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Author: Madeline Orr

Blog Post 10/21

In Zinn’s chapter, “Or Does it Explode?” he discusses the development of the Civil Rights movement in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. The rise of the Communist Party played a role in the push of the movement into a larger, more emphasized demand for change. There were already hostile feelings towards the Communist Party which created the image of black communists as more dangerous and militant. I thought an interesting idea in the chapter was the reasons behind the government’s decisions to appoint a Committee on Civil Rights. There was the moral reason, the economic reason which was that discrimination was wasteful of talent, and the international reaon where the world was beginning to question and judge the United States’ democracy as fraud. The United States had become a large power in the international community and threats to this were seen as very concerning. A pattern that was seen throughout the movement was that the government passed laws in reaction to violence and revolts and in concern of their international image. There was little to be done about changing the deep-rooted issues of racism and poverty that was the true foundation of the Civil Rights Movement. There also seemed to be little to no push to change people’s deep-rooted opinions, views, and feelings towards inequality and civil rights. The government would make small changes, hoping they would draw more attention and create a bigger impact, without making fundamental changes to prevent an “explosive situation”. 

Something that Zinn continuously pointed out was how the federal government stood by and did not intervene in defense of the black movement. I have noticed this described in many different accounts and experiences of people involved in the Civil Rights movement showing how the police and government often stood by or fought against the movement even when it was a peaceful resistance. The Freedom Rides are an example of this where people were beaten and buses were destroyed without any sort of intervention or prevention from the police or government officials. This is extremely disappointing and must have been very frustrating to the supporters of the movement where they felt unprotected and in danger of their own government. These feelings of dissatisfaction towards the government with the issue of civil rights and equality in the United States are still very present today and creates very antagonistic perceptions that make it difficult for real change to occur. 

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The Yellow Wall-Paper; 10/12

The Yellow Wall-paper was a refreshing yet eerie form of reading that calls for imagination and an extent of suspension of disbelief to connect to the narrator. Her husband, John, is a physician and he says she has nervous depression and he prevents her from doing any work or interacting with too many people. She journals her thoughts and feelings which she has to hide from everyone because they don’t like her wasting energy and she does not want to show her true feelings to anyone. The division of gender, especially within marriage, is very prevalent within this story. John forbids her from doing any sort of work and never really allows her to do activities or things to stimulate her mind to help her get better. He convinces her and himself that he knows what is best for her and suppresses any of her fantasies or freedom of thought. This causes her to fall back into her own secret fantasy world where she obsesses over the yellow wallpaper and what she thinks may be behind it. This is where she finds her own control and thoughts that she keeps hidden from her husband’s judgement and patronizing. 

I thought an interesting metaphor throughout the story was the shadows and stains on the wall that she thought looked like a woman trying to creep out was actually herself being constrained from her imagination and true feelings. Her insanity at the end of the story is a result of her being repressed from any creativity or imagination. She is forced to make it seem as if she is getting better and is grateful for her marriage when in reality it is making her more sick. This connects to the traditional role of women in marriage and in society. Women are supposed to suppress any emotional or creative outlet and to fall subordinate to the husband or men in society. They were expected to do all of the easy work of taking care of the house and children which was supposed to leave her no time for herself.

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10/7 “War is the Health of the State”

In Chapter 14, “War is the Health of the State” Zinn discusses World War I, how the United States got involved and many of the feelings from Americans towards the war effort. The U.S wanted to remain neutral in the European conflict, but our supply ships being sent to England triggered intervention. Americans did not rush to enlist and a major surge in propaganda and laws forced many to enlist. The Espionage Act created great controversy within the U.S because it was prohibiting people from refusal of duty and questioned peoples’ rights of free speech. This creates a sense of conflict because people were truly scared to be drafted into the war or did not want to support the war, but if they did not then they were arrested and prosecuted under the Espionage Act. 

It must have been very confusing during this period because the government was trying to create national morale in support of the war, but they were also prohibiting any disloyalty or opinions against the war. This effort to prevent any sort of negative message was widespread throughout American society such as in the post office where they were taking away privileges from news sources that posted anti-war messages, and schools and universities were also discouraging opposition. A quote that stood out to me was, “The courts and jails had been sued to reinforce the idea that certain ideas, certain kinds of resistance, could not be tolerated. And still, even from the condemned, the message was going out” (376). This was interesting because it shows that when people are forced not to do something, they often can find another way around it. The messages and resistances still got out even with all of the government controls, rules, and threats.

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9/30 Empire of the People

Chapter 12 of Zinn’s PHUS described the hunger for expansion and imperialism that existed among many of the upper-class, military men, politicians, and businesses during the late 1800s into the 1900s. The Panic of 1893 created an incentive to expand United States markets and to show their strength to the international community. Businesses and merchants saw opportunities for growth in foreign markets and countries that made them push politicians towards intervening in foreign affairs. Zinn describes the intervention of the United States in the Cuban rebellion against the Spanish control as an example of this expansionist ideology. President McKinley realized that intervening on the war would be a way to get political and economic benefits and would help many American industries. They went portraying their support for Cuban independence, however after they defeated the Spanish, they ignored Cuban involvement and created the Platt Amendment. This would give the United States the right to intervene in Cuban government and business affairs. Businesses in the search for wealth moved into Cuba taking over the lumber, railroad, mining, and sugar industries.

The article, “The Myth of American Exceptionalism” portrays ideas that are closely connected to the events that Zinn described in his chapter. Americans have an inflated view of ourselves and we often feel superior and entitled over other countries in the world. This causes us to focus only on our positives rather than our negatives because we often think that our influence advances the greater good. I was very shocked by the actions of the United States in the Philippines and how they disregarded human rights and lives in order to advance their goals. The U.S saw the Philippines as an opportunity for them to step in and save an “unfit” country, but in order to do that they killed hundreds of thousands. They saw the end goal of more territory and a growing empire that killing and having complete control of the Filipinos was just a part of the process. Many people have the belief that the U.S behaves better than other nations because people generally don’t focus on the immoral actions that got them to that place. This is a theme that has been seen throughout this class and it is so important to realize the mistakes, injustices, and practices that have gotten the U.S to where it is today.

 

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Maddie Orr; 9/23 post

I was deeply horrified while reading Chapter 7 of PHUS. Zinn discusses the process of Indian removal for white occupancy in the 1800s. The main reason for this removal was to expand white American territory to allow more farming, new cities, and an overall larger United States. This was done with very little concern for human life and deep-rooted culture. Jefferson proposed that they would abandon hunting and many of their traditions, and this would lead them to “civilization”. The Indian tribes were seen as obstacles that needed to be removed in order to expand looking for money and success. There was extensive bribery, manipulation, and force used to move the tribes off of their own land. I thought a very powerful portion of the chapter was the description of what removal meant to the Indians. They had a very deep bond with the land and a spiritual connection with their ancestors who had been buried there. They also wanted the white Americans to treat them as they would want to be treated, and to remember that they faced very similar circumstances when they faced persecution in Europe which led them to the New World. However, none of their pleas or proposed treaties never fully accepted. 

I was very surprised to learn about the horrific actions done by Andrew Jackson because I had learned about him as the hero of the War of 1812 and the President of the United States. He is rarely described as a slaveholder and “exterminator of Indians” (130). He initiated the killings of thousands, burnings of villages, and horrible treatment of Indian peoples before and during his presidency. As soon as Jackson became President, laws were made that gave states rule over Indians in their territories, so they were subject to militia and state laws without a right to vote or testify in court. Indians were not “forced” to leave but people made it very difficult to want to stay on that land. I think that the history of indigenous peoples in the colonial period of America and post independence of America has gone unspoken and unknown throughout history and it is important that these truths be told. 

 

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Maddie Orr; 1776 blog post

The film, 1776, showed a very interesting perspective to the Founding Fathers and the lead-up to the Declaration of Independence. Many elements of comedy are used to poke fun at the different members of Congress and the lack of seriousness within the meetings. They make stereotypical jokes about New Jersey and New York being very loud and that no one listens to each other. Benjamin Franklin falls asleep often during the meetings and Steven Hopkins is always drunk and asking for more alcohol instead of contributing to the discussions. It also seemed that before the question of independence was proposed they never actually resolved anything important. They would have daily weather reports from Jefferson and when George Washington would send reports of bad news looking for support, they never came up with any plans to help him and the army. While this may have been a comedical exaggeration, I think that the film was getting at the idea of privilege among the wealthy men and disregard for any issues that were not their own. The Congress members treat the custodian, Andrew McNair, as their own personal servant and when he voices his opinions about independence he immediately gets shut down and is reminded that he is not one of the Congressmen so his opinions don’t matter to them. This relates to the Constitution only applying to men who owned property where the majority of Americans were excluded and ignored from the policymaking and from the concerns of the “important” people. 

Throughout the film, they mentioned a few times about how the history of the independence of the colonies would be written. John Adams was describing how he was embarrassed that the only way for Jefferson to be able to write the Declaration of Independence was if he could be with his wife. Ben Franklin responds to him saying, “Don’t worry John, it won’t appear in the history books” (1:19). Another example is when John Adams says that he won’t be in the history books and it will only be about Franklin, Washington, and Washington’s horse that will be known to have conducted the entire Revolution. The film was emphasizing that there is a certain narrative that was created about the independence of the colonies to try and make it sound more patriotic and united against England. This was a major theme in the movie shown through the exaggerations and comedy making it clear that the Founding Fathers were not divine leaders that they are often made out to be. 

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Maddie Orr – 9/9 blog post

Chapter 3 and 4 of A People’s History of the United States discuss the growth of class divisions that occurred within colonial America. I was very surprised when I read that more than one half of the colonists that came to North America came as servants and the majority of them either returned to their home country, died as servants, or became a part of the poor white class. This led to a sharp distinction of class that created many conflicts across lines. The lower, “poor” class was doubling and created problems of crime and theft in cities which forced the building of housing and correctional offices to try and combat the issues. An interesting idea was brought up in “Persons of Mean and Vile Condition” when Zinn said, “The country therefore was not ‘born free’ but born slave and free, servant and master, tenant and landlord, poor and rich” (50). This shows how there has always been a deep rooted division of people determining wealth, treatment, and placement in society. 

I thought an interesting trend throughout “Tyranny is Tyranny” was the mindset of the “rich and important” people of the colonies towards how to control the lower classes. They wanted to gain enough support to be able to defeat the British control over the colonies without ending slavery or erasing class lines. They did this through language that created anger and resistance towards England but also to avoid uprising of classes. The strategic and careful manipulation of language to the colonists was driven by the desire for power and wealth of the “important people” of colonial society. I think this is very interesting because this can be seen in many different aspects of life today. Class divisions, desire for power, and drive of wealth play a large role in today’s society where many similarities can be seen between now and the colonial period.

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“Drawing the Color Line” Maddie Orr

In the second chapter of A People’s History of the United States, Zinn discusses the process of slavery in the Americas and how it developed into one of the most cruel forms of slavery in history. Desperation and helplessness played large roles in the quick acceptance of slavery among the colonists, but also among the Africans who were forced into the situation where everything that they were was obliterated. Zinn goes into great detail of the process of the slave trade such as the death marches across hundreds of miles and the horrific conditions aboard the ships that caused frenzy, insanity, and death. He questions, was their culture inferior and subject to destruction? African civilization was advanced in its own ways with skilled farming, improvements in weaving and sculpting, and their tribal life and values were strong. Europeans felt strongly enough to take these people from their homes, destroy their culture, and force them to work under cruel conditions. This relates to the idea from previous readings of who gets to decide what is told and what is forgotten about in history. 

Another interesting point of view described was the mindset and psychology behind the colonists’ behaviors towards the slaves. The natural feelings of distaste for the color black, the desperation for feelings of superiority, and their want for profit fell behind the motives and actions towards African slaves. I was very surprised while reading this chapter at the fact that I have never learned this much detail about the slave trade or behind slavery in the United States. Looking back on history classes, I feel like there is a pattern of learning a general overview of history and never diving much deeper into a topic. While this seems very difficult to escape I think that it is important to try and expose more details of history that are hidden. 

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Maddie Orr; blog post 8/24

Throughout “Why History Matters” Cornfield discusses the importance of history in terms of understanding the true human experience and condition. History connects events, people, beliefs, and experiences to the present and students can create a larger, more critical view of things that happen today. When discussing why history is so important to study Cornfield says, “to study the subject for the invaluable in-depth analysis and the long-term perspective it confers upon the entire human experience”. Education allows people to gain knowledge about the world they live in and teaches how to build upon that for the future. Cornfield also brought up an interesting point that the human mind can do more and experience more than the physical human body. This shows the importance of education and history specifically where our minds are able to travel back in time to periods of evolution and to see change throughout the past. 

Last semester, I took a history class called Nazi Germany and a constant theme throughout the course was the importance of teaching difficult and horrific moments of the past to ensure that history does not repeat itself. Humans learn from the past and see different outcomes to behaviors. When encountered with similar behaviors or experiences humans adapt their responses based on their knowledge of the past. Cornfield’s article brought up many similar arguments showing the importance of teaching history in order to give people a strong and knowledgeable foundation to create change for the future. This can be done through a good educational system and compelling teachers who provide students a “vital collective resource” that teaches about the past and also promotes growth for the future. 

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