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 hours.city 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!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

exploring the issue of mobility and power in an urbanizing America

This past Wednesday, the students visited Manderson Landing here in Tuscaloosa. There, on the banks of the Black Warrior River, they saw remnants of the L & N Railroad line. This visit figures into a lesson on transportation, mobility and power in the nineteenth century. With the arrival of the steamboat, which moved along inland waters, people and products began to move through space in an urbanizing world. Railroads are a part of this narrative. The students were also made aware of how people of African descent, even ones enslaved, participated in these technological advancements.




Using David Cecelski's study on black watermen in antebellum North Carolina, they begin to see how even oppressed groups had the skills to navigate waterways. Robert Smalls, an enslaved boat pilot and later, Congressman, even escaped slavery on a vessel he piloted for the Confederates.

Notably, Horace King, an enslaved bridge builder, constructed bridges throughout the south. He was of huge assistance to Alabama Sen. Robert Jemison Jr., whose many business interests included building bridges and turnpikes during the antebellum period.

After my lecture and the visit, the students wrote reflections on these and other issues. Wrote Adams, "With the emergence of the 19th century city, some men learned skills that will translate into power, skills that even privileged white men did not possess at the time." Added Lin, "I was really surprised [to learn about men like] Horace King who were able to do thing that ...other black people...would not have been able to accomplish." Chance made connections between oppressed minorities in other settings, among them, ones residing in Turkey, who are able to gain control simply because they moved through space. Wrote William, "Space define[d] a relationship between man his quest for power." Morgan homed in on how information, not just people and products, trave[ed]  faster with advancements in technology.

These short reflections are worth 25% of the students' overall grade. I think they are off to a great start. When we meet on September 30, we will tackle the issue of civility in an urbanizing world. We will be attentive how people had to learn how to behave in public settings as an middle class urban population began to emerge in the United States during the nineteenth century.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Visit to Gorgas House sets off semester-long query

Lydia Ellington, Dir. of UA's Gorgas House, speaks to class.


This year's "The Nineteenth Century City" class reflects the decline in enrollment seen in some courses in the History department and elsewhere on campus. My colleagues and I are trying to sort through this. 

In the meantime, I am determined to keep course content interesting. I think we're off to a good start. Our class of seven students visited yesterday Gorgas House, an antebellum house on the University of Alabama's campus. There, we learned about the Gorgas family, among them Mary and Jessie, two daughters who were permitted to obtain an education. That they did juxtaposes nicely with our interest in female academies, or young women in institutions of higher learning in the United States between the 1830s and 1920, the window to which historian Gunther Barth points as being a place to see emerging urban life. 

After the visit to the Gorgas House, the students were given two letters written by Josiah Gorgas, former UA President. The recipients were his daughters who were studying at Sewanee, The University of the South in Tennessee. 

In one letter, the elder Gorgas inquires about the outcome of a baseball game. This was intriguing as baseball is one of five things to which Barth points to announce the arrival of a modern urban culture in America. Barth states that it is around this game, which gradually becomes popular in the second half of the nineteenth century, that people of varying backgrounds learn to root for the same team, or share a "common humanity." 

Throughout the semester, the students will be challenged to see how young educated women figure into this common humanity. Who gets included in this narrative, I've asked them. Who gets left out? How do we find meaning in a generation of young women who seem to be forerunners to feminist ideas, among them Amelia Gorgas, Josiah's wife? She not only ran the University's Library, post office and infirmary when her husband became ill, but continued to successfully raise six children into adulthood.

One aside: Dr. William Gorgas, one of the Gorgas children and the 22nd Surgeon General of the United States Army, appears to have been an avid fan of baseball as Gorgas House displays his lifetime pass to the American League games. He is best known for helping the United States combat the impact of yellow fever during the building of the Panama Canal at the turn of the century.
Victoria Ott, guest speaker

Meanwhile, like last year and the year prior, the semester-long query will culminate in a class project. This year, the students will present a curated exhibit of primary sources at the Gorgas House. Victoria E. Ott, James A. Wood Associate Professor of History at Birmingham Southern University, will be our guest speaker.

Katherine Richter, Executive Director of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, and Ian Crawford, House Manager of Jemison Manager, have generously offered their insight about Tuscaloosa's founding families to help us get started. Richter also shared diplomas and report cards that will also be helpful. Heartfelt thanks to Lydia Ellington, Director of Gorgas House,
for her assistance, too.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Fall 2015 class project: female academies

Broaches once worn 19th century  West Alabama women students .
We've had our first class meeting and the students present are aware that we will make female academies in West Alabama our class project. Pictured here is some jewelry worn by young antebellum  women students who attended school in the area during the nineteenth century.

This jewelry is housed at the Old Tavern in downtown Tuscaloosa. Katherine Richter, Executive Director of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, was kind enough to point out the jewelry. I described my recent visit to see her and Ian Crawford of Jemison Mansion in an earlier blog posting.

We will use a small body of evidence  - such jewelry, diplomas, report cards, and Census documents on the founding families of Tuscaloosa, to learn more about this population of young women who were pursuing degrees even before the University of Alabama opened in 1831.

Why does it matter? How do these objects push our thinking about emerging urban life? Well, first, we get to wonder about how their living conditions, interests and family life differed from students in later generations. We will definitely pay attention to the social and political scene of their day. It's always interesting to see how much has changed and stayed the same. 

We might also get to critically imagine how an urbanizing Tuscaloosa looked as the nineteenth century matured. The presence of the Black Warrior River contributed to traffic in the area even after the state capital moved to Montgomery in the mid-1840s. 
A female academy was housed in Tuscaloosa's Old Capitol building.


Even though people today still think of Tuscaloosa as being little more than a college football town, these young women reflect a changing America as seen in emerging urban life.

To what do we look to see such life? Gunther Barth's City People, one of our required readings, will offer a few things to consider. Like earlier iterations of this course, we will write short essays and combine what we learn individually into one script and make a digital presentation for public consumption.
Rather than a documentary or music video, we might considered a curated photo exhibit.

1861 letter from Huntsville's Elizabeth Townsend.
A possible field trip to Huntsville is being discussed, permitting us to include the female academies in that area into the discussion. That effort will be helped by my earlier research on children of mixed race who lived in that city before and after the war. Some of them were young women who attended Wilberforce. Many of their letters are housed in the Septimus Cabaniss Papers at UA's Hoole Special Collections Library. I discuss their lives in Chapter Five of my new book.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

my new book addresses how we become "city people"

My new book arrived this week as I have by now said in virtually every social media site I have - except this one. That lapse is interesting given that so much in this book pivots on how southern white male slaveholders essentially played some role, whether they intended to do as much, in the "urbanization" of freedwomen and children. Certainly antebellum Cincinnati, as shown on a map in the page above, was ground zero for the resettlement of such women and children partly because of its position on the Mississippi-Ohio river waterway. It was easy to get them out of slave territory on this important river network. These were obviously people in whom such men had invested themselves emotionally and financially.

Via letters, business and legal documents, I carefully try to tell this difficult story that brings to light new ways of thinking about "intimacy" across the races. To say "intimate" is to go beyond the obvious and think about how people connect despite obvious power differentials that show up in everyday life. I think the city space is one place we have done this across time.

As the students in this class will learn, ghettoes are something that began to appear after the Civil War as Americans were increasingly separated on the basis of race. While there were communities like the so-called "Little Africa" and "Bucktown" where people of African descent congregated more often that not, they generally lived in clusters alongside of "native" whites as well as the German and Irish immigrants who began arriving as the century matured.

It takes real work to realize that city life as we know it today, even with the kind of gentrification that finds many white Americans returning to urban areas long populated by African Americans, is a historical development. We began to see it in this country between 1830 and 1910, give or take a decade.

That emerging urban life is something that can be studied and seen as something that is still with us. It's an abstraction, historian Gunther Barth tells us, in that it's essentially a way that people with very different backgrounds learn to share the same space and learn to find a "common humanity" despite their differences. Some do as much via sports. In other words, new immigrants learned how to be American by rooting for the baseball team in their town. They learned how to speak English by reading the metropolitan newspaper. They learned to see themselves and others by laughing in vaudeville houses.  Indeed, we learn how to be "city people."

I'll keep driving this point again and again as we use Tuscaloosa and Birmingham as a laboratory. Yes, we will leave the classroom more than once to see this emerging urban phenomenon that has changed, but remains the same via landscape - many buildings in the 1830-1910 window still stand - but also in how we interact. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 10, 2015

prepping for 2015-16 school year

I miss Tide football. 
The t-shirt my mom gets next week.


But I also miss teaching. Cures for both woes are on the horizon. Regarding the latter, I had a great time today thinking about the possibilities for both "The Nineteenth Century City" and "Antebellum America" courses in the coming 2015-16 school year. It all began when Ian Crawford, House Manager at the Jemison Van de Graff Mansion, and Katherine Richter-Edge, Executive Director of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society,  met me at the Old Tavern Museum.
Me and the wonderful Katherine Richter-Edge and Ian Crawford.
Our mission: photograph three diplomas for two young women who graduated from female academies in this state for a possible student project.
One of the diplomas in question.

Why? Well, whenever I mention the experiences of American students in the antebellum, bellum and postbellum periods, I notice that some of my students pay very close attention. This is especially true for female students. I have wondered if it is because something specific about the past resonates with them. 

I am still thinking it through, but I have decided that it might be a good idea to explore the experiences of nineteenth century students as a class. In other words, we can put on our detective hats, look at old records -  letters, diplomas, church documents, Census data, etc. - and make a discovery or two.
Who wore this dress and what all did she see?

There were several female academies in the area during the nineteenth century. One opened even before the University of Alabama opened in 1831. Take a look at this late 19th century Tuscaloosa map and you will see mention of some of them.




Some of the possible questions ahead: 

How many of the students before us were daughters of the founding families of Tuscaloosa? 

Where did these young women study? 

How many of them went on to marry and have families. How many did not? 

How do the experiences of young white women and those of young African American women, among them, the mixed race descendants of white slaveholders who studied in the North, differ? Which circumstances contributed to young women studying in or outside of Alabama? My own research suggests possible answers to these last two questions.  

What do these women's collective experiences teach us about how higher education plays a role in an urbanizing America? 

It is my hope that the answers to these questions will help us learn more about a particular population and the world they inhabited. 

Along with mentally preparing for this project, which may have a multimedia prong similar to projects produced in earlier versions of both courses, I had a chance today to simply walk around the Old Tavern, which was built in 1827 and  moved to its present spot near Capitol Park in 1966. I wondered about the many conversations that took place here between politicians before the state capital was moved to Montgomery 20 years later. 

Was this the tavern that Nathaniel Kenyon, a Union officer with the 11th Illinois Infantry, mentioned in a copy of a diary at the University of Alabama's Hoole Library? At the time, he was a POW. When I told Ian and Katherine that Kenyon's diary mentions an African American woman who sold pies in Tuscaloosa, Ian immediately offered up a name for this woman. His response and our time together today were reminders of how much I love history. I am excited about the coming school year - even with all of the work still ahead.

Old Tavern Museum in Tuscaloosa.

A developing downtown Tuscaloosa.

I loved this old shoe, which is housed in the tavern.

Tavern patrons likely ate in this room.

This old rug would make a great wall hanging.

One of several quilts hanging in the tavern.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Emerging urban life seen in Birmingham hotel


As I prepare for the fall semester, I am already thinking about possible field trips for this course. We have focused twice on how Tuscaloosa fits into the story of emerging urban life in America. Perhaps we will travel to Birmingham and discover how that city figures into the same narrative. One place to visit, if we do as much, is the Hampton Inn's Tutwiler Hotel, which was built in 1910 as a nine-story fancy apartment house. 

Below are photos I took at this hotel, which pays homage to Birmingham's historic past well into the 20th century.While the Civil Rights movement is often the narrative to which we return to make discoveries about Birmingham, perhaps it will be worthwhile to also think about a longer narrative that includes human rights issues alongside additional topics, among them gender, culture, housing, industrialization and architecture.