Archive for February, 2013

For this weeks assignment I chose to read “Eight Hours for What We Will.” This chapter was written as an account of the life of a laborer in the late nineteenth century in New York City. The chapter is written from a social history perspective, with elements of political history mixed in. It obviously tried to hit all aspects of the common people’s lives from working conditions and housing issues, to entertainment and crime.

It opens by outlining the workers struggle against moneyed capitalists in order to achieve an eight-hour workday. Detailed are different labor organizations such as the Workingman’s Union, Arbeiter Union and Irish unions and ways they used to protected the rights of labors in their ranks.

Another problem was the living conditions of worker who couldn’t afford to commute to work and thus had to live in walking distance of their jobs. These working class families lived in a filthy mixture of not just human and animal waste, but of industrial waste as well. 

However, it seems that once one looked past the workingman’s plight on his job and the apparent squalor of his and his families living condition, he could still go and have some fun in this vibrant and ever expanding city.

 The next four pages of the chapter detail the kind of fun there was in late eighteenth century New York City. One could go and enjoy a picnic with pony and boat rides in Central Park, but only after Tweed’s charter. One could take their family and go and see the Arsenal Zoo as well as the animals P.T. Barnum had boarded there. There were theaters to go to and museums to see. And then there was the Bowery, with it’s vendors and monkeys on leashes.

But wherever there is money, there is also crime. Workers labor in order to perfect their craft, and criminals are not any different. Unlike the large gangs in the past, such as the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys, criminals in this age were in smaller groups became more and more savvy as to how to turn a coin.

In this last part of the chapter, I came across a detail that puzzled me. In the year 1868, there were only forty-eight murders in New York City. FORTY-EIGHT!! Now I realize the population in New York City today is much greater than it was then, but it seems it was actually safer in the city then, from a violent crime point of view. To me that begs the question, why? To me this contrasts the environment of New York City I imagine from reading Gangs of New York.

Also, I find it interesting that the labor unions were fighting in order to get more humane conditions for the common workers, who were being treated like slaves, but they then worked to fight African Americans, former slaves, that were moving north for better living conditions.

Overall this was a very interesting and well constructed chapter, using some very vibrant and colorful detail to tell the plight of labor in one of the United State’s largest cities.

Wikipedia Article on Tammany Hall

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

This week we were tasked to write the historiography of a Wikipedia article on a topic related to nineteenth-century cities. The Wikipedia article I chose was on the infamous Tammany Hall.

The Tammany Hall Wikipedia article is broken up into a few different sections ranging from the history of the Tammany Society in the late 18th century through more modern times. For the purpose of this assignment I am primarily focusing on the area through the 19th century.

I started by reading the article itself. The article is written as a political history with elements of social history mixed in throughout. This makes sense because of the nature of Tammany Hall and its influence in New York City politics.

Next, I looked at the sources that were used in the composition of this of this article. Over half of the citations used for the writings of this article come from two sources. (Once again a reminder I am talking specifically for the time period I am focusing on.) One of the main sources used The History of Tammany Hall was written in 1917 and the style seems to be one you would find in an encyclopedia. This source also, is not a primary source for the timeframe in which it speaks to. As well the other source heavily relied upon for this section is a book entitled, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. This book is thought of as being very well written because it contains a large volume of facts and switches from “Big picture themes to provide insights on day to day life.”(NY Times review can be found here.) Also, it can be frustrating when you click on a source only to find that particular source link is broken. There is also another interesting aspect of the sources that needs to be considered. The sources mainly pertaining to immigrant support were written in the 1960’s, which coincides with the rise in popularity of social history. This is opposed to the earlier portion of the article, which was taken from a source written in 1917. This is important because you see a difference in writing styles. This is true in the case of the 1917 source which, as stated earlier seems to mostly be a big picture narrative focusing on a political history.

For the most part I am usually very skeptical of Wikipedia, in that I generally only use it to start my research on a particular subject. Wikipedia to me is more of a sample of popular opinion than on actual fact. The example I would use is the article we read for last week’s class, “ The Undue Weight of Truth on Wikipedia”, where primary sources were used to substantiate the claims of someone trying to correct a Wikipedia article and his changes were instantly changed backed. By relying purely on secondary sources opinions can miss the truth completely due to another’s misconceptions of the facts. And by basing one’s conclusions on the interpretation of fact by another, a chain reaction ensues and the truth itself can be lost.

Ripley’s Predecessor

Posted: February 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

When I first opened the website The Lost Museum, I was not really impressed with it at all. It seemed a bit cheesy with both horrible animation and sound effects. However, as it was assigned, I had no choice but to endure and see where this odd little site was going to take me.

Being a fan of all types of games, both on computers as well as consoles, I clicked on the link Who Burned Down the Museum. I was whisked away to the virtual world of P.T. Barnum, and his museum of oddities. There I found I had to click my way through this confused, yet organized set of exhibits set to some kind of horrible torture based soundtrack. I felt like I was on a virtual tour of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, but at least this time it was free. And to top it all off, just when I thought I was going to be rewarded with a solution to the mystery I had collected all this evidence for, I was shown this video that informed me that it could have been anyone including Barnum himself. This is about as anticlimactic as when you beat Super Mario Brothers the first time.

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I chose, from the selected reading, ‘Drink Versus Printer’s Ink: Temperance and the Management of Financial Speculation in The Life of P.T. Barnum.” In this reading it discusses how P.T. Barnum related the use of alcohol to a type of speculation, a purely risky venture that will inevitably lose money. The answer to this type of speculation is temperance. And just as temperance can control the risky venture of alcohol, so can printer’s ink control the risky venture of humbuggery.

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There are a few things I noticed that correlated with the persona of the P.T. Barnum that was described in the reading I did for the week. There is a sign that hangs on the wall near the closed aquarium exhibit that reads, “No admittance for Females of known bad character or other improper persons so that ladies and families will be perfectly safe”. This plays into Barnum’s idea of credit and trust in that people who cannot be trusted cannot participate in the local economy, which would include his own museum. Also, there are some believable exhibits (not many in number) that are mixed in with the not so believable stuff. Barnum made it a point to defend such things as “a little clap-trap occasionally” but hoped that because he had such a wide range of things one could overlook a few embellishments.

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Overall, after the selected reading for the week, I think this is an accurate representation of how the museum would look. Even though it is full of humbuggery, I believe that Barnum though the use of printer’s ink, would be able to spin a lot of the different exhibits, in effect making them real due to the relationship between advertising and public opinion.

I truly enjoyed the Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York. I liked what Scorsese did for the most part, because the book itself is such a large and encompassing story that there is no way that it could be shot as a feature film in length. Also, at the same time, one needs to remember this movie was made to make money not to be completely historically accurate. The time line for the movie itself was off and put characters in places they couldn’t have been in real life, such as Bill the Butcher being in the draft riots when he died in 1855. (But his quote on his deathbed in real life was the same as Bill the Butcher in the movie) Although there was some dramatic license used, it did do a good job though of representing the conditions of the times. It was cool to see most of the major gangs from the book represented in the movie. The rivalry between not only gangs but Fire Brigades as well helped to set the scene. The depictions of the more notorious characters as well, such as Bill Cutting (based on William Poole) and Hell Cat Maggie, were a good touch to round out the overall criminal element in the five points of the time.

The political atmosphere of the time was captured well by the portraying of the corrupt Tammany hall figures. The theme in this picture was not only the revenge aspect, which is very apparent in the Amsterdam Vallon/Bill Cutting relationship, but as well it was the struggle of the Irish to be accepted in this new land. “Your father tried to carve out a corner of this land for his tribe”, was a line that “Monk” McGinn told Amsterdam. That really made me think of the reading I chose for the week.

I chose to read The Most Irish City in the Union by Hasia R. Diner. In this piece the struggle of the Irish is told in a very factual way, but parallels many of the same issues seen in Gangs of New York, most notably prejudice amongst the Protestant communities in New York against the Catholic Irish. From organizations such as the Order of the Star Spangled Banner picking fights in Irish neighborhoods to Protestant Irish fighting their Catholic countrymen, the Irish in general had a very rough time as portrayed in both the movie as well as the reading, although Diner portrayed it in a much more academic way.  

 

My Favorite Room on Campus

Posted: February 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

This past week’s class took place in what has now become my favorite room on the entire campus, the archive. I know, this makes me sound like a huge history nerd but that’s ok because I am. I had only been in that room once before and it was actually earlier that day, to ask about some materials they had for another research project I am working on.

During the class we discussed copyright laws, all of which can be very confusing, and what types of things were in the archives. I was amazed at all the different things that were there. From a thirteenth century Book of Hours made of vellum to the chair that Rep. Henry Hyde sat in during the President Clinton impeachment, it seemed that this little room had it all. It reminded me of the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix.

For this week’s assignment we were tasked with finding something in the archive from the nineteenth century and then digitize it. I chose to use materials I have been using for my other research project

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This book, History of the Western Missions and Missionaries in the United States is a look into life on the frontier in the Western United States and is located in the archives rare book collection. It centers around the life of Father De Smet, a Jesuit missionary, and relates the experiences of living among the Native population.  Included in the book is a picture of Father De Smet.

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I was honestly worried about handling a very old and rare book, but after a few minutes my fear had subsided. I had just finished casually skimming through the pages reading about Flathead Indians, and the terrain features of the areas in which he traveled when I noticed a folder they had left out for me as well. This is what was inside.

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This is an orignal letter written by Father De Smet himself. This letter was written over one hundred and fifty years ago and here I am holding it in my hands.

The steps of the process were relatively straightforward. I made an appointment to go and see these articles at the archive by just showing up and setting it up. When I arrived for my appointment they already had the box out for me to view along with two books from the rare books section. It was a very easy process, and everything went smoothly. They allowed me to take digital photos of the material as long as I didn’t use a flash. The photos came out really well, and are pretty easy to read, except for the letter, which is actually really hard to read in person as well.

Overall the process is very easy, and by digitizing the archive it would make research really easy to do. However, the real experience of holding history in your hands is an important one. By holding history in your hands it makes it more than just a story, it make it come to life! It is awful hard to get excited about an artifact or a subject when it is just cold data you are reading on a computer screen.