A Palace for Readers

Baltimore students have the reputation of showing no interest in visiting D.C., though our experience with students in the Division of Legal, Ethical and Historical Studies contradicts that rumor.  Historians and philosophers in the division have accompanied eager students to the Capitol building, the White House, and other spots along the National Mall over the years.
In this post I want to talk about my very favorite building in D.C., the beautiful Library of Congress — specifically, the Jefferson Building, which is the original library.*

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Not being a poet, it’s difficult for me to put into words the love, craftsmanship, and vision of beauty that went into the Jefferson Building’s adornment during the 1890s and early 20th century.  The painted murals, ceilings, ornamental sculpture, and Neo-Renaissance architectural flourishes give evidence of a time in American history when nothing could be more glamorous, more patriotic, than a people’s library packed with centuries of accumulated knowledge from around the world.

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The Main Reading Room

 

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The Muse of Tragedy, Melpomene

I want to bring your attention to a couple of visuals in the Library, which might surprise you.  When visiting the Main Reading Room, crane your neck back to look at the paintings on the ceiling of the central dome.  The paintings make up a collar mural entitled Evolution of Civilization.

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It’s difficult to see in a pixelated reproduction, but what the painter, Edwin Blashfield, did was to paint twelve allegorical figures representing the cultures to which the United States was heir.  These figures include Egypt, Greece, Rome, France, England, Germany, and Italy — the ancient and modern powers that you might expect as “predecessors” to the United States.  What might cause more surprise for readers staring up from their books, though, is the figure between Rome and the Middle Ages, namely Islam.
The figure — centrally located in the Library — reminds us that the “othering” of Islam from Western Civilization is of recent vintage.   Here the artist deliberately included Islam in the cultural “family” of great contributors to human culture, here identified as bearing the gift of “Physics.” (France has the label “Emancipation” and Judea “Religion”).
Lest the visitor think the collar mural figure a fluke, careful study will reveal several spots throughout the Library that pay tribute to Arab, African, Asian, and even Native American learning.

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“Oral Tradition” by John W. Alexander (East Mosaic Corridor)

 

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Tibetan Head (one of 33 busts on the exterior of the Jefferson Building)

Something else unavoidable about the Library’s decoration is the fact that the natural sciences and the arts are worshipped equally with loving treatment from the painters and sculptors of the period.  Compare here “The Light of Astronomy” with “The Light of Poetry” by Carl Gutherz (b. 1844, d. 1907):

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We are reminded of a time in the past when poetry, literature, and drama were exalted no less than the sciences.  The industrial techniques of the workplace were placed below those classical liberal arts, at their proper level as means rather than ends.  Imagine that.
This reader’s palace belongs to every citizen of the United States.  The art is accessible for viewing Monday through Saturday from 8:30am-4:30pm (5pm for researchers), excluding holidays.  You must get a free reader’s card in the Madison Building in order to use the Library’s books and materials.  The mind-boggling wealth of materials (digital and printed) at the Library of Congress is a topic for another time.

* All images used here are in the public domain or from the Library of Congress Web site.

Rising UB Senior Is Army Photojournalist

History major Audrey Hayes is a U.S. Army Specialist who has contributed seven photo-illustrated news stories to the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS), a Web site for U.S. military and its partners’ news.  The DVIDS site “is provided as a public service operated by Third Army/U.S. Army Central (ARCENT) on behalf of the Department of the Army in support of all branches of the U.S. military and its Coalition partners serving with U.S. Forces in the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility and throughout the world,” explains the Web site.

As part of the 214th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Hayes has photographed Army exercises in the U.S. and Europe, where she was stationed in Poland in 2014.  She says that studying history at UB has enhanced her love of investigating stories, and when the chance came to join a reporting unit in the Army Reserves, she grabbed it.  Hayes hopes to head back to Europe in that capacity some day.

History faculty members agree with Hayes that the research skills and global knowledge cultivated in the major make journalism a natural career choice.  In the digital world of social media, we need critical thinkers who can determine the “Who, What, When, and Where” of a story, and analyze the “Why” by tracing the roots of the world’s problems, conflicts, and reconciliations.

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A Polish color guard prepares to raise their nation’s flag alongside American Soldiers, as they assemble to pay tribute to the Polish Independence day and American Veterans Day, Nov. 10, 2014, at the parade field on Zlocieniec Army Base. U.S. Soldiers have been in Poland participating in training with the Polish army as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. OAR is a demonstration of our continued commitment to the collective security of NATO and dedication to the enduring peace and stability in the region, in light of the Russian intervention in Ukraine specifically. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Audrey Ann Hayes)

 

History Alumnus Now Director of Irish Railroad Workers Museum

Mr. Luke F. McCusker, UB History grad of 2011, is now Managing Director of the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore.  The museum is situated within a group of 5 alley houses where the Irish immigrants who worked for the adjoining B&O Railroad lived. Two of the houses, 918 and 920 Lemmon St., are the museum.  A significant Irish presence established itself in Southwest Baltimore during and following the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s.

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Under the direction of the museum’s board of directors, McCusker interprets an Irish immigrant home of the 1870s, and develops the family’s story for presentation to visitors.  He says that the history major helped him develop critical thinking and “a heart for research and the ability to communicate my findings” clearly and concisely.  When asked what advice he has for new history graduates, McCusker says that becoming “as comfortable with technology as you can” will give you an edge.  The UB history faculty agrees that public history has become closely linked to digital history.

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Emigrants Leave Ireland, engraving by Henry Doyle (1827–1893), from Mary Frances Cusack’s Illustrated History of Ireland, 1868.

UB Students Visit Congress Same Day as Gyrocopter

On Wednesday, April 15, UB students in HIST 420 “America since 1940” took a day-long field trip to Capitol Hill in D.C. to observe Senate floor discussion, and attend a hearing at the Senate Committee on Armed Services, entitled, “National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Plans and Programs.”  The conversation that Dr. Yi and her students had with a Senate docent and the subject of the hearing itself were intriguing enough, but the trip became even more memorable due to two incidents that happened during their trip.

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This happened to be the day that Congress honored the Doolittle Raiders with the Congressional Gold Medal, and the students were able to take part in the ceremony.

Coincidentally, a gyrocopter landed on the Capitol lawn while they were in the building.  But despite the unusual incident, the our UB group was able to return to campus safely and on time!

After the trip, students wrote essays for class analyzing the Senate hearing as a primary source, and proposing an appropriate budget for the Armed Services committee.  As an Enhanced course at UB (open to both honors and non-honors students), HIST 420 benefited from the support of the Helen P. Denit Honors program, which funded the group’s transportation.

 

 

UB History Grad Clerking at SBW, Attending UB Law

Jessica Swadow (grad. 2011) tells Dr. Hudgins that she will be completing her third year at UB Law School and is clerking full time at SBW (short for Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner, headquartered on Lombard Street).  When asked how her history degree helped prepare her, Swadow says, “I have found that my research and writing skills learned at UB have helped to prepare me for law school and work.”  If law school and full-time work weren’t enough, she has also been working as a research assistant for one of her law professors.

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“My background in historical research has been immensely helpful in this area,” she says.  Swadow is helping her professor research a book about the intersection of secular and religious laws as they pertain to kosher frauds and scandals.  “I am able to efficiently and quickly find primary and secondary sources due in large part to the extensive research and writing I did at UB as a history major.”  The history faculty feel pretty confident that Jessica will be as successful with her budding legal career as she was in our history program.

Are you a History program alum with news about your studies or your career?  Please contact Dr. Hudgins at nhudgins@ubalt.edu

History Senior Completes Internship at Sports Legends Museum

History Major Brian Jeffries had a great experience with his internship at the Sports Legends Museum in Baltimore.  The museum, located just next to Oriole Park, fills the old Camden train station, and contains artifacts and interactive exhibits related to athletics in Maryland, including native son Babe Ruth.

Faculty members in the History program at UB have long known that Jeffries’ first love is sports, whether present or past.  He said he really enjoyed helping to preserve sports history at the museum, working with artifacts, and museum staff.  Students who are interested in public history can gain good experience by interning or volunteering at the wide array of museums around the city.

A UB Student Responds to the Question of Free Speech

Following a unit on Fascism between the world wars, students in “Europe 1914-1945” had a writing assignment in which they had to respond to a question about free speech, violence, and race.  The aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks had recently played out in the news.  Professor Hudgins asked them:

“Is there a role for some restriction of speech in democratic states (or, perhaps, in the “republic of facebook”)?  Or, is the answer to lift the flood gates and “may the best speech win”?  What is the role of a college education in dealing with this issue?”

One of her students, Todd Ballard, a psychology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, articulated a sophisticated response that demonstrated the writing and critical thinking skills that CAS programs develop in students of all backgrounds.  Here is his response in full:

“This is a very difficult question to answer.  Living in a culture that promotes freedom of speech regularly, and a culture that focuses on individualism and intellectual autonomy, it’s difficult for me to ever agree with any type of restriction of speech.  On one hand, freedom of speech should be a right, and nobody should be able to take that away from you.  On the other hand, there are many people who will abuse their right to freedom of speech, and doing so may hurt others, and it may hurt an entire race if the person in question has enough influence or power.

Even the media’s freedom of speech causes many racial problems today.  For example, news programs tend to show racially charged stories for the sole purpose of increasing ratings. This tends to provide viewers with the necessary tools and ammo to become racist, and provides endless stereotypes of races and cultures of all kinds.  In this situation, I believe that there should be some restriction of speech, at least when it pertains to race or racially charged issues.  People should be allowed to express their opinions, but this opinion should be restricted when it begins to gear towards violence.  All it takes is one person with enough power on Facebook or Twitter to spark a wave of violence against a race, group, or culture.

With the way that social media is today, the racism and hate of one individual can reach thousands or even millions in under a minute.  Specifically in the United States, people are very reactive, and tend to take what they hear for fact without thinking for themselves.  On “the republic of Facebook,” or any other social media, people tend to react very poorly to racism or hate speech.  Instead of ignoring it, or following up with accurate information, people tend to lose their cool and respond in the worst possible way, and rebut with further racism and hate.  It almost seems like there is a war going on within social media. My point is that I believe that there should be some restriction to our freedom of speech, because losing a small portion of our rights is preferable to [widespread] hatred of a group of people based on ill-informed statements.

I believe to accurately approach this issue further, a college education is very much needed. People don’t know how much different other cultures and races are from their own culture and race, and most people are overcome by their world-view, believing that only their opinion is right and no one else’s. This can easily cause racism throughout the world. I believe that an education is needed so that people can learn about different cultures, as well as learn about the history of racism. Not only that, but people should learn how to become critical thinkers in order to stem the tide of inaccurate information being spoon fed to us by the media.”

Todd’s report is just one instance of what makes UB a terrific place:  A thoroughly diverse community of learners of multiple age groups, ethnicities, social classes, and sexual identities coming to class to share different perspectives throughout the semester, and get to know each other.  Register for any of UB’s history courses if you want to explore how present-day news links to our past.

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Cover of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for Oct. 2, 2013.  Castorama is a do-it-yourself hardware store in France.  The Roman guard is telling Jesus that the hardware store is closed so (to put it more politely than the cartoon) he is out of luck.

 

History of Photography Students Head to UMBC

CordieOn April 4, students in Dr. Hudgins’ “History of Photography” course, an Enhanced course in CAS that provides honors credit, took their second trip to Special Collections at UMBC.  With a focus on the history and practice of art photography, Special Collections at the Albin O. Kuhn Library is a world-class research center for students and scholars around the world.

Dr. Hudgins and her students are putting together a course Web site, which will feature various aspects of photography in Baltimore – past, present, and future.  Their time at UMBC was spent learning about antique photo processes, how to handle fragile artifacts, and studying images that will help them with their assigned Web pages.  Cordie Farmer (left) spent her time looking through the papers of the Baltimore Camera Club, established 1884.  Travis Allen (below) looked at the collections of photographs taken during the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.

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The members of the “History of Photography” class wish to thank Tom Beck and the staff of Special Collections at UMBC for all their assistance and expertise this semester!  Coming  soon: our course Web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

UB History Alumnus Leads Irish Railroad Workers Museum

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Luke McCusker,  an outstanding history student at UB, won the Fisher Award in his senior year and went on to pursue a career in public history. He now serves as the first paid  director of the Irish Railroad Workers Museum near the B&O Railroad Museum in Southwest Baltimore.  On Monday, March 23, Luke led a class in Dr. Nix’s 19th-century social history class on a tour of the compact neighborhood where Irish immigrants worked, lived, worshipped, shopped for food and educated their children.

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As a student in Dr. Nix’s methods course, Luke had uncovered the story of H.L. Norris, a Baltimorean who had started to work for the B&O at age 11. Norris went on to design a refrigerated rail car for transporting milk, and he shared his profits with his community through his philanthropic efforts.

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Luke has continued to conduct research into the lives of railroad workers, discovering that the family that lived in the homes that now house the Irish Railroad Workers Museum fled the potato famine to settle in Baltimore. They started out renting the property, eventually bought their home, then bought another larger home in the same neighborhood and rented this smaller property out to new arrivals.

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UB grads like Luke continue to add to our understanding of our city and to the interpretation of our history to a wide audience.

 

 

Richard P. Robinson Once Again Goes ‘Unhung’

"Everyday Lives" Spring 2015
“Everyday Lives” Spring 2015

 

On February 25, 2015 prosecutors once again failed to convict Richard P. Robinson for the murder of New York prostitute Helen Jewett.  Robinson’s first trial in 1836 also ended in his acquittal. The brutal killing of a beautiful and popular young woman and the trial of 19-year-old clerk Richard Robinson caused a sensation in a changing New York, a city filled with young people who had left rural communities to live unsupervised in the bustling metropolis.

Students in “Everyday Lives,” Dr. Elizabeth Nix’s social history course, researched the historical figures from the 19th century that Patricia Cohen described in The Murder of Helen Jewett, and testified as those people in class. Students had to stay true to the facts in the book, but the legal counsel had leeway to ask new questions and present arguments the historical figures had not made. Our judge for the day, Dr. Darien Ripple, listened to the evidence, and like the rest of the class was surprised when the defense made the bold decision to put the accused himself on the stand.  At the end of the day, our judge agreed with his 19th century predecessor that too much doubt existed to convict the “innocent boy.”