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What's worse than naming an academic building after a known segregationist? Trying to fix the problem by coupling his name with that of a black man
. Congratulations, Indiana University, you're teh suXors. On the other hand, kudos to Indiana Daily Student columnist Chris Engel
for pointing out the obvious: the proposed renaming is a huge insult to the black man, who happens to be a former college basketball star who played an important role in the desegregation of NCAA sports -- a milestone that the segregationist whose name adorns the building worked his entire life to thwart.
William Hogeland has an essay
in the Boston Review
on the National Constitution Center's celebration of "consensus history," an increasingly loaded term in this age of the study of historical liminalities. Hogeland's Boston Review
articles will soon be released in book form; Inventing American History
is due out from MIT Press in 2009.
Thanks to Rick Shenkman and Jonathan Dresner for picking up my post on communities of rumor at HNN
Finally, I've been remiss in pointing out that the Cliopatria Awards
, the most prestigious awards in the history blogosphere, are open for nominations. You can nominate bloggers in six categories: Best Individual Blog
, Best New Blog
, Best Group Blog
, Best Post
, Best Series of Posts
, and Best Writer
. I'm judging this year in the first two categories, so I'm not allowed to make nominations in those, but these were the people I nominated in the other four categories:
Best Group Blog:The Edge of the American West
Rob MacDougall, American for a Day
, Old is the New New
David Noon, Motor City is Burning
, The Edge of the American West
Best Series of Posts:
Ralph Brauer, Bill Clinton, Glass-Steagall, and the Current Financial Crisis (1 2 3
Mills Kelly, The Future of the AHA
Best Writer:Elle, Ph.D.
Feel free to head on over and make your own nominations for the past year's worth of blogging.
What's on your mind?
Labels: Jeremy Young
Links to this post:
Ahistoricality on 11/12/2008 8:13 AM:
Actually, I think the IU folks might well have gotten it right. Note, down towards the bottom of the article, where it says "Wildermuth was also a founding citizen of Gary, a judge, a school teacher and an IU trustee from 1925 to 1952. He helped bring funds and buildings to IU, including having a large part in building the gymnasium named in his honor, Graham said. The man who helped to integrate IU while Wildermuth fought against it, Wells, was chair of the committee to name the building after Wildermuth." This country was built, in no small part, by people whose views we now disavow, but they remain part of that history and their accomplishments are the foundation under our feet.
History is the accumulation of layers; I think we as historians need to acknowledge that, embrace that.
Rob MacD on 11/12/2008 9:50 AM:
Thanks for the nomination, Jeremy. It means even more coming from the preeminent "Historian against Obama." :)
Jeremy Young on 11/12/2008 5:15 PM:
Rob, you're most welcome!
Ahist, I don't see why we need to leave the name of an offensive individual on a campus building, no matter how much money he brought the school. The most widely-circulated defense of the name -- that Wildermuth's views were in step with those of his time -- is patently false. This isn't Wendell Phillips arguing that blacks are inferior to whites while trying steadfastly to free them from slavery; this is a man who worked hard to keep blacks in the inferior status they already enjoyed despite the best efforts of a consensus group of academic officers who wanted to help them advance. I don't think his name belongs on a campus building, and I certainly think it's an insult to couple it with that of an African-American equal rights pioneer. We might just as well rename Martin Luther King Day "Martin Luther KingNathan Bedford Forrest Day." Shouldn't Forrest be honored for his service, suck as it was, despite his abhorrent racial views?
Ahistoricality on 11/12/2008 7:40 PM:
I don't see why we need to leave the name of an offensive individual on a campus building, no matter how much money he brought the school.
So we must all live with the fear that our accomplishments, no matter how extensive and important, will be washed out of history when our views are no longer sufficiently.... whatever direction we evolve.
It's worth noting that, though you're right about Wildermuth's views and aims, he lost. He failed to actually accomplish his racist aims, and therefore his racism could well be considered irrelevant. (Not to an historian, of course: it's actually quite an interesting little case study. But in terms of evaluating his public achievements.)
I'm not sure why I'm so bothered by your position on this, except that it feels Orwellian (I forget: have you read Orwell?) to erase a heartfelt tribute to an institution-builder.
Ahistoricality on 11/13/2008 7:49 PM:
Well, if it was long, then I'm assuming that you were explaining the myriad and sundry ways in which I'm wrong. Take your time.
Meanwhile, why is the "Bill Clinton's Role in the Mortgage..." post getting comments from white power/black helicopter freaks? Did we get linked to by some weird discussion board?
Jeremy Young on 11/13/2008 8:39 PM:
Yep, rense.com (one of the top conspiracy sites on the Web) linked to Ralph Brauer's old piece on the Glass-Steagall Act. I do have to thank them for pushing us over 200,000 lifetime visits, though.
I'm not so much explaining the myriad ways you're wrong (do I really do that to you? I hope not) as trying to break down the issues and address them individually. After I get over the frustration of losing the comment, I'll come back and type it again (probably later tonight).
Ahistoricality on 11/13/2008 9:04 PM:
do I really do that to you? I hope not)
No, you're fine, really. (much better than I am!) I just figured that you'd only need a short post to agree with me.... I can dream, right?
Jeremy Young on 11/14/2008 12:58 PM:
Elle, you're most welcome. I only wish I could help in some more tangible way.
Ahistoricality, okay, here goes. First of all, I want to make two side points: 1) I've read Animal Farm, but unfortunately haven't gotten to 1984 yet, though I know the summary version; and 2) I want to isolate a secondary issue, which is that I think it's offensive to Garrett to couple his name with that of Wildermuth, even if you want to honor them both. For instance, I think both Tom Watson and Fannie Lou Hamer are worthy of honor, even though Watson was a segregationist, but if you named a federal building the "Tom Watson/Fannie Lou Hamer Federal Building" I think it would be pretty offensive to Hamer. Similarly, you wouldn't name an observatory the "Pope Urban VIII/Galileo Galilei Observatory," even though both of them deserve to be honored as patrons of science. Coupling the names of a discriminator and a discriminatee serves to negate the honor bestowed to the discriminatee, in my view.
Now, to the meat of your argument: I think you overstate the degree to which I want to "erase a heartfelt tribute" to Wildermuth (though one could argue that the tribute was more political than heartfelt, given the decade-long battle between Wildermuth and Herman B. Wells, the IU President who chose the name). I'm not advocating erasing Wildermuth's name from the history books or cutting it out of plaques. Nor would I advise tearing down a statue of Wildermuth if one existed on campus. A statue is an artifact that exists solely for the purpose of honoring an individual. As such, it would be impossible to change its meaning by, say, changing its name (renaming the Wildermuth statue after Bobby Garrett would be weird, to say the least). One would either have to leave it in place or move it, but it can't be changed.
The fieldhouse, on the other hand, is not a monument to Ora Wildermuth. It's a monument to the university, and the university is what it honors. As such, the university should make sure it's named after someone whom the university would like to honor today. Statues are unchanging things; names of buildings can and should change with changing cultural mores.
No matter what Wildermuth's contributions to the campus, I would find it difficult to argue that he is someone the university should be proud of and should honor today. Leaving his name on the fieldhouse, then, suggests to me that the University is proud of the totality of the Wildermuth legacy, not simply that it is respecting a historical tribute (as officials have claimed). The building, as it continues to be used by new generations of students of all races (and think about African-American students practicing sports in a fieldhouse named for a segregationist), is a living and dynamic structure deserving of a living and dynamic name. Wildermuth's doesn't cut the mustard any more.
I think the situation is roughly analogous to that of, say, Marshal Petain. Petain was a hero during the interwar years and a villain after WWII; accordingly, his name was scrubbed from public places and buildings. Petain did something to change society's view of him (acquiesce to the Nazis), while society has simply changed since Wildermuth's day. But the situation is the same: someone currently unacceptable to society should not be honored by a current, living and dynamic structure whose sole purpose is not to honor him but to honor the community.
Sorry for the long-winded response -- I hope it posts this time!
on 11/14/2008 1:12 PM:
Thanks for the nomination.
I had not realized rense had linked here again. I had filed a request with Google that the site be banned for plagiarism and they managed to get that out of the mix, but at that point the link was to my site. I guess they figured out they could get around it this way.
As for the conspiracy nuts, they kept have kept me pretty busy trying to suppress plagiarism, misquotes, misinterpretations, etc. On top of that my own web site shut me down because my traffic was overloading their server.
One other comment. I just published a piece about why former Clinton official such as Rubin and Summers will never be nominated for Treasury Secretary. Neither the Clintons nor Obama would want to turn the confirmation hearings into a circus over Glass-Steagall.
Meanwhile the bailout provisions thus far have not said anything about restoring some of the regulation. I wrote a piece on my site about yet another Glass-Steagall repeal loopdole--the regulation of Indistrial Loan Corporations (ILCs). Apparently Gramm-Leach-Bliley stuck in a clause exempting ILCs from the Bank Holding Company Act which would have put them under the purview pf the Federal Reserve. Until the repeal ILC's were mainly used for things like General Motors financing car purchases (GMAC is an ILC). Now banks have gotten into ILC's with Merrill Lynch's ILC now the 20th largest bank in the country.
The relevance of ILCs to the bailout is that several banks have used bailout funds to buy ILCs.Plus shifting funds over to ILCs takes them out from under the Fed's watchful eyes.
Meanwhile more and more mainstream economists are admitting that the crisis was caused by lack of regulation of excessive and risky speculation. In other words, the repeal of Glass-Steagall.
Maybe this needs a Part IV.
I am also a real fan of Elle and it is good to see her nominated.
Thanks again. As I have said before I am honored to just be on this site and now doubly honored by your nomination.
Jeremy Young on 11/14/2008 2:12 PM:
Ralph, you're most welcome. As for Rense, I'm happy to have them link here, so long as they're actually linking and not just copying and pasting your stuff. Traffic is traffic is traffic, and it keeps my advertiser(s) happy no matter where it's from.
Mills on 11/26/2008 7:13 PM:
Thanks for the nomination of my Future of the AHA series. I really appreciate it.