Friday, December 11, 2015

last words for the semester...and this blog

This is the last entry for this blog. I have been toying for a year with whether to move all of my entries from several blogs to one space and I think this is the moment when I should go for it. I will blog from my "catalogue" blog under Wordpress. I think that I have a better sense of my readership when I use that site. Also, my entries seem to move to the various search engines faster. What follows is a reprint of today's entry from that blog. Even though I can't dance, and know I'm getting old because my students have to tell me everything that is hip, videos like the one below, which was made totally unsolicited, remind me of some of the things I love about my job: you may not think the students are paying attention, but they are. That the student who made this video wasn't even my student, but heard about heard about what we were doing in my "The Nineteenth Century City" course from others and asked to follow the class all semester, was so cool. I am nervous about sharing because I can't dance, but what the heck. One aside: although I do not fully explain as much in this video, Gunther Barth's "common humanity" thesis, which we take up in "The Nineteenth Century City" course, among other things, refers to how nineteenth century people from very different class, ethnic, racial and national backgrounds find a "common humanity" in urban spaces as they attempt to cope with the pressures of living in such spaces. In his book City People: The Rise of Modern City Culture in Nineteenth Century America, he points to various things that emerged along with urban life in America to explore this point, among them baseball. In cities like New York, he argues, even if you couldn't speak English, you could feel like a New Yorker when you learned to cheer for the same team. The idea here is that although inequities and suffering persist, via spectator sports like baseball, which traces its origins to cities in the second half of the nineteenth century, people participate in a "common humanity" even if it is only for a couple of minutes, or a couple of people I asked my students to think about this concept and the limits of its utility while doing things they enjoy today like watching or playing football or attempting dances like the Nae Nae (I still don't know how to do that Stanky Leg). The goal was to get them to think about whether this way of adapting allows to see "the nineteenth century city" is still with us (i.e. this way of connecting across our diverse backgrounds even though technology nowadays permits us to do as much even outside of the city. For sure, the Internet and cable television lets people see dances and spectator sports almost anywhere). Chris Edmunds, one of the students in course, created his own video, which addresses Barth's common humanity thesis with more depth. Check it out below. Thanks, Nick Privitera, for your interest in our class. And thank you students - Chris, Lin Kabachia, Morgan Johnson, William Newman, Adam Rosenberg, Chance Sturup, and Sarah Yeilding - for pushing my thinking while I learn with you. Oh, and here is a slideshow of photos from our culminating event for the semester, which was held last week at Gorgas House. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Excellent talk by Victoria Ott on Young 19th Century Women in Female Academies

Today, Victoria Ott, Associate Professor of History at Birmingham-Southern University, offered a presentation on young women in the Confederacy who attended school during the Civil War. It was a fascinating talk. According to Ott, the parents of such women often enrolled them in school to get them out of harm's way. During their time away from home, some young women took liberties they might not have taken before. For example, some engaged in courtship rituals, such as writing letters, with Confederate soldiers and on occasion, Union ones. Ott, who was born in Alabama, provided background on her interest in young women in the Confederacy. As a child, she was introduced to the motion picture "Gone With the Wind." By the time she got to graduate school, she needed a dissertation topic. Why not look for some real-life Scarlett O'Hara's in the archive? She never found such a woman. She did find women who were sometimes frustrated by how the war was changing their lives. Among such women were ones who protected the memory of the Old South. Her talk posed interesting tensions with the core purpose of this class, which is to look for emerging urban life. As I told the audience in my opening remarks, the issue of young women and education in the years surrounding the Civil War was fascinating without even thinking about cities. But indeed, the class tried to do just that. The longing of Ella Ballard, one young woman who attended a female academy in Frankfort, Kentucky, for a simple watch serves as an example of the emerging consumer culture that accompanied city life. Via an antebellum letter, she asked her father Rice Ballard, a Mississippi and Arkansas planter (and historical actor in my recently published book) to buy her one while he was in New Orleans. She even chatised him for forgetting her request. A postbellum letter from former University of Alabama President Josiah Gorgas to his two daughters Mary and Jessie, students at Sewanee, University of the South, uncovers his query about the outcome of a baseball game, a sport that was first played in New York City. Finally, Elizabeth Townsend, a young Huntsville, Alabama, woman of mixed race, was enrolled in Wilberforce University along with her sister and cousins on the eve of the Civil War. She traveled to Ohio on boats and a train, two forms of transportation that announced an urbanizing world. A letter she wrote in May 1861, just a month after the war began, finds her not addressing this momentous event, but instead a social she recently attended at school. Without question, these were privileged young women. Still, their lives were not without challenges. Surviving evidence permits us to see their small claims on power in a still patriarchal world. To which topic will this class turn next fall? I do not yet have a clue. Perhaps we will return to this subject. There's still so much to learn and recover in the archive. Special thanks to the students: Chris Edmunds, Morgan Johnson, Lin Kabachia, William Newman, Adam Rosenberg and Sarah Yielding for their enthusiasm and openness to learning. I want to also thank Kari Frederickson, Chair of UA's History Department; Lydia Ellington, Director of Gorgas House, Katherine Richter, Executive Director of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society,Joshua Rothman, Director of the Summersell Center for the Study of the South, History Department Office Manager Christina Kircharr, and my colleagues Jimmy Mixson and John Beeler, for their support.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

student photography offered in a charity silent auction at Dec. 2 event

Get a sneak peek at student photography that will be presented at the December 2 event addressing the experiences of young women and education in an urbanizing America. The photography is part of a silent auction. Proceeds benefit Jemison Mansion and the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society. Some background: students enrolled in "The Nineteenth Century City," a History course at the University of Alabama, were charged with exploring the ways in which young women pursuing an education figured into an urbanizing world. Throughout the semester, they visited several sites in Tuscaloosa to see buildings, among them Gorgas House, the Drish House, Jemison Mansion, the L & N Railroad Station, the Old Tavern, the Alabama Museum of Natural History, the ruins of the the former Alabama State Capitol building and later, a "female" academy, and other places, among them the Black Warrior River. These sites and others permit us to witness how the "nineteenth century city" is still with us as seen in advancements in technology that made it possible for people, raw materials and products to get from Point A to Point B, but also in how an increasingly wealthy country and global market provided ways for some individuals to participate in leisure activities that also reflected rising industry. The arrival of department stores and professionalization of baseball by the late 19th century serve as examples. The photos represent this query. To see the photos in person, visit UA's Gorgas House 4-5:30 pm December 2, 2015. Our guest speaker is Birmingham Southern University Associate Professor of History Victora Ott. Her talk is titled "A Safe Place to Hide?: The Role of Female Academies in the Confederate South." There will also be a poster display unveiling primary sources the students studied as well as a chronological history of local colleges that young women attended, among them Sims Female Academy, Alabama Female Academy, Alabama Female Athenaeum, Tuskaloosa Female College, Alabama Central Female College, Hills Female College and UA, which opened its doors to women in 1893.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Young Women in Higher Education Exhibit 4-5:30pm Dec. 2

Reprinted from my active learner blog Catalogue: The end of the semester is quickly approaching. The students enrolled my "The Nineteenth Century City" course have completed the work for our December 2 presentation. There, we will present our research on young women and education in early Alabama and an urbanizing America. Between the 1830s and 1920, cities increasingly grew in the United States owing partly to the invention of the steamboat and railroads, two technologies that helped people move through space more easily. Historian Gunther Barth has argued that within this period an urban “culture” emerged via the arrival of apartment houses, department stores, baseball, vaudeville houses, and metropolitan newspapers. In such things, as he writes, people with very different racial and ethnic backgrounds managed to find a “common humanity” and learned how to cope in congested spaces. Notably, Barth did not look to churches or institutions of higher learning for signs of an urbanizing America. This was possibly because in those two spaces he saw more homogeneous populations, or people whose backgrounds were similar. The students in this course were charged with looking for signs of an urban culture in the lives of young women who attended college during the nineteenth century or at the turn of the century, in and outside of Alabama. Certainly a female academy existed in Tuscaloosa even before the University of Alabama opened in Tuscaloosa in 1831. Some such students include Addie Lovett Findlay whose diploma is pictured here, and the coeds who lived with the family of a Bryce Hospital administrator. They are also pictured. As this exhibit hopes to demonstrate, young women in a city that still feels like a college town even today were becoming sophisticated people in the years surrounding the Civil War. The students studied several documents to learn more about such women and others in West and North Alabama. Among the documents was an 1861 letter from a Huntsville, Alabama, girl of mixed race who attended Wilberforce after being recently manumitted. Ultimately, the class saw how historians interpret the past while often relying on very little information. The result was four displays that will be presented on 4-5:30 pm at the university's Gorgas House. Use this interactive map for directions. There will also be a silent auction of photography inspired by the nineteenth century city theme taken and curated by the students. We are pleased to have Birmingham Southern University Associate Professor of History Victoria Ott as our guest speaker. Her talk is titled "A Safe Place to Hide?: The Role of Female Academies in the Confederate South." This event is co-sponsored by the Summersell Center for the Study of the South.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

visits to three sites push our thinking on two very different historical actors

Today the class visited the Old Tavern in downtown Tuscaloosa as well as two nearby mansions, one named for former Alabama senator Robert Jemison and the other for antebellum physician John Drish. Katherine Richter, Executive Director of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, made arrangements for all three visits. Greg Austin, staffer at Jemison, gave a wonderful tour. Along the way, we were joined by University of Alabama Press' Sales and Marketing Director J.D. Wilson and his colleague. The goal: revisiting the lives of Clarence King, the first President of the United States Geological Survey, and Eliza Potter, a hairdresser of mixed race as revealed in historian Martha Sandweiss' biography on King and Potter's 1859 memoir. Both King and Potter were not unfamiliar with the high life. King's birthplace, Newport, RI, was a place Potter visited often when called on to style the hair of wealthy women. Like King, who mapped the west for the U.S. government, opening the way for industry, Potter also traveled to Europe. Both people could be pretty cranky about society. Knowing what we know about these two very different people who were widely traveled, how would they have encountered the buildings we visited? Would either be drawn to one, none or all and for what reasons? The students have hand-outs they will complete. We will discuss more when we meet after the Fall Break. I enjoyed hearing their initial thoughts about Potter (some liked her while some liked King, the subject of last week's reading, more). I look forward to next week's discussion. Happy Break! P.S. Thank you, J.D., for the University of Alabama Press' best-selling book on Alabama haunted houses. I look forward to reading it while thinking about a recently published book by historian Tiya Miles. Given the Halloween holiday, the visits to Drish and Jemison, which may both be haunted, seemed especially fitting.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

urban and natural space via a scavenger hunt

This past Wednesday, the students visited Smith Hall, home of the Alabama's Museum of Natural History. There, they went on a scavenger hunt, which challenged them to make linkages between emerging urban life and natural life. It's hard to build industry if you don't know what's out there. Eugene Allen Smith, a former UA professor, naturalist and geologist, spent a lot of time surveying the state of Alabama around the turn of the century. With his help, the state was able to build industry on coal and iron among other things. His life poses interesting tensions with Clarence King, first president of the United States Geological Survey from 1879-1891. King took his own survey crew west to help government's efforts to better understand the continent's landscape and resources. Afterwards, the students and I gathered under a covered seated area where they completed the words to a fictitious vaudeville play. Indeed, they are continuing to learn how emerging urban life permitted Americans to better balance work with leisure life. Last week, they were made aware of how historian Gunther Barth's conception of a growing "common humanity" in urban culture reveals how some people were ridiculed at the expense of others. When they made their own scripts, it was funny to hear them focusing on a "common humanity" to which most in Tuscaloosa can relate: one revolving around Alabama's football team. I look forward to sharing excerpts from their scripts in an upcoming posting. For now, Roll Tide as we prepare to play Tennessee today! Congrats to Morgan Johnson and Christopher Edmundson for being the first to answer the scavenger hunt questions, which mostly revolved around Smith's life via a museum exhibit.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

class visits L & N Railroad Station

This class got a real treat today. We did a tour of the downtown area to learn more about how Tuscaloosa fits into the story of emerging urban life. Lo and behold, the doors were opened at the old Louisville & Nashville Railroad station, which opened in 1912. Bill Lloyd, the owner, was kind enough to give us a tour. He and his wife are renovating the station into a restaurant named 301, which opens in three weeks. It's so cool seeing a new food spot in the area and one with historic value, too. See a video of our visit on my Vimeo page (You Tube is cranky, today). And to see last year's class peeping into the windows of the L & N station, see their music video below. Finally, check out a chronology of railroads in Tuscaloosa in an earlier blog entry. Roll Tide!