Saturday, April 12, 2014

When Geography and History Collide at OAH

By Nina Kendall
I recently attended a session at the Organization of American Historians Meeting titled "Conceptualizing Black Life, Community, and Protest in the Borderland." This session began by redefining borderland and describing recent increased interest in borderland history. The featured historians went on to assert that what one might traditional think of a border states might better be described as an amorphous borderland region.
Developing an understanding of historical regions as a way to better understand events of the past is fascinating. What would define the "borderland region" between the North and South? How would it be described? What types of data would be used? Would this region be fixed? Does it change over time?
Both Historians who spoke made an effort to employ this understanding and define the region. Here are the details they offered:
Place in Region: Baltimore, Maryland
Date: 1930s-1940s
Characteristics: size at time 800,000, industrialized like the North, culturally Southern, 2nd busiest ports, large working class developed, edge of BOSNYWASH,
Profoundly segregationist
Transformations: Growth of NAACP to numbers, worked on integrating colleges, improved teacher pay, then worked with industrial unionism
Interesting trends: Movements in World War II collide as migration to cities made battlegrounds of the workplace and segregated neighborhoods.
Place: Cairo, Illinois
Characteristics:  It is seen as border cities. (Other Border Cities: Louisville, Cincinnati, Evansville)
Physical Geography: between Ohio River and Mississippi River. Border states more of borderland region.
Other Characteristics: practices slavery, no plantation agriculture,  20%-30% black population, culturally southern, political economy= political mindframe, segregation practiced by tradition less codified by law.
The goal of this description was to establish a context to help foster understanding how and why Black Life in these communities was different from other communities.  What do you think? Can you find similarities in their understanding of this region? Do you see the role of the region in a historical context?
This is certainly the type of thinking that could be replicated in the classroom. Students can identify and define regions. They can investigate how these contexts change the dynamics of political and social relationships. This is an activity that could be helpful in understanding developments in the Colonial America, violence during Reconstruction, expansion of suffrage in the West, or used to explore frontier opportunity.
What will you teach absolute location or relative location influenced region?

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