North Korea’s response to The Interview, the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and school violence—is there a link?

In this blog entry, Laura Martocci, author of Bullyingconsiders shame in our culture. And watch this video, where Laura Martocci talks about the relation between shame and bullying. 

Why’d they do it?

Why did Islamic radicals go on a rampage at Charlie Hebdo?
Why did the North Korean government threaten ‘merciless’ action against the US if SONY released The Interview?
Why have American students brought guns to school and opened fire on their peers?

Shame.

A quickly-posted on-line account of the Charlie Hebdo shooting stated:
“MOTIVE: Charlie Hebdo had attracted attention for its controversial depictions of Muhammad. Hatred for Charlie Hebdo ’s cartoons, which made jokes about Islamic leaders as well as Muhammad, is considered to be the principal motive for the massacre.”

EspritdeCorps tells us that “the basic plot [of The Interview] centres on two American journalists acquiring access to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and that rare opportunity prompts the CIA to ask the reporters to assassinate him. Not surprisingly, when the North Koreans learned that this film ends with the death of their actual leader and that the movie is considered a comedy, they took offence.” (italics added)

Comprehending Columbine compRalph Larkin [Comprehending Columbine, Temple, 2007] cites a report claiming that “people surrounded [Harris and Klebold] in the commons and squirted ketchup packets all over them, laughing at them, calling them faggots. That happened while teachers watched. They couldn’t fight back. They wore the ketchup all day and went home covered with it.”

Shame is the common denominator between these acts of violence, perpetrated against those held responsible for the degradation, humiliation, and loss of face.

Most analysts would hesitate to lump students who have gone on rampages with these two recent acts of terrorism. School shootings are not politically motivated, nor can their perpetrators be situated in a ‘shame culture.’ By positioning American culture as vastly different from both Islam and the Juche-influenced culture of North Korea, and by accounting for recent aggressions in terms of this difference, any similarity is easily obscured  A homicidal privileging of pride and honor seem a stark contrast to Occidential ‘guilt cultures’ steeped in rationality, individualism, free speech and the Christian value of forgiveness.

Unfortunately, this oversimplification denies the legitimacy of shame in American culture, and precludes an ability to fully understand the motivations behind our own ‘home-grown’ acts of violence. Simply put, even though America is not considered a shame-culture, shame may still drive acts of violence within it. In fact, denial may inadvertently promote such acts, because there are no cultural templates that instruct individuals on the processing of acutely distressful states of humiliation. While ‘shame-cultures’ may require individuals to seek revenge / restore honor, guilt cultures remain silent, offering no recipe to ease the degradation that gnaws from the inside, destabilizing a sense of self.

Shame is integral to human nature.
Embodied, it burns into and brands the psyche, even as it inscribes the social flesh.
Shame bears witness to the perversion of the self that I, and others, believe me to possess
As a moral emotion, it is linked to the exposure—and judgment—of who I am.
(That is, transgressions—perhaps merely ‘differences’—are not isolated acts that can be detached from self and remediated).

Viewed this way, the ridicule of one’s deeply held religious or political beliefs, on the world stage, can be  as deeply felt as any humiliation  in the cafeteria.

Rage against those who belittle and denigrate a foundational “truth” that anchors and sustains a cultural or social identity, and/or an individual’s sense of self, is not unexpected. Shame lives in the body. It has a somatic nature, and rage is an equally visceral response to the distress, agitation, and felt threat to identity; to belonging. It is the body’s resistance to psychic annihilation.

The violence prompted by rage marks an attempt to manage the (social and psychological) devastation prompted by shame. By its very ferocity, this violence demands that respect be restored. It promises to mitigate the agony of humiliation and rejection by (re)asserting both agency and authority, reclaiming dignity. It is bodily begotten social redemption—and socially begotten bodily redemption.

Bullying_smAs I argue in Bullying: The Social Destruction of Self, it is precisely the possibility of redemption—or its lack—that drives these acts of desperation.  Shame denigrates, but it is the inability to atone, to make amends and have respect restored/be readmitted to the group that looms large, and comes to overwhelm a number of our youth. Trapped in the fishbowl of their schools, unable to reclaim dignity and restore ‘face’ on a social level, and unable to negotiate the twisting, withering sense of inadequacy on a personal level, they seek only to make it stop.

And in order to do that, they may resort to the same extreme behavior that militants of shame-cultures embrace. This similarity of response is likely rooted in the neuro-firing of our brains.  Recent research and fMRI imaging has shown that the social pain linked to shame and rejection register in the same pain centers of the brain associated with tissue damage. And, when we are hurt, when we are humiliated, ostracized, and excluded, the pain (the threat to our social bond/personal well-being) may be so primal as to override any ‘rational’ responses.

In other words, not unlike physical pain, social pain interrupts cognitive functioning.
It impairs an individual’s ability to process information and self-regulate. 
This neurological response, likely a consequence of the interdependence between emotion and cognition processes, suggests that shame, whether experienced in relation to cultural values or to taunts in cyberspace, can debilitate, even incapacitate, the ability to think and act ‘rationally.’

And, it is the need to alleviate this pain—to restore face and redeem oneself (or one’s culture/religion)—that makes the tragedies in our own backyards not  dissimilar to violence occurring on the world stage.

Understanding Net-neutrality

This week in North Philly Notes, marketing assistant Aaron Long discusses Net-neutrality and the Temple University Press titles that address this timely issue.

Net-neutrality has occupied the nation’s attention, since Verizon’s appeal of the FCC’s old net neutrality rules labeled the prior regulations unconstitutional. Finally after an uncertain year for the internet, Tom Wheeler, a former industry lobbyist and the current FCC Commissioner, made plans to reclassify the internet as Title II utility, allowing the organization to effectively regulate internet service providers and their practices.

Net-neutrality stands for the equal treatment of data across any network. Users connect to any network provider and have equal access to every service available, regardless of the company. The basic concept has been the triumphing slogan of the Internet for decades, allowing startups like Google and Facebook to compete against more established brands and emerge as international phenomenon. Since Verizon’s appeal, internet service providers announced services utilizing paid prioritization of digital content. The matter ignited the nation with every major news outlet reporting on it and one especially funny response from John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. Where he compared Tom Wheeler to a dingo babysitting an infant. Even president Obama urged the FCC to reclassify the internet as a utility under Title II with a YouTube video on the White House’s official channel.

The addition of Title II status marks a dramatic shift in the United States’ policy on internet providers with the potential to drive down prices and increase competition. However, the matter could start a legal war between media juggernauts like Comcast and the FCC agency. To learn more, please review Temple University Press’s extensive collection on the history of telecommunications, the cable industry, and tech policy.

Blue Skies, by Patrick Parsons

blue_sky_reviseCable television is arguably the dominant mass media technology in the U.S. today. Blue Skies traces its history in detail, depicting the important events and people that shaped its development, from the pre-cursors of cable TV in the 1920s and 1930s to the first community antenna systems in the 1950s, from the creation of the national satellite-distributed cable networks in the 1970s to the current incarnation of “info-structure” that dominates our lives. Author Patrick Parsons also considers the ways that economics, public perception, public policy, entrepreneurial personalities, the social construction of the possibilities of cable, and simple chance all influenced the development of cable TV.

Thoroughly documented, carefully researched, yet lively, occasionally humorous, and consistently insightful, Blue Skies is the genealogy of our media society.

Air Wars by Jerold Starr  **Best Title for this Topic!**

air-warsA riveting narrative of the price of politics, money, and ambition, and an inspirational account of how ordinary people can prevail over powerful interests, Air Wars tells how a grassroots movement of concerned citizens at WQED in Pittsburgh was able to overcome enormous institutional influence in their quest for public accountability.

These citizens believed strongly in public television’s unique mission to serve the diverse social and cultural needs of local communities. When their own station neglected this mission in the search for national prestige and bigger revenues, they felt profoundly betrayed.

Jerold Starr exposes the political and commercial pressures that made strange bedfellows of the top officials of public broadcasting, the Democratic Party establishment, Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition, home-shopping and “infomall” king Lowell “Bud” Paxson, and billionaire right-wing publisher/philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife.

Far beyond Pittsburgh, Starr looks at how the reform movement has spread to major cities like Chicago, Phoenix, Jacksonville, and San Francisco, where citizen activists have successfully challenged public stations to be more community responsive.

Finally, he outlines an innovative plan for restructuring the public broadcasting service as an independently funded public trust. Joining this vision with a practical strategy, Starr describes the formation of Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting, a national membership organization with a grassroots approach to putting the public back into public broadcasting.

Reverse Engineering Social Media, by Robert Gehl

Reverse Engineering_smRobert Gehl’s timely critique, Reverse Engineering Social Media, rigorously analyzes the ideas of social media and software engineers, using these ideas to find contradictions and fissures beneath the surfaces of glossy sites such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Gehl adeptly uses a mix of software studies, science and technology studies, and political economy to reveal the histories and contexts of these social media sites. Looking backward at divisions of labor and the process of user labor, he provides case studies that illustrate how binary “Like” consumer choices hide surveillance systems that rely on users to build content for site owners who make money selling user data, and that promote a culture of anxiety and immediacy over depth.

Reverse Engineering Social Media also presents ways out of this paradox, illustrating how activists, academics, and users change social media for the better by building alternatives to the dominant social media sites.

Technological Visionsedited by Marita Sturken, Douglas Thomas, and Sandra Ball-Rokeach

Technological-Visions

For as long as people have developed new technologies, there has been debate over the purposes, shape, and potential for their use. In Technological Visions, a range of contributors, including Sherry Turkle, Lynn Spigel, John Perry Barlow, Langdon Winner, David Nye, and Lord Asa Briggs, discuss the visions that have shaped “new” technologies and the cultural implications of technological adaptation. Focusing on issues such as the nature of prediction, community, citizenship, consumption, and the nation, as well as the metaphors that have shaped public debates about technology, the authors examine innovations past and present, from the telegraph and the portable television to the Internet, to better understand how our visions and imagination have shaped the meaning and use of technology.

Remembering Dean Smith

This week in North Philly Notes, Gregory Kaliss, author of Men’s College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality reflects on Dean Smith’s legacy of promoting racial integration.

With the death of Dean Smith on February 7, the world of college sports lost one of the giants in its history, a man who was the standard of consistent excellence during his thirty-six years as the head coach of men’s basketball at the University of North Carolina. With a career 879-254 record, thirty-five winning seasons, eleven Final Four appearances, two national championships, and one Olympic gold medal, Smith clearly excelled on the court.

But, as many have observed, the nation at large has lost someone much more important than just a basketball coach.  For all of Smith’s innovations, from his early adoption of advanced statistical metrics to his creation of the point zone, the Four Corners offense, the huddle at the free throw line, and the tradition of pointing to the passer on a made basket, Smith’s legacy was defined by his contributions off the court.

This Black History Month, it is especially worthwhile to remember Smith’s courage in promoting racial integration in the South.  As a little-known assistant coach in the late 1950s, Smith and his white minister brought a black friend to a popular segregated restaurant in Chapel Hill for lunch.  They were served.  In some ways, that act was as impressive as some of his later stands: with little clout and a tenuous position as an assistant, Smith challenged the racial mores of the community because of his sense of moral rightness.

When Smith became head coach at UNC in 1961, he followed through on his desire to bring black players to Chapel Hill and to the South in general. Although his first attempt to bring a black player onto the team did not work out when the player decided to focus on academics instead, Smith recruited Charles Scott, a tremendously-gifted athlete from New York who played his high school basketball in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

Not only was Scott the first black basketball player at UNC, he was also the first star-caliber black player in the Atlantic Coast Conference during his career from 1966 to 1970. Although the University of Maryland had signed black players prior to UNC, Scott’s stardom made him an iconic figure. In subsequent years, the other schools in the ACC followed suit.

But Smith did more than simply make use of Scott’s basketball skills. In later years, Scott effusively praised Smith for caring about him as a person and for helping him survive the years of racial abuse and social isolation he experienced. Smith also took a courageous stand in encouraging Scott’s political activism with the on-campus Black Student Movement. Many frowned on athletes getting involved in political activism, especially in relation to controversial subjects such as racial equality, but Smith told Scott to follow his beliefs and get involved, a remarkable decision given the turbulence of the 1960s and the still-fraught nature of race relations in Chapel Hill and the South at large.

In later years, Smith pursued a number of activist initiatives that alienated some supporters: from his opposition to pornography and to the sale of alcohol at college sporting events, to his protests against nuclear power and the death penalty. Through it all, he maintained the courage of his convictions and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Let us remember, then, the death of a man who sought to make the world a better place according to his sense of justice—a man who just happened to be an excellent basketball coach as well.

The Super Super Bowl

This week in North Philly Notes, Ray Didinger, author of The New Eagles Encyclopedia, discusses Super Bowl XLIX.

It is unfortunate that so much of the conversation following Sunday’s Super Bowl focused on a bizarre decision by the Seattle coaching staff. It was a bad call by the Seahawk coaches — perhaps the dumbest call in NFL history given the stakes — but to dwell on that one storyline misses a larger point, that is, Super Bowl XLIX was a great game.

It was a dramatic contest with the New England Patriots overcoming a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 28-24. It was the fourth Super Bowl victory for Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, tying him with Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. It also was the fourth Super Bowl for head coach Bill Belichick which tied him with the late Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers) for that lofty honor.

It was a game between teams that were clearly the best in their respective conferences, one the defending champion (Seattle) and the other the last team to win the title in back to back years (New England) and it came down to the final minute with the ball on the one-yard line. You couldn’t script a better finish that that. And it even had a Cinderella hero in Malcolm Butler, a rookie free agent, who came out of nowhere to make the game saving interception.

It was a great football game and it continued a recent trend of highly competitive Super Bowls that keep the vast TV audience on the edge of its seat right to the very end. Nine of the last 14 Super Bowls have been decided by six points or less. The only blowout was last year’s game in which Seattle buried Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos, 43-8. Take that game out of the equation and the average margin of victory in the last eight Super Bowls is 5.4 points.

That’s what you are hoping for in a one-and-done championship scenario. Remember, the NFL isn’t like the other pro leagues where championships are decided by a best of seven series. In the NFL, it is one game with everything on the line. An entire season builds to that one winner take all contest and if its a one-sided bust it is an enormous letdown.

For many years that’s how it played out. Far too many of the early Super Bowls ended in lopsided routs. In the first ten Super Bowls, the average margin of victory was 13 points, more than two touchdowns. The margin actually went up in the next ten years to 17 points.

There was a particularly awful stretch from 1984 (Super Bowl XVIII) through 1990 (Super Bowl XXIV) when six of the seven games were decided by 19 points or more and the average margin of victory was a staggering 26.7 points. That was a time when the NFC was dominant and its champion routinely crushed the AFC representative in the big game. It felt more like an anti-climax than a true championship game. Remember the Chicago Bears pounding the Patriots, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX? Two years later, Washington demolished Denver, 42-10. Two years after that, Denver returned to the Super Bowl only to lose to San Francisco 55-10.

Those were the days when Super Bowl Sunday was more about the parties — how many chicken wings were being consumed across America? — and the commercials that aired during the telecasts than the game itself. We have been fortunate in recent years that the games were compelling enough to hold our interest. Sunday’s game certainly did.

Brady took his place among the greatest quarterbacks in football history. It was his sixth Super Bowl start, the most for any quarterback, and he walked off with his third Most Valuable Player Award tying Montana — who just happens to be his boyhood idol — for that honor. Brady set a Super Bowl record by completing 37 passes and he led two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter against a great Seattle defense to pull out the victory. It was a masterful performance under enormous pressure by Brady who at age 37 knew it could be a last shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Regarding the Seattle coaching decision: It is almost impossible to defend. The Seahawks had moved the ball inside the one yard line and they had Marshawn Lynch, a bruising 220-pound runner, who was running through the Patriots all day. With just 30 seconds to go, the obvious call to simply hand the ball to Lynch one more time and let him punch it into the end zone. But the Seattle coaches out-thought themselves. They knew the Patriots would be expecting the run so they decided to throw the ball. The result: Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted.

Game, set, match.

Since then the decision has been endlessly discussed and dissected and coach Pete Carroll has been flogged on every sports talk show in America. Hopefully that will subside in time and people will take a step back and see it for what it was — just one act in a truly wonderful drama.

Live Twitter Chat @TempleUnivPress on Gender and Political Campaigns

@TempleUnivPress will host its first live Twitter Chat on February 20 from 12noon – 1:00 pm EST.  This week in North Philly Notes, Kelly Dittmar, author of Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns, previews her upcoming Live Twitter Chat and the participants.

The topic under discussion is:  Will a woman run for president in 2016? If so, what role might gender play in her campaign or the campaigns of her opponents?

Dittmar_2.inddIn my book, Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns, I argue that campaigns are gendered institutions where political candidates – men and women – are expected to adapt to the gendered rules of the game. For male candidates, stereotypic expectations of gender (masculinity) and candidacy coincide, while women candidates are expected to meet often disparate voter expectations of both femininity and candidacy. As a result, men and women candidates navigate differently gendered terrain en route to Election Day.

Male and female candidates typically navigate this terrain under the guidance of campaign professionals – practitioners and consultants who make their livings by planning, running, and advising campaigns. In Navigating Gendered Terrain, I survey and interview these political practitioners to better understand the ways in which gender informs campaign strategy and decision-making, noting that their perceptions of voters’ gender expectations often inform the ways in which they run campaigns. Moreover, the strategic and tactical decisions they make matter beyond winning or losing; they also have the potential to replicate or disrupt gender norms in electoral politics.

On Friday, February 20th (12pm-1pm ET), I will be joined by the following experts in a Twitter chat about gender and political campaigns. Veteran political consultants Christine Matthews (Partner, Burning Glass Consulting) and Martha McKenna (Partner, McKenna Pihlaja), as well as Debbie Walsh (Director, Center for American Women and Politics) will lead a conversation about how gender informs campaign strategy, how voters perceive male and female candidates, how strategy informs voters’ gender expectations, and what this all means for women running for and winning elective office. Please join us in this Twitter chat, hosted by Temple University Press (@TempleUnivPress), by following the Twitter handles listed here and using the hashtag #genderpolitics.

The participants include:

  • Christine Matthews (@cmatthewspolls) is President of Bellwether Research and Partner at Burning Glass Consulting. She has been conducting public opinion research for over twenty years at her own firm and as a partner at other top Republican polling firms. She served as an advisor for both Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels’ campaigns, including his re-election against a Democratic woman candidate in which he won 56% of women. In 2014, Campaigns & Elections magazine named Christine as one of their top 50 influencers shaping campaigns and the future of the industry.
  • Martha McKenna (@mmckenn) is a partner in the Democratic political media-consulting firm McKenna Pihlaja. Recently named one of Campaigns & Elections magazine’s “Influencers to Watch in 2014,” she has been integral to Senate gains made by Democrats over the last 3 cycles. After a decade of work with EMILY’s List, Martha successfully engineered U.S. Senate campaigns for Democratic candidates as the political director at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. She then ran the DSCC’s Independent Expenditure operation in 2012 through her consulting firm. Martha is also the co-founder of Emerge Maryland, an organization for Democratic women seeking state and local office.
  • Debbie Walsh (@debbiewalsh58) is director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. She joined the CAWP staff in 1981. As director of the Center, she oversees CAWP’s research, education and public service programs. She is frequently called upon by the media for information and comment and speaks to a variety of audiences around the country on topics related to women’s political participation. First as director of CAWP’s Program for Women Public Officials and now as the Center’s director, Walsh has led the Center’s extensive work with women officeholders and organized more than a dozen national conferences for women officials.
  • Kelly Dittmar (@kdittmar) is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University–Camden and Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. She is the author of Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns (Temple University Press, 2015), as well as multiple book chapters on gender and American politics. Her esearch focuses on gender and American political institutions with a particular focus on how gender informs campaigns and the impact of gender diversity among elites in policy and political decisions, priorities, and processes.  In addition to her academic work, Kelly works with CAWP’s programs for women’s public leadership and has been an expert source and commentator for media outlets including MSNBC, NPR, Huffington Post, and the Washington Post.

Honoring Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the International Olympic Committee’s Woman of the Year

This week in North Philly Notes, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, co-editor of Equal Playresponds to being named the 2014 Woman of the Year by the International Olympic Committee.

The International Olympic Committee presented the 2014 Women & Sports Trophy for the Americas to Nancy Hogshead-Makar during the general assembly in Monaco. Hogshead-Makar was recognized for her life-long advocacy for access and equality in athletics, and her legal expertise on women’s sports issues. Hogshead-Makar is a scholar, frequent speaker, and winner of three Gold Medals in swimming in the 1984 Olympics. She is the co-author of Equal Play; Title IX and Social Change, with Andrew Zimbalist.

Equal Play smallThe Trophy came with $37,000 in prize money for a project that will forward women’s sports issues. Hogshead-Makar will create an on-line training platform for Title IX education, specifically targeted towards coaches. Additional on-line training programs on legal issues involving women and sports are expected later in 2015, including sports administrators, families and law school students.

In 2014, Hogshead-Makar launched Champion Women to lead targeted efforts to aggressively advocate for equality, with expertise in topics include sport access and equal treatment, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and assault, employment and pregnancy and legal enforcement under Title IX and the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.

Hogshead-Makar has testified in Congress numerous times on the topic of gender equity in athletics, written numerous scholarly and lay articles, and has been a frequent guest on national news programs on the topic, including 60 Minutes, Fox News, CNN, ESPN, NPR, MSNBC and network morning news programming. She serves as an expert witness in Title IX cases, has written amicus briefs representing athletic organizations in precedent-setting litigation, and has organized numerous sign-on position statements for sports governing bodies. From 2003 – 2012 she was the Co-Chair of American Bar Association Committee on the Rights of Women. Sports Illustrated Magazine listed her as one of the most influential people in the history of Title IX.

Hogshead-Makar said,

“Winning this award from the International Olympic Committee is as meaningful and powerful as the day I touched the wall in 1984 to win a gold medal. The men and women of the IOC are using the Olympic platform to enhance gender equity globally – throughout society. The stand they’re taking is changing the world; women’s sports participation breaks down stereotypes that hold women back.

Of course there are hundreds of people I’ve worked with shoulder-to-shoulder that I’d like to thank, but in particular I’d like to thank Scott Blackmun, CEO of the USOC for nominating me, Duke Professor Jean O’Barr for inspiring me intellectually, Anita DeFrantz, IOC Executive Board Member for supporting me, and Donna de Varona, 1964 Olympic for sparking this pursuit in my heart back in 1984.”

Remembering the absences of history

This week in North Philly Notes, Roger Aden, author of Upon the Ruins of Liberty, writes about how absences in history can yield surprising tensions and stories.

I was reading a story the other day about a former college basketball coach who had in his possession an immensely valuable historical document: the text used by Martin Luther King, Jr. when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the Washington Mall in 1963. Stunningly, the most memorable portion of the speech did not appear in the text. Instead of concluding his remarks as planned, King both ad-libbed and drew upon previous orations as he shared his dream with the nation. The coach’s prized possession thus gains much of its symbolic power not just from its provenance, but also from the striking absence of language that still resonates in memory half a century later.

Our nation’s stories are full of absences. While we rightfully treasure historical artifacts in which powerful remnants of the past are embedded, we also tightly grasp the stories, memories, and events which remain meaningful to us even if we have few, if any, physical reminders of them. That’s what makes the stories of the President’s House site in Independence National Historical Park so compelling for me. Here, on the front porch of a new building dedicated to remembering and displaying one of our nation’s most treasured historical icons (the Liberty Bell), and less than a block away from a colonial-era structure in which the Declaration of Independence was approved, lies the site in which the revered George Washington dodged Pennsylvania law to ensure that the enslaved Africans toiling in the executive mansion in Philadelphia remained in bondage to him and his wife. We have little physical evidence about the lives of those enslaved Africans nor have we historically devoted many resources to telling the stories of any enslaved Africans in the national commemorative landscape, yet those stories have nonetheless lingered on the periphery of national memory. The excavation of these stories at the President’s House provided powerful reminders that the seemingly absent is always present and that our national embrace of liberty was imperfectly enacted—even in its birthplace.

Aden_2.inddIn Upon the Ruins of Liberty, I explore how this tension between absences and presences manifested itself throughout the development of the site. From the park’s initial reluctance to disrupt its relatively seamless stories of the triumph of liberty and the potency of American exceptionalism, to the dedicated efforts of historians, community activists, and dedicated political leaders to give a presence to the stories of liberty denied, even the initial controversy about how to handle Edward Lawler, Jr.’s discoveries about the site and all of its inhabitants sparked a great deal of soul-searching about the inclusion and exclusion of stories in the park, the commemorative landscape, and the nation’s history. Both the inertia of history and the passion of those whose stories have lingered on the edges of that history starkly emerged in the early stages of the controversy about what to do with Lawler’s revelations.

Nor did the inertia and passion dissipate during, and ever after, the completion of the first federal site dedicated to telling the stories of slavery. Every step in the project’s development—deciding what to do at the site, picking a design for a memorial installation, revising that design after the surprising results of an excavation revealed remnants of the original structure, and telling the stories within the design—featured discussions about how to make present, in the national historical park nicknamed “the cradle of liberty,” the absences of the past. I explore those tensions in Upon the Ruins of Liberty, while drawing upon the insights of those intimately involved with the project and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering which led to the site’s development as it stands today. And, because the stories of history are always open-ended, I illustrate how the completed site remains a place of controversy because of what it includes and excludes in its telling of history. The President’s House site and, I hope, the book which tells the story of its development prod us to remember that the absences of history are not forgotten, but nor are they easily integrated into narratives which possess the inertia of centuries of sharing. The story of the quest for liberty in America, as Dr. King reminded us, is a story we should continue to embrace, while we also work to make present and remember all such quests pursued by the people of the United States.

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