Happy 5th of July

Posted on July 5th, 2018 by

A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. You can read more posts by Marvin here.

In today’s Museum Matters I wrote about the 5th of July as a reminder that the struggle for the idea of America did not end on the 4th, it had just begun.

Actually, if there really is a multiverse, in some alternative universe everyone in North America celebrates the 5th of July as the day we saved the Empire.  For it is on July 5th, 1775 that John Dickinson persuades his fellow delegates to the Second Continental Congress to vote and sign the so-called “Olive Branch Petition”.  The document claimed that we were all “faithful subjects” of the king and that all this trouble between the colonies and England could be easily solved with negotiations over lower taxes and restrictive tariffs (I know it’s hard to believe, but there was a time when many Americans thought that low taxes and protective trade were more important than freedom and independence).

Here is the signature page of the “Olive Branch Petition” – notice the large John Hancock! Image via.

In another universe, King George might have read the petition, decided that it wasn’t worth risking the loss of his valuable possessions over an argument about business, and sent a delegation to make a deal to keep all North Americans a part of the British Empire.  In that universe, we would still salute the red, white and blue (just a different configuration).

However, in our universe, King George refused to even receive the petition.  In August 1775 the King formally proclaims the colonies to be in rebellion – that’s a full eleven months before the colonies themselves agree that they are in rebellion.

But on behalf of that other universe, let me wish you a Felicitous Fifth.

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Looking to History for the Answers: Urban Decay

Posted on July 27th, 2016 by

The infrastructure of a city often defines its residents and eventually its reputation. There are interesting exceptions to this, Baltimore being a prime example. Baltimore City is a city where everything changes every two blocks, sections of the city appear dilapidated row houses next to abandoned structures sometimes half demolished. These areas in Baltimore appear as if time has left the city behind, with the exception of the bright blue light emitted from the video camera installed atop the intersection. A short drive and a mile later expensive refurbished housing or preserved massive brownstone homes can be seen, people abuzz in green fairly cared for spaces with a notable lack of surveillance cameras, liquor stores and wandering homeless. Return west and there are entire blocks of homes that have been abandoned for years right next to an occupied home.

Yet Baltimore parades a different image of itself, a city boasting massive hospitals blazing a forefront in the medical world, Johns Hopkins, Medstar, Mercy and others. A city with a tourist friendly harbor with new businesses, local manufacturing and big names. Expensive waterfront property, large boats. What used to be immigrant neighborhoods and docks worked by various generations turned into areas desired by a new resurgent interest in younger generations of working class families seeking urban lifestyles. A twist as the children of families who left the city years ago through generations of rapid white flight return only to establish their own enclaves effectively gentrifying areas.

While this seems harmless initially the situation’s consequences are clear in a brief visit to West Baltimore. As the jobs become more exclusive and move elsewhere or are filled by new roles the already poor and disparaged neighborhoods further decline in essential areas. Public education, housing and maintenance, businesses that remain are small and locally owned as larger business move to the fringes of the city. As these poorer areas are alienated furthering an ‘Us vs Them’ attitude which broods and the melting pot that Baltimore stood as for generations quickly homogenizes.

Examples of urban decay are evident all over Baltimore, entire blocks of abandoned homes and structures.

Examples of urban decay are evident all over Baltimore, entire blocks of abandoned homes and structures.

Looking around I realize how many cues can be taken from history to help address this very real; problem. Recently I visited DC where we visited the National Library of Congress. They had an exhibit on the life of Jacob Riis, an American immigrant living in New York city. He noticed the squalor conditions the poor and immigrant families endured in the city encouraging him to document their struggles and improve the living conditions. A bold man who made friends that ascended to high places such as Theodore Roosevelt. I saw a lot of similarities between the disintegration of infrastructure and the consequences it had on New York at Jacob Riis’s time and the aging infrastructure of certain areas in Baltimore now. Water pipes in Baltimore are old, the harbor all though transformed is still suffering from pollution and years of neglect. The New York of Jacob Riis’s time was still experiencing a massive influx of immigrants, this is where the problem differs. Baltimore is experiencing an increase in people moving into the city in exclusive areas such as Canton, Harbor East and North Baltimore. The population enduring the declining living conditions has been here for generations.

A picture taken by Jacob Riis depicting the difficult living conditions as families living in New York at his time, multiple people often occupied a single room.

A picture taken by Jacob Riis depicting the difficult living conditions as families living in New York at his time, multiple people often occupied a single room.

As Baltimore moves to make a name for itself hopefully the gap stops widening as people invest more in the city as a whole rather than some exclusive areas. If history has shown us anything all it takes is one determined person willing to get their hands dirty and make connections. Jacob Riis’s legacy has taught us many things and his observations motivate decisions made today. A small example being his decisions to create public play areas for children to keep them out of trouble, this is especially relevant in Baltimore as public figures push for more of these communally accessible spaces for the youth.

A peaceful protest of local Baltimore citizens after the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing riots. A prime example of how concerned citizens can come together to address the problems the city faces today.

A peaceful protest of local Baltimore citizens after the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing riots. A prime example of how concerned citizens can come together to address the problems the city faces today.

 CadeBlog post by Digital Projects Intern O. Cade Simon. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

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The People’s Library

Posted on July 25th, 2016 by

Earlier this month the JMM interns took a field trip to the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Since all of us are passionate about history in some respect, we greatly appreciated the opportunity to tour such a historic building.

After arriving we were given a brief tour of the museum where we saw several truly amazing exhibits. Starting with a recreation of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library we saw presentations on New York, Jewish texts and the Library itself. Our guide took us to an office where we examined several of the oldest Jewish books that are known.

The Library of Congress is full of amazing architecture.

The Library of Congress is full of amazing architecture.

As I’m preparing to begin student teaching in history classes this Fall, I was extremely excited to visit the Library. It’s filled with American history as well as sections on every topic imaginable. Thomas Jefferson, a president who’s leadership I particularly enjoy studying, was fascinating and I am extremely impressed with the Library’s work on it. We learned that Jefferson not only kept a vast collection of books, he kept an extremely detailed record of all his texts. For every book he obtained he also included it’s price, who sold it and his thoughts on it. Our guide also explained to us that Jefferson wanted the Library to belong to the American people. His reasoning behind this was simple; he wanted an informed and knowledgeable American population.

After leaving the Library, the interns spent the rest of the afternoon in DC. We got lunch, walked around the other museums and saw a few vendors outside before the rain set in. I think opportunities like this are something special that comes with the internship. I have had several other internships in college, but none took us to somewhere as incredible as the Library of Congress. Special thanks to the museum staff and Rachel Kassman for organizing the trip for us.

I highly recommend the Library to anyone who is interested in History! Thanks for a great visit!

Ben SnyderBlog post by Education & Programs Intern Ben Snyder. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

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