Intelligencer is a blog featuring teaching and research essays as well as news about the organization and its members.
To submit member news or suggest a blog topic, contact Intelligencer editor Dane Claussen.
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Special Issue Call for Papers: Journalism History through Digital Archives
Deadline: 15 September 2017
While analytical methods have been steadily developing in relation to research on journalism in its various live digital forms (e.g. news websites, twitter, and Facebook) there has been less focus on developing research on and related methodologies for journalistic productions accumulating in digital archives. While such inventories hold great potential for researchers of journalism history they also pose a set of challenges.
The amount of material raises questions of selection, data clean-up, meta-data availability and the ensuing possibilities of search and analysis. Linked to this, the possible malleability of access, retrieval and analytical procedures is challenging, as this requires new digital skills, products and collaborations. Yet, the amount of material and avenues of access and analysis simultaneously open a range of possibilities for investigating vast amounts of data across former barriers (e.g. media platforms or archives) and this allows for re-visiting of old questions as well as developing new ones.
Against the background of such wider issues this special issue elicits papers that do journalism history through digital archives in various geographical, cultural and temporal contexts. While such ventures necessarily raise theoretical and methodological questions the call is for contextual reflections rather than generic discussions of the potential and problems of digital archives. Following this, submissions can — but do not have to — engage with journalism history projects
In relation to the journalism history projects papers may in various degrees reflect on
Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to guest editor Henrik Bødker (email@example.com) no later than September 15, 2017. Selected authors will be invited to contribute by January 15 (2018). A maximum 8,000-word paper (including references, tables, etc.) will be considered for publication, subject to double blind peer-review.
Abstracts to guest editor: September 15, 2017
Authors notified: October 1, 2017
Full papers for peer review: January 15, 2018
Reviews to authors: March 15, 2018
Revised full papers: April 15, 2018
Guest Editor: Henrik Bødker, Aarhus University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society and the American Printing History Association are hosting a joint conference on October 6-7, 2017 at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. Registration is now open for "Good, Fast, Cheap: Printed Words & Images in America Before 1900."
This conference will explore the production, distribution, reception, and survival of printed words and images in America to 1900. In an era in which the process of design had not been separated from production, the purpose of the conference is to explore the inter-relation between composition, design, and printing processes. In the face of the familiar constraints of deadline and budget, early American printers used the materials and equipment at their disposal to design and produce necessary items in the service of democracy, education, science, commerce, entertainment, and the arts.
Their inventiveness and problem solving often resulted in work ranging from the pedestrian to the sublime, and that might, when considered carefully, offer lessons for today's communications environment. How can the past inform the present and the future? How can the study of continuity and change through printing history inform contemporary design?
Curator of Children's Literature
American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury St.
Worcester, MA 01609
The American Journalism Historians Association is seeking nominations for three board positions and the office of second vice president.
Board members serve for three years and are expected to attend board meetings at the annual convention.
The 2nd VP, under normal circumstances, rises to the presidency in two years, then serves on the board for an additional two years. A nominee to the Board of Directors or to any of the other Officer positions must have been a member of the AJHA for at least one calendar year immediately preceding the date of the election. No more than one person from an institution can serve on the board at one time.
To make nominations and to vote in an election, an individual must be a member of AJHA. Those who wish to nominate candidates may do so by sending an email with the nominee's name, contact information and affiliation to election and nominations committee chair Amber Roessner, University of Tennessee, email@example.com.
Please confirm the candidate's willingness to serve before sending the nomination to Amber, and if possible, you should send a brief bio of the candidate.
Deadline for nominations is 5 p.m. Sept. 1. Nominations may also be made from the floor during the 2017 conference in Little Rock, Ark.
The American Journalism Historians Association has selected Thomas J. Hrach as the winner of its 2017 Book of the Year Award for his 2016 work, “The Riot Report and the News: How the Kerner Commission Changed Media Coverage of Black America.”
Hrach will receive his award and discuss his research during a special session at the 36th annual AJHA Convention, to be held Oct. 12-14 in Little Rock, Ark.
“I am honored and grateful that my colleagues who study journalism history have chosen to recognize my work,” Hrach said. “I have enjoyed being a member of the AJHA and the support I have received from the members is appreciated.” Hrach is associate professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Journalism and Strategic Media at the University of Memphis.
In researching this book, Hrach relied upon original documents from the 1968 Kerner Commission at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, documents about Otto Kerner from the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill., and interviews with people willing to share their memories of the commission’s work. Citing his concerns about “the future of journalism as a profession in our current economic and political climate,” Hrach said he hoped his book will show the importance of professional journalism.
“Journalism is as important as ever,” Hrach said, adding he hoped his book would show “the power of good, quality journalism to improve the lives of people in a democratic nation.”
Editor’s Note: Ohio University Prof. Ellen Gerl presented her research-in-progress, “Operation Eggnog: Collier's 1951 Narrative Issue Takes on the Cold War,” at the recent International Association of Literary Journalism Studies conference held in Canada. The Intelligencer asked Prof. Gerl to tell us more about how and why she started researching this topic, and why this research is important and interesting for herself and our field.
By Prof. Ellen Gerl
I came across Collier’s special October 27, 1951, issue, “Preview of the War We Do Not Want,” while looking for examples of nuclear doomsday narratives. I planned to expand some previous research on the St. Louis Citizens Committee for Nuclear Information, a group whose newsletter story about their city post nuclear bombing was picked up in the Saturday Review and other national media. But I dropped that research idea. The Collier’s issue was just too interesting: three hundred pages of fact-filled reportage about a hypothetical World War III; bylines of Edward R. Murrow, Red Smith, Marguerite Higgins and others; and the in-house codename Operation Eggnog. Although a secret code name was reason enough to investigate, I also noticed that the issue’s editor was Cornelius Ryan, who would go on to write the non-fiction bestseller The Longest Day and whose papers happened to be located at Ohio University, my academic home.
Unfortunately, my elation over visiting an archive that didn’t require travel funds was short-lived. The collection lacked material from Ryan’s tenure at Collier’s. But Crowell-Collier Publishing Company correspondence held at the New York Public Library’s archives showed how editorial staff shaped the issue. Over ten months, Ryan traveled to Europe and across the United States to cajole writers to participate. At their New York offices, editors debated how the fake war would start, who should write about women, and whether they might convince Winston Churchill to pen a story. In all, the magazine spent an extra $40,000 on articles, sold double a normal issue’s advertising and printed an extra half million copies.
Historian Frank Luther Mott wrote that the magazine’s “motives were patriotic,” and letters I read indicated that the U. S. State Department unofficially supported the project. It also seems some Collier’s editors disliked the U. S. policy of containment, favoring a conquer communism head-on strategy. The editors’ note in the front of the issue described their big, and not-very humble, goals: “(1) to warn the evil masters of the Russian people that their vast conspiracy to enslave humanity is the dark downhill road to WW III; (2) to sound a powerful call for reason and understanding between the peoples of the West and East--before it’s too late; (3) to demonstrate that if The War We Do Not Want is forced upon us, we will win.”
Robert E. Sherwood, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former director of the Office of War Information, wrote the issue’s introductory article. When he turned in his manuscript, he commented to editors that he thought his piece should be “coldly factual as possible,” not sensational, so that the reader would think: “God this is it! This is precisely what can happen.”
My IALJS presentation focused on the markers of literary journalism within the issue such as concrete details, cinematic scenes and emotional appeals. The issue also raised the question of what role truthiness plays in “hybrid” texts that mix facts and fiction. Scholar Annjeanette Wiese’s work was helpful here. I also discussed the mechanism of transportation in literary narratives, that is, the extent to which readers’ beliefs are affected when they become lost in a text. I found recent work on transportation and persuasion by researchers Timothy C. Brock, Melanie Green and Karen Dill fascinating on this subject.
Overall, I suspect that readers did not suspend belief as much as they wanted to believe that democracy would always prevail.
I am uncertain where to take this research next, but there’s much here to mine: Cold War propaganda, ethical issues, 1950s-style fake news. I’d be interested to hear from AJHA members who are Cold War media historians, which I am not.
The only disappointing research finding? The codename Operation Eggnog, the editors noted, was just a meaningless moniker for “easy office identification.”
Prof. Gerl is Associate Professor, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University.
Editor’s Note: University of Arizona Prof. Susan E. Swanberg, J.D., Ph.D., presented her paper, “Writing While Under the Influence: John Hersey and the Writings of Hiroshima Eyewitness John A. Siemes, S.J.,” at the recent International Association of Literary Journalism Studies conference held in Canada. The Intelligencer asked Dr. Swanberg to tell us more about how and why she started researching this topic, and why this research is important and interesting for herself and our field.
By Prof. Susan E. Swanberg
University of Arizona
"If ever there was a subject calculated to make a writer overwrought and a piece overwritten, it was the bombing of Hiroshima; yet Hersey's reporting was so meticulous, his sentences and paragraphs were so clear, calm, and restrained, that the horror of the story he had to tell came through all the more chillingly." ‘John Hersey’ (obituary) The New Yorker (1993)(1)
John Hersey’s Hiroshima is a compelling masterpiece, a tour de force no less terrifying and moving than the day it was published in the August 31, 1946 issue of The New Yorker magazine.(2)
The lore associated with the writing of Hiroshima is fascinating. New Yorker editor, William Shawn, apparently suggested that Hersey write about Hiroshima and Hersey modeled the book’s outline on the structure of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey – which Hersey read while in sick bay in the belly of a boat on its way to the vanquished city.(3)
The provenance of Hiroshima tempts a curious reader to reconstruct Hersey’s creative path from journalist, to fiction author (A Bell for Adano), to author of Hiroshima. Hersey’s New Yorker obituary described him as a novelist and a teacher but “above all a reporter.”(4)
How did Hersey move with such fluidity between fiction and nonfiction? The evolution of an author’s voice is at the crux of the creative process.
Voices of the Atomic Age
I became fascinated with Hersey’s best-known work as I researched another important voice of the Atomic Age – William Leonard Laurence, the New York Times science journalist who was embedded for four months with the War Department, ostensibly as the Manhattan Project’s “historian.”(5)
After reading Laurence’s Pulitzer Prize-winning accounts of the development and use of the atomic bomb, I picked up Hiroshima, which I reluctantly admit I’d given only a desultory reading when in high school.
I read Hiroshima, read several of Laurence’s books, then read Hiroshima again. I realized that both Laurence and Hersey mentioned a Jesuit mission within Hiroshima proper and a Jesuit novitiate at Nagatsuka, several miles outside the Hiroshima city limits. Names of Jesuits associated with the mission and the novitiate were mentioned in the works of both authors. It didn’t take long for me to identify and locate the writings of Father John A. Siemes, S.J. – pivotal influence on both Laurence and Hersey.(6)
Father John A. Siemes was a German Jesuit priest, born in Cologne in 1907 and ordained in 1937. A professor at Tokyo’s Catholic University, now known as Sophia University, Siemes taught philosophy and published a number of scholarly works. After the bombing of Tokyo Siemes moved, along with a number of his students, to the novitiate at Nagatsuka.(7,8)
On August 6, 1945, when the bomb struck, Siemes was at the novitiate on the outskirts of Hiroshima. After the bombing, Siemes filed an eyewitness report with the Vatican. A version of Siemes’ report was reprinted, with the permission of the Vatican magazine, Jesuit Mission, in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Siemes’ report began as follows:
Up to August 6th, occasional bombs, which did no great damage, had fallen on Hiroshima. Many cities roundabout, one after the other, were destroyed, but Hiroshima itself remained protected. There were almost daily observation planes over the city but none of them dropped a bomb. The citizens wondered why they alone had remained undisturbed for so long a time. There were fantastic rumors that the enemy had something special in mind for this city, but no one dreamed that the end would come in such a fashion as on the morning of August 6th.(9)
"August 6th began in a bright, clear, summer morning. About seven o'clock, there was an air raid alarm which we had heard almost every day and a few planes appeared over the city. No one paid any attention and at about eight o'clock, the all-clear was sounded."(10)
"Suddenly-the time is approximately 8: 14-the whole valley is filled by a garish light which resembles the magnesium light used in photography, and I am conscious of a wave of heat. I jump to the window to find out the cause of this remarkable phenomenon, but I see nothing more than that brilliant yellow light. As I make for the door, it doesn't occur to me that the light might have something to do with enemy planes…. I am sprayed by fragments of glass. The entire window frame has been forced into the room. I realize now that a bomb has burst and I am under the impression that it exploded directly over our house or in the immediate vicinity."(11)
Siemes’ report continued in the same dry, clinical tone. He recounted a procession of injured people from Hiroshima up the valley to Nagatsuka, the gathering of survivors in Asano Park in Hiroshima, the recovery of frail Father Kleinsorge from the ruins of the Jesuit mission in Hiroshima and the journey of Kleinsorge and his Jesuit colleagues back to the novitiate.
Although Hersey’s account focuses on six hibakusha (bombing survivors), only one of whom, Father Kleinsorge, is a colleague of Siemes, Hersey’s account reflects the somber but chilling tone of Siemes’ report. Many whispers of Siemes’ report appear in Hiroshima, including the following items:
"A rumor was going around that the Americans were saving something 'special' for the city of Hiroshima."(12)
"The flash produced by the bomb was like a giant photographic flash."(13)
"Mr. Fukai, secretary of the diocese, fled in despair back to the burning city and was never seen again."(14)
"A group of sick, burned horses stand and wait on the Misasa Bridge with their heads hanging."(15)
"Father Kleinsorge encountered 22 victims whose eyes had melted from the blast."(16)
Stronger than a whisper is the material Hersey quoted from Siemes’ report at pages 89-90 of the first Vintage Books paperback edition of Hiroshima:
"Father Kleinsorge and the other German Jesuit priests, who, as foreigners, could be expected to take a relatively detached view, often discussed the ethics of using the bomb. One of them, Father Siemes, who was out at Nagatsuka at the time of the attack, wrote in a report to the Holy See in Rome: 'Some of us consider the bomb in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civilian population. Others were of the opinion that in total war, as carried on in japan, there was no difference between civilians and soldiers, and that the bomb itself was an effective force tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan to surrender and thus to avoid total destruction. It seems logical that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of a war against civilians. The crux of the matter is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result? When will our moralists give us a clear answer to this question?'”(17)
The Crux of the Matter
The tone and tenor of Hiroshima resemble the tone and tenor of Siemes’ report. Horrifying and noteworthy vignettes recounted by Siemes are put to stunning use in Hiroshima. Although it is true that many of the Jesuits must have observed the same events as Father Siemes, and that Hersey undoubtedly interviewed more than one of the priests, the impact of Siemes’ report on Hersey’s Hiroshima is apparent.
Soon I plan to visit Yale University’s Benecke library where I will peruse the Hersey archives and, hopefully, gain a better understanding of the process Hersey used to identify his Hiroshima interviewees. There are secrets I would like to unravel.
At this point, I can add two stories to the Hiroshima lore. First, Hersey was so impressed by Siemes’ words that the author adapted and used some of the priest’s language when he gave out autographs.(18,19) An exemplar of one of these autographs appears in Figure 1. [Figure 1 to be posted soon--DSC]
The second bit of lore is this: in trying to uncover what happened to Father Siemes in his later years, I found a newspaper article that mentioned the date of the priest’s death. I was so stunned that I had to do some fact checking, so I contacted Father Francis Britto, S.J., a younger colleague of Siemes, who verified that Father Siemes died on August 6, 1977 – Hiroshima Day.(21)
(1) “John Hersey,” Obituary. New Yorker, April 5, 1993, 111. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1993/04/05/john-hersey
(2) John Hersey, “Hiroshima,” New Yorker, August 31, 1946, 15.
(3) Ben Yagoda, About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made (New York: Scribner, 2000), 185-186.
(4) “John Hersey,” Obituary. New Yorker, April 5, 1993, 111.
(5) Susan E. Swanberg, “Half Life: Examining the Nuclear Narrative of William L. “Atomic Bill” Laurence, New York Times Science Journalist and Propagandist for the Atomic Age,” (unpublished manuscript, August 1, 2017), Microsoft Word File.
(6) Father John A. Siemes S.J., “An Eye-Witness Account of Hiroshima,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1, no.11, (1946): 2-6. There are a number of versions of Siemes’ report. While the Bulletin indicates that this version was “reprinted by permission of The Jesuit Mission,” there are slight variations between the Bulletin and Mission versions.
(7) William L. Laurence, Dawn Over Zero (New York: Knopf, 1946), 245.
(8) Francis Britto, S.J., e-mail message to author, January 21, 2017.
(9) Siemes, “Eye-Witness Account of Hiroshima,” p.1.
(13) Hersey, “Hiroshima,” p.3
(14) Ibid., 14.
(15) Ibid., 29.
(16) Ibid., 43.
(17) Ibid., 51.
(18) Ibid., 89-90.
(19) Interestingly, Father Siemes appears in an American propaganda film made after the bombing of Hiroshima. “The Atom Strikes!” features a cameo appearance of Father Siemes about 16 minutes into the film. “The Atom Strikes!” can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpZBSXuJ5yc
(20) I presented some of the information in this essay at the IALJS meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia in May of 2017. Upon discussing my presentation with a female colleague sitting next to me in one of the sessions, she happened to mention that Father Siemes’ “crux of the matter” quotation sounded like words Hersey used in his autographs. I regret to say that I do not know the name of this colleague, but would like to acknowledge the role she played in my discovery that Hersey adopted Siemes’ language and used it in his autographs. If you read this and identify yourself, kind colleague, I will acknowledge you properly. Thank you!
(21) Francis Britto, S.J., e-mail message to author, January 21, 2017.
The American Journalism Historians Association has announced Dr. Kathleen Endres, distinguished professor at the University of Akron, as the recipient of the 2017 Kobre Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism History. Endres, who joined the Akron faculty in 1987, has written or edited six books and one monograph, penned numerous peer-reviewed articles, and contributed to the advancement of journalism history through participation in seminars and workshops.
This honor is one of many Endres has received during her 35 years of association with AJHA. “As a graduate student, I gave my first scholarly paper at the AJHA convention at Southern Methodist University in 1982 …” Endres said. “And who was on the teaching panel? Sidney Kobre. I was a graduate student from Kent State's History Department then, who didn't really know a soul in the Journalism History community. “I found a home at that convention. Over the years (should I say decades?), I've met so many wonderful friends through AJHA, got so much encouragement for the work I was doing, learned so much in the paper sessions, panels and RIBs, and had an enormous amount of fun. And so this Sidney Kobre award means so much to me -- as does AJHA.”
The Sidney Kobre Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism History is the American Journalism Historians Association's highest honor. The late Dr. Sidney Kobre was a renowned media historian who served as a professor at Florida State from the 1940s through the 1970s and penned 16 books in his illustrious career. The Kobre Award recognizes individuals with an exemplary record of sustained achievement in journalism history through teaching, research, professional activities, or other contributions to the field of journalism history.
Editor’s Note: Jonathan Fitzgerald presented his paper, “Visualizing the History of American Literary Journalism,” at the recent International Association of Literary Journalism Studies conference in Canada. The Intelligencer asked Mr. Fitzgerald, a doctoral candidate in English at Northeastern University, to tell us more about his research, especially why it is important and interesting.
By Jonathan D. Fitzgerald, Northeastern University
I came to study the history of American literary journalism the way, I think, many newcomers to the field do: through the scholarship and writing of Norman Sims. Sims has written several books on the genre, including True Stories: A Century of Literary Journalism (2007). In the opening pages of the book’s second chapter, “Sketches and Innovation,” about the nineteenth century origins of literary journalism, Sims writes, “Tracing the history of literary journalism backward from the twentieth century into the 1800s, I find that it vanishes into a maze of local publications.” And, on the next page, he continues, “Looking for literary journalism in the nineteenth century seems daunting.”
Even before I had any real vested interest in the nineteenth century origins of literary journalism, this read, to me, as a challenge. The history “vanishes?” The task is “daunting?” This is basically fuel for my scholarship. But, at the time, as I was just at the very beginning of my PhD program, I felt certain that my interests lay in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, so I put Sims' challenge aside.
It wasn’t long, however, before the challenge crept back into my field of view. A perfect storm of events, including being hired as a research assistant for the Viral Texts Project, which uses computational methods to identify frequently reprinted (viral) texts in nineteenth century newspapers, and reading for a comprehensive exam on the history of literary journalism scholarship, revived the challenge. In my reading, I reencountered Sims' assertion that literary journalism’s history “vanishes into a maze of local publications,” while simultaneously gaining unprecedented access to those local publications through the Viral Texts Project. In that moment, I became a de facto nineteenth centuryist.
As I began to comb nineteenth century newspapers for the roots of literary journalism, another challenge arose: how to connect those early examples of the genre to contemporary works. Here, another pillar of literary journalism studies, Thomas Connery, proved instructive. In A Sourcebook of American Literary Journalism, Connery writes of literary journalism’s history, “the line from the nineteenth through the twentieth century is continuous.” He theorizes that while the line is continuous, there are distinct periods throughout the two centuries in which literary journalism rises and falls in popularity. There are peaks around the fin de siècle, in the late 1930s and early ’40s, again in the ’60s and ’70s, and finally in the ’80s.
In an effort to test Connery’s theory, I set out to visualize the history of literary journalism using methods from the digital humanities. To do so, I assembled a corpus of bibliographic entries related to the genre from Norman Sims’ bibliographies from both True Stories and Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century, two bibliographies published in Literary Journalism Studies, and the table of contents of Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda’s anthology The Art of Fact. In all, the corpus includes around 600 bibliographic entries, split almost evenly between primary and secondary sources. Once assembled, I used regular expressions–basically advanced search queries–to derive pertinent information such as author name, date of publication, and title of each work. I assembled this data into a database and added a column indicating the author’s gender.
Using this data, I was able to create interactive data visualizations, including a timeline of the history of literary journalism and a bar graph that shows the number of publications by author’s gender. I published the data in tabular format alongside the visualizations to a website at http://ljbib.jonathandfitzgerald.com.
Indeed, the timeline confirms Connery’s notion of the “continuous line,” complete with the peaks and valleys representing the genre’s rise and fall through time. The bar graph showing publications by gender, too, is instructive. It shows a great disparity between the number of publications by men and women over the past 150 years of literary journalism’s history. The lack of women writers, particularly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, represents not an actual dearth of women writers, but indeed a major oversight by scholars of literary journalism. My research into the nineteenth century shows not only that women writers were increasingly prolific, but that they were actually instrumental in the formation of what would become literary journalism. To that end, my in-progress dissertation, titled “Setting the Record Straight: Women Literary Journalists Writing Against the Mainstream,” seeks to restore women writers from the nineteenth century to our collective memories, and to show how their legacy persists throughout the genre’s history.
I intend to update the database with the results of my research, and I provide a link on the website for other scholars who notice omissions to contact me as well.
Jean Folkerts advises:
The Director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University resigned mid-year, and I took over January 1 as Interim Director. We now are advertising for a permanent director.
K-State’s program is one of the oldest accredited programs in the nation. We adopted a new curriculum this year that will go into effect in Fall 2018. It combines public relations and advertising into a strategic communications focus and emphasizes a cross-platform journalism focus. I think the curriculum is progressive and will have great results both in recruiting students and in placing students in jobs. We also are instituting a new Honors Program. This fall we will be revamping the master’s degree curriculum.
This would be a great opportunity for someone who wants to be in administration and who could build a record of accomplishment here over the next few years. We have about 500 majors and 25 faculty. We also serve about 50 agricultural communications majors and 50 minors. This is a program that has undergone a major shift, with several faculty leaving/retiring. We have hired four new faculty this year, including a new director for the Journalism Education Association, a national organization of high school journalists and teachers. We’re very excited about the new hires, and there will be an opportunity for a new director to do some more hiring. We’re also spearheading a building campaign.
We could certainly use a historian on the faculty!
by Dave Vergobbi, AJHA President
With registration now open for our 2017 AJHA national conference I’m even more excited about visiting Little Rock and Arkansas. Especially when I found personal connections through historical serendipity.
My Italian great-grandparents arrived in what’s now known as the Silver Valley of North Idaho in 1889. They had seven children by 1910 when “The Great Fire” swept through the region burning about three million acres in northeast Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana. The fire killed 87 people, mostly firefighters, and is considered, geographically, to be the largest in U. S. history. As late as the 1970s the mountains of my hometown remained barren, the result of zinc and lead refinery pollution preventing re-growth from the fire.
Having lived through the Great Fire, my grandfather told me numerous stories. Many of them revolved around a Polish-heritaged forest ranger named Ed Pulaski. The Polish part of Pulaski was important to me because my father had married a first-generation American of Polish descent from Massachusetts. And now I find Pulaski the Pole connects me in spirit to Little Rock, Arkansas.
Edward Crockett “Ed” Pulaski, born in Seneca County, Ohio, was a miner, railroader, and rancher before he joined the U. S. Forest Service in 1908 and was posted to Wallace, Idaho. During the Great Fire, Pulaski was supervising a 45-man crew just south of Wallace on Placer Creek when fire exploded the drought-dried conifers surrounding them, trapping the men. But Pulaski knew the area, and he knew fires. Leading his crew into an abandoned mine tunnel he told them to hit the ground and held them under gunpoint, threatening to shoot anyone who left. Five men and two horses died of smoke inhalation that day, but Pulaski saved the other 40. The National Register of Historic Places now calls it the Pulaski Tunnel, with a commemorative hiking trail to honor Pulaski and the Forest Service firefighters.
But the deaths sat hard with Ed Pulaski and he did something about it, inventing the Pulaski tool. A Pulaski looks like a long-handled double-headed ax with one side turned 90 degrees into a hoe. It’s the standard tool for wild land firefighting because it can be used to both dig and chop, the perfect implement for creating firebreaks in any terrain. My Grandpa and Dad always carried one in their vehicles, as I do today.
Ed Pulaski also claimed to be, and apparently was, a collateral descendant of the Polish Count Casimir Pulaski. Now here’s a fascinating man. Born in Warsaw in 1745, the Count became a military commander in Poland who fought against Russian domination, lost, and was exiled. Benjamin Franklin suggested that a certain fledgling nation could use his military expertise. Pulaski emigrated and reported to George Washington on Franklin’s recommendation. Before he received his commission as an officer, Pulaski engaged the British in 1777 at the Battle of Brandywine near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. His actions, organizing scattered Continental Army troops into a charge that ensured the army’s retreat, saved Washington’s life. As a reward, Congress commissioned Pulaski a brigadier general in the Continental Army cavalry, Pulaski’s specialty. Now known as one of the fathers of the U. S. Cavalry, Pulaski reorganized it and wrote the first regulations of its formation. His actions on both the northern and southern fronts of the Revolutionary War brought him recognition and fame. To the end a cavalryman, Pulaski died leading a daring charge during the Battle of Savannah in 1779. He was just 34 years old.
The United States has commemorated and celebrated Count Pulaski in a great variety of ways, including monuments, statues, memorials, memorial days, squares, streets and even a postage stamp. Thanks and praise was as recent as 2009 when President Barack Obama signed a joint resolution of Congress conferring honorary U. S. citizenship on the Count, only the seventh such occurrence in history. And while Casimir Pulaski never married and had no direct descendants, his collateral descendant Ed gave him another lasting monument, the Pulaski Tool.
But one more honorific caught me about the Count. The Count became a county. As our friend Wikipedia has it, “The county is named for Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish volunteer who saved George Washington’s life during the American Revolutionary War.” Approaching 400,000 people, it’s the state’s most populous county. It also holds the largest city, county seat, and state capital, all rolled into one place called Little Rock. No wonder Ed claimed kinship.
Find your historical serendipity that connects you with Little Rock, Arkansas, and join us October 12-14 for the 36th Annual AJHA National Convention. The historic tour this year visits the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, “infamous for its place in the history of school desegregation as nine African-American teenagers attempting to attend school faced angry mobs in September 1957.” We also journey to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, “an African-American fraternal organization founded in 1883 that interprets Arkansas’s African-American history from 1870 to the present.” And don’t forget our gala dinner will be held at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Besides serendipity, you can find all the convention information on our AJHA website, including registration. See you in Little Rock.
Editor's Note: More serendipity is that my (Dane Claussen) great-grandmother's second husband, named Jones, a miner from Ireland, is supposedly buried in Wallace, Idaho, although none of us are quite sure where.
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