Kansas City jazz) and the novels of a local bard who got the hell out of Hannibal as rapidly as he could. Then there is our favoritest son, Harry Truman. Sure,  everyone loves him now, but for the much of his time as president Truman was remarkably unpopular, and he presided over the beginnings of some of the worst aspects of the Cold War in his efforts to co-opt Republican criticism.  Back home, his old friends in KC were burglarizing courthouses and assassinating each other while he was in the White House. In more recen

t times, we can lay claim to one of the early avatars of modern evangelical politics, John Ashcroft, and the Vatican of American Pentecostalism, Springfield, that produced him.

Probably most compelling for me is Missouri’s sheer depth of regional confusion. It was a southern slave state that could not join the Confederacy. It also formed the beginnings of the Wild West. Later it became a Rust Belt factory state, a whitebread Midwestern farm state, or Appalachia West, depending on where you looked.  Then there are our two great but thoroughly messed-up cities, Kansas City and St. Louis. Both cities experienced bitter racial divisions owing to populations that included large numbers of blacks and whites who had migrated from the rural countryside, but also segregation systems that were weak and “northern” enough to permit some tremendous achievements and departures in African-American culture, especially the kind that crossed over racially and shaped American popular culture more broadly: Scott Joplin, Count Basie, and Chuck Berry are just three of the most famous examples. There is probably no individual element of all this that is absolutely unique, but any space where you can get (mentally, at least) Meriwether Lewis, Jesse James, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Langston Hughes, and the Mafia together to enjoy some Budweiser and barbecue surely holds some interest.

Evidently the higher authorities at the institution where I work do not agree. That is why, instead of further ruminations on state and local history, I am turning this post into a personal plea. The administration of the University of Missouri System (our campus and three others) announced just before Memorial Day weekend that it was going to close the University of Missouri Press. Opposition is mounting to this move, including a “Save The University Press” Facebook page started by a Chicago publisher’s rep, Bruce Joshua Miller. (Other good follow-ups and comments on the story can be found at the Chronicle of Higher Education, our own local newspaper, and an online journal called Jacket 2.) Readers can find the necessary coordinates in those stories to make whatever kind of comment they might care to on this development. It would be useful right about now for the rest of academia to express its views on this loudly enough for the authorities here in Columbia to hear. I think the administration does care about our reputation, but it may not have realized just how this will be seen from elsewhere.

One of the saddest parts of this for me, and the part that reflects a fairly common attitude around academia, is the utter indifference this move shows toward state and local history. The mission of scholarly publishing in general is disseminating work that does not have mass-market appeal, and hence cannot be published commercially.  A related mission of a state university press in particular is to be the publisher of first and last resort on the history and culture of its state, serving a constituency and a market that — at least in most places — only it can.  University of Missouri Press may never have been the biggest or best of scholarly publishers, but it has performed its role of serving the state admirably. There would be no multi-volume state history without it, or any available modern scholarly work on dozens of important but inevitably Missouri-based topics: for instance, the biographies of forgotten but once-powerful national figures like Senators Thomas Eagleton and Stuart Symington. Thanks to University of Missouri Press, you can actually buy a new copy of James Neal Primm’s Lion of the Valley, a 640-page history of St. Louis from the French and Indians up to 1980 that is an absolute model of a scholarly city history. For any city below the level of New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, the local scholarly publisher is usually going to be the only feasible outlet for a work like that, and now Missouri is not going to have one.  It is obvious that the makers of this decision do not grasp what this will mean for the state. A member of our Board of Curators was quoted to the effect that, “If books are good enough, they’ll be printed elsewhere.” Probably not, actually. The place for local history is in its locality. Scholarly histories of here are best researched here, and they need to published here, especially if — as will be true in most cases — they do not have much national commercial potential. The decision exacerbates the concentration and homogenization of culture that has already produced a situation where people know more, and find it easier to learn about, New York or London or Paris or LA than the places they actually live. I can personally attest to the truth of this observation from talking to my Missouri History students.

It all makes me want to paraphrase Daniel Webster, from his famous defense of what was then a weak little academic institution called Dartmouth College:  ”Sir, you may destroy this little institution; it is weak, it is in your hands! I know it is one of the lesser lights in the literary horizon of our country. You may put it out! But if you do so, you must carry through your work! You must extinguish, one after another, all those great lights of science which for more than a century have thrown their radiance over our land!” It is, sirs, as I have said, a small university press. And yet there are those who love it! And need it.

(more…)

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May 22, 2012

Stephanie Gamble, “What Does It Mean to be an Indian?”

Filed under: 2012 Elections,American Indians,Democrats,Guest posts,Political culture — Guest_bloggers @ 7:27 am

Today we have a guest post from Stephanie Gamble, a Ph.D. candidate in history at the Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation is entitled, “Capital Negotiations: Native Diplomats in the American Capital from George Washington to Andrew Jackson.”

In the Massachusetts race for U.S. Senate, Elizabeth Warren’s (D) opponent, Scott Brown (R), recently brought attention to Warren having listing herself as a minority in professional directories from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties, citing her claims to Native American ancestry. Other times, when provided the option, Warren has self-identified only as white. Recent investigations into her heritage suggest Warren may be 1/32 Cherokee through a great-great-great-grandmother.

Whatever her motive in asserting her native ancestry, Elizabeth Warren is certainly not alone. Americans have long been fascinated with tracing their rumored (and real) Indian heritage. In recent decades, an increasing number of non-tribal members have been asserting their Indian-ness.

Courtesy American Antiquarian Society

There is nothing especially new about American interest in native ancestry. Back in 1887, a genealogy of Pocahontas was published for all those looking for the iconic Indian princess on their family tree. In his 1969 book, Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, Vine Deloria, Jr. noted of his time as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, “it was a rare day when some white didn’t visit my office and proudly proclaim that he or she was of Indian descent. Cherokee was the most popular tribe of their choice … all but one person I met who claimed Indian blood claimed it on their grandmother’s side.” (2-3)

Recently however, more people are moved to claim their ancestry on official documents. Today, websites abound, telling interested searchers how to find Indian ancestors and enroll in tribes. Facilitated by such sites as Ancestry.com and the digitization of archives, Americans interested in their personal history can assemble the branches of their family trees from home. This has likely helped more people access and engage their ancestry in new ways.

On government documents such as the U.S. Census, race and ethnicity are self-identified. Beginning with the 2000 census, Americans could even check off multiple racial categories in order to more accurately capture their heritage.

Though Americans can self-identify in many situations, including selecting themselves as “American Indian or Alaska Native,” there are 566 federally recognized Indian tribes in the United States that have their own rules for tribal citizenship. Citizens of federal tribes are legally Indian and their tribal citizenship is controlled by their individual nations.

Recent censuses reveal that the population of native people in the United States is growing dramatically. When Americans filling out their census decide to check the box labeled “American Indian or Alaska Native,” they may do so for several reasons: they are tribal citizens; they are members of state-recognized or unrecognized tribes; or they self-identify due to family lore, distant heritage, or possess some other form of emotional connection. Much of the recent growth in the “American Indian or Alaska Native” population derives from the third category: people self-identifying as Native American.

What seems to run through the possibilities that self-identifiers claim for themselves is an underlying assumption that Indians can be what you want them to be, a population out of space and time. That, perhaps, is the danger of self-identifiers. These legal and documentary markers of identity obscure or complicate the cultural processes of identification. Native people are more than their tribal enrollment cards. At local, tribal, or pan-American levels, native people possess and articulate shared cultures, histories, languages, lineages, experiences, living conditions, and relationships.

The proliferation of self-identifiers threatens to dilute the meanings of being Indian to tribal citizens. To return to Deloria: “At times I became quite defensive about being a Sioux when these white people had a pedigree that was so much more respectable than mine.” (3)  While self-identifiers like Warren may value their claim to Indian ancestry in a wide array of ways, there are around 2 million native people living in the U.S. today. Their identities as American Indians are important to them, too.

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May 16, 2012

More on 1812 Commemorations, Canadian Edition

Filed under: Congress,Early Republic,Joe Adelman's Posts,Military — Joseph M. Adelman @ 1:46 pm

A few months ago I and several others had a conversation (here, on other blogs, and on Twitter) about the dearth of commemorations of the War of 1812 in the United States. As part of the discussion, we noted that the war was receiving far greater attention in Canada as a moment of national creation (some five and a half decades in advance).

This is not, apparently, without controversy north of the 49th parallel. This morning, I read a post by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, authors of a new book on Canada as a “Warrior Nation,” arguing that the 1812 commemorations in Canada are an outcropping of the militaristic political style of current Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

According to Stephen Harper, or more likely one of his hirelings, the war helped establish Canada’s “path toward becoming an independent and free country…. The heroic efforts of Canadians then helped define who we are today, what side of the border we live on, and which flag we salute.”

This though there was no such thing as Canada at the time. The famously undefended border has become a militarized “security perimeter.” And few Canadians are known to indulge in patriotic displays of flag-waving.

No matter. In 2012 Canada is being treated to sanitized glorifications and events designed to attract tourists. In early June the anniversary of the Battle of Stoney Creek will bring scores of re-enactors to suburban Hamilton. There will be music, costumes, games, readings and tours. And certainly musket fire.

Framed this way, I’m almost surprised that the United States hasn’t more heavily promoted the War of 1812—stalemate though it may have been—as the “Second War of Independence,” finally ridding us of the British menace. Maybe for the sestercentennial in 2062.

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May 14, 2012

The Secret History of Rush’s Acceptance Speech

Filed under: Conservatives,GOP,Historic sites,Missouri — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 9:42 pm

One of this spring’s highly sporadic postings covered the impending monumentalization of Rush Limbaugh at the Missouri State Capitol, so it seemed appropriate to notice the final result of that controversy. The Republicans in the Missouri legislature kept the Dittohead faith, and had Rush’s head officially installed earlier today. They were so proud they tried to keep tried to keep the ceremony a secret:

UPDATE: Rush Limbaugh recognized in secretive ceremony at Missouri Capitol

Monday, May 14, 2012 | 3:31 p.m. CDT; updated 4:16 p.m. CDT, Monday, May 14, 2012
BY DAVID A. LIEB/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

JEFFERSON CITY — Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians on Monday during a secretive ceremony in the state Capitol as police stood guard to keep out any uninvited political opponents of the sometimes divisive radio show host.

Limbaugh, a native of Cape Girardeau in southeast Missouri, addressed a crowd of more than 100 Republicans during a closed-door event in the Missouri House chamber. Speaking from the chamber’s dais, he thanked his family for their support throughout his career, denounced liberals and Democrats as “deranged,” then helped lift a black curtain off a bronze bust of himself, which he hugged — head to head — for photographs.

The timing of the ceremony was kept secret until shortly before it occurred, and then only Republican lawmakers, other invited guests and the media were allowed into the chamber to watch — an attempt to avoid any public disruption after Limbaugh’s selection was criticized by Democrats, some women’s groups and other political foes.

Limbaugh, 61, arranged for a guest host to handle his radio show Monday so he could be at the Missouri Capitol. He repeatedly declared how humbled he was by the honor.

“I’m stunned. I’m not speechless, but close to it,” Limbaugh said to the laughter of the friendly crowd. “I’m literally quite unable to comprehend what’s happening to me today.”

The talk show host was selected for the Hall of Famous Missourians by term-limited House Speaker Steven Tilley, a Republican who like Limbaugh is from southeast Missouri. Tilley wants to display Limbaugh’s bust in the Capitol alongside other members of the Hall of Famous Missourians, including President Harry Truman, Mark Twain and Walt Disney — but that plan has already faced controversy.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration released a memo Monday indicating that a state board — not the House speaker — has the authority to determine what items are displayed in the third floor Capitol Rotunda where the busts are located. House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, also asserted that Tilley has no legal authority to order Limbaugh’s bust to be placed in the Capitol Rotunda.

“The secrecy and exclusion of the public demonstrates that even Republicans are embarrassed at honoring someone who recently called a female college student with whom he disagreed a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute,’” Talboy said.

There is something quite emblematic about the current GOP that they held the dedication of a public monument in private.

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