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Platzman Fellows at Work: Finding Manuel

This post is written by 2015 Platzman Research Fellow Oenone Kubie. Kubie is a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford. She visited SCRC this past summer to consult the papers of Ernest Burgess, Grace and Edith Abbott, Julius Rosenwald, Robert Park, and others, for a study of “Boys’ Street Culture in Chicago, 1900-1929.” Below is her reflection on her time using some of these collections and their relation to her dissertation. To apply for this year’s Platzman Fellowship, apply by February 15.

On the face of it, one would probably expect the source base for my project, Boys’ Street Culture in Early Twentieth Century Chicago, to be extremely limited. Piecing together and examining the experiences and subcultures of Chicago’s working-class and immigrant boys of a century ago may be interesting, but surely this subclass of an already disadvantaged class must be all but invisible in the archives. After all, one must often read archival material against the grain to conduct a history of the childhood of even the wealthiest and most affluent families. It is lucky for me, then, that I am far from the first scholar to be interested in the lives of early twentieth century Chicago’s boys.

The archives at the Regenstein Library are full of the research and reports conducted by Chicago School sociologists, much of it regarding the lives of working class and immigrant children. The favoured method of research, at least by the 1920s, was the life history. Life histories were biographies of individual cases from which, scholars hoped, broad trends could be identified. They were collected either through interviews or by asking individuals to write their own autobiographies, usually with the aid of prompt questions. Of course, these sources come with a whole host of methodological problems – from the power relations of the interviewer and subject to the typicality of the boys’ lives – all of which are compounded by the fact that the subjects are either children or they are adults reminiscing about a childhood ten, twenty, or more years ago. Nonetheless, used critically and in conjunction with other sources, these life histories are undeniably among the most useful sources for projects like mine. The stories they tell are rich with detail and are moving, captivating, and even amusing.

Here let us look briefly at just one life history: the story of a nine year old Mexican-American boy, growing up in Chicago in the late 1920s and early 1930s.[1] Manuel (almost certainly not his real name) was the child to Mexican immigrants. He was born in 1924 and moved to Chicago at the age of 2. In Chicago, Manuel and his family moved every couple of years between different neighbourhoods. Firstly they moved to Brighton Park, then when Manuel was four, to Little Village, two years later they returned to Brighton Park and, three years after that (1933), to the boundary between Pilsen and Little Italy. These areas now all have large Mexican-American communities, and are still known as common ports of entry to immigrants from Mexico.

Manuel’s story attests to what life was like as a young Mexican-American in Chicago in the early twentieth century. Manuel thought of himself as different to both the “white” and the “colored” boys: a distinction both groups seemed keen to enforce. When Manuel and his family moved to Little Village, Manuel remembered that he was one of very few Mexican boys in the neighbourhood at that time. He recalls that he was lonely, the white boys not allowing him to play with them. Later, he would go to the Foster School in Little Italy where, Manuel claimed, the Mexican boys had to group together or they risked being beaten by the African-American boys. Manuel wrote of his equal dislike of the black children saying that, although he occasionally played with some, they were mean and lied a lot. On the other hand, Manuel dreamt of becoming a white boy: “Sometimes I even don’t like myself. I would like to be a white boy and look like Ken Maynard”. Maynard came from champion rodeo riding to become one of the most popular actors in early the Westerns of the twenties and thirties. To Manuel, and others, he symbolised adventure, virile masculinity, but also desirable whiteness which Manuel consciously contrasted to his own, Mexican heritage.

Drawing by Manuel

Drawings by Manuel, from Ernest Burgess Papers, Special Collections Research Center

Manuel wrote of his relationship with his Mexican heritage by talking of his Spanish-speaking parents. He could speak, read and write Spanish but, despite his mother and father often playing them, Manuel knew no Mexican songs. Instead, he preferred songs such as ‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’ (the soundtrack to 42nd Street, a popular musical from 1933). Manuel was particularly scathing of his mother who spoke no English: “My mother knows nothing about American things. She only knows about Mexico. I know more about things than she does”. Despite this, Manuel is keen to follow the career his parents want for him and to become an artist. His story ends with a couple of drawings, one of an ‘Indian’ and one of a sailor.

Manuel’s life history was probably taken in 1933 or 1934. What became of Manuel afterwards, I don’t know, however, he would have turned 18 in the summer of 1942 and, thus, would probably have been drafted into the US Armed Forces. This life history is just one of hundreds the Chicago School sociologists took in the twenties and thirties although one from just a handful of Mexican-American boys asked to participate. Nonetheless, Manuel’s story demonstrates the capacity these histories have to share the experiences of those whose voices are typically missing in the historical record. We can get a glimpse of Manuel’s life, his relationships, his struggles and his hopes.

I’m excited to look over the material I have gathered during my summer at the University of Chicago and am grateful to the Special Collections at the Regenstein Library for funding my trip through the Robert L. Platzman Memorial Fellowship and also to the staff for the help they offered me while I was visiting the archives.

[1] ‘Case no. A by Edward M. Haddon’, Burgess, Ernest, Papers, [Box 134, folder 4], Special Collections Research Centre, University of Chicago Library

2015 Platzman Memorial Fellowships awarded

The Robert L. Platzman Memorial Fellowships for 2015 have been awarded to 11 recipients.  Recipients will visit between June-October 2015.

Established by bequest of George W. Platzman (1920-2008), Professor in Geophysical Sciences, the research fellowships are named in memory of George’s brother Robert Platzman (1918-1973), Professor of Chemistry and Physics and member of the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago during World War II.

The annual Platzman Fellowships provide funds for visiting researchers whose projects require on-site consultation of University of Chicago Library collections, primarily but not exclusively materials in Special Collections, with priority given to beginning scholars.  This year’s group of fellows brings the total number of scholars supported by the Platzman program since its inception in 2006 to eighty.

Visit SCRC Gallery During “Archives After Hours” February 12

eggan_girlThe Special Collections Research Center  will host an after-hours talk on Thursday evening, February 12, from 5:00-7:00 in the gallery.  The event will be led by curators for the  latest exhibit, “I Step Out of Myself”: Portrait Photography in Special Collections. Remarks begin at 5:30 and light refreshments will be served.

 “I Step Out of Myself”: Portrait Photography in Special Collections highlights outstanding examples of fine art and photojournalistic portraiture held in the Special Collections Research Center. Displaying selections rarely on public view, the exhibition draws from the work of a varied group of 20th-century photographers: Eva Watson-Schütuze, Carl Van Vechten, Layle Silbert, Mildred Mead, Yousuf Karsh, Alice Boughton, Joan Eggan, and Tina Modotti.

The Special Collections Research Center Gallery is located within the The University of Chicago Regenstein Library, 1100 East 57th Street,  on the first floor.

The Gallery is open Monday-Friday: 9:00 to 4:45 , and, when classes are in session, Saturdays 9:00  to 12:45. The Gallery is closed on Sundays.

Robert Maynard Hutchins Papers available for research

A youthful Robert M. Hutchins in 1929

A youthful Robert M. Hutchins in 1929

The Robert Maynard Hutchins Papers are now available for research.

This collection is distinct from the Office of the President, Hutchins Administration Records, and includes material pertaining to Hutchins’ research, writing, and speaking; material relevant to his professional activities; correspondence; subject files; personal ephemera; honors and awards; annotated books; and photographs and audio recordings. The  bulk of the material dates between 1921 and 1977.

The correspondence series represents the largest portion of the collection. Hutchins corresponded with an impressive number of 20th-century luminaries including Saul Alinsky, Steve Allen, Pearl S. Buck, Albert Einstein, T. S. Eliot, Hubert Humphrey, Oscar Hammerstein II, Aldous and Laura Huxley, Charles and Anne Lindbergh, Benjamin E. Mays, Thurgood Marshall, Edward R. Murrow, Paul Newman, the Rockefeller family, Earl Warren, Frank Lloyd Wright, William O. Douglas, Adlai Stevenson, Thornton Wilder, and many more.

2014 Platzman Fellowships awarded

The Special Collections Research Center of the University of Chicago Library is pleased to announce the recipients of the Robert L. Platzman Memorial Fellowships for 2014. 

Established by bequest of George W. Platzman (1920-2008), Professor Emeritus in Geophysical Sciences at the University, the fellowships are named in memory of George’s brother Robert Platzman (1918-1973), who was Professor of Chemistry and Physics and worked for the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago during World War II. The Platzman Fellowship program provides funds for visiting researchers whose projects require on-site consultation of University of Chicago Library collections, primarily but not exclusively materials in Special Collections. Support for beginning scholars is a priority of the program, as are projects that cannot be conducted without onsite access to the original materials, and where University of Chicago Library collections are central to the research.

Additional information on the Platzman Fellowship program is available on the Special Collections web site:  http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/about/platzmanfellowships.html

Robert L. Platzman Memorial Fellowship Recipients for 2014

 D. Trevor Burrows, PhD candidate, History, Purdue University; drawing on the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council Records, student organization records, and faculty papers for a study of “Social Reform and Religious Renewal: Religion and Student Activism in the Long 1960s”

Ben Glaser, Assistant Professor of English, Yale University; examining the Poetry Records, Harriet Monroe Papers, and William Vaughan Moody papers, for a project on “Modernism’s Metronome: Metrical Vestiges, Historical Prosody, and American Poetry, 1910-1930”

Jordan Grant, PhD Candidate, History, American University; researching the William H. English Papers, Stephen A. Douglas Papers, and Lincoln Collection for a study of “Catchers and Kidnappers: Slave-Hunting in Early America”

Camden Hutchison, PhD candidate, History, University of Wisconsin-Madison; consulting the Henry C. Simons Papers and other faculty collections for a project titled “The Efficiency Norm and U.S. Legal-Economic Policy, 1969-1992”

Karina Jannello, PhD candidate, History, Universidad Nacional de la Plata, Argentina; reviewing the International Association for Cultural Freedom Records for a study of “The Cultural Cold War in the Southern Cone: Intellectuals, Magazines, and Publishing Networks in the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, 1950-1970”

Brian Lefresne, PhD Candidate, Literary Studies, University of Guelph, Ontario; researching the Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra for a dissertation titled “Sun Ra at the Crossroads of Jazz and Performance”

Martin Nekola, PhD, Political Science, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic; examining the Archive of the Czechs and Slovaks Abroad for materials on a study of “Czechs in Chicago”

Melanie Newport, PhD candidate, History, Temple University; researching the American Civil Liberties Union, Illinois Division Records and faculty papers for a project on “Cook County Jail and the Local Origins of Mass Incarceration, 1836-1995”

Daniel Royles, PhD, History, Temple University; consulting the ACT UP Chicago Records for a study titled “Don’t We Die Too? The Political Culture of African American AIDS Activism”

Adam Smith, Senior Lecturer, History, University College London; examining the Stephen A. Douglas Papers for a project titled “The Stormy Present: Conservatism in American Politics in an Age of Revolution, 1848-1876”

Leif Tornquist, PhD candidate, Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; reviewing the Shailer Mathews Papers for a study titled “Evolving the Divine: Eugenics, Embodied Perfectionism, and the Evolutionary Theology of Shailer Mathews”

Tobias Warner, Assistant Professor of French, University of California-Davis; consulting the International Association for Cultural Freedom Records for a study of “The Role of the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Shaping the Politics of Language in African Literature”

Michael Woods, Assistant Professor of History, Marshall University; to research the Stephen A. Douglas Papers for a book titled “Arguing until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy”