Sand Wars: Nature and Community Formation in a Long Island Port, 1906-1940
“Sand Wars” explores a political, social, and economic battle waged between wealthy suburban landowners and working class gravel miners during the Great Depression. Set in Long Island’s North Shore villages of Port Jefferson and Belle Terre, both parties developed and applied distinct interpretations of their surrounding environment. Elites envisioned a suburban refuge that aesthetically blended Tudor estates with garden landscapes. By improving fallow fields and woodlands they hoped to create a community centered on outdoor recreation. This leisurescape required adjacent communities to conform. In contrast, gravel miners, with the consent of local government, dredged Port Jefferson harbor and mined coastal bluffs to solidify the area’s industrial potential. Miners experienced nature through work and developed an elaborate working class culture surrounding their occupation. Their workscape clashed with Belle Terre’s leisurescape. Elites portrayed miners as invading hordes annihilating the leisurescape’s beauty and depressing housing values. Miners feared unemployment during the Depression and argued that improvement would reinforce the housing market. Elites utilized political incorporation and individual arrests to halt gravel mining. After their victory they buried the memory of the incident in a shroud of myth and memory]]>
For those of you who may be curious about the origins and nature of this method I’ve been using this August, 2013, as part of my Mexico/Texas project, which is relatively unusual at least in U.S.:
What is a Witness Seminar? How Is this Method being applied in the current study?
By Christopher Sellers, M.D., Ph.D., Stony Brook University
“Witness seminar” is an established technique in the field of social history. The current application of the “witness seminar” method constitutes a vital step in long-standing research project being conducted by Christopher Sellers, Professor of History at Stony Brook University in New York http://stonybrookhistory.org/blog/chrissellers/ , with funding from the National Science Foundation http://search.engrant.com/project/3SBHlF/the_uneven_development_of_industrial_hazards_lead_and_oil_in_the_u_s_versus_mexico_1930-1990 . Since 2009, this historical and social scientific study has probed the history of four industrial communities, two of them in the US and two of them in Mexico, with a view to comparing their historical dealings especially with industry-related hazards. In the month of August, 2013, we are planning witness seminars for three of the four communities under study: El Paso, Texas, and Chihuahua City, Chihuahua (communities long centered around lead smelters), and Minatitlan-Coatzacoalcos (a network of communities long centered around petrochemical industry). We are not as yet planning a seminar in the fourth site, Beaumont –Port Arthur, Texas (also a petrochemical region), for limitations of time and financing.
In the case of this study, a “witness seminar” means: bringing together 10-12 people with extended but very different perspectives on the history of an industrial site and its relations. In the course of the seminar, they discuss their recollections of this history, each from the standpoint of their own experience. One goal is for key members and representatives of different parts of a community to share their memories, recognize and discuss any conflicting recollections, and arrive at a better understanding if not a reconciliation of differences in what they remember. In this way, the witness seminars we are now planning will bring back some results of our study to the communities themselves. Other goals are more social scientific and historical. For instance, comparing the discussion of similar questions in such different communities and contexts promises to shed light on: the varieties of narrative available to different people, groups, towns and cultures to frame and understand their pasts; the different ways in which conflicts have unfolded and been contested; the varieties of relations between experts and lay people at the local level, and the ways in which supposedly “universal” knowledge about lead poisoning or benzene’s effects has been taken up—or not—and by which groups, experts and lay people alike.
The witness seminar idea has been most fully employed in Britain. Here’s an example: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/innovation/groups/ich/witness/archives/science/NorthSea.aspx
And here’s an overview of how the method has been taken up in history of science and medicine: http://www.history.qmul.ac.uk/research/modbiomed/what-is-a-witness-seminar/
Attached is a transcript of another one conducted on the development of the Concord. Such seminars, like those being planned, are of limited size and thematic focus. Most of these are also closed to a public or general-interest audience, just as we are planning with our seminars. In our case, having a small closed group is even more essential, as some of the topics under discussion have been locally quite controversial. Not bringing in the press for example, is necessary to ensure frank and honest discussion, rather than grand-standing. Our seminars will depart from many of these, in that most all of these British examples involve historical decisions and events shared by mostly elite actors: highly educated scientists and professionals. We are attempting a somewhat different combination, however: hoping to bring out voices not just from elite and educated actors, but also others, whether workers or local residents, who may not have such qualifications. The only close model is a witness seminar undertaken by the well-known Scottish oral historian, Arthur McIvor, among those involved in the Scottish asbestos industry http://www.strath.ac.uk/humanities/courses/history/staff/mcivorarthurprof/ . Professor Sellers has been in close consultation with McIvor in developing the protocol for these seminars.
Another social scientific methods similar to the one we are applying is that of the focus group. A focus group is a method developed mostly by American social scientists, to probe public opinions about particular topics in greater depth than a survey or some such method would allow. Here’s an outline of the method online: http://www.odi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/7074.pdf While this method has not been employed by historians (to my knowledge), many of its principles are similar to those we will employ. The biggest difference is that while we are interested in different groups’ perceptions of the hazards involved, and having people talk about these differences, we are also interested in bringing out differences in narratives, the ways do (or don’t) situate, frame these hazards in terms of their own life stories. Hence the breath of the main questions being posed: they are to allow our contributors a freer reign, allow them to tell stories about their experiences, rather than just give opinions.
In sum, our seminars, while borrowing on established methods, will also be forging methodological innovations of their own. That is because of the kind of history we seek to illuminate as well as the fact that having three of these, in two very different national cultures, adds to the comparative dimensions. As with all these other models on which we are building, full consent forms and permissions will be presented to participants before and after the proceedings, and all proceedings will be recorded and transcribed, as well as videotaped, although their public release will hinged upon permissions that participants have been willing to sign.
Dates and Places:
August 3—Witness Seminar in El Paso, Tx,
August 10—Witness Seminar in Chihuahua City, Chi.
August 12—Follow-up Witness Seminar in El Paso, Tx.
August 16—Follow-up Witness Seminar in Chihuahua City, Chi.
August 17—Witness Seminar in Minatitlan, Ver.]]>
“How Industrial Hazards Get Overlooked,” Dissent Blog (April 25, 2013)
This course explores the significance of Central Asian peoples, goods, and places in historical perspective. Specifically, this course will investigate transnational relationships, overlapping peoples and regions, and historical interdependencies on the eastern front of Central Asia, where Central Asia meets China. We will explore the famous “silk road” of the early common era as one manifestation of this history. We will go backward and forward through time to uncover other manifestations of enduring connections between China and Central Asia. We will look at Xinjiang and Tibet, in the western borderlands of modern-day China, as well as parts of modern-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Iran.
(Urumqi, People’s Republic of China, 2004 [Source: Wikimedia Commons])
From ancient times to the present, we ask the following question: what forces have brought this region together over time, and what forces have pulled it apart? Students will be responsible for completing three quizzes and two response papers.]]>
Audio file recorded November 27, 2012; broadcast March 8, 2013 on WUSB.]]>
Accusations, trials, and persecutions of witches form a fascinating and peculiar episode in colonial American history, with the famous Salem trials as the most well-known example of what is often conceived of as a Puritan, New England, or 17th century phenomenon. However, the memory of earlier beliefs in magic and actions upon those beliefs still exerted influence over British-American colonists and U.S. citizens in the 18th century. A review of American magazines from this period reveals a continued, but different, preoccupation with magic and witchcraft. Elite Americans of this period thought about magic, but at a distance, with distaste and no small amount of shame. Published works repeatedly consigned it to a kind of local dark age; the colonial forefathers had to be defended from criticisms for their prosecution of witchcraft as a crime; and increasingly, magic became less a threat to be controlled, and more a mere “superstition” clung to by the “vulgar.”
A complex process was underway, by which early Americans disposed of their culture of magic, alternatingly forgetting and reconsidering it. Americans of the 18th century distanced themselves from their historical beliefs in magic, and then conceptually relocated this belief elsewhere, reattaching it to a variety of Others: the English, the French, Africans, Native Americans, and the superstitious masses, an “other within.” Through this transformation of memory and history, the myth of an ideal America – enlightened and reasonable, free of the irrational superstitions that plagued its past, its rivals and victims, and its own inferior members – was born. My upcoming paper on this topic will show how a sea change in early American perspectives on the supernatural influenced and constituted the formation of a U.S. American national identity.
The 35th annual Warren and Beatrice Susman Graduate Conference will be held on April 20, 2013 at Rutger’s New Brunswick campus. Its topic is “Myth, Memory, and History: New Approaches to an Elusive Past.”]]>
In the late 1960s, radical leftist activism was consumed by debate and strife over identity politics, leading to factional disputes and increasing extremism. In the eye of this political storm stood the arch-radical Weatherman faction of the Students for a Democratic Society. These white radicals considered themselves allies of the vanguard of a people’s war against global imperialism. This worldview set the pattern for all their ideas and actions. Weatherman believed that it had answers for all the varied social-structural riddles posed by every form of oppression and exploitation, or rather, the answer: identifying the struggle against capitalism in its imperialist mode as the central conflict for liberation, they explained all oppressions as descending from capitalism.
My research details the effects of Weatherman’s ruling ideology on its interactions with other radical left groups and its own internal organization. I argue that Weatherman undermined its own goals by ideologically simplifying the complexity of identity politics. Although they claimed to fight on the side of Black Nationalists and Third-World revolutionaries, their conception of the meaning of revolution made effective work with these groups impossible. Likewise, they claimed to support women’s liberation and sexual freedom, but the demands of their unquestioning commitment to violent revolutionary struggle subverted these aims. This subversion was manifest in “smash monogamy,” a sexual policy that both abetted male sexual privilege and constrained its members’ genuine sexual desires and relationships. By studying the ways in which Weatherman’s liberatory aims were undermined by its ideological orientation, my research sheds light on the inherent danger in espousing a sweeping ideal of social justice while subsuming all causes and issues into one all-encompassing theory of oppression.
The 18th Annual Barnes Club Graduate History Conference will be held Friday evening March 22, 2013 and Saturday March 23, 2013, from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM at Temple’s Center City Campus in downtown Philadelphia.]]>
A Stony Brook training in Latin American history excels in several ways. It is rooted in a vibrant and collegial community which brings together young working historians from across Latin America–Peruvians, Argentines, Chileans, Colombians, Mexicans, and others–with their peers from North America. Moreover, each student, regardless of their country or topical specialization, develops close-knit mentoring relationships with each of our professors, who emphasize interpretative, comparative, and methodological skills in fostering new and critical perspectives on Latin American history.]]>
To join the NYCLAHW e-list and receive electronic papers, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Nancy Tomes appears on This American Life, a weekly radio show that airs on more than 500 stations to about 1.8 million listeners. It is produced by Chicago Public Media, distributed by Public Radio International, and has won multiple major broadcasting awards. It is often the most popular podcast in the country, with around 700,000 people downloading each week. The broadcast will initially air Friday, January 25, and will subsequently be available for streaming and podcasting. Professor Tomes offers her views on the “Petticoat Affair” involving Andrew Jackson’s cabinet members and their wives, as part of the program’s theme, “Surrogates.”]]>
Popular perceptions and representations of Islam and Muslims are often founded on ignorance and outright prejudice. Fundamental to these understandings are narrow and highly politicized notions of history, frequently accepted uncritically. Accordingly, this course seeks first to introduce analytical approaches crucial to developing nuanced understandings of historical and contemporary depictions of Islam and Muslims. In addition, the course provides a broad outline of the history of Islamic Civilizations from Iberia and North Africa to South and Southeast Asia, and from the Mediterranean to Sub-Saharan Africa, and a basic understanding of key religious and secular institutions that characterize Muslim societies. While the course is broadly chronological, we will also examine key topics in detail, including the life of the Prophet, conversion and the global spread of Islam, colonialism and imperialism, radical militant and progressive Muslim politics, media representations, and Islam in the West. The course is not comprehensive, but seeks to provide a basic understand of the history of Islam from Muhammad to the present, and a solid empirical and methodological foundation for further inquiry.]]>
During the last several centuries, the global imperial ambitions of Europe (and more recently, the US) have remade politics and culture across the world. This course considers people and places linked together by Empire from the mid-eighteenth century to the present. In a context provided by historical and theoretical readings, we will explore the experience of colonialism through a variety of literary representations: novels, short stories, poems, memoirs, letters, music, films, graphic novels and other genres. These sources provide detailed, often personalized, accounts of the experience of the political, economic and cultural domination that colonialism entailed, and the forms of resistance it produced. The colloquium will examine the transformational historical trends of imperialism, anti-colonialism, decolonization and postcolonial migration through units exploring colonialism’s impact on education and identity, cities and mobility, and ideas about race and liberty. We will trace the dialogue between history and representation through looking at specific people, places and texts from Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean and metropolitan Europe, as well as recent imperial adventures of the US. Over the course of the semester, students will develop, research and write a term paper on a topic of their interest related to colonial or postcolonial history.]]>
Prof. Christopher C. Sellers has written an opinion piece for the New York Times called “How Green Was My Lawn?” based on his new book, Crabgrass Crucible.]]>
Prof. Jennifer L. Anderson’s new book, Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America, has been featured by the New York Times and Fieldstone Common Radio.]]>
Dr. Ewen was also well known to the History Department, in a personal as well as professional capacity, as the daughter of Roger Wunderlich, who also received his Ph.D. from the department. She is deeply missed in both regards.
“Remembering Elizabeth Ewen” at Now & Then blog]]>
Stony Brook University
Department of History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania
“Rethinking Energy Histories and Landscapes”
Current concerns over energy consumption and environmental consequence are creating growing scholarly interest in energy history, and especially in understanding the energy transitions of the past. Changes in the kinds of energy consumed and in levels of energy consumption have long been central to an understanding of industrialization. Yet the focus has been largely on wood, coal and oil, overlooking other forms of widely consumed energies. This talk emphasizes the critical role of animal power in American industrialization, and reexamines how the question of transition away from animal power is understood in historical literature.
Monday, April 30, 2012
3:30 p.m. Humanities 1008
Ann Green is the author of, among many publications, “Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America” (Harvard UP, 2008), winner of the 2009 Pioneer America Society Fred B. Kniffen Award for best book.]]>
An annual event that showcases undergraduate research and is open to all SBU undergraduates conducting faculty-mentored research and creative projects.]]>
As featured in television shows like “Dirty Jobs” and “Deadliest Catch,” and in current news about clean-up workers exposed to toxic dust at Ground Zero, the interrelationships between work and environment are sometimes exciting, and sometimes downright dangerous and deadly. This is nothing new. Work environments have long been important sites of courage and risk, a stage for performing and proving one’s gender, racial, or national identity. Work environments have also been sites of cooperation and conflict between diverse peoples, and between people and non-human nature.
Child Coal Miners (1908) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
This course examines the relationships between work and environment in United States history from the colonial period to the present day, with emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will use books, articles, films, and students’ own real-world experiences with, and explorations of, work, to arrive at a common understanding of the place of work and environment in United States history. We will also seek to discover the parallels, if any, between the historical events and processes we study, and current issues in American society and politics. Students are expected to complete all readings, write two short papers, and produce a final project.]]>