Month: March 2014

Toffs and Toughs: The Problem with Iconic Images

Toffs and Toughs

The word “iconic” is often overused, but this photograph, taken in 1937 and published in the News Chronicle with the caption, “Every picture tells a story,” definitely qualifies for that adjective. For years, this image symbolized the inequalities that long characterized British society. In an unmistakable way, the photo seemed to capture the differences not only between town and gown, but also poverty and privilege. Thanks to Facebook, Intelligent Life‘s most popular article right now is a 2010 piece about this very image:

http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/ian-jack/5-boys

We at One Thing after Another will leave it to you to read the article because we don’t want to spoil it. However, this story warrants several general observations. We accept photographs as truthful, but a photographer, of course, can often manipulate the framing of the scene as well as its content so it sends a particular message. And of course, every photo has a backstory that is not immediately apparent.

This photo was partially posed. Peter Wagner and Thomas Dyson, the two “toffs” from Harrow, were indeed waiting outside Lord’s cricket ground (Eton was playing Harrow at the time) for the Wagners to pick them up. The “toughs,” George Salmon, Jack Catlin, and George Young were trying to collect tips by opening car doors and carrying luggage. The extent to which the photographer, Jimmy Sime (who worked for London’s Central Press agency), moved the boys about is unclear, but at one point, he did tell the “toughs” to come closer to the “toffs” so he could get his photo. Sime saw the potential for a picture that could tell  a powerful story; he manipulated the situation so we could see what he wanted us to see. Once the photo circulated among the British public, it became a kind of social fact, an “Exhibit A” in the indictment of British social inequality.

There is no disputing the fact of great social inequality in Britain during the 1930s, but it is worth investigating the relationship between this photo and that social inequality. We can look at this issue in a number of ways. For instance, we can charge Sime with “lying” by manipulating the scene in order to tell a greater truth about British society.  Or, looking at it from another angle, we could argue that as a sensitive, British interwar observer, Sime expected to see inequality. We usually find what we expect to see (while ignoring what we don’t expect to see), and Sime was no exception. He found this inequality and took a picture of it. That photograph only perpetuated others’ expectations of seeing inequality and sustained the tradition of representation that stressed certain ideas about British society.

In this case, as with many others, however, it is difficult for real, living, breathing people to serve as symbols. The fit is often imperfect. For Sime, the boys simply represented inequality; that is the point of his photo. The toffs were wealthy and had a lifetime of privilege before them. The toughs had no such advantages and would have to scrap for everything they got, or so the argument went. Yet, as the article in Intelligent Life points out, real life was not so simple. In many ways, the toughs got the better deal in life, a development that seems to undermine the message of Sime’s photo.

Why dwell on this point? In our classes, we often use iconic images because they seem to distill important messages in especially memorable ways. Unfortunately, many of the images that we use are problematic because, as with the case of the toffs and the toughs, they elide important details and facts that might contradict their obvious message. Take, for example, this famous photograph from the Vietnam War with which many of you are probably familiar:

Saigon Execution

In this particular case, Eddie Adams, the photographer, did not seek to manipulate the scene. He happened upon an acquaintance of his, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, South Vietnam’s chief of national police, shooting Nguyen Van Lem, a suspected member of the NLF, and took a photo without even stopping to think. Adams snapped this photo in the middle of the fierce street fighting that took place in Saigon during the second day of the Tet offensive. According to interviews, under these chaotic circumstances, he did not find the execution extraordinary. Moreover, he knew that Loan believed Lem had helped execute one of Loan’s aides along with that aide’s entire family. Although he won a Pulitzer Prize for this photo, Adams was later surprised and disappointed to learn that anti-war protesters had seized upon this image as encapsulating all that was wrong about the war in Vietnam. As an essay from NPR points out:

Adams, who considered himself a patriot and a Marine, never came to terms with the fact that the anti-war movement saw that photograph as proof that the Vietnam War was unjustified. In fact, he believed to the end of his life that the picture only told part of the truth. The untold story was that on the day of the execution, an aide to Loan was killed by insurgents. After Loan pulled the trigger, he walked by Adams and said, ‘They killed many of our people and many of yours.” (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102112403)

After the photo was published and widely distributed, Adams was horrified to find that he had destroyed Loan’s reputation. Years later, in a eulogy for Loan in Time magazine, Adams wrote:

The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, “What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?” (http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,988783,00.html)

Like any other document, a photograph must be read in context. Otherwise, it can lie, even without manipulation. Errol Morris has dwelled on this idea in an interesting book that originated as a series of essays in the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/books/review/believing-is-seeing-by-errol-morris-book-review.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0&gwh=AE5D06E61574BB0241D0EB5E7698156D&gwt=regi

“Every picture tells a story,” but when we see these kinds of photographs, we need to remember that every story is crafted. Moreover, these photos depict real people who have to live in a messy real world that is far more complicated than the story world in which images place them. The foregoing is just another way of reminding us historians that as we teach, we need to sustain a balance between graphic generalization (which is indispensable to teaching) and attention to detail (which is indispensable to truth).

The History Department and Men’s Basketball

Chris Santo

The men’s basketball team at Saint Anselm College had a fantastic 2013-2014 season. The squad went 17-4 in the conference and finished 22-8 overall. The Hawks enjoyed a nine-game winning streak that included a victory over Southern New Hampshire University that was televised on CBS Sports Network.  The team eventually secured an invitation to the NCAA tournament and made it to the NCAA East Regional Semifinals in New Haven, Connecticut. After beating Le Moyne (to whom they had lost in the regular season) and Bloomfield, they lost a nail-biter to Southern Connecticut State.

The History Department’s very own Chris Santo ’15 (Cherry Hill, NJ) and Isaiah Nelsen ’17 (North Andover, MA) were integral parts of this squad. Chris started at forward for the entire season while Isaiah, also a forward, did a great job filling in when the starters got in foul trouble. Among starters, Chris had the second-highest field goal percentage (56.7%), the second-highest number of total rebounds (194), and was the team’s third-highest scorer (436 points).

One Thing after Another had a few things to ask Chris (above) as he recovered from the season’s end.

Q: At what point did you it become clear to you and the team that an NCAA East Regional playoff spot was a real possibility? What was the high point of this season for you?

A: It was always our goal to make the regional tournament. I think everybody really believed that we could do that from the day we got to campus this year. I’d say the high point was playing in that championship game against Southern Connecticut. We may not have won, but we walked away from that game knowing that we belonged there and were certainly capable of winning.

Q: How did you end up at St. Anselm College?

A: I was recruited by Coach Jimmy Moore and Coach Keith Dickson from the University of Vermont. I transferred here after my freshman year. The coaches here came up to watch me play at UVM, and I also visited here with my parents as I narrowed down my options.

Q: How and why did you decide to become a history major?

A: I became a history major to accompany my secondary education minor. History has always been an area of interest for me. I declared it after I took an American history course at UVM.

Q: How do you manage to balance the demands of basketball and schoolwork? Is there a secret here?

A: Being a student-athlete at Saint Anselm college is definitely not an easy thing to do. The classes here are very challenging. Nevertheless, Coach Dickson is great about making sure we stay on top of our books. He understands that school comes first. Luckily for me, the professors I’ve had have been extremely helpful and understanding with regards to my athletic schedule. That just leaves all the accountability on us to make time to get work done and study.

Schirripa Obtains Summer Internship at Northfield Mount Hermon School

Pete Schirripa

Pete Schirripa ’15 (Lexington, MA) just landed a paid summer internship at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill, Massachusetts. Since a number of students in the secondary education program are History majors, we thought we would share his experiences. Such opportunities are out there, and it would be great if our majors could take advantage of them more frequently.

One Thing after Another had the following exchange with Pete.

Q: What’s the name of the program you applied to, and what will you have to do?

A: For the upcoming summer, I have been accepted to the Teaching Intern Program at Northfield Mount Hermon School, a preparatory high school in Gill, Massachusetts. During my six weeks at NHM, I will be working as the College Prep Program U.S. history teaching intern. In addition to planning curriculum, teaching lessons, facilitating extra-help sessions, and designing assessments, I will be coaching soccer and serving as an advisor for 6-8 students. Finally, I will supervise evening activities in the residence halls and organize nightly study halls as well as recreational activities.

Q: How did you find out about this program? What was the application process like?

A: I knew I wanted to acquire more teaching experience this summer. That being said, I looked online to see which preparatory schools hired teaching interns for the summer. Though most of the local prep schools offered teaching positions, NMH was one of the few that allowed interns to teach U.S. history. I was excited by this opportunity and decided to begin the application process.

In order to be considered for the position at NHM, I had to fill out an application, send in an official transcript, submit two faculty recommendations, and write an essay explaining why I am interested in teaching and what my career goals are in secondary education. After completing this initial application process, I had a thirty-minute phone interview with the program director. During the interview, I was asked to expand on my résumé and define my teaching philosophy.

Q: How did you get interested in teaching high school history? Ideally, what kind of career would like in secondary education?

A: To be honest, I really disliked my first couple of years of high school and didn’t perform particularly well. Throughout this period, I also despised history. In fact, I found it pointless to memorize dates, study wars that pre-date my deceased great-grandfather, and write dreadfully boring DBQs. Much to my surprise, my sophomore-year world history teacher totally changed my opinion of history. Unlike my previous teachers, Mr. Lingley was an amazing storyteller. I still remember him standing at the front of the room explaining how Rasputin just would not die. Incorporating suspenseful pauses throughout his lecture, Mr. Lingley had the ability to keep the class entertained at 8:00 AM every morning. In addition to telling interesting stories, Mr. Lingley made his students question why we even bother to study history. In other words, Mr. Lingley would expect his students to connect the material from his class to current events. After taking this course, I became very interested in the study of history. More important, I decided I wanted to help future students have the same experience I had. With inspiration from Mr. Lingley, I became interested in teaching and knew I wanted to pursue this ambition in college.

Though I am excited to be a history teacher, I eventually want to be a school principal.  Through my education classes at Saint Anselm and my extracurricular activities, I have become interested in educational policy and would someday like to oversee curriculum decisions and school policy.

 Q: If you had to give once piece of advice to a roomful of freshman history majors who wanted to teach, what would it be?

A: To any freshman who is interested in teaching history, I recommend that you start by taking a variety of history classes that cover topics with which you are not particularly familiar. I say this for two reasons. First off, it is important to develop a strong content knowledge. After all, you are teaching students about world history, European history, U.S. history etc, so you should not be limited to a specific subject area. Secondly, it is important to take classes that you are not familiar with because it allows you to practice overcoming challenges. Without question, an important part of educating is motivating students to overcome obstacles and pushing them to reach your high expectations. If you do not have practice doing this yourself, it is going to be very difficult to teach kids how to do it. Finally, I would tell you that it is important to enjoy learning. Without having a zeal for learning, it is difficult to instill a passion for learning in your future students.  After all, turning your students into life-long learners is your ultimate aim. A good place to start is developing this passion in your history classes at Saint Anselm.

In short, I would say focus on your courses and try to learn as much as you can through reading, taking challenging classes, talking to professors, attending events with guest speakers, and observing the world around you. If you can acquire this desire to learn, everything else will certainly fall into place.

What If World War I Had Never Happened?

Franz Ferdinand with Wife

July 2014 will witness the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Everybody, from media outlets to authors, are anticipating this anniversary with a series of publications. A flood of books covering the war, especially its outbreak, have recently hit the market. These include Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers, Geoffrey Wawro’s A Mad Catastrophe, Max Hastings’ Catastrophe 1914, and Sean McMeekin’s July 1914. Several newspapers and magazines, particularly in Britain, have produced multi-issue histories of the war. The Daily Telegraph‘s coverage has been particularly impressive:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/inside-first-world-war/

The British Library has produced a terrific set of essays about the war, written by some top-notch historians:

http://www.bl.uk/world-war-one

A number of massive digital projects associated with World War I have also recently emerged. Britain’s National Archives has digitized several thousand World War I unit diaries:

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/war-diaries-ww1.htm

The quirkiest commemoration of World War I, however, comes to us from NPR which has produced the following series: “What If World War I Had Never Happened?”

http://www.npr.org/series/286403203/what-if-wwi-had-never-happened

You can read the summaries and the transcripts, but it might be more fun to listen to the audio. As we approach July 2014, more and more material will get published, and we’ll try to keep you abreast of the highlights.

Launching One Thing after Another

Today, the History Department at Saint Anselm College is taking a bold step and launching a blog entitled One Thing after Another. As we have pointed out on the “About” page, we intend to post interesting information not only about the department but also about the discipline of history in general. Our goal is to create an online community among prospective students, current students, faculty, alumni, and anybody else who wants to know what is going on in the department. In so doing, we hope to educate and entertain. In future posts, you will see a wide variety of material as we relate what the students and faculty here are up to. So let’s crack a bottle of champagne on the prow of this blog and get going.