ARCHIVE is the undergraduate journal of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and we take pride in being student-organized and edited. Every Spring, we publish a selection of outstanding historical scholarship by our fellow undergraduates. We welcome many perspectives and views. We look to publish works that have an historical perspective, but we encourage submissions that take an interdisciplinary approach to an historical topic as well. ARCHIVE offers a great opportunity for students to share their work and original research. By publishing ARCHIVE, the Editorial Board wishes to encourage a collaborative learning community through the study of history.
This year will mark twenty years since ARCHIVE began publishing undergraduate research in history here at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. As we prepare to publish our newest issue in May, we will be looking back to previous issues of ARCHIVE and highlighting some of the interesting work previous students brought to print. Our countdown begins with Rebecca Boice’s Migrant Subculture Travels Westward Home: To California from the Dust Bowl During the Great Depression.
Over 150 years after the emancipation of slaves following the conclusion of the American Civil War, racial tension has changed and evolved. Movements such as #blacklivesmatter that have sought to broaden consciousness of society’s racial issues have made the observations of James Baldwin, a writer during the Civil Rights Movement gain new relevance 50 years later.
James Baldwin was an African American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic who became a prominent voice in the Civil Rights Movement. His book The Fire Next Time was first published in 1963 and consisted of two essays, “My Dungeon Shook – Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation” and “Down at the Cross – Letter from a Region of My Mind.”
The title “The Fire Next Time” comes from a black slave’s song lyric: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time.” In the biblical story of Noah and the Arc, the world was destroyed by water during God’s judgment of the wicked world, except for Noah and his family. The world would again be destroyed again by fire on the final day of judgment. Baldwin used this as a metaphor for the contemporary state of race relations, warning that Americans had to come to terms with their race problem or it would only get worse.
Baldwin wrote about the complexities of race in America with great eloquence. He saw racism not only as negative for black people, but for society as a whole. He sought a deeper national healing and consciousness for society, rather than simply the of enforcing civil liberties. This has yet to be fully realized even in 2016, half a century after he published his major works. Baldwin wrote “The Fire Next Time” when the retrenchment of de facto segregation left many white people unwilling to face their place in history, one that had oppressed black people for several centuries and created a staunch racial hierarchy in American society.
Baldwin described the limitations holding society back from the American Dream. As he saw it, many white people possessed a “white” lens on history, meaning they held to the grandeur idea that their personal history and that of the nation was shrouded in the achievements of white people. Baldwin addresses his essay to his nephew, and explains, “These innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.” He did not believe this historical misunderstanding was strictly attributable to the white race though, as he believed both white and black people were blinded to the collective and individual truths of history. In order to overcome this, he called for everyone to transcend what they knew, believed, understood, and feared in order to expand perception and experience and to gain a universal consciousness of society. He believed this was quintessential to achieving the American Dream.
The racial climate of today’s society is not the same as it was in the 1960’s when The Fire Next Time was published, but Baldwin’s vision of a truly conscious American society is far from realized. The racial injustice seen, for example, in disparity of mass incarceration or the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray are all signs that this Dream is far from achieved. What I can attest and relate to is that a persisting innocence, if not ignorance, to history continues and is hindering society from achieving the greatness of which Baldwin spoke.
I am a white male who grew up in rural Wisconsin. I went to an overwhelmingly white high school. Whiteness was normal because it was all around. This meant I lacked exposure to the experience of other races, both historical and current. I was also lucky enough to grow up in a household with a loving family who continue to support me in anyway they can. While I am definitely not the most privileged person I know from back home, I’ve come to understand that the skin tone I possess is exactly that – a privilege.
The white lens on history that Baldwin spoke about was near exact to the history I learned prior to college. I learned of the Europeans who first colonized in America, the colonists who fought against Britain in the Revolution, and our founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence. What I did not learn enough about were the generations of people descended from Africa whom those founding fathers held as slaves. Many of my former classmates still hold this history as ultimate truth, a great sign of innocence, to use Baldwin’s terminology, and are seemingly blind to both the historic and current realities of American society. The ignorance I personally felt when I began to understand the intricacies of history was a reason I chose to major in history and particularly to focus on the African Diaspora and African-American history.
While I continue to do broaden my perception and expand my own consciousness, I am merely one person. For an entire society to change, it must be widespread. I don’t believe this country can ever be blind to race, but I also will never know what it is like to have black skin and live in America. “You must put yourself in the skin of a black man,” wrote Baldwin. It is in the attempt to understand this difference that can ultimately broaden our consciousness. Baldwin asserts, “We must not ask whether it is possible for a human being to become truly moral, I think we must believe it is possible.” If the attempt can be collective and widespread, we, as a society, can further approach the pinnacle of Baldwin’s vision of the American Dream.
“If we – and I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of others – do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.” If not, maybe we are living in the fire next time.
Tyler is a senior majoring in History with certificate in entrepreneurship. His historical research has ranged from the African Diaspora, race relations, World War II, and sporting history. After graduation he hopes to pursue a career in business.
My love for history started when I was too young to fully grasp the concept of history let alone its weight as an academic discipline. It started with my Grandfather. In Boston, where my family is from, there is a small beach town named Hummarock where my Grandmother and Grandfather had a house. My grandparents are and were snowbirds, a colloquial term used for those who migrate from their colder, permanent residences to Florida for the winter. Because of this, I primarily saw my grandparents during the New England summer months.
After a dinner of meatballs and spaghetti (I am very culturally and ethnically Italian), followed by some kind of pistachio dessert (Grandpa loved pistachio anything) Grandpa would invite me to the upstairs foyer where we would sit and examine his military “artifacts.” These artifacts consisted of ephemeral medical records, official documents, letters from Grandma, and his military tags. In the soft evening light, a combination of the sun having just set and a lamp having just been turned on, he would carefully pull up each relic and tell me its story. Why it existed and how it related to him. His methodical presentations of the minutiae fascinated me. Grandpa was a wonderful storyteller and through his stories history became alive. At a young age I began to grasp that lives had existed long before me and that their experiences made for the stuff of gripping, heartbreaking, joyful narratives.
When I was 11 years old my Grandfather, one of my biggest supporters, and strongest mentors, passed due to cancer. At 11 I felt his loss immediately, but at 21 his loss reverberates profoundly throughout me. Only, it is not a sad, deadening feeling. Rather, his loss is a reminder of a friend, a guardian, a kindred spirit, and a person to make proud. When I reflect on my decision to major in History at UW Madison, I can’t help but smile at how much Grandpa was a part of that decision, whether I realized it at the time or not. His countless anecdotes about military life or his sometimes-meandering breakdowns of the Cold War instilled in me a respect for the past and its lessons. This one is for you, Grandpa.
As I begin to disembark from University and its challenges, and prepare myself for the “real world,” I am so grateful that I studied History, not only as a tribute to the ones whom I loved and who loved me, but because of the innumerable gifts the discipline has given me. Studying history has fortified my ability to make logical, reasoned arguments and conclusions when presented with new information. One result of being exposed to countless arguments of others and having written my own is that I am able to think critically quickly and take away an important insight (or so I like to think so). As our world continues to globalize and generate new information at rapid speed, the ability to synthesis quickly vast amounts of information for its relevant value will be a crucial skill. History has taught me that humans are capricious and that humanity, as a large operating mechanism of social, economic, and political force, is not to be trusted. I don’t say that with any bitterness. Instead, history reminds me to stay critical in my analysis of humanity and its agendas. Finally, studying history has taught me to never be afraid of change. That change is the only constant we have, and if I equip myself with the necessary skills to navigate change (whatever change looks like in my particular moment on earth), I will be fine. Yes, that means I have had to study statistics (data is everything with this crowd) and audit a marketing class to stay hip to the game. I have found that marrying the intellectual framework which history has provided me with to those more technical skills to be a worthwhile endeavor. I don’t think like everyone else in a business or statistics class room – I can do what they do and I do it with a twist, which proves to be beneficial, and hopefully in my future career, groundbreaking.
So, how do I feel about graduating with a history degree from UW Madison? Pretty damn good, frankly. And to all my other recent, or past, history graduates, I hope you feel the same.
Alissa Valeri is a senior majoring in History. She has spent her past four years learning from experts in the fields of Caribbean, Gender and Women, and Puritanical New England history. After graduation she hopes to work in the private sector in communications, marketing, or business analysis. Later in her career, she hopes to work for a non profit or as a public school teacher.
No one likes to talk about war atrocities or the adverse effects of colonialism. Those topics aren’t polite conversation and are quickly forgotten in the history of the Western World. Only recently has Great Britian begun to atone for the actions of its Colonial Administration in Kenya. Kenya reached independence from English rule in 1960 but the decade prior was one of fear, repression, and violence. Great Britian was clinging to end of its empire and was reluctant to let Kenya go.
In 2013, victims from the Kenyan Emergency 1952-1960 sued the British government for reparations. The case was contentious as paying reparations would signify acknowledgement of wrongdoing, tarnishing the colonial memory. On June 6, 2013, foreign secretary William Hague announced that 5,228 elderly Kenyans would be receiving a settlement that totaled 19.9 million pounds.
The reparations paid to Kenyans who suffered dearly at the hands of colonial officers have created a resurgence of interest in the Kenyan Emergency and the mistreatment of the Kikuyu population but we are still left wondering, “what really happened” and “why did this happen?”
The British Colonial Government declared the Kenyan Emergency, sometimes also known as “The Mau Mau Emergency”, in 1952 due to unrest in the colony. The enemy was ‘Mau Mau’, a grassroots organization with a militant branch whose goal was to reclaim land and independence. The Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, were the most significantly affected by colonialism and responded with the nationalist movement that became known as Mau Mau. Although ninety percent of the Kikuyu population took the Mau Mau oaths to metaphorically “fight” for access to land settled by Europeans and freedom from colonial rule, most were not militants. Interpreting the movement as a threat, the British implemented a counterinsurgency campaign to quell the uprising and clear the country of Mau Mau.
After suppressing the militancy in the first two years of the Emergency, the British focused their efforts on civilians in order to prevent them from aiding the remaining Mau Mau guerilla fighters. They continued to repress the Kikuyu population through collective punishment, detainment, and torture to ‘cleanse’ them of their Mau Mau allegiance and ‘rehabilitate’ them. Interrogations of Mau Mau suspects included beatings, rape, burnings, electric shock and whippings. By the end of the Emergency, the Mau Mau had killed 1,700 loyalist Africans; while the British had killed 10,000 Kenyans and detained another 90,000 in detention camps, concentrated villages, and prisons.
The work of Historians Caroline Elkins, David Anderson, and Huw Bennett along with the 2011 discovery of previously ‘lost’ files on the Colonial Administration have made it clear that human rights violations that took place during the Emergency. It is not as easy to understand WHY British colonial officers and settlers perpetuated those acts and why in particular civilians were targeted. To answer this question, I look to contemporary British cultural “experts” and firsthand accounts from the Emergency. Misconceptions about the nature of the Mau Mau and the Kikuyu, as well as fear, led the British to attempt to both eliminate and modernize the ethnic group.
A tense relationship between Kenyan nationalists and the colonial administration erupted in violence when the British refused to acknowledge Kikuyu grievances as legitimate. They not only ignored Mau Mau grievances but also used them as evidence of the backwards nature of the Kikuyu. One contemporary source wrote:
Gratitude –with some very few exceptions– is simply not in African nature–yet. They have no equivalent terms for gratitude, love, honour, integrity, virtue: such words don’t exist in the language. Europeans had to invent words for them.
The Kikuyu were perceived as barbaric because of their supposed inability to farm for themselves, and because they resisted the positive influence of colonialism.
Mau Mau was also dismissed as a manipulative terrorist organization that used “common gangster methods.” The British believed the Mau Mau were coercing other Kikuyu to join them and that many Kikuyu were naïve about the actual sinister goals of the organization. This perspective allowed colonial settlers and officials to maintain their paternalistic approach and objective to modernized Kenya.
The foreign nature of Kikuyu religious and tribal practices led to more conflict because many white Kenyans interpreted their culture and lifestyle as barbaric. Although historians have found no conclusive evidence as to the meaning or origin of the term Mau Mau, one contemporary source described the origin as, “… an onomatopoeic Kikuyu word used—though not commonly nowadays—to imitate the half-snarling, half-gulping noise made by an animal when bolting food…”. With this analysis, Mau Mau nationalists are reduced to the status of beasts.
Lastly, it was fear that drove the British to implement such cruel tactics against the Kikuyu. They feared for the colony. If Kenyans achieved self-determination, Europeans could be cut off from the rest of the empire and left under the legislation of Africans. This would have been unacceptable in the context of the contemporary racial ideology. Most importantly though, they feared for their lives. Loyal Kikuyu servants had become the enemy as the murdering of white settlers began. Prominent settler Michael Blundell recounted the era saying that settlers kept pistols on hand and barricaded the doors on their houses. He said “The farmer and his wife would sit reading or quietly talking, each with their pistol ready, half listening all the time for noises outside the house.” Isolated settler estates in the highlands of Kenya had little protection against attacks by Mau Mau in the night. Feelings of fear and defenselessness against Mau Mau attack fueled the settler demands for aggressive repression, relocation, and detainment of Kikuyu during the Emergency.
This fear turned against all Kikuyu as colonial officials implemented an unofficial policy of collective guilt. Misconceptions about the pervasiveness of Mau Mau assumed that as many as 95% of the Kikuyu were actively involved with Mau Mau. Because of this, the British collectively punished civilians to make the cost of supporting the Mau Mau too high.
During the Kenyan Emergency, the British Colonial Government and British settlers mistreated thousands of Kenyans based on their racist and paternalistic tendencies as well as fear which caused them to label all Kikuyu as equally responsible for the conflict. The result of British understanding of the Mau Mau were declarations similar to that of Father Trevor Huddleston, an English Anglican Bishop. He is quoted saying, “There can be no compromise, no common ground, between Mau Mau and the rest of the civilized world. It must be utterly destroyed if the peoples of Kenya are to live together and build up their community.” Huddleston demonstrates the aggression with which the British confronted the Mau Mau as well as their contradictory intention towards Kenyans. His suggestion was to destroy the nationalist group to build up the nation.
The British vilified an entire ethnic group because they did not, and would not understand the Kikuyu way of life nor their demands. The violence and oppression committed by colonial forces during the Kenyan Emergency is not unique when examining the history of empire, but the systematic governmental sanctioning was. Evidence suggests that the violence was endorsed by officers all the way up to the Governor of Kenya, Evelyn Baring. Perhaps this is why the Kenyans received reparations? Or was it the testimonies of historians during the trial? Whatever the reason may be, this could just be the tip of the iceberg as victims from other former colonies step forward to tell their story.
For more information on the 2013 legal proceedings and their possible repercussions, see this New York Times article by Historian David Anderson or this article from The Guardian written by Caroline Elkins, whose research provided vital evidence during the lawsuit.
Claire is a senior double majoring in History and Anthropology with a certificate in Archaeology Her research interests include 20th century European warfare, colonialism, and midwestern archaeology. Following graduation, Claire will be attending the University of Colorado to pursue a master’s degree in Museum and Field Studies with the intent of becoming a museum professional.
My sister is currently in 5th grade and learning about the Revolutionary War. While helping her study, I was amazed to discover that she is learning more than I ever learned in her grade. All I could remember about my elementary education was the glory of the revolution, the importance of July 4th, and “give me liberty or give me death!” Upon further inspection, I discovered I did learn the same material – in fact, she was using the same edition of the textbook that I had used, copyright 1999.
As a college student majoring in History, my first glance over her textbook caught some incorrect statements, mostly in the form of generalizations. But I also noticed that while the lessons that my sister was learning were true, they were far from the whole and entire truth. What she was learning, I realized, was patriotism. The lessons dwelled on the revolutionary spirit, how the colonies pulled together and how they overcame one clear enemy to create a just and equal republic. The textbook meant to convey an emotion, with history as the medium.
In college and even some high school history classes, the focus shifts from patriotism to evolution. While it may seem odd to use a scientific term to describe history, this is exactly what undergraduate students learn to investigate. Rather than seeing each event or time period individually, college history classes examine the change from one thing to another. What forces were present in society or the political sphere that could shift political parties? How did a group of colonies that had never felt more British than at the conclusion of the Seven Year’s War end up engulfed in a war with them a mere thirteen years later? How could our founding fathers pen a document revolutionary about equality when they were slaveholders themselves?
For some, this teaching seems to be almost anti-patriotic. Questioning the founding fathers in this way undermines all that they did and all that they accomplished, right? In my experience, there is always a moment in a history undergrad’s life when they realize that all they had originally thought was true about history has holes in it, or perhaps is even completely false. Undergrads can feel doubt, confusion, or pessimism about America. But pulling through that initial doubt, it becomes clear that these holes were patched up in your original education to teach patriotism. If you were taught that Jefferson founded the nation, penning sections on overthrowing the figurative slavery of King George and in the next minute that he had slaves and even slave children, the perhaps impact and value of the ideals that the Revolutionaries fought for would be undermined.
Here is where I think the true value of a history major is realized. My classes on everything from Greek history to the inclusion of Jackie Robinson in major league baseball may seem to be mere interest pieces outside of the classroom, but they have educated me in more than a collection of details about these time periods. My classes have taught me to evaluate change, and perhaps most crucially, understand perspective. In my opinion, this skill is invaluable. In order to have a conversation and understand where others are coming from, it is crucial to understand perspective.
For example, my classes on the American Revolution have forced me to re-examine those same patriotic lessons that my sister is currently learning in history class. However, while the complete truth may have clouded the picture, the ideals of the Revolution still shine bright. My history classes have taught me to recognize the accomplishments in the context of the situation. The founding fathers did own slaves and yet were able to write revolutionary statements about equality. Perhaps without being fully conscious of what they were doing, the founding fathers created the framework necessary for a more equal state in the future.
This skill set that I have acquired through my history classes has allowed me not only to analyze change in the past, but also to analyze change in the present. I feel practiced in understanding where my peers are coming from. If someone has a different view than me, my first instinct is to try to understand his or her position rather than to change it. This strategy allows for better conversation and debate, which are the roots of compromise and progress.
Paging through my sister’s textbook again, I come to a page describing the many compromises necessary to pass the Constitution. This helps to reassure me that though her textbook may be blurring some of the details, it is passing along the key of any successful historical figure: compromise and understanding are crucial to generating change. The Revolution teaches us not a stagnant patriotism, but a patriotism that allows growth and new perspectives in an ever-changing nation.
Maren is a junior double majoring in History and Geography with a minor in Environmental Studies. She currently works for the History Department at UW and this summer will be interning with the Natural Heritage Land Trust. She plans to attend graduate school to pursue a career in historical site and land management.