The fight over Reconstruction historiography traditionally begins with the Dunning School of the early twentieth century. That school of thought, out of Columbia University, argued that Reconstruction was a national tragedy and proved that African Americans were not fit to be American citizens. Often, the first stand against the Dunning School is seen in W.E.B. DuBois’ Black Reconstruction (1935). When it was released, the book was recognized for offering a stinging challenge to the then-prevailing thought on Reconstruction. However, we should also look to earlier works by African American scholars that also challenged ideas of Reconstruction. This is where the former politician John Roy Lynch comes in.
On Tuesday, February 7, professors, lecturers and graduate students in the school of Arts & Humanities at UT Dallas hosted an all-day read-in. The theme of our read-in was “Humanists for Humanity” — “humanity” as an all-inclusive noun indicating that we stand against policies that make some of our students or colleagues feel unwelcome, and “humanity” as an adjective indicating that we stand for treating others with kindness, whether they are minorities or immigrants or LGBTQ folks or anyone else who is part of our university community. From 9 to 5, volunteers took thirty-minute shifts and read aloud from whatever work or works each had chosen to share.
It was a very successful event. But it didn’t start out as an event. It started out as one person’s idea, then it became a shared goal among a few people with different ideas about how to best make it happen and who were willing to hear each other out, then it became a collective endeavor, then it became an organized event. That process, or something like it, is probably fairly common for grassroots activism – though if you don’t engage in activism very often, it may all feel a little strange and new. (Apparently, my “campus activism” clock strikes once every thirty years. We have our moments.)
Still, everything feels a little strange and new for a lot of us right now. At this historical moment, we seem to be in the midst of a new wave of political activism – a time of mass demonstrations, marches, protests, petitions, with small collectivities banding together to express shared values and call for action or change in accordance with those values, involving many people who have never before protested or demonstrated or marched for anything. So, for the historical record – as an act of faith that there will be a time beyond this present moment, that there will still be history and historians who write it – I thought I’d put together a post describing how our own modest but meaningful event came to be, and how it unfolded throughout the day.
Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Hunger Games and The Man in the High Castle.
Continuing my post from a few weeks ago that looked at the role of hope in popular depictions of rebellions, I will focus today on “savior” figures in film and TV that also deal with resistance in oppressive regimes, and consider how they intersect with norms of popular political ideology.
For a civilization saturated with the frameworks of Christianity, it is not surprising that Jesus figures can be found all over Western cultural output. Aslan the Lion, created by the great Christian author C.S. Lewis, is quite clearly and intentionally Jesus – less obviously, so is Harry Potter, who also has to die and be resurrected before saving the magical world of wizards.
The most recent iterations of the savior concept, however, seem framed less by a classical Christian concept of the messiah than the infatuation with individualism that permeates the culture of neoliberalism. Take, to start with, The Hunger Games. The hero and protagonist of the series, Katniss Everdeen, initially sparks the resistance not out of political conviction, but because the desire to protect her sister places her center stage in front of the entire nation. She hates the regime, of course, but her actions are motivated out of personal love and intimate commitment. It is not even until the third film (I have to admit to the usual ignorance of having only seen the movies) that she views coordinated cooperation with others – in this case a spectacularly well-equipped resistance army, considering the level of oppression they are apparently dealing with – as a helpful or simply necessary strategy to reach her end goal of living a normal life.
First off—Happy Black History Month! Traditionally my favorite time of the academic calendar as a young boy, Black History Month offers plenty of new things for everyone to learn. As intellectual historians, we should think about African American History Month in context of the ongoing struggle to make black history central to American history. Our colleagues and friends over at Black Perspectives have already offered provocative pieces on the history of black history. Today I wish to offer a bit to chew on regards to how we think of post-World War II African American history.
Just a week ago, President Trump signed an executive order suspending refugee resettlement and blocking access to the US for the nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East. Opposition to this order came together incredibly swiftly, as thousands of Americans went to airports to protest this action.
There are, I think, a lot of reasons that this executive order drew such widespread and immediate resistance. Some have been discussed at length. We think of ourselves as a nation of immigrants. And many, many of us have ancestors only a generation or two back who came to this country as members of despised minority groups. Many Americans also have friends, colleagues, loved ones, and relatives directly affected by the order. And, as sign after sign indicated, years of Holocaust education has taught most Americans that if they come for some other group, your group will be attacked soon enough.
But one thing that hasn’t been remarked on quite so much was the centrality of restrictions on freedom of movement to American understandings of Soviet communism, especially during the latter half of the Cold War. Closed international borders were one of the key things separating the “Free World” from the Eastern Bloc. Tens of millions of Americans – all but the Millennials, really – who still remember this. (more…)the schedule. I vowed to do my best to stay on it, but have already had to adjust. Please note the new schedule, which moved each week’s topic back another week. The new scheduled end is March 30. Today we proceed with chapters 3-4. As noted in prior entries, my notes here are purposely not comprehensive. They’re idiosyncratic in relation my interests. Last week I summarized too much. Today’s post, I think, avoids that kind of tedium. – TL]
These chapters, meaning three and four, were hard for this modern Americanist. I’m a post-Civil War historian with broad interests, but reading the historical details from English events and people dating from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the English Civil War (1642-1651), Restoration (1660-1688), and Glorious Revolution tested my professional patience. (more…)