November 20, 2013

Women, Information Technology, and Scholarship (WITS) Revisited

In September 2013, I was privileged to be part of a conversation with four former members of the Women, Information Technology, and Scholarship (WITS) group, which was active at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign through most of the 1990s. Here is the video recording of our conversation.

And here is the transcript to download.

October 11, 2013

Feminist Engineering Education

On October 10, 2013 I went to hear Professor Alice Pawley from Purdue University talk about her research on engineering education at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Colloquium at the U of I.

She has funding from the National Science Foundation to incorporate feminist theory into different educational research studies: an ADVANCE grant that looks at the experiences of women faculty in STEM who work within the promotion and tenure policies, and a CAREER grant called “Learning from Small Numbers” that uses storytelling by undergraduate engineering students to understand how engineering educational institutions are gendered and raced.

Mural about Food Justice at Growing Power, Chicago

Mural about Food Justice at Growing Power, Chicago

Alice Pawley is an associate professor in the School of Engineering Education with affiliations with the Women’s Studies Program and Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering. She has a B.Eng. in chemical engineering from McGill University, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering with a Ph.D. minor in women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She runs the Research in Feminist Engineering (RIFE) group, whose diverse projects and group members are described at the website

Pawley described her work as “critical research” on engineering, because it asks whether the current approaches are what we want to be doing.  Part of her critique is to examine the language we use to describe engineering, as well as the metaphors we use about career achievements. For example, she said the “pipeline” metaphor doesn’t work well for women because many of us have not taken a direct route on our career path. She joked, “If you leak out of the pipeline, you are gone, and if you get back into the pipe, you are a contaminant!” Another goal of her research is to make engineering more inclusive. (At the University of Illinois about 16% of the engineering students are female; nationally, it’s 20%; 15% of the students are of color, if I wrote these numbers down correctly as they zoomed by.)

She argued that the hidden or tacit rules that structure engineering that create a social and functional boundary that separates engineering from not-engineering. Consider: Who is solving engineering problems? Whose problems are considered worth solving? Who decides which problems to solve? Who benefits from problem-solving in this way? Pawley said that most engineers work on projects that are narrow in scope: commercial or industrial or military, but usually not domestic projects. Who makes small-scale things? Inexpensive, low-tech things? Some of these projects that might be considered engineering became “domestic science” or “home economics” and the domain of scientifically-minded women.

Pawley noted that very little research has been done in engineering on raced work, in part because of what is defined as “engineering.” One exception is Amy Slaton’s book Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering: The History of an Occupational Color Line (Harvard, 2010). Rather than framing issues around UNDERrepresention and using metaphors like “chilly climate,” Pawley is using life history methods to describe career paths of women and people of color: She has found a variety of terms used to describe these trajectories and also generally positive concepts, such as garden or water. She stressed the need for a polyculture of mental models, an ecosystem of metaphors so that the metaphor does not limit options.

Engineering must counter its history (and that of many other disciplines) when white men made deliberate efforts to exclude: rules were set up in gendered and raced ways and these created entrenched organizational patterns that still shape our institutions.

Pawley cited the work of sociologists Joan Acker and Dorothy Smith as important to her research. Standpoint feminism helps discover the “ruling relations” that impact our teaching, scholarship and learning. (See Smith, Writing the Social, 1999) Gender and race are intersectional, not additive. (We can’t just assume women of color are like men of color.) We need to focus on consequences in meso- and macro-levels, not just micro levels, so that we understand the multiple ways in which educational systems affect individuals and their identity groups.

Thanks for visiting, Alice Pawley!

June 12, 2013

“All the animals and birds around Taksim Square are dying”

TurkeyWaterCannonArchitectural historian HEGHNAR WATENPAUGH wrote a very useful post for the Society of Architectural Historians on the urban planning aspects of the unrest in Taksim Square and its broader implications.

Thanks to her, I also read Orhan Pamuk‘s reflections in the New Yorker on some of the history and his memories of Taksim Square.

Amnesty International is encouraging people to write to the government officials in Turkey about the police violence and lack of information about those who have been injured and detained. So much tear gas has been used in the area, and inside buildings, that non-human animals are dying and many people are severely injured.

ROAR Magazine has been posting a lot of links to coverage, especially pointing to the abuses occurring in other Turkish cities, when attention is on Istanbul.


April 21, 2013

Cass Gilbert’s Buildings (among others) in Newark, NJ

Demolition proceeds across from Military Park, Newark

Demolition proceeds across from Military Park, Newark



Broad Street Storefronts across from Military Park, Newark









A couple of blocks of buildings along Broad Street, facing Military Park in Newark, are being demolished in 2013. These blocks included stores where many people once shopped, but have been vacant for quite a while. Apparently, the Prudential Company plans to build more office space once the land is cleared. As is often the case with a key economic stakeholder in a city, Prudential has shaped much of downtown Newark. An ensemble of Prudential buildings by George Browne Post was demolished in 1957; these dated from 1890-92 and were steel-framed and limestone-clad, in Romanesque Revival style. In 1926-27, when Cass Gilbert constructed the Gibraltar building for Prudential adjacent to the Post buildings, he designed elevated bridges to connect his structure to those of G.B. Post. When Post’s buildings were torn down, so were the bridges. Gilbert’s 14-story Gibraltar Building was renovated in 1997 by Grad Partnership and currently houses the Superior Court of NJ.


Gibraltar Building, Newark



Bridge between old Prudential Building and Gibraltar Building








A few blocks from the Gibraltar Building, Gilbert designed the Kinney Building (1913-15, altered 1928). This steel-framed, limestone-clad building has a granite base and still stands at 788-92 Broad St (at Market). At twelve floors, it was an investment building on land owned by the Kinney estate; the Hedden Construction Co. was the contractor. The foundation was planned to carry four additional floors, but they were never added. Just down the block from the Kinney, at Broad and Mechanic Streets, is another Gilbert building, the National State Bank (1912).  In 2012, this structure was supposedly being rehabbed into a boutique hotel; construction appears to be ongoing in 2013. The ten-story Scheuer Building at Broad and Commerce, designed in 1905 by Gilbert for a firm of importing grocers, has been demolished.


National State Bank, 1912



Kinney Building










Gilbert’s massive, ground-hugging American (Fire) Insurance Co. Building, at 70 Park Pl, was built 1902-05, altered 1921-24, and was also demolished, in 1980. While its stone structure certainly looked fireproof, the changing needs of insurance companies and a gloomy financial situation brought the wrecking ball.

Essex County Courthouse, from Market Street

Essex County Courthouse, from Market Street


John Haviland's 1838 courthouse was replaced by Cass Gilbert's

John Haviland’s 1838 courthouse was replaced by Cass Gilbert’s








The first decade of the twentieth century also witnessed the design and construction of many of Newark’s public buildings. The City Hall of 1902-08 was built at 920 Broad Street (John and Wilson Ely, archItects.) The Newark Public library of 1901-03 faced Washington Square; the competition for the Essex County Court House was won by Cass Gilbert in 1901 and completed in marble and Tiffany glass in 1906. Gilbert’s courthouse replaced the 1838 vaguely Egyptian Revival structure by John Haviland. On the axis of Market Street, the courthouse is visible from the commercial center of Newark. The sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, created a “Seated Lincoln” in 1911 for the plaza in front of the courthouse. Newark-raised writer Philip Roth mentions this statue in his 1998 novel, I Married a Communist (p. 91) and just today in the New York Times (April 21, 2013), Roth eulogized his Newark high school teacher on whom the central character of that novel was based. Neighboring Hudson County officials liked Gilbert’s design so much that Hugh Roberts, a local New Jersey architect, closely modeled his design for the Hudson County courthouse (1910) on it. The restoration of the Essex County Courthouse by Ford Farewell Mills and Gatsch took place in 2005.

Ernest F. Guilbert and James O. Betelle started off their architectural careers in the New York City office of Cass Gilbert. By the second decade of the 20th century, they had joined in practice in Newark, creating many schools in New Jersey as well as adjacent states. While Guilbert died in 1916, the firm continued under that name, designing the Essex Club in 1926 (the current home of NJ Historical Society). This Federal Revival, domestically-scaled building faces Military Park, and is just down the block from the Robert Treat Hotel (1916), also by Guilbert and Betelle.


Other buildings that we did not have time to look at on our tour of Newark, include:

  • Trinity & St. Philip’s Episcopal Cathedral at Broad & Rector Streets, 1809; base of tower dates from 1744; Josiah James and Richard Upjohn
  • Peddie Memorial/First Baptist Church, 1890, 572 Broad St., William Halsey Wood (Newark architect)
  • Newark Public Library, 1903, Rankin and Kellogg, 5 Washington St. (now has NJ Historical Collection)
  • North Reformed Church, 1859-68, William Kirk, at 510 Broad St. (by library)
  • Newark Museum, 43-49 Washington St., founded 1909, and includes the 1884 Ballantine House; Michael Graves addition, 1989
  • Grace Church, 1847-48, 950 Broad St, Richard Upjohn

Newark, New Jersey, on Lunaape Land


I am in the New York City area this week to celebrate the centennial of the Woolworth Building, a skyscraper designed by the architect Cass. Gilbert. A group of folks, including especially Helen Post Curry and Chuck Post, along with Barbara Christen, have been key organizers of this ambitious week of activities. On April 24, I will lead a tour of Newark, NJ, where Gilbert designed and built a number of buildings. In preparation, I wrote up some of my research in this and the next post.

As a city in the United States, Newark is over three centuries old. Before Newark was occupied and built up by English settlers, the Lunaape (Lenape) people lived there. The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians of New Jersey are based in southern NJ; the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation in the north (around Mahwah, NJ). Lunaape people also are now in Oklahoma. Since I am documenting some of what I know about the context of several twentieth-century buildings in Newark by the architect Cass Gilbert (1859-1934), I will not focus on the pre-19th century history, and just say that Newark was founded in 1666; it was incorporated in 1836. Named after Newark, England, it is nine miles west of New York City, and is the county seat of Essex County.  Broad and Market Streets were among the original thoroughfares and are still busy with traffic and people. Ten miles of waterfront include the Passaic River and Newark Bay; the lower Passaic River is a superfund site due to the long history of industrial pollution. 

Among the industries that thrived in Newark were leather-tanning and brewing (tanning and beer do not an appetizing combination make!) The Morris Canal—the bed of which is now mostly filled by train tracks—was completed in 1831, connecting Newark and Phillipsburg (where it connected with other waterways.) For the next four decades, the canal transported ore to Pennsylvania, and coal to New Jersey. The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DL&WRR) moved into New Jersey in 1867, to connect to markets in New York. The canal’s use waned and closed completely in 1923.

Important for this story is that the DL&W Railroad was a key connection of Cass Gilbert’s: Samuel Sloan, who was president (and then chairman of the board) of the DL&WRR, and William Truesdale, DL&WRR president after 1899, were associates of Gilbert’s through Howard Carroll. Carroll was vice-president of the Starin Transportation Company, and son-in-law of the president, John Starin. (Starin’s company ran tugboats and lighters.) Carroll was the client for the Gilbert-designed West Street Building in Manhattan, which leased the top floors of that building to the DL&WRR upon its completion in 1907. Gilbert would have been well aware of DL&WRR acquisitions and rebuilding because he was in the business of joining clubs and organizations that included these men, such as the Ohio Society of New York.

In Newark, Truesdale added new stations and eliminated grade crossings in the first decade of the 20th century, when Gilbert was obtaining commissions on both sides of the Hudson. (The railroad work divided neighborhoods, as did the construction of the interstate [I-280] later.) These infrastructural changes in Newark paralleled cultural and governmental building projects there: the Essex County Courthouse competition, won by Gilbert, took place in 1901. The Newark Public Library (Kellogg and Rankin), the design of which was inspired by Italian Renaissance palazzi (e.g. the Strozzi) and the Boston Public Library, opened in 1901. The polymath, Dr. John Cotton Dana, became the library director in 1902. (Thanks to Linda C. Smith for the link to Dana’s biography.) There were several institutions of higher education in Newark; the Newark Museum Association was formed in 1909.

Interior court of Newark Public Library

Interior court of Newark Public Library


Skylight of Newark Public Library

Skylight of Newark Public Library


Commerce was thriving as well: Tiffany and Co. had plant there, and Newark was one of the great insurance centers, with seven home, fire, and life insurance companies. Prudential was Newark’s insurance leader; in 1903, the company owned the four largest office buildings, each about 11 stories. The 1900 census indicated that Newark had 246,000 people, the sixteenth largest city in the United States; by 1910, the population had increased to 347,469.

The Newark Archives Project will allow people to discover more about Newark: surveys have now been completed at the New Jersey Historical Society, the Newark Museum Library and Archives, the City of Newark Archives, the Newark Public Library, and the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark. (Thanks to Dr. Nicole Cooke for the link to NAP.) Newark has been the home of a number of well-known folks: Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Meier, Philip Roth, and Sarah Vaughan.

March 15, 2013

WITS: An Early Electronic Network of Feminists

For about a year I have been following FemTechNet and now I have joined a group committed to teaching a course on feminism and technology this next fall, distributed over about 20 campuses. When Chip Bruce was in town recently, he reminded me of the Women, Information Technology and Scholarship (WITS) colloquium that met at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). WITS helps connect those of us in FemTechNet with an earlier effort.

WITS began in 1991, twenty-two years ago! The impetus for the group was provided by Australian author and educator Dale Spender, who gave a talk on the UIUC campus in 1991: “Feminism Does Not Compute: The Computer Age—Implications for Feminism.” WITS was an invitation-only group, proposed by Dale Spender, Cheris Kramerae, then professor of Speech Communication at UIUC, and Jeanie Taylor, then Associate Director of the UIUC Center for Advanced Study (CAS). CAS supported the group for five years, until 1996. The aim was to explore gender equity and information technology among various disciplines, represented by about 35 people identified across campus. By the second year, 1992, WITS had an advisory group, its own electronic mailing list, and T-shirts! That summer, Jeanie and Cheris presented the WITS idea to a Gender, Technology and Ethics conference in Sweden. During the spring of 1993, there was a WITS reading group about “Women in Architectural Space” and the following year, several WITS women joined with women in Chicago to prepare for the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in September of 1995. After 1996, the group met for another two years at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS). The spirit of collaboration and innovation still thrives at GSLIS, if I do say so myself (since I work there)!

WITS members edited this volume, published in 1993

WITS members edited this volume, published in 1993

What I had not known before my conversation with Chip was that WITS published an edited book in 1993 reflecting on their discussions about “the politics of information technologies processes.” [1] They asked how “gender, race and class hierarchies are made part of the circuitry in new information technologies.” “We know,” they wrote, “that many campus discussions about new information technologies are actually discussions about the reconstitution of race, sex and class hierarchies in the new systems.” (3) The WITS group of faculty and academic professionals initially met at least once a month, sponsored speakers, and organized workshops. In the book, in addition to lists of colloquium presentations, electronic resources, and publications, there were articles about access, training, pedagogy, and publishing. I learned about the Electronic Salon at Lewis and Clark College, held in April 1992, an early example of a “cyberspace of our own.” Another effort was that by Judy Smith, project director for Women’s Opportunity Resource Development (WORD) in Missoula, Montana, in 1992; she introduced many “reluctant users” to IT.  WITS members noted that “very little of the research on women and minorities is included in existing and developing electronic databases of the humanities and social and behavioral sciences…. If women aren’t involved in the classification systems of the new electronic publishing, women will be excluded not only in the texts but also in the meta-texts.” (23) Jo Kibbee, who went to England in 1992 to research the Joint Academic Network (JANET) there, noted the importance of WITS in studying this early electronic network, providing “an enthusiastic and supportive environment in which intellectual (and technological) curiosity can prosper.” (75) JANET was “one of the first networks to target libraries,” according to Jo.

In 1996, Betsy Kruger and Jo Kibbee co-authored “The Women, Information, Technology, and Scholarship (WITS) Colloquium at UIUC: Feminist Model for Education and Activism on Campus,” in Feminist Collections, 17:2, pp. 38-39. In addition to explaining the programs and structure of the group, the article mentioned a brochure that WITS developed and distributed in 1995, “Gender Equity in Global Communication Networks: A Global Alert.” The WITS group launched a website as well in 1995, called the WITS Policy Quilt, and other groups were invited to share their policy recommendations online.

Design for the Homepage, I think, by WITS members

Design for a T-shirt, by WITS members; according to Cheris Kramerae, there were also sweatshirts

This post on WITS was a great excuse to connect or re-connect with friends about WITS: thanks to Jo Kibbee, Bea Nettles, and Jeanie Taylor. Jo lent me her transparencies (remember overhead projectors?) from a talk she gave about WITS. Apparently there was initial difficulty bridging between women in science and engineering and those in the humanities and social sciences; WITS members worked to develop programming that would meet the needs of a range of disciplines.

Other WITS participants—there were about 35, but membership rose to 50 in the mid-nineties–are still in Urbana-Champaign: Kathryn Anthony, Jenny Barrett, Colleen Bushell, C. L. Cole, Ramona Curry, Leigh Estabrook, Nan Goggin, Frances (Jacobson) Harris, Gail Hawisher, Christine Jenkins, Vicki Jones, Betsy Kruger, Melanie Loots, Radha Nandkumar, Kathy Perkins, Celeste Quinn, Shang-Fen Ren, Dianne Rothenberg, Linda Smith, Beth Stafford-Vaughan, Angharad Valdivia, Liesel Wildhagen, Marianne Winslett, and Joyce Wright. Sadly, WITS members Kate Cloud and Leigh Star died in 2010; Jean Peterson died in 1998. (These names were taken from the WITS directory of 1994-95, supplied to me by Jo Kibbee.) These women represented fields from anthropology, architecture, and atmospheric sciences to radio and theatre, from cinema studies, graphic design, and library science to photography, physics, psychology and writing studies.

Jeanie noted that “one of the great things about WITS is that it continued to have impact beyond those years–WITS folks serving on university technology committees and books published….” Given that I am co-teaching the FemTechNet course with Sharra Vostral and C.L. Cole (Cole was part of WITS), the impact of WITS endures still.

[1] H. Jeanie Taylor, Cheris Kramarae, and Maureen Ebben, eds. Women, Information Technology + Scholarship: Women, Information Technology, and Scholarship Colloquium  (Urbana, IL: Center for Advanced Study, 1993).


January 17, 2013

Job-Less: Changes toward Balance?










A friend recently said something to the effect that “we can slow down when we’re in the ground.” I’d really like to slow down before then, but I know it will be hard for me to do. In the coming months I hope to establish some balance among my research, writing, volunteer work, time with friends and family, and life maintenance. I want to get to the gym, go for long walks with friends, hang out with my children and partner, read novels, sleep, cook and eat tasty, healthy food, clean my basement, AND prepare for teaching next fall, AND write an article, edit another, start my next book AND prepare a talk for May in St. Louis, AND visit southern Illinois, Colorado and the UK. AND that’s not all. You get the idea….

In order to re-prioritize my life, I just drastically scaled back my day job at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS). I’ll remain on one grant for another year (probably.) That shift down to four hours a week (!) will free up daytime hours for research and writing. Boldly I go: to write grants to raise funds to do my research; to read challenging books and craft my arguments; to face that blinking cursor and turn my tangled thoughts into what I hope will be reasoned prose; to try new ways of linking ideas for publishing (ie, Zotero, Scalar); to support other writers and thinkers in their efforts; to develop some new courses; and to be grateful every day for my good fortune. GSLIS is letting me use a small office and I will stay involved in the Inclusions and Exclusions Reading Group, the Fab Lab Champions, Action Research Illinois, Imagining America, iFoundry, Technology and Culture’s advisors, the Ethnography of the University Initiative, a few student theses and I-Promise…until it seems like I should move on.

The artists with whom I have been working aren’t getting any younger (nor am I), and I want to be able to collaborate with them while we can all do so.  So, the first priority is to draft several fellowship and grant proposals. In the process, I will sketch the next steps for my research on the art of Stephen Willats and tackle an essay for Routledge on critical spatial practice in US cities since 1960. This spring I also need to better articulate the implications of the University of Local Knowledge in Bristol for progressive education, for an article in the International Journal of Progressive Education. Also, the main branch of the St. Louis Public Library, designed by Cass Gilbert and opened in 1912, is celebrating its centennial and major renovation; I will be on a panel with an architect from Cannon Design who oversaw the renovation and the Library director in St. Louis in May. I have some new thoughts about early 20th century libraries that I would like to develop for that talk. Busy? Yes. Balanced? I hope. Broke? Most certainly.

October 14, 2012

Institutional Racism and the Morrill Act

Altgeld Hall

Altgeld Hall, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

I was recently on a panel at the University YWCA in Champaign called “Institutional Racism 101.” This is part of a series the YW presents that provides participants a “racial justice certificate” when the series concludes.  Gia Lewis-Smallwood organizes the series. Kudos to her and the Y!

I was pleased to meet a whole new group of undergraduates committed to talking about and taking action against racism. The other panelists were Ken Salo from Urban Planning, Lorenzo Baber from Educational Policy Studies, and Christopher Span, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Education. We spent some time defining racism, institutional racism, and talking about generational differences in the room. I wrote up my comments.

First some definitions, with the caveat that these terms are dynamic.

RACISM can be defined as “power + prejudice,” but is perhaps better named white supremacy. White supremacy names a structure that Robert Jensen argues includes patriarchy, predatory corporate capital, empire and the coming ecological collapse. Jensen says only by naming these structures, connecting them in dynamic ways, can we begin to face the legacy and present versions of these. Andrea Smith notes that colonial interests, patriarchal interests and class interests are all interwoven in whiteness.

INSTITUTIONS are usually formal organizations like governments and schools, but also can refer to a whole network of groups, ie, health care or legal structures.

INSTITUTIONAL RACISM is a system of inequality based on socially constructed categories. Complex structures of social and material relationships both represent and constitute oppression. These systems change over time, are often normalized and therefore not visible to those of us who most benefit from them. All sorts of institutions can be “troubled” or questioned: courts, churches, social clubs, housing associations, schools, businesses. What values are revealed in bylaws or newsletters or websites? Here at the UI, the Ethnography of the University aims to provide a framework for examining the University of Illinois as an agent in peoples’ lives.

The Morrill Act is being commemorated soon with a symposium at the Illini Union on Friday October 26, 2012. The University of Illinois exists here because of the Morrill Act, which was signed into federal law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, thus this year is its 150th anniversary. Each state was provided 30,000 acres of “unappropriated” federal land, a “land grant,” and thus UI is called a land grant university. The idea was to sell this land to fund a major public university to educate farmers and “industrial” workers. By 1867, the Illinois Industrial University had been founded in Urbana. One of my questions is: was the land that was granted by the federal government to the states really theirs to give?

 No, it was not. Authorities made land available by removing Indians who lived on it. People—Sac, Fox, Peoria, Potawatomi, Meskwaki, Cahokia, Tamaroa, Piankesaw, Wea, Kaskaskia, among others–at one time lived on and with this land. Many were forcibly removed, or killed, but of course their descendants continue to live today, mostly not in Illinois. This land grant university is built upon land that does not belong to it…as various broken treaties and outright theft attest.[1] Another piece of the Morrill Act is legislation that was passed in 1890, requiring that land grant institutions either consider “race” in admissions or establish a separate college for blacks.

Already, in these two bits of information about the Morrill Act, we are in the thick of institutional racism…institutions built on entrenched social and political practices and continued by unexamined assumptions that the dominant power group doesn’t challenge or disrupt. I hope some of these issues are addressed in the symposium at the end of the month.

[1] Kaskaskia signed Treaty of Vincennes, 1803 (southern third of the state); Treaty of Edwardsville, 1818 (signed by chiefs of Peoria, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Cahokia and Tamaroa); 1832, Treaty of Castor Hill, for removal to n.e. Kansas; 1854 treaty ceded land in Kansas; 1867 treaty “removed” people to Oklahoma      

August 21, 2012

Mozilla Ignite “Killer” Apps

The Mozilla Foundation has joined with the National Science Foundation and U.S. Ignite to sponsor a “killer app” challenge. The deadline is August 23. Today I submitted my idea, which you can see here along with many, many others. (There are monetary prizes.)

This is the 150th anniversary of a mass execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota, in December of 1862. Waziyatawin reports this history in this post. Many more Dakota people died during imprisonment during that winter. Thinking about this genocidal history during a recent trip to Minnesota, I decided to propose an “app” called STOLEN LANDS, BROKEN TREATIES.

Respect Native Hosts, Yard Signs supporting Edgar Heap of Birds' "Beyond the Chief"

Here’s my proposal. The Mozilla Ignite questions are in italics.

Stolen Lands, Broken Treaties

The pitch: in 140 characters
U. S. residents occupy land stolen from indigenous peoples. How can we learn about the land and its inhabitants before us?

The solution:Describe your proposed solution. How does it address the problem or opportunity you’ve identified? (Aim for 400 words or less — brevity is the soul of wit.)

This application for mobile devices will use location services and then pull in historical and geographical data to help visualize the location prior to settlement by white people. Of course, native peoples moved across landscapes over time, so the app will allow the user to specify a fifty year time frame and see the numbers and identifications of different groups in the area. Recognizing that the boundaries of the United States are political, when appropriate, the app will indicate cross-border connections in Canada or Mexico. In the event that the user is on Indian-occupied land, such as a reservation or predominantly tribal area, the app can still be used to show historical changes over centuries.

 In which category does your idea fit?

Education and workforce focus

How will your idea make people’s lives better? Specifically, who would benefit and at what scale?

Mainstream U.S. culture is historically ignorant, and generally unconnected to the land which makes our lives possible. By providing the means to learn about the particular place where a person finds him/herself, individuals or entire classrooms or groups of learners can gain a perspective on their location, as well as become aware that history takes place, that it is spatial as well as temporal. This app can do much more than promote historical awareness, however. As Waziyatawin noted (in a different context) in 2007, it could “compel a reworking of the existing social order…. Truth-telling in this context becomes a major act of decolonization.”

How does your idea take advantage of next-generation networks? Does some version of this already exist? What current technological limitations are making your idea hard to execute? What challenges do you expect?

No version of this app exists to my knowledge. The need for historically accurate digital maps as well as a means to correlate the maps to tribal locations, movements and treaties over time are not so much a technological limitation as much as a digital humanities problem. It is possible that this work has been done and I do not know about it. Further, there is the belief that humans do not “own” the land, but that it is a gift that we should cherish and nourish. Given that our society has, in fact, colonized the land and made it into property, I think this app’s main challenges would be assembling and displaying accurate information based on widely distributed data. In any case, for this size of a country, with several centuries’ of region-specific information, there is big data to manage and interpret, which needs high-speed broadband.

Are you interested in making your idea a reality? Do you want to try and build this app? If so, do you need help? What kind of help — guidance, mentorship, learning materials, more team members? (This won’t have an impact on how your idea is judged — we’re just curious.)

I would need a research team of indigenous historians and geographers, programmers and marketers. I have only have the traditional skills of an historian.

The form then asked for external links to support the idea, so I linked to Waziyatawin’s work, that of Edgar Heap of Birds, and Debbie Reese’s blog.

July 21, 2012

Bondville Stop of the “Inter-Urban” Project


1977 former potato chip truck

What do a panel truck, a jib crane and the remains of a wooden grain elevator have in common? All are being repurposed by an energetic, volunteer team of sculptors and designers for Urbana Land Arts Inter-Urban project. When it is all finished (soon–in August 2012!), it will be a mobile exhibition space, with the capability of unloading wooden risers from the truck using the crane. People can then sit and engage with whatever’s going on in or out of the truck when it parks in various spots around east central Illinois. The crane used to ride the rails and now will be pulled by a 1977 former potato chip truck.

Bobby Zokaites and Paul Howe crank the crane





Hand-cranked, the crane in certain positions is capable of really heavy lifting. For enthusiasts of industrial archeology, it provides a front row seat to view railway-building or repair equipment manufactured in southern Minnesota in the early 20th century by the Fairmont Machine Company (then it became Fairmont Railway Motors.) The artists—Chris Carl, Bobby Zokaites, Paul Howe, and Sutton Demlong—extensively rebuilt the support platform, gears, cables, bolts, etc., so that it winds up very smoothly and rotates 360 degrees, as it did in the past. Bobby, Paul and Chris all met at Franconia Sculpture Park in Minnesota a couple years back. Chris invited them to join him over the last month in working really long hot dirty days in Bondville (just west of Champaign, IL)  to transform these old machines. Paul came from Greensboro, North Carolina; Bobby and Sutton came from Tempe, Arizona; and David “Prairie” Monk has provided space for them to work at the warehouse that he rents in Bondville.  Not only that, Dave salvaged the wooden elevator that used to be on Staley Road west of Champaign, as well as the jib crane that sat in Piatt County on property that Heartland Pathways owns. Dave is Mr. Salvage and has collected a huge variety of human-made and plant-made stuff since he arrived in Champaign in the 1960s. Seeds, bicycles, carpet pieces, photographs, posters, drawings, metal and wooden artifacts—you name it, Dave probably has it stashed somewhere. I am so grateful to Dave for all his dedicated work for decades on behalf of native plants and spaces and I am just delighted that Chris Carl and his colleagues have joined in artfully mobilizing some of the materials that Dave has rescued, exploring ways to connect us all to the heartland.

Partially constructed seating from salvaged wooden elevator

Inter-Urban will define a space and provide a context for a variety of exhibits, performances, and activities. It reminds me a bit of the recent visit to Chicago of the Seed Story Broadcast Tour and their collaboration with the Hull-House Museum and Raise the Roof farm. This mobile broadcasting studio collected audio stories, cleaned and exhibited seeds.

Another link to Inter-Urban through literally digging up the past and using it for new forms of artistic production is the railroad barge that David Sharps raised from the muck of New York Harbor in the 1980s. Now housing the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge, the 1914 wooden barge also travels to historic ship displays with the help of Tug Pegasus, a 1907 tugboat piloted by Captain Pamela Hepburn.

Stay tuned for further adventures with cranes, potato chip trucks and prairie plantings!