Sunday, March 30, 2008

AIS over Spring Break

Hey everyone,

My family and I just came back from the east coast (Washington D.C. and Gettysburg, PA), but I feel as though all of you came along for the ride, too. Good thing I took the van. Our destinations were full of historical import, but more: I saw everything through the critical lenses and themes we've talked about all year long.

We start in Gettysburg where the official story of the battle (the voice-over narrator) is one that emphasizes union: "Both sides fought bravely and their heroic deeds are commemorated here." And we were repeatedly told that General Lee was "always a gentleman." Maybe, but he was also a traitor who fought for his "country's" right to perpetuate slavery in the western territories.

"Confederate heroes?" I thought. Talk about your forgiving attitudes and the Fables of Reconstruction! This was, of course, Lincoln's triumph -- what James McPherson (a famous Civil War historian, whose book I was reading) called the brother fighting against brother mythology.
We saw the house where Thaddeus Stevens (and why is he always scowling in official photos?) practiced law. Stevens was the leader of the Radical Republicans -- the vindictive folks who thought Lincoln and his buddies were way too kind to the Rebels. Stevens was a life-long abolitionist who refused to be buried in a cemetery that was not integrated. In contrast to the fancy memorials at Gettysburg Cemetery, Stevens was buried on an unmarked site.

Yet, there is something so moving about the Gettysburg Address and it was great to stand on the spot where Lincoln delivered his "brief address that changed the world." McPherson says Lincoln did nothing short of re-writing the Constitution on the spot. Another eminent historian, Garry Wills, put it this way: "Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is the best example in history of the fact that nothing is more practical than idealism, that ideas matter, that words are more important than weapons."

Speaking of public memorials, Gettysburg made me think of our field trip first semester in which we examined public art. One striking feature is the fancy statuary -- Greek mostly, perhaps an attempt by a young nation to make it clear that our heroes are as noble as any of those in classical literature. In Washington D.C., we saw a statue of a woman that looked like a piece you'd find in a temple in Athens, but it was called "America." Why, I wondered, was the country portrayed as a woman in that piece?

The National Portrait Gallery also had a fantastic exhibit on hip-hop, and I remembered our discussions of the democratizing impulses of art. I thought about who is usually represented in museums and who is left out, and I thought about all the talent on display by the best taggers. That, too, is public art.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Blogger of His Own

As you enjoy the fine weather during Spring Break, please check this out: our very own Eli Greenspan was recently mentioned in an article for the Chicago Sun-Times, entitled "Fans getting more news from nontraditional sources". Eli's MLB Rumors blog can be read HERE.

The article, by Neil Hayes, not only features an interview with Eli, but also makes mention of accolades from Oakland A's General Manager, Billy Beane. Plus, (perhaps) in tribute to our theme, Eli even mentions his own idealism!

Congrats, E. You have shown us the power of blogging, as it continues to democratize the concept of media in the 21st century!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A More Perfect Union?

Though we have shifted our focus to the sadly overhyped Junior Theme, please take a moment to remember our theme of Idealism and Realism. Today, as class members deftly presented wildly varying plans for Reconstruction, none of us could deny how these issues, over 140 years old, still resonate today. These short speeches represented both our greatest hopes for unity after tragedy and our frank assessment of the limits faced by a society that struggled to leave a bitter past behind.

Barack Obama, in a speech made partly to defend himself against criticism levied against his former pastor, "had to address race and religion, the two most toxic subjects in politics" (New York Times Editorial).
But he did not stop there. He put Mr. Wright, his beliefs and the reaction to them into the larger context of race relations with an honesty seldom heard in public life.
As he spoke in Philadelphia, he reached all the way back to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and wove a narrative of racial struggle through our entire history up to and including the present day.

Whether or not you support Obama for president, consider reading his speech, a document some are comparing to the oratory of a Lincoln, FDR, or Kennedy. Read it for its thematic elements, for how it addresses the other side, and for how it expresses empathy for all citizens. Does it not demonstrate what we all strive for as students of American Studies?

For an interactive video/text version, please click HERE.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

(Re-) Considering Slavery in the U.S.

In light of our discussion on Reconstruction Plans last week, consider a controversial new plan by Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France. In order to pay tribute to the French victims of the Holocaust, Sarkozy has called for a new national curriculum in which each student in French schools is "entrusted with the memory of a child-victim of the Holocaust." Each student would learn the life story of a victim, which advocates say would guarantee that the memories would not be lost and that the nation could better understand its past.

What if the U.S. passed a new law requiring all students to learn the life story of a slave? To what extent would this help our nation heal the wounds of slavery? How feasible would such a plan be? Can you suggest another way in which our country can address its past? What is your view on reparations? Or, do you believe the nation has already comes to terms with its past? (If you hold this last view, what has the country done to address the past-wrongs of slavery?)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Do the Media Have a Crush on Obama?

Although Valentine's Day has passed, some might argue that the press still pines for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. For example, the New York Times just published an op-ed entitled, "A Card-Carrying Civil Libertarian" in which the Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor, argues: "If Barack Obama wins in November, we could have not only our first president who is an African-American, but also our first president who is a civil libertarian." How very relevant to our visit from Geoff Stone and our unit on civil liberties!

In addition, as heard on National Public Radio's On the Media,
National Journal columnist William Powers thinks [the media have a crush on Obama]. Powers says that while Hillary Clinton has to work to recast herself against a pre-written narrative, Barack Obama is virtually a media blank slate.
Think about what we have discussed in class throughout the year: human beings attach so much power and importance to narratives. You can listen to the 7-minute interview of Powers by clicking the play button below:

Based on what you've seen and heard in the past few weeks, what do YOU think? Are the media truly in love with Obama or will they change their feelings once they need a new narrative?