The Smithsonian National Museum of American History's blog published my piece "Reading the Rainbow: The Origins of the Pride Symbol" in honor of Pride Month!
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“The Past is entombed in the Present! The world is its own enduring monument; and that which is true of its physical, is likewise true of its mental career. The discoveries of Psychometry will enable us to explore the history of man, as those of geology enable us to explore the history of the earth.” – Joseph Rodes Buchanan, Manual of Psychometry: the Dawn of a New Civilization
Since arriving at the Smithsonian, I’ve been preoccupied with a fanciful notion – curators are like psychometrists. Psychometry, pioneered by physician-cum-spiritualist Joseph Rodes Buchanan in the nineteenth century, is the supposed ability to consume an object’s history via physical contact. In lieu of touch, however, we can excavate memory and meaning, provenance and perspective from the material culture we acquire through careful research and interpersonal connections.
Thanks to my advisor, Dr. Katherine Ott, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for material culture over these past few weeks. On my first day, we had an intensive conversation about our work, history and philosophy. She told me about the material culture class she teaches, and how she urges her students to recognize the ways we (sub)consciously organize our lives. Everything from identifying something in the fridge as edible to choosing a seat on the Metro – we engage senses like sight, smell, and taste to concoct categories like color, location, and utility.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the term 'homosexual.' Please share this article and join me in affirming the legacy of the activist who coined it - Karl Maria Kertbeny.
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Check out the "Insider/Outsider: Racial Bias & Positionality in Interpretation" recap/reflection thread here!
Peter James Hudson’s Bankers and Empire: How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean traces the occupation of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti by the United States through banking institutions. Much Like LaFeber’s The New Empire, Hudson finds economic conquest grew up in tandem with American imperial interests between 1890 and 1930, as bankers sought to acquire new overseas markets and investment opportunities free from the constraints and responsibilities of total administrative dominion. Reading “along the archival grain,” Hudson interweaves the stories of various white male actors whose politics and self-interest, losses and successes gave way to a “staggered incursion” – rather than an “inevitable hegemony of the United States in the Caribbean” (152).
Indeed, the United States government did not consistently wield capitalism as a tool of domination, as the agendas of Washington and Wall Street did not always align (65). As Hudson describes, what “was meant to be a systematic and rational approach to internationalization was prone to poor judgment, human error, vanity, and the frissons of cultural difference” (137). As William Leuchtenburg points out in “Progressivism and Imperialism: The Progressive Movement and American Foreign Policy, 1898-1916,” Progressive ideals and actions were seemingly at odds – “a concern for democratic processes at home and a disregard of them abroad … antagonism to financial empires in America and encouragement of them overseas” (497). While the Spanish-American War was viewed as a dual battle against Spanish tyranny and Wall Street’s greed, Leuchtenburg finds that “imperialism and progressivism flourished together … since the United States was the land of free institutions, any extension of its domain was per se an extension of freedom and democracy” (500). This confluence of humanism and nationalism (503) mirrors Immerman’s discussion of ethnocentric American freedoms in Empire for Liberty. Even still, Hudson describes how protests on the ground against the presence of American economic institutions signified a larger struggle against American imperialism as a whole (266). This presents the fatal flaw of reading “along the archival grain” – the absence of subaltern experiences, perceptions and reactions. How could a "bottom-up" history of this same topic counter Hudson's "top-down" approach?