Friday, October 24, 2014

downtown Tuscaloosa field trip was amazing

The students listen to my digital lecture during our recent field trip.
The students and I had a good time visiting downtown Tuscaloosa this past Wednesday. We gathered footage for our music video featuring the sounds of local folk band Bible Study. The  "world premiere" of the  video will be held at 5:30 pm December 3 at Jemison Mansion in Tuscaloosa.

Also, on November 3, four students enrolled in this course this semester and one student enrolled last fall will accompany me and Dr. John Beeler to the Tuscaloosa County's Preservation Society's Annual Awards Banquet at Christ Episcopal Church (this church was featured in "Tuscaloosa: The Nineteenth Century City," the final student project from last fall).

On Wednesday, we did a tour that featured this church among other sites (I recorded my lecture-tour on how signs of emerging urban life manifest in present-day Tuscaloosa the night before and uploaded it to Doing as much allowed the students to hear me while they walked, permitting me to capture footage of them along the way).

One aside: I just curated a couple of dozen photographs that the students have taken in and outside of Tuscaloosa. These images bring to mind some of the ideas and topics we have been discussing about emerging urban life. Some of these photographs will be on display at the December 3 event. For now, we thank Ian Crawford and Tim Higgins of Jemison  (and Bible Study) well as Katherine Richter, Director of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, and finally, music critic/author  Ann Powers for their role in helping us document Tuscaloosa's starring role in nineteenth century urban history this fall! Roll Tide!

Next week, we turn to our final course reading. We will learn about the ways in which the experiences of  nineteenth century geologist Clarence King epitomize the across time tensions between urban life and the frontier. What new things can King's disdain for New York City and love for mapping the West for the U.S. government teach us? How do the Civil War, Gilded Age and rising Jim Crow practices expand our knowledge of urban life? Finally, how do race, gender and class aid our ability to find meaning in an industrializing America?

PS Music by the Junkyard Kings, another local band, was also considered for the video. We are desperately trying to help them get access to our university's new recording studio on the old Bryce Hospital property so they can make a demo. Their song "Roses" is as wonderful as Bible Study's "Druid City." Thank you, Louise Manos, for introducing us to this band.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

students to visit downtown tuscaloosa

DePalma's was once a bank and Adrian's, a department store.
Tuscaloosa's Kress 5-10-25 Cent store opened in 1937.

The students and I will travel to downtown Tuscaloosa tomorrow and reflect on what we have learned about emerging life in America. Our attention to this subject has pushed us to think about a variety of topics including the arrival of department stores, leisure time and women in public spaces. We might think deeply about these developments as we insert Tuscaloosa into this narrative. The city was founded in 1819 and served as the state capital from 1826 to 1846. Its gradual rise as an important city in West Alabama coincides with the life of Cincinnati-based hairdresser Eliza Potter who traveled widely. Some of her travels took her as far as Europe, but also to New Orleans (although if memory serves, following her uncle's advice, this woman of mixed race  never entered Alabama). But what if she had? Given that she styled the hair of wealthy whites on both sides of the Atlantic, which occasions would have presented her an opportunity to do as much? How easily would Potter have walked around our downtown area, which has grown considerably over the years after some decades of decline when shoppers turned to McFarland Mall. It is worth it to think about such things as we walk by many buildings including the Bama Theatre, which opened in 1938. Though it is safely outside the window of emerging urban life (1820s to 1910, give or take a decade, according to historian Gunther Barth), this theatre allows us to see yet another example of how an increasingly modern world found people not only working, but also enjoying leisure moments first in vaudeville houses and later, motion picture theatres. One aside: while we are downtown, we will gather footage for our class project: a music video with Tuscaloosa in the starring role. Along the way, we will stop by Edelweiss, a German coffee shop.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

revisiting Barth via an antebellum hairdresser

Cincinnati circa 1846, Courtesy Perry Castaneda Map Collection, University of Texas
Potter's memoir was published in 1859.

As we turn to Eliza Potter, an antebellum hairdresser of mixed race for next Wednesday's class, we should keep what we have learned about emerging urban life via Gunther Barth's important study in mind.

How does Potter adhere to Barth's shaping cities as a place where we can see a "common humanity"? Who are the "city people" she meets? What are her impressions of them? How might she have encountered the watermen in David Cecelski's study?

Are the people she meets experiencing the "civilizing process" required of urban dwellers? Is Potter experiencing this process? If so, how do we explain her willingness to "tell all" in a book that was seen as scandalous in her day?

Is she a part of the "feminine public" that found women shopping and working in department stores and attending or performing in shows in vaudeville houses before the century closed? Why or why not?

What do we make of her wanderlust, or her desire to see a "Western" world? What does she mean when she says this? What accounts for her restlessness? How do we situate her against ongoing debates favoring the frontier, or open spaces, against the crowded city. As we start thinking about the final exam, it is worth it to think about these debates and which historical actors and historians figure into them. A review of previous Powerpoints will certainly help in this regard.

In the meantime, we should come to class prepared to talk about the woman who loved to move through space, but also enjoyed her own home under her own vine and fig tree in a particular city. Which city?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

pondering emerging urban life via department stores and vaudeville

Receipt from a turn of the century Tuscaloosa department store.
Tomorrow we will examine how department stores and vaudeville houses fit into emerging urban life in America. It will be the last time we turn to Gunther Barth's study of modern urban culture. Then again, maybe not. For sure, we will want to keep in mind so much of what we have learned over the past eight weeks and put it to good use as we read excerpts from Martha Sandweiss' examination of nineteenth century geologist Clarence King and the memoir of nineteenth century Cincinnati hairdresser Eliza Potter, among other readings.

For now, we may collectively wonder how the vaudeville house  allowed urban dwellers to see something about themselves onstage in the same way that the metropolitan press permitted the same group to do something similar. What did audience members see onstage? What made them laugh?

We may also reflect on more basic questions, among them: How did newspapers help department stores? Or why were vaudeville and department stores inviting spaces for women and children? 

Then again, questions that possibly lead to troubling conversations may have answers worth pursuing, too. Indeed, how does the diversity in department stores and vaudeville encounter the heterogeneous public to which Barth turns to describe nineteenth century American urban dwellers? 

Who enters these spaces? Who cannot? 

How did technology contribute to both developments becoming big business?

Turn of the century vaudeville sheet music.
Finally, what legacies did vaudeville and department stores leave us? It's worth it to think about such an idea. Today, so much entertainment comes through a smartphone or Netflix or Youtube. Shopping is done online or elsewhere (However, I do remember when 1960s and 1970s variety televisions were quite popular. I loved Hee Haw and any show featuring the Jackson Five including The Carol Burnett Show, which definitely builds on the foundation of vaudeville. I also remember when my mother shopped at stand-alone department stores like Burdines in downtown Miami in the 1970s. In time, we - like everyone else - headed to malls).
Burdines began as a Bartow, FL, dry goods store.

While we think over possible answers and even new questions, I invite you to take a look at two images from the University of Alabama's digitized Hoole Collection. The first: a 1914 receipt from from Tuscaloosa's Savage Department store. The store must have had quite a following as five years earlier, The Tuscaloosa News featured a store advertisement announcing the arrival of fall and winter hats, which were the "very latest" from New York and Paris. 

However, lest the "ladies of Tuscaloosa and West Alabama" thought the prices at Savage, which was located at 612-614 Greenburg Avenue, were out of reach, the store promised a shopper of modest means that she could have "a new style, nobby and attractive fall hat" at a "small cost."

Who were the patrons of this store owned by "J.A. Savage & Son?" Where did they wear such fancy hats? How were their lives different and similar to say the women described in bigger cities such as New York and Chicago?  While these are questions for which we have no likely answers, we might think them through just the same if for no other reason than the opportunity to once more situate Tuscaloosa into the narrative of emerging urban life.

Similarly, a search of the Hoole archive also turned up vaudeville sheet music composed in 1921 by Jeff Branen and Lloyd Evans (Seeing as Barth says emerging urban life is between the 1830s and 1920, give or take a decade, both primary sources are within range). 

Was this music in the household of a former Tuscaloosa resident or relative of a former resident? Was the music ever performed publicly? If so, where and for whom? 

Finally, why do things like baseball and vaudeville - which begin in cities - resonate with people who live in rural spaces; and vice versa; why are television shows about Alaska - Northern Exposure was a big favorite of mine during the 1990s - or the Great American Country network so popular to urban dwellers? Is this another instance when we can see how the frontier and countryside things are things for which we yearn no matter how "modern" and "urban" we become?

Monday, October 6, 2014

studying urbanization via a Civil War officer's diary

A few weeks back, the students learned about Nathaniel Kenyon, a Union officer in the 11th Regiment, Illinois Infantry. He became a prisoner of war in Tennessee in 1862. A typed transcription of the diary he kept during the Civil War is in the University of Alabama’s Hoole Library. 

The students were asked to read an excerpt from his diary and then trace his movements throughout the south. Along the way, they were challenged to make connections between his experiences and emerging urban life via maps and short reflections. See excerpts from their writings and their maps in this posting. To get a better look at the maps, click on each image.

Rae: Nathaniel C. Kenyon was born in 1838 in Salem, New York…[He]enlisted in the Illinois Infantry at the age of 23. He enlisted in the town of La Salle, IL…. However a mere six months later, Kenyon is captured by the Confederate Army. Kenyon was probably captured at the Battle at Fort Donelson which occurred in February of 1862. According to The Civil War Trust, Union soldiers were reported captured or missing after this battle.  His change in tone and emotion is obvious from his January entries to those he recorded in March…
 [I]ntriguingly, Kenyon is visited by two very notable Confederate military commanders during his time as a prisoner of war. He is visited by a “Col. Forrest” who was Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was a Confederate commander at Fort Donelson. Kenyon mentions that he is under the charge of “Sgt. Wirz.” This is the Swiss born Confederate military man, Henry Wirz. He was appointed by President Jefferson Davis to be the Confederate commander east of the Mississippi River for a short period. He went on to become the superintendent of the infamous Andersonville Prison….
I think [Kenyon]  fared better than a majority of his comrades. Kenyon never attempted escape or unruly behavior while in capture. For that behavior, he was rewarded. He receives books to read and pass the time. He also states that he gets a “mattress” to sleep on…. Kenyon begins to lose hope of release as his time capture grows on, but finds comfort in the prospect of a Union victory. Kenyon states, “The Old Flag was still slowly and surely making its way toward the Gulf, borne by as brave men as the world can furnish –the men of the Northwest-although we are fighting against brave men their cause is not just and therefore they cannot prosper.”
Caroline: In a detailed account of his time with the Confederates in many Southern cities, I was able to take notice of his treatment as a prisoner, and several elements of urbanizing America. Other than the use of steamboats and railroads, in his description, I didn’t notice much urbanization in the South.
During his time on the steamboat…. it was obvious those men [navigating his boat] weren’t nearly has qualified as the maritime men from the [David] Cecelski reading. Those men knew a distinguished craft of traveling on water, but it seemed the men steering on Kenyon’s steamboat didn’t know much of what they were doing. Kenyon said they kept running into timber, would stop often, and made very little progress each day. His story revealed to me how skilled the enslaved maritime men must have really been.

Ben: At first it was hard to make a connection between his story and the topic of 19th century cities as he spent nearly all his time captive in a transport or confined in Tuscaloosa, but it became obvious quickly that these waterways and railroads were the quickest ways from town to town and the lifeblood of the country. His journey down Mississippi railways to Mobile and up the Alabama to Tuscaloosa must have meant that the rivers and rail road were the most efficient and economical way to transport.

Devon: His diary [shows you how] important the railroads were to the war and the developing urban cities.  …During the 19th century the train was a vital technology that helped people, consumer goods, and ideas travel across the country. The trains became an important part to the development of urban spaces… If the cities that Kenyon visited were not connected by a train system, then it was connected by a water way. Thanks to the improvements in transportation during the 19th century Kenyon was able to see different cities across the south. The cities were places were rural society was merging with the urban new world…. Kenyon’s diary never gave the impression that Kenyon thought of himself as a victim. Despite his situation he still managed to stay active and retain his civility…Civility was an important part of urban life.

Emily: This diary is very interesting because it catalogues the travels of Kenyon through the South... We get to see a firsthand account of what it was like to use the railroads and waterways to get [to] places. Today we can just take a straight flight somewhere, but when you map out Kenyon’s journey [,] we can see that the opposite …The path they took had to follow railroads and natural landscapes …When I look at the map through the eyes of someone in 1860s I see that you have to utilize the natural formation to your benefit.

Jasmine: Kenyon’s journey starts in Belmont, Tennessee. It is winter and he soon develops a fever. [H]e …discovers that they are on the move [,] boarding a train to Corinth, Mississippi. From Mississippi to Mobile, Alabama… Arriving in Mobile [,] Kenyon boards a steam boat named Lily. On the way to Demopolis, Alabama they stop to pick up wood and Kenyon describes seeing “very large” plantations along the river. This is where I believe Kenyon gets to see and experience plantations first hand. … [H]e did not know how large plantations were … As the journey commences to Tuscaloosa, sleeping on a cold, damp deck and living off of stale bread and molasses begins to take a toll on Kenyon. Traveling up the Tombigbee and Black Warrior River was rough. The river was rising fast causing the boat to run into the banks delaying the travel time making progress very slow. Wh[ile] in Tuscaloosa [,] Kenyon becomes hungry and bored. If he wanted more food he had to purchase it for double what the Confederates pay and as a prisoner he was not allowed anything to read....Kenyon’s mood dramatically changes when he hears news from Capt. Cobb, a POW traveling three days behind Kenyon. Cobb claims that the old flag (Union flag) was still flying and that the flag was making its way to the gulf coming mostly from men in the northwest. This I believe is where Kenyon gains back his hope and courage in himself and the Union. I also think that this is where we can witness some urbanization in America. All throughout Kenyon’s journey he sees trains and steam boats which are both important in creating urban life in America, but hearing men coming from not only the north but the northwest helps us and Kenyon create this image that America ‘s expanding.
Undre: I noticed that the tone of his writing was coincidentally in sync with good weather…. I believe that talking about the weather was almost like a modern day Twitter or Facebook post. Serving as a[n officer] for the Union Army, and being down rated to a POW[,]  was an extremely humbling experience.

Voni: Kenyon does not ever portray himself as a victim, it is merely because of our awareness of his situation that we even want to oblige him to that description. Because he rarely alludes negatively to his circumstances and details of his emotional state are even more rare, the emergence of social etiquette can be seen quite clearly in this diary. Kenyon, for the sake of war and appearances cannot allow his captures to see him as weak, but he does not even allude to it in his personal diary. This implies, to me at least, that the social standard for masking emotions was either extremely engrained, especially in a soldier, or Kenyon was aware this could get into someone else’s hands, or both!

Wayne: Kenyon was transported on the railroad and with a steam boat. Both of these modes of transportation were vital in building urban areas by allowing a quick and efficient way to transport goods and people alike. Two cities mentioned by Kenyon were Mobile and Tuscaloosa. At the time, these two cities were in the process of expansion thanks to the waterways and rail systems. Mobile and Tuscaloosa were mass producers of natural resources such as coal and timber. The story of Kenyon is a commonly told story of the soldiers that fought in the Civil War. A young Lieutenant from Illinois, captured in battle, then transported to a POW camp site. Although Kenyon was forced to endure the hardships of battle and of captivity, his journey provides good insight to the landscape of the south and provides examples of the rapidly growing transportation system and urban areas.

Will: You see his interactions with urbanization the whole time because urbanization is centered around the railroad and the river. Urbanization was formed around the railroad and rivers, not the other way around. Cities like Tuscaloosa are here because of where the river is placed, and this man shows this because he is hitting all of these cities from Corinth to Demopolis by traveling these urbanized railways and rivers.

Caleb: On April 22, 1861 he was appointed 1st S[e]rge[a]nt and on July 1861 he was commissioned [as a  F]irst Lieutenant…. Nathaniel  wasn’t killed in war….He lived to be 86 [which] was not common at that time because of …diseases.

Postscript: I enjoyed reading the students’ entries. They generally detected emerging urban life in the context of the modes of transportation that moved Kenyon from rural to more populated communities. There are still opportunities to juxtapose his life against what we have been learning via other course materials. In other words, how do we take a primary source like Kenyon’s diary and find meaning in it with the help of secondary sources, such as Gunther Barth's study of emerging urban culture and David Cecelski’s exploration of enslaved watermen, among them ones who served either the Union or Confederate armies during the Civil War?

For example, I wonder if it is possible to see how he participated in the “common humanity” or the “civilizing process” about which Barth speaks in regards to people who inhabit urban areas.
Some of the students seemed positioned to address this issue, particularly when they mentioned his civility and his interactions with the Confederate officers. This common humanity and civility are very important as they demonstrate how he emerges triumphantly despite being a prisoner of war. His triumphs go beyond the Union victory. It is a triumph that is embedded in racial and class politics. Some of the students intuited this. Some of their good ideas have the potential to reach a fuller conclusion. Perhaps we hesitate proceeding analytically in certain directions. It is easier to shy away from being confrontational when we are still working as a society through difficult issues like race and class. For sure, some students could see the North-South conflict, but fewer saw how much the soldiers had in common. 

I hope we can address such commonalities as we enter the second half of the semester. They will become critical as we finish reading Barth (the operative word being “reading;” yes, we must read the texts before us). When we read and digest information, we are better positioned to analyze documents and have productive conversations. Doing all of these things can also help us make connections between the past and the present.  Few things exist in a vacuum. Is there anything about Kenyon’s experiences – interior or exterior - that feel familiar? Resolved? In-process? It’s worth it to think about these things as we try to find meaning in our own lives. In the big scheme of things, the Civil War was not that long ago. 

We will soon move on to study urban life through two very different, but not entirely, people: Clarence King, a white geologist from Newport, Rhode Island, and  Eliza Potter, a New York-born hairdresser of mixed race who owned her “own house under her own fig tree” in Cincinnati. How can we build on the ideas, readings and conversations we have had thus far and analyze these two individuals’ lives? And our own? Such questions are worth asking as we turn this week to Barth's exploration of how department stores and vaudeville houses helped urban people cope and a "common humanity."