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Author: Maggie Otradovec

Blog Post 10/21 (Maggie Otradovec)

Langston Hughes asked “what happens to a dream deferred?” In the 1950s and 1960s, America found out: it explodes. This dream refers to aspirations of Black Americans who are suffering oppression. The civil rights movement is this explosion, the fight for equality and freedom from this oppression. Zinn describes the many faces and leaders of this movement throughout history, from Langston Hughes and other poets/writers (such as Countee Cullen, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Richard Wright) to Rosa Parks and Malcom X. Zinn also discusses Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most prolific leaders of the civil rights movement. 

Martin Luther King Jr. is inarguably one of the most influential people in American history. His actions led to great advancements in social justice for Black Americans, and his legacy lives on today as a sense of hope, more than just the national holiday or the monuments. Despite this, King was still just a man. He had faults, and he was a rather controversial leader, as described in Carson’s article, and the myths around him distort the real history.

Martin Luther King Jr. was not a “simplistic image designed to offend no one – a black counterpart to the static, heroic myths that have embalmed George Washington as the Father of His Country and Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator,” (28). King did not single handedly lead the civil rights movement. Yes, he was wildly charismatic as a leader, but he was not the only one, and he wasn’t universally supported. Carson argues that King should be recognized “as a major example of the local black leadership that emerged as black communities mobilized for sustained struggles,” (31). He was a major player in the civil rights movement, but he was also just a man that was part of something greater than himself.


Blog Post 10/14

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” follows the narrator as she and her husband, John, spend the summer at a haunting estate. The narrator describes how John belittles her and her “slight hysterical tendency,”  which keeps her from doing any sort of work or writing (648). The narrator, who is admittedly mentally unstable, begins to fixate on the odd yellow wallpaper in a room of the mansion. This fixation becomes an obsession, as she sees herself as trapped behind the pattern. She eventually escapes, exclaiming to her husband “I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (656). However, she does not escape the madness she has succumbed to. 


I first read “The Yellow Wallpaper” when I was in the eighth grade, and I am still just as disturbed as I was then. The idea of being in that situation, driven to madness by the restrictions on creative expression, is terrifying. The idea of being in that severe of a subordinate position in a marriage seems unreasonable to me today. As a woman, I could not imagine being so belittled in an engagement that is presented as a partnership. The wallpaper symbolizes the domestic role of women that the narrator, and many women throughout history, have attempted to escape. We’re lucky today to not have these pressures weighing on us to this degree, even though they are still there. This story was published in 1892, almost thirty years before the 19th amendment was passed, giving women the right to vote. While the right to vote did not make women equal, it was a step in the right direction. Society has come a long way since Gilman wrote this story, but there is still a far way to go.


Blog Post 10/7

As the Crash Course video heavily argued, it is impossible to place the full blame on any one country. A Serbian shot Archduke Frans Ferdinand, but Austria-Hungary was the one to declare war on Serbia, but Germany gave Austria-Hungary a blank check, declared war on Russia and moved through Belgium (which brought Britain into the war), but Russia was the first to mobilize. The US was initially neutral, which is wildly uncharacteristic if you consider America’s global position later in the twentieth century. 

I don’t think that you can really blame anyone for World War I. The countries of Europe were itching to show off their military, form alliances, practice imperialism and boost nationalism. Apparently a war was the best way to do this. One of the most surprising things was how little the United States wanted to do with it at first. 

Zinn describes how President Woodrow Wilson had promised that the U.S. would stay neutral.  This changed when Germans sunk the Lusitania, which killed Americans, effectively bringing the U.S. into the war (even if the economics were more attractive than avenging the dead Americans). The war was not extraordinarily popular in the United States. W. E. B. Du Bois thought that America was exploiting the world. Most citizens were against the war as well, which prompted the U.S. to pass the Espionage Act (punishing anti-war speech), which more or less stepped on the First Amendment, despite arguments saying that it didn’t. 

The world was a mess when the war ended in November of 1918. The U.S. was no exception. Anti-Immigration sentiment was growing even more. A bomb set off in front of the Attorney General’s home only made matters worse, and prompted the government to deport immigrants that were for property destruction. Two Italian immigrants (Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti) were charged for a murder and executed, with their background (immigrants) leading to their accusation. The war may have helped the economy, but it did not help society.


Maggie Otradovec Blog Post 9/30

America did not invent imperialism. Imperialism existed for centuries before the American Revolution, and if it was not for British imperialism, there would have been no Thirteen Colonies to have a revolution. The Crash Course video only briefly mentions America’s investment in expansion, and mainly focuses on Europe. After all, America had to learn it from someone. However, that isn’t to say that America did not have imperialistic tendencies. 


Late 19th century America was desperate to grow and to make a name for itself. After the Battle of Wounded Knee solidified the U.S.’ control of what we now refer to as the continental United States, so when depression hit in 1893, overseas markets became increasingly appealing. Under the administrations of McKinley and Roosevelt, America adopted an “Open Door Policy” and became involved in China and Cuba. However, this form of imperialism was intended more for economic purposes rather than land and colonies. Not surprisingly, involvement led to conflict such as the Cuban Revolution (in which America supported Cuba, not Spain), the Spanish-American War and violent conflict in the Philippines. Imperialism was deeply racist, horribly violent and overall destructive.


Despite this, imperialism, as terrible as it was, led to modern globalization and the world as we know it today. We wouldn’t be here without imperialism, for better or for worse. No, America is not perfect. It never has been, and it probably never will be. However, the beauty of America is that it has the capacity to have that “positive role on the world stage” that the article “The Myth of American Exceptionalism” mentions, even if it doesn’t always fulfill it. We cannot go back and change the atrocities committed during the initial colonization of America, the revolution, slavery, the Civil War or the era of American imperialism. We can only learn and grow from it.


Zinn Chapter 7

Chapter seven in Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, “As Long as Grass Grows or Water Runs,” focuses on US expansion westward and its effect on the Native Americans that inhabited the land. I think it is fairly safe to say that we have learned about the tragedy that was westward expansion in our more mature history classes. From the Louisiana Purchase to the Trail of Tears, and every battle in between, the indigenous people of what is now the United States suffered. Zinn also discusses how various tribes had various fates, such as the Creek people of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama or Cherokee tribe, which was pushed all the way to Oklahoma via the Trail of Tears. 


Growing up in Wisconsin, which has the 23rd largest Native American population (1.6%), the remains of indigenous culture are very present. Many names of towns, parks, counties and bodies of water are derived from Native American words. Even the word “Wisconsin” has Native roots, as it is the French version of the word “Meskonsing,” which more or less means “river running through a red place.” I grew up on land owned by the Oneida tribe. The tribe’s presence is strongly felt in Green Bay, with casinos, country clubs, herbal shops, and even a gate named for it at Lambeau Field. While the tribe has its own police force, school system, government, etc, it is closely tied with the city. However, one can’t help but think what could have been if the Oneida tribe had not been pushed from upstate New York all the way to northeast Wisconsin. Was there a better way to have shared the land with its original inhabitants? We can’t know the answer, and we can’t rewrite the past, but we can honor it and learn from it.


Hamilton vs. 1776 (Maggie Otradovec)

I love Hamilton. I saw the show on Broadway a few years ago, saw a tour at my local theatre, and I’ve watched it about a million times since it was released on Disney + this past summer. With that being said, I am obviously partial to Hamilton. However, I did find both entertainment and value in 1776. The 1972 film starring Mr. Feeny from the hit 90s show Boy Meets World follows a group of founding fathers as they work to draft the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. It’s no masterpiece compared to the phenomenon that is Hamilton, but it gives audiences a story that Hamilton did not: what happened in the meantime. There are brief mentions of the events of each show in the other as well as a few allusions (“Sit down John!”). 1776 shows the political aspect of the revolution (the writing of the Declaration of Independence) while Hamilton shows the military aspect of the revolution (the battles of the first act). 1776 showed why America wanted independence (America had acquired a new nationality, requiring it to become a new nation to paraphrase Ben Franklin) and Hamilton showed how America fought for independence. 

However, both of these depictions are guilty of romanticizing the “leaders” of the revolution. Both neglect the role of the working man, let alone women and slaves. Hamilton attempts to justify this by bringing diversity to the story, but it does fail to mention that Hercules Mulligan’s slave did most of the smuggling he was singing about. Neither of these shows are bad because they are romanticized and inaccurate, however. There is no need to chastise either when they are not sources meant to be academic. They are not scholarly articles or books written by experts in the field. The purpose of these two shows is to entertain and leave the audience with a message (similar to art), even if they are based on true stories. I believe that as long as the truth is taught in schools (which isn’t always the case, of course, but one can hope), there is nothing wrong with a little romanticizing.


Persons of Mean and Vile Condition

“It was a complex chain of oppression in Virginia,” (Zinn, 42). Zinn makes this declaration while explaining Bacon’s Rebellion, which is often considered to be the first armed insurgence led by American colonists against the British. Nathaniel Bacon (who is not related to Kevin Bacon) and his followers were angered by the government’s lackluster response to skirmishes with Native Americans. The “chain” that Zinn speaks of refers to how the Native Americans were oppressed by the settlers moving westward (ie. Bacon and his followers), who were being oppressed by the government of Virginia. Everyone, however, was being oppressed by England and its love of tobacco and trade-control. 


This idea of a chain of oppression is not new. We see it with the story of Christoper Columbus (the Native Americans were oppressed by Columbus’ sailors/colonizers and everyone was oppressed by Columbus), slavery (slaves were oppressed by just about everyone, and there were probably workers in between the slaves and the plantation owners that were oppressed), etc. You see it today, of course, all around the world. It’s a similar concept to that of a bully. The bully picks on the weak kid that can’t stand up for themself, but, outside of school, the bully could be picked on by another bully. However, just because you don’t always know what the aggressor is going through does not excuse mean or violent behavior. This apparently hasn’t entirely clicked for the human race.


Oppression has historically proved to be a bad idea. You bully your colonies? They start a war to get away from you. You force people into slavery and later regulate them based on their skin color? You get a Civil Rights Act passed and a lot of protesting for more change in the decades that follow. You invade other countries even though you were told not to? You lose two world wars. 


Oppression will never go away. There will always be a Bacon who oppresses because they themselves are oppressed. One can hope, however, that it can evolve into something a little more humane, and a lot less harmful.


The Beginnings of Slavery in America

I can’t remember ever distinctly learning when the first Africans arrived in America. I learned about Columbus (if you can even call it that), then colonialism and the Thirteen Colonies, then the American Revolution and then the Civil War. The specific details of when and how slavery came to what would become the United States was never directly taught, or at least not at my tiny K-8 school.

Thanks to Smith’s article “Point Comfort: where slavery in America began 400 years ago,” I can now say that I know when slavery started in the Americas. Twenty captives (not willing participants) arrived on the shores of Virginia in late August of 1619. As the title of this article points out, that is (now more than) 400 years ago. That is roughly 127 years after Columbus landed in the Bahamas, about twelve years after the founding of the Thirteen Colonies, 156 years before the American Revolution and 246 years before slavery would be abolished in the United States. 

In school, you learn about these major events, but you don’t learn about every group of people they affected. You don’t get the full story. It was a dark and violent world back then, and it still is today, it just presents itself differently. Smith’s article shows how understanding the beginning of this especially dark time in our history has helped people connect better with their ancestors, and has inspired people to dig deeper into the foundations our country was built on.  Knowing all the details one possibly can does not justify what happened in the past, but it helps garner respect and a willingness to not let the woes of the past repeat themselves.


Why History Matters- Maggie Otradovec

“All people and peoples are living histories.” This simple sentence at the beginning of the second paragraph in Penelope J. Corfield’s article answers the overarching question: why does history matter? Corfield then goes on to point out obvious examples of this “living history,” including languages spoken, traditions and religions practiced, and even the use of technology that another person made. Corfield states that “understanding the linkages between past and present is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the condition of being human.” 

    Every individual, whether consciously done or not, seeks out their history. Sometimes it is as obvious as creating your family tree. Other times it is as simple as asking your parents or grandparents about their lives before you were born. I dug deeper into my own history by exploring and submitting a DNA sample to 23&Me. I had no idea that I was 0.9% Spanish and Portuguese. I learned so much from just a little saliva in a tube. However, stopping there would only give me part of the story. In order to fully appreciate where you can from and how you became the person you are, you have to understand the context of when your ancestors lived. 

    In a broader sense, understanding history and historical topics on a global scale can help you understand why the world is the way it is today. History is every moment (ever), from when the earth was first created (whether it be divinely or scientifically) to every time someone tried to invade Russia in winter. One can look at history and learn from the mistakes and triumphs of people who lived before them. Any opportunity for education is not “bunk,” it is something that should be valued and appreciated. When you learn from the mistakes and triumphs of history, you can better understand both human nature in its essence and where we are going as a species.