MyAmericanFuture

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

July 30-31, 2016: July 2016 Recap



[A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]
July 4: Modeling Critical Patriotism: Frederick Douglass’ July 4th Speech: A series on models of critical patriotism starts with the speech that challenges us as much today as it did 150 years ago.
July 5: Modeling Critical Patriotism: William Apess’ “Eulogy on King Philip”: The series continues with a speech that offers two complementary models of critical patriotism.
July 6: Modeling Critical Patriotism: Suffrage Activists at the Centennial Exposition: Critical patriotism at America’s 100th birthday celebration, as the series rolls on.
July 7: Modeling Critical Patriotism: Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart: The author and book that critically but optimistically redefine American identity.
July 8: Modeling Critical Patriotism: Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama: The series concludes with a controversial sermon and a follow-up speech that offer competing visions of critical patriotism.
July 9-10: Crowd-sourced Critical Patriotisms: Fellow AmericanStudiers offer their nominees for models of critical patriotism—share yours in comments, please!
July 11: 20th Century Women Writers: Mary Antin and Anzia Yezierska: A series inspired by my current grad class kicks off with the distinctions and similarities between two Jewish American writers.
July 12: 20th Century Women Writers: Nella Larsen: The series continues with the brief but potent career of a Harlem Renaissance writer.
July 13: 20th Century Women Writers: Sylvia Plath: The talented poet who reminds us not to settle for accepted narratives, as the series rolls on.
July 14: 20th Century Women Writers: Leslie Marmon Silko: Two texts that complicate and enrich our vision of Silko beyond her stunning debut novel.
July 15: 20th Century Women Writers: Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”: The series concludes with a few reasons to read the only short story by one of our greatest writers.
July 16-17: Hybrid Grad Course on 20th Century Women Writers: A special weekend post on a few of the many reasons I’m excited for this grad course.
July 18: VikingStudying: Elementary Explorers: An Iceland-inspired series starts with a striking change in elementary school social studies.
July 19: VikingStudying: Leif Erikson: The series continues with three telling details about the Iceland-born world explorer.
July 20: VikingStudying: The Sagas: Two AmericanStudies contexts for the Viking literary epics, as the series rolls on.
July 21: VikingStudying: Historic Sites: Lessons from the two discovered Viking sites in the New World, and what might be next.
July 22: VikingStudying: Vikings on the Screen: The series concludes with a key difference between 1960s and 21st century depictions of Vikings, and what has endured.
July 23-24: IcelandStudying: A special weekend post on three things I learned about America while traveling in Iceland.
July 25: American Camping: The Wendigo: A camping series starts with the scary story that also offers cultural and cross-cultural commentaries.
July 26: American Camping: The Gunnery Camp: The series continues with two vital lessons we can learn from the father of American camping.
July 27: American Camping: Into the Wilds: The distinct but equally American cultural traditions for two recent wilderness stories, as the series rolls on.
July 28: American Camping: Appalachian Trailblazers: Three men who helped blaze one of the nation’s (and world’s) premiere hiking trails.
July 29: American Camping: Camping and Race: The series concludes with two historical and cultural contexts for a complex American divide.
Next series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to write? Lemme know!

Friday, July 29, 2016

July 29, 2016: American Camping: Camping and Race



[This week, I’ll be camping with family up in Maine’s beautiful Acadia National Park. So I wanted to AmericanStudy come contexts for this longstanding form of national recreation and escape. Share your camping contexts in comments, please!]
On two historical and cultural contexts for a complex American divide.
Earlier this week, I mentioned the growing conversation over race—and especially African Americans—and camping in America. As those hyperlinks illustrate, in the last couple decades more and more National Park Service officials and other camping and nature advocates have noticed and commented on a stark divide in how much different ethnic American communities take part in those activities and make use of those spaces. While there’s no necessary reason why this would be a problem, America’s national parks and natural spaces represent a significant, shared national resource, and of course it would be ideal for all Americans to have the chance to experience and benefit from that resource. And in order to address this communal division, it’d be important to analyze some of the historical factors that have contributed to its 21st century existence.
At the first hyperlink above, Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson (himself African American) diagnoses the problem as a communal “disassociation from the natural world,” one based, “in part, [on] a memory of the horrible things that were done to us in rural America.” Exemplifying that perspective on nature are a couple of seminal early 20th century cultural texts: Paul Laurence Dunbar’s historical Gothic poem “The Haunted Oak” (1900) and Billie Holliday’s haunting song “Strange Fruit” (1939; based on a poem written by New York city schoolteacher Abel Meeropol). While trees have tended to represent pastoral and even spiritual beauty and power in many American literary and cultural texts—see Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” (1913), one of the most popular works of poetry from Dunbar’s era, for an early 20th century case in point—Dunbar and Holliday’s texts illustrate the far different cultural and historical roles that trees have played for African Americans. Given that the National Park system was created in precisely the same era as those texts (and the lynching epidemic that they reflect), it’s certainly understandable that many African Americans wouldn’t hasten to embrace the natural world preserved by those parks.
I’d also highlight another cultural factor in that disassociation from the natural world, however—although to be clear, this is amateur sociology that I have in no way researched, and as always I welcome any pushback or other perspectives. Camping, it seems to me, is often a profoundly individual activity, one undertaken by small groups (families, groups of friends, even organizations like Cub Scout troops or the like) who are overtly separating from the society and broader communities around them in order to escape into this natural space. And while this is of course a reductive overstatement, I would argue that for most of American history members of minority communities have understandably sought safety and solace in community, the kinds of ethnic enclaves that allow for individuals to receive the kinds of support and comfort too often denied them by the broader American society. Indeed, Camping in Color, the camping blog on which my first hyperlinked article above appeared, is overtly framed as an effort by its authors to create and pass on such a shared camping community for African Americans, “presented with the goal of infusing family with the appreciation of nature.” If camping is to become a truly national American experience, perhaps such a redefinition from the individual to the more communal will have to accompany that growth.
Monthly recap this weekend,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Other camping contexts you’d highlight?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

July 28, 2016: American Camping: Appalachian Trailblazers



[This week, I’ll be camping with family up in Maine’s beautiful Acadia National Park. So I wanted to AmericanStudy come contexts for this longstanding form of national recreation and escape. Share your camping contexts in comments, please!]
Three men who helped blaze the nation’s (and one of the world’s) premiere hiking trail.
1)      Benton MacKaye: It stands to reason that the idea for the Appalachian Trail was first developed, in the 1921 article “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning,” by a Forestry professor and civil servant. But what is perhaps more surprising, and very important, is MacKaye’s lifelong emphasis on such wilderness exploration as an integral part of human society, rather than in any sense separate from it; he called this connection of nature to society both “Regional Planning” and “Geotechnics,” and dedicated his career to arguing for and enacting it. As other posts this week have illustrated, many of our narratives of camping and the wilderness define them as distinctly outside from (and contrasted with) our more “settled” social spaces and communities—but that’s not the narrative or understanding with which the Appalachian Trail began, and remembering MacKaye’s vision is a vital part of celebrating the Trail.
2)      Myron Avery: The building of the Trail required not only a visionary creator from within the forestry world, but also dedicated laymen advocates and leaders from outside it, and it found two such champions in retired Judge Arthur Perkins and his lawyer protégé Myron Avery. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Perkins and Avery worked to make MacKaye’s vision a reality; Perkins passed away in 1932, but Avery continued the work, serving as chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conference from 1931 until his own death in 1952 (the wonderful 75th anniversary article at that hyperlink includes a great deal of info on all of the subjects of today’s post). MacKaye and Avery did have their conflicts, most especially over the relationship between outside influences (both governmental and business) and the trail; as you might expect, the lawyer Avery was more open to such connections than the forester MacKaye. Yet the simple truth is that the creation, development, and maintenance of the Trail depended on both men and perspectives, and still does as we near the Trail’s 100th anniversary.
3)      Earl Shaffer: Yet for the Trail to grow and prosper and endure, it needed more than creators and leaders—it also, and most crucially, needed hikers. No AT hiker was more famous or influential than Earl Shaffer, the outdoorsman and World War II veteran whose 1948 through-hike was the first documented journey of the whole Trail (and earned him the nickname The Crazy One). Shaffer’s associated with the Trail continued for the rest of his life, most especially in his 1998 anniversary through-hike (at the age of 79!), which provided the material for his book The Appalachian Trail: Calling Me Back to the Hills. While of course Shaffer was singular in many ways, I would argue that he was also and most saliently deeply representative—not only of those intrepid souls who have completed the whole of the Appalachian Trail, but of all for whom it has become a meaningful journey and space. Shaffer once said that he completed the 1948 hike in order to “walk the war out of my system,” and who among us doesn’t have such life experiences and motivations for a walk in the woods?  
Last camping context tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Other camping contexts you’d highlight?