Dig if You Will, A Name Change

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The history of What’s in a Name continues to occupy our minds. Dr. Will Cavert thoughtfully considers the significance of a name change from King Charles in 1649 to Prince Rodgers Nelson in 2016.

 

 

The people that I study – those living in Britain during the 16th-18th centuries – knew that when beliefs changed, the names of things needed to change with them. So when the Puritan army led by Oliver Cromwell overthrew King Charles in 1649, executing their own king as a traitor, they knew that building a new kind of state – a republic – required some new language. The Kingdom of England itself became a “Commonwealth,” the Court of King’s Bench the less monarchical “Court of Upper Bench,” and the ship of war The Charles was re-christened The Liberty.

England was hardly unique in adjusting names to changing times. A grand square built in eighteenth-century Paris was originally named for the reigning king, Louis XV, but later became the Place de la Révolution. During the backlash against the French Revolution the name was again changed, first to re-honor Louis XV and then his guillotined grandson Louis XVI. Finally, a subsequent revolution again removed the royal name, at last replacing it with its current title, the Place de la Concorde. Other countries offer similar examples: in Florence a piazza once named for a king is now named for the republic; Madrid contains many streets once, but no longer, named for General Franco and his allies; and in Buenos Aires the Avenida del Libertador was originally named for a Spanish Viceroy. Communist countries may offer the most numerous and most dramatic examples of such transformations, from Stalingrad/Volgograd to Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. The name of a square in central Berlin has seen its name changed from Augustusplatz to Karl-Marx-Platz and then back again, then back again, and then back once more.

While we have not recently experienced revolution, Americans do seem to be in the process of re-evaluating the way that old ideologies are reflected in the names we use. The debate surrounding the Confederate Battle Flag and the campaign to remove President Jackson from the $20 bill, may be symptoms of a broader trend whereby Americans are now refusing to honor those whom we no longer find honorable. President Obama has announced that America’s highest peak will cease to be named after William McKinley, a man without the controversial legacy of Jackson but who also had nothing to do with Alaska or its mountains.

Minnesota too is touched by this trend. Many in Minneapolis and beyond find it absurd for a beautiful lake to honor John C. Calhoun, the South Carolina champion of nullification and state rights. Calhoun was not merely a conventionally racist nineteenth-century American; rather he made the perpetuation of the enslavement of African Americans, which he called a “positive good,” his life’s work. Furthermore he had no connection to Minnesota beyond sending the area’s first surveyors, who duly named a local lake in honor of their boss. No wonder there is a campaign to change the lake’s name to better reflect its own history and the values of those who now live near it.

Lake Calhoun

Now, as I write this about 24 hours after the death of Prince, there is a new set of campaigns to re-name some significant landmark after the Twin Cities’ most original and popular musician. Twitter includes calls for his name (or his unpronounceable symbol) to grace the airport, the football stadium, Lake Minnetonka, and doubtless other landmarks too. Even Hennepin Avenue itself is a contender. And why not? Father Hennepin probably never set foot on the site of downtown Minneapolis during his very brief visit to Minnesota in 1680. As Mary Lethert Wingerd explains in North Country: The Making of Minnesota, Hennepin did very little to or for Minnesota other than to put it on European maps. If Prince speaks to us in the 21st century more than Hennepin does, changing street signs would an appropriate, and long-established, way to mark that.

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Dispatches from Latin America. Weekly Round-Up, April 22nd, 2016

While many of our nation’s political debates are centering on the historic role of immigration from Latin America and beyond, politics is literally making history in Latin America. In the wake of President Obama’s visit to Cuba and Argentina and this week’s impeachment vote for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, we’re talking about Latin America up on the 4th floor and the way that history is unfolding before our eyes.

 

“Is the Impeachment of Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff a Coup?  – Once a student activist imprisoned for her protests against Brazil’s military coup, President Dilma Rousseff potentially faces a different type of trial. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/20/is-the-impeachment-trial-of-brazils-dilma-rousseff-a-coup/

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“Listening to Obama in Cuba” – The importance of history in normalizing diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

https://nacla.org/news/2016/03/28/listening-obama-cuba

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“How Mexican Immigrants ended ‘Separate but Equal’ in California” – One history of the role of students as UST gets ready to engage in the immigration debate with next week’s lecture by Jose Antonio Vargas

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0302-strum-mendez-case-20160302-story.html

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“Is the Latin American Left Dead?” – From a “dying Revolution” in Cuba to a “coup” in Brazil, is Latin America making a turn to the Right?

https://newrepublic.com/article/132779/latin-american-left-dead

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Undergraduate Research on the Local Stage!

This month, History Major Blake Johnson presented his research in the Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium held at Bethel University. Blake shares his experience of preparing his paper, presenting at the conference, and next steps. Thank you Blake for representing the History Department & UST so well!

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Blake Johnson presenting his history research at Bethel University

On April 9th of this year I presented personal research entitled “Failing God: Confederate Clergy’s Grapple with the Military” at Bethel University. I was the only student from St. Thomas at the event which was a little nerve-wracking at first, but I was confident in my work. I had started this project as a final paper last spring in Dr. Williard’s Civil War Era course. Being off to a good start at the end of the semester I asked Dr. Williard how I could take my paper further. He kindly gave me guidance as to where to go next with the project. Over the summer I used money from a summer job to purchase research materials and put in another 60 hours of work into the paper over the course of the summer. Returning in the fall, I again asked Dr. Williard for more advice, again he kindly gave me a great amount of direction. The following J-term I spent another 40 hours working on revisions and additions. After break, I again asked for and received advice from Dr. Williard. I submitted an abstract of my paper and received help from Dr. Williard and Dr. Klejment in refining my paper for a conference. Despite battling a cough while presenting the paper in front of people from many institutions I fared well among my peers. Overall, the experience was positive and I received great feedback from question and answer and cannot wait for the summer so that I may delve even deeper into this project.

My paper as it currently stands revolves around resistance to religion in the camps. I focus specifically on tensions in the camp between clerical and soldierly classes revolving around the issues of gambling, swearing, officer reverence, desertion, and questioning the cause. My argument boils down to the following: The Confederate clergy did not have as much influence over Confederate soldiers as one may assume from the religious climate of the 19th century. I hope to add sections on promiscuity and alcoholism in the camps as well as showcase pious soldiers that critiqued religious wishes in the camps. I hope that with another 100-200 hours of research and editing that this paper will be publishable. I also hope to see within that time another conference or two.

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A Connection Between Hamilton, Hitler, & a MN Veteran? Weekly Round-Up, April 15, 2016

We’re pretty sure the only connection between Hamilton, Hitler, & our fair state is that it’s what we’re reading this week. Will you make sure to see Hamilton? Would you visit Hitler’s Home? Did you know about Operation Tiger?

‘Hamilton’ and History: Are They in Synch? 

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http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/11/theater/hamilton-and-history-are-they-in-sync.html?smid=tw-nytimesarts&smtyp=cur&_r=1

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Austria Considers Law to Seize Hitler’s Boyhood Home

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/adolf-hitlers-childhood-home-set-7723373

 

 

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Nazi Torpedo Couldn’t Sink Minnesota Man:

 http://www.startribune.com/nazi-torpedo-couldn-t-sink-minnesota-man/375141471/

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Understanding the Holocaust & its Hungarian Chapter

2016 Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film

2016 Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film

I was inspired to write about the Hungarian film Son of Saul when it won this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. But at the same time I was finishing this post, I learned about the unfortunate passing of Imre Kertész (1929-2016). He was one of Hungary’s greatest contemporary writers and the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is perhaps best known for his brilliant and masterfully written Fatelessness. The common denominator between Son of Saul and Fatelessness is the Holocaust, more specifically its Hungarian chapter.
1944 Hungary ghettoesOn March 19, 1944 the German army occupied Hungary. The next day, Adolf Eichmann and his small special unit arrived. By April 7, there was a plan for the ghettoization of the Hungarian Jewry. By April 22, German and Hungarian authorities decided on the total deportation of Hungarian Jewry. However, as recent historical works point out, when Eichmann arrived he did so “without a complete and detailed plan.” Between May 15 and July 6, Eichmann, enjoying “enthusiastic and efficient Hungarian support,” carried out the deportation of 437,402 Hungarian Jews (Csősz, and Kádár, 2013). The culpability of Hungarian authorities is beyond a doubt, including that of the Regent, Miklós Horthy who finally did halt the deportations—if only temporarily— and was able to do so without much resistance. Most of the Hungarian Jews arrived at Auschwitz and were subsequently murdered. One of every three victims killed in Auschwitz was Hungarian, making the extermination camp the single largest Hungarian cemetery.

The Hungarian Holocaust and Hungarian responsibilities for this most atrocious chapter in the country’s history, and indeed that of humanity’s at large, remains a controversial and highly politicized issue. Thankfully, historians—both in Hungary and beyond—continue to produce quality research examining the event. Yet, while it is certainly unfortunate, academic books and lectures are not necessarily reaching the general public. Here is where the explanatory power of literature and cinema can help to build knowledge and consensus. Imre Kertész and László Nemes, the director of Son of Saul, offer the very best illustrations of the transformative power of these mediums.

Imre Kertész was born in Budapest to middleclass Jewish parents who later divorced. In 1944 at the age of fourteen he was arrested and deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and was later sent to Buchenwald. After liberation he returned to his native Hungary, where in 1960 he began to write his book Fatelessness (Sorstalanság in Hungarian). fatelessnessbooksforkeeps-co-ukThe communist authorities refused to publish it at first, but finally in 1975 the first Hungarian edition appeared. The book is not a memoir. While it is certainly colored by Kertész’s own experiences, the semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of a young boy, Gyuri, as he tries to navigate the lagers’ system and survive Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Yet, Kertész’s work is much more than a story of survival. It is a coming of age story that takes place in a period where coming of age for a Jewish boy was not the norm but an exception. It is a story of humanity’s ability to degrade and destroy one another, but it is also a story of humanity’s capacity to withstand degradation and dehumanization (Gyuri even tries to find “happiness” in the lager). As much as the book is about Hungarianness and Jewishness, it also has the universal theme of someone trying to make sense of the world around them. Kertész does it all with profound irony and in a style that I find hard to describe, thus I invite you to read this brilliant work.

László Nemes’s Son of Saul is a dramatic representation of the Holocaust, but done in a very different way. The main character Saul Ausländer—the role beautifully acted by Géza Röhrig—is a Hungarian Jew who is the member of the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz-Birkenau. As part of this unit’s “job” Saul is forced to participate in the gassing process. His unit was responsible for collecting clothes, searching the bodies for hidden valuables, cleaning the chambers, and for disposing the remains. One day Saul came across a boy who he believed was his own son. The tragic and disturbing truth is that members of these Sonderkommandos did indeed come across their friends and family members while performing their “duties.” After this discovery, Saul’s single-minded goal was to have a funeral for the boy he believed to be his son. The camera follows his action. All the horrors of Auschwitz serve as a backdrop to his quest. While other camp members are seeking to organize a revolt—which ended up taking place on October 7, 1944—Saul is consumed by his pursuit for a Jewish funeral for the boy. This is a very unusual film with a dose of ambiguity that while to a certain degree decontextualizes the setting of Auschwitz; it certainly does not let the audience escape the horror and brutality. I would note that the first five to ten minutes of the film are one of the most devastating and disturbing cinematic representations of the Holocaust I have ever seen. Force yourself to watch on. You will see a personalized account of the Holocaust. It forces you to engage with the film in a way that makes you reimagine and rethink the reality of Auschwitz. I have seen many cinematic renderings of the Holocaust, but I have seen nothing like this before.

Representing the Holocaust in literature and cinema is not an easy task. As Primo Levi said, “our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man.” Imre Kertész’s Fatelessness and László Nemes’s Son of Saul provide the tools to help us remember the Holocaust, commemorate its victims, and perhaps allow us to gain some understanding of it— though I do not think we can ever truly understand it.

Imre Kerstesz - 2002 Nobel Prize Winner

Imre Kertész – 2002 Nobel Prize Winner

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How a History Major Gives you A Major Edge

Looks like we’re not the only ones thinking about the number of career options available to History Majors.

Last week the History Club hosted their second annual panel discussion “What You Can Do With a History Major.”

And while we knew from Final Four superstar Marcus Paige that being a history major gives you a competitive advantage, other voices are chiming in! Reprinted below is a blog post by TransitCenter communications assistant and History Major Jacob Anbinder from the American Historical Association Blog:

How A Major in History Gives You the Intangible Edge

(See more at: http://j.mp/22rTxNBuf)

It’s no secret that many departments use job prospects to lure undergraduates trying to pick a major. History departments in particular tend to tout their alumni’s diverse array of career paths in an attempt to answer the inevitable question: “But what will you do with that?” Among college majors, it seems, history is considered just “useful” enough to have to justify itself, but not so useful that students would flock to it anyway. Studying history, however, gives graduates tremendous flexibility in the job market. In fact, history is not merely a degree you could consider—it is the degree you would be remiss not to.

Learn the Intangibles
To understand why, consider the NFL Combine. Scouts look at players’ speed, strength, and agility, but when it comes to offering a contract, these metrics are often pushed to the side—after all, if you’re at the combine, everyone already knows you’re good at football. Instead, the make-or-break elements are often what scouts call “intangibles”—not whether a player can run a specific play right now, but whether they have the acumen to succeed in the long run. When you graduate from college, you’ll already be at the combine. A history degree will give you the intangibles.

Though I graduated just two years ago, my own career path is already proof. I currently work in communications for a foundation that makes grants to improve public transportation. Previously, I wrote about public policy issues for a think tank. On paper, the two jobs are quite different, but in practice they have much in common. I plan events, organize calls, talk with colleagues in the field, and I write constantly—for audiences as big as the Internet and as small as my coworkers—in ways that require thinking critically about current events. I also edit other people’s writing that seeks to do the same. I owe this set of skills less to what the history major taught me (though that’s important too) than to how the history major taught it.

Write, Write, and Write Some More
When I was eight years old, I wrote to John Anderson, my favorite sports reporter, asking what I needed to do to become his successor. His response, handwritten on ESPN stationery, was concise and memorable: read all the writing you can get your hands on, and try to emulate the best of it.

History approximates this advice better than most majors in college. From reading responses to book reviews, term papers to my senior thesis, I would estimate I produced at least 400 pages of writing in my history classes alone. And it mattered—at the end of each year, I was a better writer than I had been the previous September. In later years of college, when history classes gave me more freedom to follow my own research interests, I was confident that I could independently devise a work plan that would result in a solid piece of writing.

In the working world, I cannot stress enough the importance of these twin skills—knowing what you need to write and then actually writing it well. There is an unfortunate perception that good writing skills are innate. Extraordinary writing might be innate, but no one is asking you to write like the next Faulkner (and, in the working world, a memo or blog post written like a Faulkner novel won’t get you very far anyway). Writing that is invisible—that permits readers to understand an idea or argument without noticing the syntax used to support it—is very much a learned skill. A history education trains you in exactly this kind of writing, a surprisingly rare skill in the working world that will bring immediate and enduring respect from the people with whom and for whom you work.

A Skeptical Approach
History is not the only major that requires substantial amounts of writing, but it is unique in combining that writing with an equally useful attitude: skepticism. Skepticism plays a central role in learning history at the college level. History teaches you to identify the biases, shortcomings, and inaccuracies inherent in everything you learn. Nothing is taken at face value—not even the work of other historians.

Skepticism has its drawbacks (mostly, it ruins your ability to enjoy movies set in the past). Like writing, however, it’s a skill that takes you beyond the lecture hall. If you are a lawyer, it allows you to spot weaknesses in your opponents’ case. If you follow the news, it allows you to question journalists’ assumptions. In my own line of work, it is why, when I saw press releases predicting that the new Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar would be an economic boon, rather than just agreeing, I helped craft a response identifying all of the issues that were not addressed.

Of course, the facts, figures, and stories that history teaches shouldn’t be overlooked. I am glad I can describe how the Atlanta subway system was shaped by racism, understand the regional dynamics of Brazilian politics, or note that Poland once had a less-than-imposing king named Władysław the Elbow-High. (I don’t remember what he did, but you don’t forget a name like that.)

The fact is that nearly everyone can find a branch of history that is interesting to them. When you are choosing a major, however, the skills imparted by history that can be carried into virtually any line of work—good writing, thinking critically about the world around you—are less obvious. You may not sense those intangibles at the moment. But four years from now, I guarantee you the scouts will.

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What’s in a Name? Weekly Round-Up, April 8th, 2016

Is a name a meaningless convention? Historians have been awfully busy as of late considering this very question as so many consider the significance and legacy of named places and things. Here are some of the name-game conversations we’ve been following up on the 4th floor:

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Princeton Keeps Woodrow Wilson’s Name on the School Despite Protests: http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/04/politics/princeton-university-woodrow-wilson-name-debate/index.html

breen-buries-sign_mainBike Shop Buries Calhoun Name, Moves Forward as Perennial Cycle:  https://www.minnpost.com/business/2016/04/bike-shop-buries-calhoun-name-moves-forward-perennial-cycle

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The Reclamation of Mumbai:  http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/mar/30/story-cities-11-reclamation-mumbai-bombay-megacity-population-density-flood-risk

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