A Few Short Notes on Textbooks in the History Classroom . . . Then and Now

If you haven’t heard already, Dana Goldstein has a very interesting article in the New York Times about history textbooks today and how the content in those books varies widely from state to state. It’s an informative read and really highlights how much the process is influenced by partisan politics. It is very difficult, of course, to gauge how much teachers and students actually utilize textbooks in the history classroom, but those textbooks can be a useful tool for understanding the currents of historical scholarship and how those currents are shaped by educational and political leaders.

Debates over school textbooks are nothing new, and to that point I will shamelessly self-promote my first journal article from 2015, which explored the ways Indiana Civil War veterans tried to shape public culture in the state. These efforts included a very intense battle with the Indiana State Board of Education over the ways the Civil War was being taught in the classroom in the 1890s and early 20th century.

You can read and download the article here.

Cheers

Jeffery Lord’s “Progressive” Ku Klux Klan

The above video is infuriating, disappointing, troubling, and largely inaccurate.

Mr. Jeffery Lord, a vocal Donald Trump supporter and pundit we’re supposed to take seriously because he’s on CNN, lectures Van Jones to “read your history” while making a rather sad argument about the historical legacy of the Ku Klux Klan, attributing all their wrongdoings to “progressive”Democrats. While it’s factually true that white supremacist elements within the Democratic party have historically had a troubling connection to the KKK, Lord’s interpretation of that fact stretches and breaks the boundaries of reality. Such terms like “leftist” and “progressive” would have been shocking to KKK members in 1870. This interpretation also represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how history and political discourse work. Historical “facts” do not exist in a vacuum or constitute true historical knowledge. “Read your history” is not simply being ready for a trivia night. Historical thinking requires an interpretation of facts that places them within a proper context, taking account of how these bits of information fit within the broader picture of how a society functioned at the time. Facts gain their significance through the ways we interpret their meaning, and not all interpretations are equal (read historian Richard Evans’ discussion of the interplay between fact and interpretation here). To argue that the KKK is a violent, racist organization (fact) supported historically only by Democrats and “Progressives” (wild interpretation) is as silly as arguing that Steph Curry is a great three-point shooter (fact) but a terrible basketball player (wild interpretation). Why else would Lord assert that the KKK was a creation of leftist progressives unless he’s suggesting that the KKK has no association with the Republican party or conservatives more broadly? In that case, Mr. Lord may need to read some more history.

Anyone who actually bothers to explore the history of the KKK understands that there have been at least three different versions of the Klan in American history. The first version emerged in the 1860s and 1870s in opposition to enhanced civil rights for blacks, particularly the right to vote for black males through the 15th Amendment. The third version of the KKK emerged in the 1950s and 60s in response to racial desegregation, social change, and Civil Rights legislation. But the second version of the KKK that emerged in the 1910s and 1920s was slightly different. Their campaigns were anti-black but also included opposition to Jews, Catholics, immigrants, and strong support for prohibition. These appeals to the power of White Anglo Saxon Protestant society gained popularity throughout the entire country. The second KKK was particularly popular in the Midwest in places like Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. The group gained such a stronghold in Indiana that, according to Leonard J. Moore and other scholars, election to public office in the state was impossible without the support of the KKK. And which party, you might ask, held a majority of the KKK-backed seats in the state legislature and supported a KKK-backed Governor in his successful 1924 election? The Republicans!

The point here is not to save the Democrats from their history. The point is that Lord’s argument is lazy and dishonest. The KKK has been a fabric of our culture for 150 years thanks to the support of white supremacists of all different political persuasions. Equally important, political coalitions and parties are not static entities that never change over time. That Donald Trump–the leading front-runner of what was once the party of Lincoln and Grant–cannot publicly condemn the support of KKK leader David Duke is a testament to the ever-changing nature of political platforms and party dynamics. But Trump can get away with his nonsense because partisans like Jeffery Lord will do the dirty work of manipulating the past to place their preferred candidate on the right side of history at any cost. I’m tired of partisans who dishonestly view the world with red- and blue-tinted glasses shaped by ideological dogmas rather than reasoned reflection and nuanced consideration of context and substance. Historians are often skeptical of the ways politicians abuse history to justify their own ends, but the same skepticism should be applied to the talking heads who spew nonsense on our radios and televisions 24 hours a day. Give me a break.

Cheers

“It Should Never Float Over American Soil”

During my master’s thesis research on the Grand Army of the Republic in Indiana I relied heavily on a Union Civil War veterans’ newspaper called The American Tribune. The paper was printed out of Indianapolis from roughly 1888 to 1906 and was edited by active members of the Indiana GAR during the postwar years. The paper is extremely hard to find on microfilm today and I was really lucky to have the Indiana State Library–one of the only places in the country where you can find it–within walking distance of my house to aid my research. Just for the fun of it I’ve been going back through some of my files and came across some interesting commentaries from the paper’s editorial page on the Confederate flag. Here are a few samples:

On May 29, 1890, a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was unveiled in Richmond, Virginia, along what is now called “Monument Avenue.” When reports suggested that Confederate flags were waved during the ceremonies, the John A. Logan Post No. 199 of the Indiana GAR issued an angry resolution condemning these actions as “disloyal and treasonable.” The Tribune gleefully republished the Logan Post’s resolution in full on June 27:

WHEREAS: The rebel flag was unfurled and displayed on housetops and in line of march, and used for the purposes of decorating in remembrance of the same principles that it represented during the years of 1861 to 1865, and

WHEREAS, The principles taught the rising generation by such acts are as wrong as that principle taught by anarchists and communists in carrying the red flag, which this government forbids. Therefore be it

RESOLVED, That we heartily endorse the sentiment of Gen [Daniel] Sickles on last Memorial Day unmoved by any rancor or spirit of hatred, God forbid, but we say as Union soldiers and the love that we bear for the stars and stripes that there is but one flag for the Americans, the flag of Bunker Hill, of Saratoga, of Yorktown, of Lundy’s Lane, of New Orleans, the flag of Washington, Scott, Perry, Jackson, Lincoln, Hancock, Grant, Hooker, and the flag carried victorious by Billy Sherman to the sea. The only flag that represents the right, and in charity we will not forget the difference between right and wrong.

RESOLVED, That in this country there is but one flag which represents the fundamental principles of a free government known and acknowledged by all nations of the earth, and while we respect the pride that animates the hearts of ex-confederate soldiers in historic valor displayed on many battlefields of the war and the sentiment which endears them to each other, and keeps alive in their memories the many scenes of hardships which they shared together, we sincerely condemn any attempt to resurrect from the buried past the emblem which represents a bad and lost cause.

RESOLVED, That the stars and stripes represent loyalty and the stars and bars represent treason, the same to-day as they did from ’61 to ’65, and we deem it the duty of the authorities at Washington, irrespective of political parties, to forbid the display of the stars and bars on any occasion, and this we do in memory of those who so heroically gave their lives that the Nation might live.

From an editorial entitled “Our Flag is There” on January 7, 1892:

When Gen. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant at Appomattox, the latter would not accept Gen. Lee’s sword, and he included within that surrender a provision that all the Rebel officers should retain their side-arms. That courtesy of Gen. Grant expressed exactly the feeling of the great generous heart of the North toward the defeated and conquered South. Southern poets have written ballads and Southern women have sung of the sword of Robert Lee. This is all as it should be. But when Gen. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant there was no provision made that the flag of slavery and secession should ever be retained, either as a souvenir or standard. It represented something that cost this country a million of men and many millions of money, and at Appomattox its bloody folds should have been furled forever. War relic or no war relic, it should never float over American soil.

A month later the paper lamented how many Northerners (and Democrats in particular) embraced what the paper called a “forgive and forget” sentiment that accepted the continued flying of the Confederate flag (“Still Pandering to Rebels,” February 4, 1892):

The Northern Dough-faces and the “forgive and forget” sentimentalists are largely responsible for the manner in which the “relics of the lost cause” are nursing emblems of their treason and are still laboring to make the same respectable. In poor old Missouri they have societies called “Daughters of the Confederacy” whose invitations to their balls and receptions have a Confederate flag printed in colors on one corner; and the principal of the leading military school in that State [Alexander Frederick Fleet, Sr. of the Missouri Military Academy]…advertises the advantages of his school with the picture of a late major-general of the Rebel army in the uniform of a rebel, and this officer was a graduate of West Point, resigned from U.S. Army in 1861 and fought for the Confederacy.

This sort of thing is becoming too common and the President should call a halt and order the officer now on duty there to his regiment, and require the arms to be turned over to the ordnance officer at Jefferson Barracks. It is high time there was a law forbidding the Government of the United States from furnishing teachers’ ordnance, or in any way aiding any institution of learning which seeks to perpetuate the principles of or honor the so-called Confederate Government.

All these comments make you wonder what these guys would think about our debate over the Confederate flag 120 years later.

Cheers

Memorial Day, Capitalism, and Progress

New York Times Columnist Charles M. Blow published a piece today on Memorial Day that I found simultaneously interesting yet slightly mistaken. He does correctly argue that a large majority of U.S. Congress members and Presidential candidates come from non-military backgrounds. Whereas 80 percent of lawmakers in 1977 had prior military service, only 18 percent have that same experience today. This discrepancy in turn raises questions about who does and who does not serve in today’s military: some families have generations of family members who serve their career in the military while the rich elites (including our elected leaders) avoid military service. “The public in general and the elected officials who have sanctioned and sustained our wars,” argues Blow, “have a diminishing personal stake on the battlefields.”

I think these points are valid, but I believe the problems in Blow’s op-ed are twofold. Both emerge with his assertion that “we [today] are drifting away from this tradition of honoring sacrifice [on Memorial Day].”

One issue with this claim is that Blow doesn’t tell us how Americans are drifting away from this supposed tradition of honoring our war dead on Memorial Day. If that claim is made simply because a small percentage of the population has served in the military, then I find that argument unconvincing. Surely one does not need to serve in the military to understand death and loss through military service. Just ask a non-military friend or family member of someone who’s died in the line of service over the past fifty years for perspective.

Secondly, arguing that there was a time in U.S. history–indeed, a tradition–in which Memorial Day was observed in a pure form without politics and wholly in the interest of honoring the war dead is naive and ahistorical. Memorial Day has always been a politically charged holiday subject to abuse by veterans and non-veterans alike who use the dead to promote their own agendas. Countless speakers have historically used Memorial Day and the war dead to advocate for anything from increased military spending to public education funding to Indy Car racing to baseball games to the ubiquitous “Memorial Day Weekend” sale of everything in between. Hell, even the political parties who are most responsible for our involvement in so many deadly conflicts exploit the war dead to sell cheap apparel to the party faithful at a discounted price during Memorial Day weekend.

Thanks, Democrats!
Thanks, Democrats!
The Republicans offer 30% off their merchandise for Memorial Day. DOUBLE the discount of the Democrats!
The Republicans offer 30% off their merchandise for Memorial Day. DOUBLE the discount of the Democrats!

The Gospel of Consumerism provides the fuel for the capitalist engine that gives life to Memorial Day weekend, and it has always been that way. Blow’s concerns today are not new: not long after General John Logan and the Grand Army of the Republic called for the decoration of Union solider graves throughout the U.S., Civil War veterans begin complaining about businesses looking to exploit the day for sport, vice, and capital. Indiana Civil War veteran and GAR member Ivan Walker complained in 1891 that the rest of society was already forgetting about its Civil War dead. “When Memorial Day was instituted by the Grand Army of the Republic it was not intended that it should be made a day of feasting, festivals, and fairs, nor that it should be given over to base ball and other sports, but it was set apart as a day sacred to the memory of our heroic dead.” Another Hoosier veteran, George W. Grubbs, asserted in 1904 that “The increasing perversion of Memorial Day in many places to mere pleasure, amusement, and frivolity, is a national shame. The apathy which countenances it is a sign of the decline of national gratitude and conscience. The time and hour is now to resolve that Memorial Day shall be held sacred to the high purpose of its institutions.”

These veterans would be sorely disappointed when the Indianapolis 500 began taking place on an annual basis on Memorial Day starting in 1911. Meanwhile, newspapers like the Indianapolis Star praised the 500 as a patriotic expression of gratitude to the Civil War dead while celebrating their own technologically advanced society and the blessings of “progress.” Memorial Day in Indianapolis and the rest of the country by the turn of the 20th century no longer focused on the past so much as it looked forward to the potential benefits of a Memorial Day marked by robust commercial activity.

It seems to me, then, that while the low number of Americans who actually serve in our U.S. military certainly contributes to a general apathy about the meaning of Memorial Day, I’d suggest that much of that apathy lies in our desire to turn history into a commodity for profit and progress – a happy story that opens up our wallets. As Robert Penn Warren argued in 1961 about the meaning of the Civil War in popular memory, “We are right to see power, prestige, and confidence as conditioned by the Civil War. But it is a very easy step to regard the War, therefore, as a jolly piece of luck only slightly disguised, part of our divinely instituted success story, and to think, in some shadowy corner of the mind, of the dead at Gettysburg as a small price to pay for the development of a really satisfactory and cheap compact car with decent pick-up and roading capability” (49). Warren’s concerns are applicable to our views towards Memorial Day today.

Who do we honor and what do we prioritize on Memorial Day?

Cheers

Appomattox

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

150 years ago today on April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant and the United States military at Appomattox. Today does not mark the anniversary of the official end of the Civil War, as there were several other Confederate armies still in the field at that time, but the end of General Lee’s war signified the beginning of the Confederate States of America’s eventual demise.

Fifty years after the Appomattox Surrender an Indiana veteran put pen to paper and wrote a moving poem about the meaning of the Civil War and how the future of republican governance could have been imperiled had Grant surrendered to Lee. “Corporal” Bob Patterson was a veteran of the 19th and 20th Indiana Infantry Regiments and an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Indiana after the war. He served as the Indiana GAR’s Senior Vice-Commander in 1895-1896 and dedicated this 1915 poem to his friend and fellow Indiana veteran Adelbert B. Crampton. I found this poem during my master’s thesis research on the Indiana GAR and publish it in full here.

                        “Appomattox”

On the great April day when the weak lines of gray
Were confronted by blue in battle array;
When the heart of the nation was throbbing with pain
For its dead and its dying, and the blood of its slain
Was flowing in crimson to the home and the hearth,
And vigils were kept by the nations of earth,
Could Sages then see what the future would be
When the great Grant and Lee met in the shade of the tree
If Grant had surrendered to Robert E. Lee?

So steadfast and true when these strong lines of blue
Stood in solid phalanx and resplendent review
Confronting the gray, and in matchless might
Was forcing the struggle for freedom and right,
When the hope of the nation in the balance lay
And hearts beat fast ‘neath the blue and gray;
Could prophets then see what the future would be
As these leaders strove the master to be
If Grant had surrendered to Robert E. Lee?

In that hour sublime could we know of the time
When slavery would blacken the brightest clime?
Could we tell of the flow of the nation’s blood
In the oncoming rush of secession’s red flood–
Of our own country unknown and unworthy to own
By subject or serf or monarch or throne?
Could philosophers see what the future would be
For the flag of the free on the land and the sea
If Grant had surrendered to Robert E. Lee?

O, the evils entailed had that moment failed
And the flag of the Union at Appomattox trailed!
If the shafts of chivalry had shattered the shield
Of the great Union chief on this hallowed field
And that proud Southern son had there made the terms
To emplant the Union with soul-eating germs,
God could only then see what the future would be
For the land of the free and the home of the brave
If Grant had surrendered to Robert E. Lee?

But the victory then sealed on that hallowed field
And the halo of glory that moment revealed
As the flag of the bold was seen to unfold
With the plaudits of nations in the gaze of the world;
Be it in shelter of house or shade of a tree;
The sages, prophets and philosophers could see
The guards of the Nation were there in avant
When angels in chorus all joined in the chant
While Robert E. Lee made surrender to Grant.

Pros and Cons of Historical Markers

Last week an Alabama-based Civil Rights organization, Equal Justice Initiative, released a report entitled “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.” The report is unique in that it compiles a comprehensive inventory of nearly 4,000 lynching victims throughout the Deep South from 1877 to 1950, including many new names not listed in previous inventories. The New York Times also ran a story on the report with fancy visuals and more background information on Bryan Stevenson, executive director of EJI.

A lot of interesting discussions emerged on my Twitter feed about various strong and weak points of the report and the need to provide more context about the horrifying consequences of lynching so that these victims are not portrayed as mere numbers or crime statistics. Historian Kidada E. Williams covers some of these concerns here.

I’ve been focusing on the public history side of these discussions. Central to Mr. Stevenson’s vision for reckoning with this history is the erection of historical markers in locations where lynchings occurred. By installing these permanent markers at “ground zero” sites, Americans will have daily, tangible reminders of the lives lost by white mob violence in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century. I believe the idea of erecting historical markers to commemorate this tough history is necessary, but that it’s only a starting point for further inquiry.

Historical markers come with certain advantages and disadvantages for thinking critically about history outside the classroom. Generally speaking, historical markers are a cost-effective investment in history for towns, cities, and states of all sizes. Besides the initial start-up costs for erecting a marker there is little expense beyond basic maintenance to maintain historical markers, which allows small towns like Kirvin, Texas, and Elaine, Arkansas, to preserve a part of their history without the expense of a museum, historical society, temporary exhibit, or professional staff. And historical markers, combined with digital technology, allow for viewers to write, photograph, collect, and share their experiences at markers through websites like Historypin and The Historical Marker Database. Historical markers also do a good job of emphasizing the importance of local, regional, and state history that often gets passed over in the history classroom. Many of the markers researched and cared for by the Indiana Historical Bureau, for example, do a nice job of connecting local history to national history in a way that demonstrates how small communities throughout Indiana have contributed to the story of the United States.

A historical marker, however, can only take you so far. A marker will not answer any questions in real time that you may have about the content you are reading. Most markers are limited to around 20 to 200 words, and in many cases that text doesn’t go beyond the restatement of basic facts, leaving readers wondering why a particular marker is significant (this marker dedicated to Hannah Milhous Nixon is a great example. Why is this marker important? Who cares?). I personally have had experiences at historic homes, museums, Civil War battlefields, national parks, and even monuments and statues that inspired me to learn more about a given historical topic and, equally important, share that interest with friends and family. With the exception of one uniquely notable historical marker, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such feelings after looking at a historical marker.

It’s one thing to read historical content on a static marker. It’s a whole other experience to engage in active dialogue with an interpreter or educator in a public history setting who has passion, content knowledge, and the ability to craft an interpretive story that creates meaning and raises questions that one may not readily consider when looking at a marker text alone. When at all possible I prefer to listen to and converse with an interpreter than read a marker text. I realize that not everyone would chose to learn in this manner, but the point is that we should strive to create interpretive opportunities in both settings so that interested parties have multiple avenues in which to connect with the past.

Talking about a difficult and sensitive topic like lynching requires intensive training in both historical content and interpretive techniques, however, and I’m curious to learn more about places where interpreters regularly discuss these topics. What are cultural institutions doing to discuss lynching and rioting in museum exhibits, public programming, and other interpretive mediums within public history?

The floor is yours.

Cheers

Journal Article Number Two

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I’m pleased to pass along to readers some good news on the writing/publishing front. Yesterday I received word from the folks at the Indiana Magazine of History that they have accepted an article manuscript I submitted to them last summer. It took years of research, writing, and seemingly endless edits and revisions to get to this point, but I feel great about the final product, which will be published in either late 2015 or early 2016.

The article analyzes the Grand Army of the Republic’s creation of Memorial Day after the Civil War and the ways the holiday’s meaning and purpose changed over time. More specifically I explore an untold story about the Indiana GAR and their vehement opposition to the annual Indianapolis 500 automobile race, which also took place on Memorial Day starting in 1911. I don’t want to give away much else at this point, but there are a lot of questions I raise about the relationship between Union veterans and the rest of civil society and whether or not younger generations have the right to mold and shape traditional commemorative holidays for their own purposes.

This article will be a fine conclusion of my studies on the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Indiana. I wrote a master’s thesis, presented several papers at conferences, and will now have two journal articles published about these guys. I’ve loved just about every minute of it, but it’s definitely time to start researching that next topic. I don’t have any concrete ideas for topics or a time table for getting the next project done, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled for new opportunities to contribute my perspective and scholarship.

Stay tuned for updates about this journal article later this year.

Cheers

How Much Would You Pay to Visit Your Local Art Museum?

Visitor Use Statistics for the Indianapolis Museum of Art from December 9 to December 22, 2014.
Visitor Use Statistics for the Indianapolis Museum of Art from December 9 to December 22, 2014.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) is a good art museum, staffed by friendly people and located on beautiful grounds. Some of the employees and interns there are my friends, and I was on a research team that conducted an evaluation study at the museum earlier this year. I visited the museum at least a half dozen times while I lived in Indianapolis and think the institution is an important civic destination for the entire city.

I was quite surprised a few days ago when I heard about the IMA’s recent decision to raise its admission fee from free to $18 ($10 for kids 6-17) starting in April 2015. Buried deep within an official December 12 announcement about a “new campus enhancement plan,” the IMA (beyond the usual desire to boost memberships and the “we need to guarantee long-term financial sustainability” argument) justifies the price hike on the basis of visitor convenience, asserting that “visitor research has shown that the IMA guests do not like paying for parking and key programs like exhibitions separately.” Elsewhere the IMA board chairman, Thomas Hiatt, further justifies the increase by arguing that the new admission fee is in line with other Indianapolis destinations like the Children’s Museum and the Zoo and cites the Huntington in Pasadena, California, as a model institution for instituting an admission fee to boost both visitor attendance and financial endowment.  Finally, a few supporters have argued–with some justification–that the new pricing model is actually cheaper for visitors.

Let’s take a deeper look into these claims and assess their validity.

Visitors want to pay one uniform fee: This claim is misleading at best, disingenuous at worst. The announcement never mentions that the museum is currently free to enter (except for optional special exhibits and parking), and it implies that visitors are okay with this price hike because it combines special exhibit and parking costs. So, rather than keeping the bulk of the museum free and keeping the special exhibits an optional expenditure for those interested, visitors allegedly want everyone to pay an admittance fee because it’s more convenient that way…

The way an evaluation question is framed can do much to shape the possible answers a visitor provides. My suspicion, which I feel pretty confident in, is that the evaluation question that provided this result was probably worded along the lines of “If the IMA were to institute an admission fee, what would you consider a fair pricing structure?” You can easily see how a question like that suddenly leads to an announcement that says “visitors think the new price model is more fair.”

The new pricing model is cheaper for visitors: There is some justification to this argument. The current pricing model stipulates that an adult weekend visitor to the IMA’s special exhibit would have to pay $20 plus a $5 parking fee, whereas the new model combines both fees into its $18 admittance price. But of course the visitor who only wants to visit the free permanent and temporary exhibits now has to pay $18 as well, so we could ask: what percentage of visitors pay the current fee to enter the special exhibits?

The IMA maintains limited visitor use data online here, including attendance over the most recent two weeks (which is pictured above). The chart also distinguishes between the number of visitors who went through the entrance and the number of visitors who visited the special exhibition gallery. For the period between Tuesday, December 9 and Monday, December 22, 2014, 5,805 visitors out of a total of 13,176 visitors (44%) visited the special exhibit, which means that more than half of all visitors chose not to visit the special exhibit.

This sample is limited in numerous regards, obviously requiring a necessary margin for error. Different seasons bring out different attendance numbers and visitation patters; some of these December visitors may have been school groups who may or may not have visited the special exhibits; and we don’t know how many visitors had memberships that allowed them access without paying an addition fee for the special exhibit (although another online statistic indicates that only 6.58% of all visitors in 2008 were IMA members). We can tentatively conclude, however, that it’s pretty close to 50/50 in terms of visitors getting a cheaper deal with the current and future pricing models.

The new pricing model is in line with admittance fees to other Indianapolis cultural institutions: The $18 admittance fee is on the higher end of Indianapolis cultural institutions that charge a fee, making it more expensive that the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum, the Eitlejorg Museum, the Indiana State Museum (but not the “Total Museum” experience that includes an IMAX film showing), and a number of other places. And yes, it is cheaper than the Children’s Museum and the Zoo. But I think it’s mistaken to compare the art museum’s fees with other cultural museums in Indy rather than other art museums throughout the country, especially the Midwest. Art museums are not the same as children’s museums, history museums or science museums. Art, in my opinion, is a public good. As this article helpfully points out, public goods are defined as goods that, if provided for one, are provided for all in an accessible manner that excludes no one. Consuming art is not like purchasing tickets for an Indiana Pacers basketball game through a market that limits access and excludes people from a given commodity. The other types of museums can be justified as public goods too, but I think we get a more precise understanding of the value of an art museum visit if we draw comparisons to other art museums. Let’s take a look at the new IMA admittance fee (for adult individuals) compared to other Midwest art museums:

The Art Institute of Chicago: $23
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art: $5
Cincinnati Art Museum: Free
Cleveland Museum of Art: Free
Columbus [OH] Museum of Art: $12
Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis: Free
Des Moines Art Center: Free
Detroit Institute of Arts: $8
Dubuque Museum of Art: $6
Indianapolis Museum of Art: $18
Milwaukee Art Museum: $14
Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Free
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago: $25
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit: $5 suggested donation
Museum of Wisconsin Art: $12
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Free
Rockford Art Museum: $7
Springfield [IL] Art Museum: Free
St. Louis Art Museum: Free

It’s clear that IMA will be on the high end of admittance fees for larger Midwest art museums.

The Huntington is an appropriate “model” for the IMA’s new price model: William Poundstone points out several problems with the IMA using the Huntington as a model for their new admittance fee. While the Huntington tripled its attendance and endowment after instituting an admittance fee ($20 adults on weekdays and $23 on weekends), that fee was implemented in 1996, thus this increase gradually took place over 18 years. 3 million additional residents have moved to LA since then, and the Huntington has grown since that time to include several gardens, a conservator, a wing dedicated to the history of science, and its American art gallery has tripled in size. In sum, the Huntington in California is on a completely different scale than the IMA in Indiana. Poundstone minced no words, arguing that “to imply that the Huntington’s admission fee had anything to do with increasing attendance or endowment gifts is like saying the Obama administration is responsible for beards, food trucks, and Iggy Azalea. Correlation doesn’t prove causation.”

Conclusion

Using my knowledge of evaluation practices, available online data about IMA visitation, and comparing IMA’s new admittance fees to similar Midwest museums, I have attempted to point out inconsistencies in the IMA’s justification for their price jump while at the same time acknowledging that the $18 fee may be cheaper for a decent number of visitors who want to see the special exhibition galleries. I think the new model will lend itself to more people purchasing memberships, but am skeptical of IMA’s ability to bring in new audiences or even attain its yearly attendance numbers in recent years due to this price change. I understand that the IMA is reliant upon memberships to help offset costs, and I think it’s more than fair to charge some sort of admittance fee for that purpose. That said, the jump from free to $18 is high – probably too high. Why not charge in the $5-$12 range instead? Finally, based on comments from friends in the area and from this article online, it appears that the IMA failed to properly communicate this policy change to the public before making plans to implement the new fees in April. That is unfortunate, and it raises questions about IMA’s willingness to communicate with the local community in a shared endeavor towards building a museum that fits the needs of residents while also meeting the bottom line.

What do you think?

Cheers

Kindling the Fires of Patriotism: The Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Indiana, 1866-1949

Master's Thesis Cover

The folks at IUPUI ScholarWorks have finally digitized my master’s thesis on the Indiana Grand Army of the Republic, which was completed back in May of this year. The IUPUI University Library runs ScholarWorks and strongly advocates open access policies that allow free public access to scholarship created by IUPUI graduate students. I heartily endorse these policies because I find the idea of dedicating two years of your life to a project that merely leads to a hardback copy of your thesis on the history department’s dusty bookshelf to be absurd.

If you’d like to view and/or download a PDF copy of the thesis, you may do so free of charge by clicking on the link here.

Cheers

My First Journal Article

GAR veterans from Garland Post 423, Waveland, Indiana. Photo courtesy of 40th Indiana: http://40thindiana.wordpress.com/waveland-in-cw-vets/
GAR veterans from Garland Post 423, Waveland, Indiana. Photo courtesy of 40th Indiana: http://40thindiana.wordpress.com/waveland-in-cw-vets/

I am pleased to announce the official publication of my first scholarly journal article. The article–which is entitled “One Nation, One Flag, One Language: The Grand Army of the Republic and the Patriotic Instruction Movement in Indiana”–is included in the December 2014 issue (Volume 1, issue 6) of The Americanist Independent, an online academic journal and multimedia website run by California-based independent historian Keith Harris. Keith is an expert in Civil War history, memory, and veteran culture whose first book was recently published by Louisiana State University Press, so it’s quite an honor to have him publish my own scholarship on the Hoosier Civil War veterans who composed the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Indiana.

One great thing about The Americanist Independent is that the journal is open access, which means that you can download my article and tons of other great scholarship for FREE. Simply follow this link to register as a user of The Americanist Independent website and boom! It’s all yours.

This journal article is an outgrowth of the third chapter of my Master’s thesis on the Indiana GAR. I spent a considerable amount of time during the research process going through the official records of the Indiana GAR’s annual meetings, which include a wide variety of speeches from state leadership outlining goals, objectives, and political statements for the rest of the organization’s membership. Starting with the meetings during the mid-1880s and 1890s, I noticed that Indiana GAR leaders spent an increasing amount of time complaining about the types of textbooks Hoosier schoolchildren used in their history classrooms and their allegedly “poor” understanding of Civil War history. The organization established an official leader of “Patriotic Instruction” in 1907 who traveled the state giving presentations about the Civil War and encouraging patriotic sentiments in young schoolchildren. The Indiana GAR eventually promoted three interrelated goals for encouraging patriotism in Indiana public schools: the implementation of history textbooks with a “correct” interpretation of Civil War history, the raising of American flags and hosting of lavish patriotic ceremonies, and a comprehensive “military instruction” program that included firearms training and military drill for all boys.

Be sure to download my article to learn more.

Cheers