Tag Archives: Memory

New Zealand and Samoan World History

The University of Otago's Library.

The University of Otago’s Library.

Yesterday I was one of the 17 participants in a seminar-workshop hosted by the University of Otago’s Center for Research on Colonial Culture, this directed and led by Tony Ballantyne, with discussion also led by Maya Jasanoff. The day started with short introductions, and I found that I was only one of two from North America, the rest consisting of two highly trained squads of sharp New Zealand and Pacific Island historians. I assured one New Zealander/Kiwi that North Dakota and New Zealand are similar in that when someone visits either North Dakota or New Zealand, they aren’t just stopping in and on their way to a final destination. It makes a person living in either place feel important when distant company shows up. The Kiwis decided that was true, and we moved on to other topics.

One of those topics concerned different ways to write or consider writing history, and in a global historical context. I mentioned something about that yesterday, but it was even more important to hear what others thought and bounce around ideas. My research trajectory is concerned with how the US-Dakota wars have been officially and un-officially remembered for the last 151 years. I was particularly drawn toward scholars who look at how indigenes have acted and managed the 18th and 19th imperial struggles in in this neck of the world.

 

A section of the University of Otago campus.

A section of the University of Otago campus.

Louise Mataia, for example, is looking at how Samoans carved out an identity in the overlapping worlds of American and British “controlled” Samoa. This invariably brings up the issue of how European and Euro-American powers from the Atlantic World attempted to map and impose imperial interpretations on the Pacific islands. There are boots-on-the-ground Samoans, and then there are map-makers in some board room in London and Washington, DC who claim, with their maps, that they know what’s going on a half-world away. This conversation invariably leads to the name Benedict Anderson, and it’ll be great to keep up with Louise to see which directions her dissertation takes.

Memory, or what we have remembered, is often about politics and power, and figuring out why we have remembered stuff today requires us to chart why and how it was remembered yesterday, from one generation to the next. This in turn not only invites scholars to consider what historical maps might tell us about the past, but also how local museums and the history of theatre have informed, or attempted to inform, various audiences: before the invention of radio and television, ideas were often transmitted via theatre and live performance, this through plays and opera.

I better charge off to this morning’s conference, so before I end this blog post, I’ll have you know that Molly and Matthew are tracking down bungie jumping, and they mentioned something about a scenic jet boat tour. The photos below are from our scenic drive yesterday evening out to an albatross breeding sanctuary.

Albatross Sanctuary

An Albatross Sanctuary just outside of Dunedin, New Zealand.


A Morning in Washington, DC

Before heading off to the National Archives, I thought I’d do a quick post on my personal perceptions of being in Washington, DC this morning. I’m looking out over Franklin Square about the corner of 14th and K Street. As I glanced at the brightening cityscape from the rising sun about 15 or 20 minutes ago, it reminded me of years ago, sitting in my parents’ livingroom in the mornings, usually my dad and I, watching and listening to the early morning C-SPAN Washington Journal, this from Bismarck, North Dakota. Some cereal or oatmeal eating would be going on, as well as orange juice and coffee drinking. On occasion the C-SPAN commentator would remark on the rising sun. So this is the view I have this morning, not from the television (before flat screens) on the northern Great Plains, but from DC itself. There is the reality of being in Washington, DC, and then there is the idea of Washington, DC from afar.

A view of Franklin Square in Washington, DC, from August 21, 2013.

A morning view of Franklin Square in Washington, DC, from August 21, 2013.


Prairie Turnips

A prairie turnip.

A cluster of prairie turnips.

Where some see a prairie-scape of oblivion, others see a culinary buffet. Just last night I was cruising around in some old digital photos on the desktop, and I came across a couple shots of prairie turnips. I photographed them a couple years ago in the kitchen of a downtown Bismarck apartment I used to live in (the historic Mason Building), I think around 2008 or 2009.

During those summers, Tim Mentz, Jr., of Standing Rock, showed me on the northern Great Plains how to identify the prairie turnip. You can read the landscape for prairie turnips in July. This is when the vegetation sprouts above ground, making them visible. They also grow in certain areas on a hill (it may or may not have something to do with the ph levels of the soil — I’m in the humanities, folks). This, of course, leads to the idea that if you have two different people look at the same landscape, they will see it in a variety of different ways. I like listening to what others have to say about the landscape. Tim Mentz, Jr. always had my ear. We would often joke, too — when a bull was once staring at us and uprooting the topsoil with his front hoof, I asked Tim, “What does that mean?” Tim responded with, “That means we give him distance.”

It is customary to braid the turnips by the root ends, and then hang them to dry. Just like mushrooms (and other dried goods), they will reconstitute in liquid or water. I made turnip soup out of this batch.

With the husk pulled back, this is what the edible flesh of a prairie turnip looks like.

With the husk pulled back, this is what the edible flesh of a prairie turnip looks like.


Archaeological Mosquito Ramblings

One of the only known photos to survive the pedestrian survey from southeastern Montana, summer 2008.

One of the only known photos to survive the pedestrian survey from southeastern Montana, summer 2008.

Pedestrian archaeological surveys necessitate long-distance hiking (hence the name, pedestrian survey). This evening I was trying to remember the first time I started thinking about how the work of archaeologists is to re-assemble or attempt to reconstruct how people worked in the past. In this blog entry, I’ll assert that I started thinking about this during a pedestrian survey in Carter County, southeastern Montana, summer 2008. I remember two archaeological comrades on that project, Mark Luther and Chandler Herson.

I also remember the fantastic mosquito swarms, and this in turn led me to recall a segment from John Finerty’s War Path & Bivouac (1890), a chronicle assembled by the Hibernian-American correspondent with the Chicago Times. And this is what happens when the humanities intersects with the social science of archaeology. When it came to contending with mosquitoes during pedestrian surveys in eastern Montana in the summer of 2008, I also thought about how Finerty interfaced with them while attached as an imbedded reporter with General Crook’s frontier column. While traversing the snowy range, Finerty said mosquitoes “bothered us terribly while the sun continued visible.” In another instance, Finerty said mosquito repellant was created by burning “damp sage brush and weeds,” this raising “a tremendous pungent smoke,” working “wonders with the intolerable pests.”

In eastern Montana, a grey silt has built up from millennia of the eastward-flowing Rocky Mountain run-off. This is incredible mud with incredibly terrible drainage, and it holds rain-water well. Thus, millions of these mud pockets hold rain water after said rain, and they create brilliant breeding grounds for the mosquitoes. On August 21, 1879, Finerty, reporting from eastern Montana, said, “The gigantic mosquitoes nearly ate us alive that night. They and the rains make life very uncomfortable in northern Montana.” Even at full gallop on a horse, Finerty said mosquitoes took to drafting in the breeze: “We went at a gallop [on horse] most of the time, but even the breeze created by rapid motion did not free us from the winged tyrants.” I, as well as Chandler and Mark, can testify that these mosquitoes operated in full-force during the summer of 2008. The mosquitoes, no doubt, made sure that our hearts were in it for the archaeology, and the historical sense of place.


Visiting the Bear River Massacre Site

A photo from a July 15, 2013 visit to the Bear River Massacre site.

A photo from a July 15, 2013 visit to the Bear River Massacre site in southeastern Idaho.

A couple days ago Molly and I made a site visit to the Bear River Massacre in southeastern Idaho. The massacre happened in late-January 1863 when a U.S. Army group of California Volunteers led by Col. P.E. Connor attacked a domestic, non-combatant encampment of Shoshone. It is interesting to contextualize this site with others throughout the United States.

Nine months later, General Alfred Sully described his actions at Whitestone Hill against families of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota as a “murderous slaughter” of a “promiscuous nature.” This action happened on the northern Great Plains (in presentday North Dakota) only 9 months after the Bear River Massacre. Massacre was, sadly and to put it mildly, a part of the Total War battle rubric (check out John Fabian Witt’s latest work on Lincoln’s rules for war). It is called genocide and ethnocide today.

Today, 150 years later, the Bear River Massacre site remains active with memorials of all kinds. If you are driving from Salmon, Idaho to Salt Lake City, Utah, take exit 36 off of I-15 onto Highway 91. You’ll need to follow the exits, because there isn’t any signage that will guide you to this painful chapter in American history. At the site is a stone obelisk, and for the last 150 years different groups have brought different interpretations to the site.

Some items of remembrance at the Bear River Massacre site. Photo from July 15, 2013.

Some items of remembrance at the Bear River Massacre site. Photo from July 15, 2013.

The Bear River Massacre site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Today a beautiful memorial tree has taken on the task of an anchor for remembrance and mourning. A variety of individuals have placed items in the tree. A cursory sample of items observed on the July 15, 2013 day of my visit to the site included numerous dream catchers; tobacco pouches; a pair of glasses; a penny; beads on leather necklaces (one read “HOPE”); a wood flute; synthetic flowers; a tin pale filled with beads and chewing tobacco; pieces of rawhide with art on them; and suspenders. The tree is active and alive, as are the memories.

In addition to this, if you want to read up on contemporary scholarship specific to the Bear River Massacre, check out Kass Fleisher, The Bear River Massacre and the Making of History (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004) and John Barnes, “The Struggle to Control the Past: Commemoration, Memory, and the Bear River Massacre of 1863” in The Public Historian, Vol. 30, No. 1 (February 2008).

Photo from July 15, 2013.

Photo from July 15, 2013.


World War I Memorials: Missoula, Montana and Wahpeton, North Dakota

The other day I took some photos of the World War I memorial situated outside of the Missoula County Courthouse in Missoula, Montana. Once I saw the statue, I started snapping photos like crazy because I thought one or two of them would figure into a comparative presentation some day on the public remembrance of World War I in American History. I have also snapped photos of the WWI statue outside the Richland County Courthouse in Wahpeton, North Dakota. This got me re-visiting one of the infinite ideas of history.

If one wanted to, one could organize the historical record in two ways: the events that actually happened, and the long historical and never-ending process of how and why those events are remembered. I haven’t much to say beyond that point, so I’ll just upload some photos of the two related WWI statues from Missoula, Montana and Wahpeton, North Dakota.

The WWI statue outside of the Missoula County Courthouse. Photo from 07/13/2013.

The WWI statue outside of the Missoula County Courthouse. Photo from 07/13/2013.

The WWI monument outside of the Richland County Courthouse in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Photo from November 2012.

The WWI monument outside of the Richland County Courthouse in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Photo from November 2012.


Some Rough Notes on War

I’ve been coming into the topic and conversation of war in the last week. Twice at least. On Sunday I chatted with a Kurdish friend and got some thoughts on his perspective of the Second Gulf War. Being Kurdish, it was understandable to hear him say that yes, he is glad the United States went at the Ba’ath regime, Saddam Hussein and his two sons (I reminded myself out loud that Saddam was, to put it mildly, a super-jerk and no friend of the Kurds). As John Stuart Mill reminds us, though (and this is paraphrased), when the bullets start flying in a war, all chaos breaks loose and there is barely a modicum of reason, restraint and control. Innocent people die. And it is terrible and it needs to be acknowledged. I have found that it is best to chat with individuals about their individual experiences in war when it comes down to it: ears open and mouth closed. Wars are complex and terrible things. This last Sunday, my Kurdish friend had some remarks on it all but he had to take off. He said we’ll sit down and have a dinner and a conversation about it all some time. I agreed.

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

The second encounter was yesterday evening when I had a chance to watch Ari Folman’s 2008 film, Waltz with Bashir, this a work of remembrance of the First Lebanon War (1982). The film eventually takes the viewer to the horrors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. If you haven’t seen this movie already, you should. Note: it is an adult topic — war, and the horrors intrinsic to it and remembrance thereof.

Within the film, a female psychiatrist (at least I think she was a psychiatrist) was having a conversation with a friend or patient, and she was remarking on how a soldier dealt with war by treating it, in his mind, as one would treat a vacation. She referred to this as the soldier’s “camera,” and psychologically the soldier was able to deal with processing the immediate carnage this way (think Christopher Browning’s 1998 monograph, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion and the Final Solution in Poland).

When the soldier came across a Hippodrome of slaughtered and mangled Arabian horses (ravages from the war), the soldier’s psychological camera, she said, broke. This mental shift caused the soldier to look at everything as it was, the change in perspective pulling him into the reality of what was going on. I thought about this and Ari’s use of cartoon to tell this story of remembering The First Lebanon War: impressionistically, a viewer of the film understands this is a serious topic of war. But Ari’s use of cartoon gives the viewer distance. And then toward the end of the film, gravity returns as Ari uses actual footage from the Sabra and Shatila massacre, this carried out by Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia in Beirut. Once again, see this film. It is important.