Fire Near San Jacinto Battlefield Causes Indefinite Closure

The San Jacinto battleground, along with the Battleship Texas museum, has been closed for an indefinite period of time following an ITC chemical fire that occurred in March of 2019. While fighting the fire, some of the fire suppressant foam along with toxic chemicals leaking from the tank flowed down into the Houston Ship Channel which lies between the battleground and the ITC chemical plant. Because of this, celebrations for the annual celebration of the Battle of San Jacinto were canceled. This is only the second time in thirty five years that the festivities have had to be canceled. This was a rather big letdown for many people as this remembrance celebration takes many months to plan. The Battle of San Jacinto was the last big battle of the Texas War for Independence which famously saw the Texan forces route the Mexican soldiers under the command of Santa Anna. Texan troops also ended up “capturing” Santa Anna’s prosthetic leg after the battle was over. At the end of the battle Santa Anna surrendered to Texan forces however this was not officially recognized by the American government. Battleship Texas is a famed battleship that sailed in both World Wars and was converted into a museum after being decommissioned.

Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center Memorial (Еврейский музей и центр толерантности Мемориал)

Orange brick facade of the Jewish Heritage and Tolerance Center

Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center Memorial (Еврейский музей и центр толерантности Мемориал) is in Moscow, Russia and it is the nation’s first state support Jewish heritage museum. It originally opened in 2012, when the museum initially opened it was opened privately – to the presidents of Russia and Israel and opened to the general public in 2013.

The history of the building starts in 1926 as the Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage. In the 1990s a fire broke out leaving the site completely dysfunctional. In 2008 following mass restoration efforts reopened as the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture. In 2012 it reopened once again as the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.

The main focus of the museum was to create accurate content so Russians and people from around the world could get real facts and information about Jewish heritage instead of popularized beliefs. It focuses on being a large and engaging museum dedicated to the complex history of Russian Jewish history with a modern approach. The content of the museum favors personal testimony, archival video footage, and interactive displays—all translated into Russian and English, exhibitions are divided chronologically, and helping visitors to understand the life of Jewish communities as they traveled across medieval Europe, settling in shtetls before moving to the cities while not ignoring atrocities committed to the Jewish people – life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is particularly well presented as is the fate of Soviet Jews and the role of Jewish soldiers during World War II. Those expecting to find just a stark representation of pogroms, Holocaust, hardships, and suffering will be pleasantly surprised to find Russian Jewish history presented as something much more complex, filled with both struggles and achievements.

Some of the problems that museum and public history face are a troubled and conflicted past, widely divergent popular memories, and national narratives.

 

 

 

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Works Cited:

 

Redoshi – The Last African Slave

Photo of Redoshi and her husband William Smith
Redoshi and William Smith circa 1900 | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Zora Neale Hurston located and interviewed Redoshi, known as Sally Smith,  in 1927, while doing research on slave stories for a novel.  Hurston never published Redoshi’s story but wrote to Langston Hughes about her, saying Redoshi would be their secret.  However, Redoshi was found by others writing  slave stories and she appeared in an interview in 1932, an educational film in 1938, and was referenced in a memoir in 1979.  By doing a search of these sources and census information we can piece together a picture of Redoshi’s life.

We know Redoshi was kidnapped by Dahoman warriors when she was 12 during a night raid.  She was transported in 1860 to Mobile Bay, Alabama on board the Clotilda, the last known slave ship from Africa.  Redoshi was married off to another slave and sold as a couple to Washington Smith.  She remained a slave for 5 years when the 13th amendment was passed.  After that she remained with her husband and daughter on the Smith plantation working as tenant farmers.  Eventually she moved with her family to a community known as Bogue Chitto in the Black Belt region of Alabama where they lived in a 1-room shack.  Redoshi died in 1937 at approximately 90 years old.

Screen capture photo of Redoshi from the film The Negro Farmer
Redoshi | Courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture National Archives

Redoshi is important not because she was the last surviving slave from Africa, but because we have her story.  Because Redoshi resisted white assimilation, we can learn about the culture, spirituality, and language of her West African heritage that she passed on to others.  Redoshi provided a deeper understanding of what it was like to be an African during that time in American history.  She also serves as a source of potential new information.

Saving Syria: Syrian Refugee Project in Germany

Since 2013, Germany has taken in over 700,000 Syrian refugees due to the Syrian Civil War. These refugees are dispersed among Germany’s population of over 82 million people. Although this is still less than 1 percent of Germany’s population, Germany prioritized preserving Syrian culture, while facilitating a smooth assimilation process.

Syria has a rich culture and history that has been endangered due to the Syrian Civil War. Germany wants to make sure that Syrian artifacts and collections are preserved, as many sites have already been destroyed due to ISIS treatment of this particular places. ISIS views Syria’s historical sites as a threat to the Islamic religion – and it sells ancient artifacts to produce revenue. Recently, the city of Aleppo was leveled by ISIS forces and the ancient Roman theatre has become the chosen site for ISIS beheadings.

In order to keep record of Syria’s historical sites, especially those that are at risk, the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin and the German Archeological Institute reached an agreement with the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs to begin a program that would preserve Syria’s threatened artifacts.

The project aims to weave together present day viewpoints with digital records of Syria, including an online data base which already stores 200,000 photos and documents. Another goal is to build 3D models of the UNESCO sites that were destroyed, so that one day Syria can rebuild these ancient treasures.

Ancient City of Aleppo
Digital interface of the Syrian Archive Project. The collection currently houses over 200,000 items.

As public historians, the Syrian Archive Project raises several questions:

When accepting refugees from war-torn countries how can we preserve their history?

If we are holding these artifacts, who is the true owner? When should the artifacts be repatriated?

How, as public historians, do we handle this situation? What is our role?

Work Cited

“Ancient City of Aleppo”UNESCO. Retrieved 17 August 2011.

The Museum für IslamischeKunst (Museum of Islamic Art) belongs to Staatliche MuseenzuBerlin–Stiftung PreußischerKulturbesitz(State Museums of Berlin–Prussian Cultural Heritage Foudation), http://www.smb.museum/en/museums-institutions/museum-fuer-islamische-kunst/home.html.

THE PUBLIC HISTORIAN, Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 107–128 (November 2018). ISSN: 0272-3433, electronic ISSN 1533-8576. © 2018 by The Regents of the University of California and the National Council on Public History. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page, http://www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p1⁄4reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2018.40.4.107.

The Curious Case Jim Thorpe’s Remains

 

The brown granite tomb of Jim Thorpe, flanked to the right by a statue of him, on a bright and sunny fall day.
The tomb of Jim Thorpe, flanked by a statue depicting him.

When American Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe passed away in 1953, his remains were sent across the country in an odd series of events directly out of a movie.

When he died in California, Thorpe’s body was sent to Oklahoma for funeral services. It was to be then returned to California with his wife and son for burial. The problem was, Jim was essentially broke at the time of his death, and his wife had no way to transport the body again. The citizens of Shawnee tried to raise the funds for the transport, but couldn’t get them together. Fearing that Jim would be buried in a porter’s grave, she spirited away the remains to, of all places, a town in Pennsylvania he had never been to.

The towns of East and West Mauch Chunk were financially strapped in the 1950s, and looking for a way to diversify the economy of the former mining town. Precilla Thorpe, Jim’s wife, heard about this and made them a deal: Jim’s body and rights to his likeness for an undisclosed amount. The town agreed, and that same year merged and renamed into what is now Jim Thopre, Pennsylvania.

Some sixty years later, Jack Thorpe, Jim’s son, wanted to see his father buried in his homeland in Oklahoma, as did the majority of the Thorpe family. In 2010, he sued the city of Jim Thorpe for his father’s remains, citing the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act as grounds. Ultimately, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals would rule in favor of the city, citing the town receives no direct state of federal aid that would designate the whole town as a museum, and that Priscilla sold the remains in good faith to the city as Jim’s direct beneficiary and proxy.

As painful as it is not honor a loved one’s wishes, the positive thing to come out of all of this is the fact Jim’s legacy is forever enshrined in a little town in Pennsylvania, and the fight for his remains provided publicity about the greatest athlete you never knew.

You can read more about the legal battle in Supreme Court Ends Fight Over Jim Thorpes Resting Place and Fight for Jim Thorpe’s Remains Continues 62 Years Later, or about the man himself with Encyclopædia Britannica’s Biography

 

Competing Narratives in History

Because there are many different people and cultures throughout the world it is not uncommon for different individuals to have different beliefs on certain topics. History is no exception to this as often time’s different cultures or groups of people perceive certain events or important figures in history differently. In a modern society that has placed an emphasis on making sure unheard voices are listened too, competing narratives and how to address them has posed a problem for public historians and those interested in history alike. One example of this is the Western Wall in the city of Jerusalem and the fact that it is renowned and viewed as sacred by three different religions in the area; Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I think that it is definitely a difficult problem to come to terms with because if executed wrongly it can lead to one group feeling marginalized and unimportant. One of the best things we can do is just make sure that everyone is heard and has a chance to tell their story too an audience. It is also our responsibility as students of history to ensure that we let people know that we want their experiences to be told and to go out on our own and look for stories we may not have been aware of before.

A picture of the Western Wall in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM – DECEMBER 15: The Western Wall in the night with a praying pilgrims on December 15, 2013 in Jerusalem. It’s located in the Old City of Jerusalem at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount.

Little Chapel on the Border in the Path of the Wall

photo of La Lomita Chapel
La Lomita Chapel | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At 170 years old, La Lomita Chapel near Mission, Texas, sits on land that is embroiled in the battle for the Border Wall.  Located near the border, the chapel continues to provide mass and other religious services to it’s congregants on both sides of the border.  The local Roman Catholic Dioceses is fighting the government’s right to eminent domain based on religious freedom.  The dioceses claims the land is sacred and that any wall would require the cemetery to be relocated.  The dioceses is prepared to fight to prevent any changes to the land as it now stands, beginning with preventing government surveyors from having access.  Church officials are worried about the effects of the 150 foot perimeter required on both sides of the wall, stating it would leave very little land for the chapel and its congregants to celebrate their religious beliefs as they have since the chapel was first built.

Photo of interior of La Lomita Chapel
La Lomita Chapel is still used for weekly masses | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

La Lomita Chapel has been serving the people of the Mission area since the area was still part of Mexico.  The people in this area have deep ties to the church and to the cemetery.  A border wall and it’s required perimeter would be a detriment to the people of this community and their right to religious freedom.  It would turn their sacred ground with all its meaning into a uninhabitable and unusable space.  La Lomita Chapel deserves to be left alone and to remain the religious and historical landmark it is today.

 

The Geo-Political Battle for West Bank Antiquities

The front glass entrance to the Bible Land Museum, located in Jerusalem, on a bright, sunny day
Entrance to the Bible Land Museum in Jerusalem, Israel.

For the past fifty years, the Israeli government has been collecting confiscated artifacts from smugglers coming out of the West Bank region. Rather than sit on these ancient artifacts, the Bible Land Museum in Jerusalem has put on display 40,000 of these artifacts in an exhibit called “Finds Gone Astray”.

However, as many things are in this region, this exhibit was not without it’s controversy. Since 1967, following the Six Day War, Israel has occupied the West Bank territory. With the land under their control, they also control any archeological digs and artifact recovery operations. Thus, any and all confiscated artifacts since then have been in the possession of the Israeli government. Contesting the legality of the artifacts possession, the Palestinian Authority has demanded the immediate return of these artifacts to Palestine on several grounds.

Palestine claims that since the West Bank was their territory prior to the Six Day War, and since Israel is occupying it, then they deserve the right to own these items as the land is considered theirs. Palestine also claims that Israel is in violation of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which prohibits the display of cultural and historical artifacts by an occupying force. Lastly, Palestine also claims that Israel is using the exhibit as a propaganda tool to argue for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, another hotly contested issue and a tool used by both countries.

This begs the question: What will become of these items in the event of peace? Who owns what? Will the contention of these items continue to sour already strained relations? The public has a right to view these historical and cultural artifacts, but the main point of contention is who should display it? The ethnic owners of these items, Israel, or the land’s occupiers, Palestine?

 

For further reading on this topic, please refer to this link: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2019-02-05/stolen-smuggled-artifacts-on-display-in-jerusalem-museum

Ye Kendall Inn: The Confederacy’s Secret Hideout

Ye Kendall Inn began when the Reed family bought the Greek Revival style

Historic inn
Ye Kendall Inn today | Courtesy of Nicole Johnson

house for 200$ in 1859. In Texas’ early days, there were few regular hotels, so it was common for homeowners to rent spaces to stagecoach travelers. It is said that Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee would congregate here enroute to battle. It is not common for historic sites of the defeated to become pilgrimage sites, but this seems to be common in Boerne, Texas. Two houses have historical markers that commemorate their efforts to provide shelter to icons of the confederacy. Confederate monuments have become the source of contention recently; yet these remnants seem to be sites of praise for the Hill Country Community.

Historic Inn
Historic Picture of Ye Kendall Inn | Courtesy of Dietert Historical Archives