This week, The Extraordinary Times catches up with TaraShea Nesbit, Miami University Assistant Professor of English Fiction and Creative Nonfiction, and acclaimed author of two historical novels: The Wives of Los Alamos (NY: Bloomsbury, 2014) and most recently, Beheld (NY: Bloomsbury, 2020). Beheld, which dramatizes the world of Plymouth Colony, comes out in paperback format 10/19/2021. Order your copy today!
* Do you see a connecting thread between your first published novel, The Wives of Los Alamos, and your second novel, Beheld?
Yes! Both projects reexamine a turning point in human history and are interested in thinking about the implications of individual actions within the scope of a larger collection of people, as well as how these past events shape and echo our present moment.
The Wives of Los Alamos explores the creation and subsequent detonation of the atomic bomb through the experiences of women in the community of Los Alamos, and Beheld tells the story of the murder of a colonist through the alternating viewpoints of two very different women in the colony: the governor’s second wife, Alice Bradford, and a woman of a family recently out of indentured servitude, Eleanor Billington, on the day the murder takes place. But both books explore a group of people in a closed-off community who have it in mind to work for a greater good, but personal interest gets in the way—social striving, professional ambition—and the group loses sight, if they ever had it, of the importance to care for the whole.
* What inspired you to explore Plymouth Colony in Beheld?
I was in an early American literature class in graduate school, reading William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, when I learned that a woman slipped, jumped, or was pushed off the Mayflower when it was moored.
People often repeat a story told by Cotton Mather, who was not on the ship, about her cause of death. Mather wrote in his biography of Bradford in 1702, roughly 80 years after the Mayflower docked and after William Bradford was dead:"...at their first landing, his [Bradford’s] dearest consort accidentally falling overboard, was drowned in the harbour" Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (Hartford: Silus Andrus & Son, 1853), vol. 1, p. 111.
Was it really an accident? Should we trust this account by someone who was not present, not even alive, when the death occurred? Is a moored ship easy to slip off of?
We know the story of “the pilgrims” primarily from William Bradford, who wrote his book around the time a new colony, The Massachusetts Bay Colony, was founded. Some historians have speculated that he wrote the book in part because he feared the status of Plymouth was declining, and he needed to assert the colony’s goodliness. In his account of Plymouth, we learn of the difficult struggle to establish the colony and all of the deaths that occurred that first winter, but Bradford does not mention the cause of one death that first winter: the death of his very own wife, Dorothy.
I wanted to know more about the history of the northeastern woodlands and look again at the early American story about “pilgrims” that I had been told as a child with the eyes of an adult. And I started my research with that mystery of the woman who died by falling from the Mayflower.
I thought: If Bradford left out the death of his first wife, was he leaving out other important stories from Plymouth, about who these people were and what they did and did not do? Of course he was. The national holiday meant to represent peaceful cohabitation, is for many a day of mourning.
* What historical sources did you draw on in your research, and how did they color your fictional characterizations?
So, so many! Not only historical resources, but conversations and interviews with scholars working today. I worked at the American Antiquarian Society for a summer and was fascinated by early maps of the northeastern woodlands and execution sermons. The maps helped shape my understanding of how populated and developed the area around Patuxet (which the settlers renamed Plymouth) really was. And the sermons were fascinating pamphlets to see an execution as a place for gaining parishioners. I read all the primary documents from Plymouth in the early 1600s that I could find—Bradford’s letters, the Plymouth Court Records, the pamphlets sent back to England to try to sell Plymouth to people thinking of going to the colonies, like Good News From New England, and documents I could find written by women at the time, though none existed from Plymouth, I did find letters by European women discussing their views on parenting and infant loss, two aspects I explore in the book.
Some critical reads: This Land Is Their Land, David Silverman; Our Beloved Kin, Lisa Brooks; Dissenting Bodies: Corporealities in Early New England, Martha Finch; The History of White People, Nell Irvin Painter; White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, Nancy Isenberg
I began writing when I was in a literary history class, to the book was inspired by that research, and then I kept adding as I learned more and more, up until the very last moments the editor said, That’s it! The acknowledgements in the back of the book highlight many more.
* Do you see any compelling parallels between 17th century Plymouth and today's United States?
Yes. We are a divided nation, as we have been, from the beginning. Perhaps our division is linked to a sense of scarcity and xenophobia, inequity of economic stability and ideological line drawing related to beliefs, often religious beliefs, but if we acknowledge America as a country partially founded on xenophobia and a want for economic gain and acknowledge how the Mayflower stories have often been previously told in ways that deny unsavory aspects of the settlers, perhaps we can reckon with that violence and inequity, and develop a more equitable future.
* What historical novelists, living or dead, do you most admire, and why?
This might sound surprising and I hope it doesn’t sound dismissive: I don’t read historical novelists as a genre. I look to texts that pull me in at the level of language, or surprise, or humor often derived from satire and sometimes those are set in a time before the author’s life and sometimes they aren’t. I love Laird Hunt’s Neverhome, about a woman who pretends to be her husband in order to fight in the civil war—it was both a book that evoked a time period and explored timeless aspects of humanity in very distilled prose. I’ve recently loved and/or returned to Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats (satire), Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (earnest book about a grandmother and grandchild relationship following grief), Leslie Jamison’s The Recoverings (explores the relationship between writers and addiction), and George Saunders’ short story “Sea Oak” (a story I have an essay forthcoming about on LitHub).
This week, The Extraordinary Times caught up with writer John Kiesewetter. Kiesewetter grew up in Middletown, where his favorite Reds player was pitcher Joe Nuxhall from Hamilton. He started his journalism career as a Middletown Journal summer intern while attending Ohio University. After he graduated from OU, the Cincinnati Enquirer hired him for a 13-week summer internship which he parlayed into a forty-year career, the last thirty as TV/Radio columnist. He has covered TV/media for WVXU-FM and WMUB-FM since 2015. Kiesewetter just published his first book, Joe Nuxhall: The Old Lefthander & Me—My Conversations with Joe Nuxhall about the Reds, Baseball & Broadcasting.
Note: Join the author for a free public talk on Joe Nuxhall at Miami University’s Middletown campus, 6pm Tuesday November 9. The Old Lefthander & Me is available at Kiesewetter’s website, tvkiese.com, and at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, and Amazon.
*What was your personal connection to the Old Lefthander?
Being a lefthander, Joe Nuxhall has been my favorite Reds baseball player since I was 9, in 1962, when Nuxhall came up from the minors to go 5-0 for the Reds. I thought he was some young stud pitcher, but my Dad explained to me that Joe was the youngest Major League Baseball player at age 15 in 1944, then spent seven years in the minors before making the team in 1952. He was one of the Reds best pitchers in the 1950s.
I put Joe Nuxhall's 1963 Topps baseball card in a frame, and placed it on my dresser. It's still on my dresser today. As the Enquirer's TV columnist, I got to meet Nuxhall and interview him many times. I always recorded those interviews, and they are the basis for my new book, Joe Nuxhall: The Old Lefthander & Me – My Conversations with Joe Nuxhall about the Reds, Baseball & Broadcasting. We talked about his 1950s and '60 teammates; his partnership (and off-air pranks) with Marty Brennaman; his achievements as a pitcher and batter; his "Star of the Game" interviews; and even his Kroger TV commercials.
*What were Nuxhall's greatest attributes as a player?
Joe Nuxhall loved to tell funny stories about his misadventures as a pitcher for the Reds in the 1950s and '60s – falling down trying to field balls on wet grass, losing his temper over umpires' calls, etc. But he was no joke as a player. He was an All-Star in 1955 and 1956. In 15 seasons with the Reds, he won 130 games, lost 109, with 1,289 strikeouts, 82 complete games, 20 shutouts and a 3.80 earned run average. Although he retired at the end of the 1966 season, he still holds the Reds record for pitching 15 seasons with the club. He was very popular with his teammates for his enthusiasm and love of the game. At the plate, he hit 15 home runs, and batted over .250 in seven of his 16 Major League seasons – including hitting .292 for the old Kansas City Athletics in 1961, which frequently used Joe to pinch hit. (As Nux loved to say, "If you swing the bat, you're dangerous.") I must add that Joe's attributes as a person – cheerfully chatting with fans, signing autographs, generously supporting charities, frequently speaking to groups throughout the Tristate – made him the most beloved Reds ever.
*How was Nuxhall able to transition from the ball field to the broadcast booth?
Joe Nuxhall was a gifted storyteller. He seemed to know everyone in the game, and could tell a story about them for hours -- without notes. I loved hearing him tell stories to groups or organizations, yet he didn't include them his 2004 book, Joe: Rounding Third and Heading for Home. That was the original impetus for writing a book. I wanted his stories preserved, prized and passed on to generations of Reds fans to keep his memory alive. Nuxhall began preparing for a possible broadcasting career by doing commentary on Miami University basketball games on Hamilton's WMOH-AM in the off season in the 1960s. Once when Miami had the ball, with the score tied and time running out, Nuxy yelled, "Shoot the damn thing!" The player threw up a shot, it went in, and Miami won.
*Briefly summarize Nuxhall's legacy to this region.
Nearly 15 years after his death, Joe Nuxhall remains a gentle giant of charity in Butler County. The Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields in Fairfield allows developmentally challenged people of all ages play the game Joe loved. They also can ride a merry-go-round and play miniature golf at the complex.
Joe Nuxhall is the namesake of the character education program created by his son, Kim. College students play baseball in a wood bat league at Hamilton Foundation Field for a team named after Nux, the Hamilton Joes. Nuxhall chaired the 1994 committee for the bond issue to build Fairfield High School. You see streets named for Joe Nuxhall in Hamilton and Fairfield; a mural in Hamilton; and Marty & Joe Field and a Nuxhall statue in Fairfield's Waterworks Park. Another life-size statue depicts Nuxhall pitching outside Great American Ball Park on Joe Nuxhall Way in downtown Cincinnati. Next door is the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, which houses the Marty and Joe Broadcast Exhibit.
And there's my favorite Nuxhall legacy: The Joe Nuxhall Scholarships. More than $900,000 has been distributed to Butler County high school seniors in 36 years in the name of Joe Nuxhall, who never attended a day of college classes. And that's why $1 from every copy of The Old Lefthander & Me will be given to the Nuxhall Foundation for the scholarships fund.
This week The Extraordinary Times caught up with Nancy Brown Diggs, author of the recently-published In Search of Appalachia (Hamilton/Rowman and Littlefield). An avid traveler who has visited every continent, Nancy has lived in France, participated in language immersion/ homestay programs in Japan and Mexico, and volunteered in Ecuador, Romania, and Haiti. Her long interest in other cultures is reflected by her PhD in East Asian Studies, by her language skills—for many years she translated French, Spanish, and German for Ohio companies—and by her many books. In addition to her latest study of Appalachia, Nancy has written: Breaking the Cycle: How Schools Can Overcome Urban Challenges (Rowman and Littlefield), Hidden in the Heartland: The New Wave of Immigrants and the Challenge to America (Michigan State University Press), Looking Beyond the Mask: When American Woman Marry Japanese Men (State University of New York Press), and Steel Butterflies: Japanese Women and the American Experience (State University of New York Press). She co-authored A Look at Life in Northern Ireland, with Tanya Higgins, and My Century, with Evangeline Lindsley.
*What drew you to explore Appalachia as a subject?
Having written several books that touched on other cultures, I decided to look at one closer to my own, geographically, that is. In spite of my Kentucky roots, I never dreamed that the culture was my own. I suppose I had bought into the stereotypes that the media promoted. But the people I met were more like The Waltons than The Dukes of Hazard, more Sgt. York than Pvt. Gomer Pyle, and it’s a culture to be proud of.
* You describe in your recent book discovering your “inner Appalachian.” On reflection, what are your connections to the region and its culture?
I have deep family roots in Kentucky, and I discovered that I share so many of the values: humility, honesty, self-reliance, a strong sense of family, and, I hope, neighborliness. One reason I wanted to write the book was to counteract the stereotypes that J. D. Vance perpetuates in his book Hillbilly Elegy. I came to realize that one reason I so dislike the book is that I feel he is disloyal to his family.
* How did you go about identifying and interviewing the various Appalachian voices reflected in your book?
The experts in Appalachian Studies at Sinclair Community College were very helpful. I also contacted churches with Appalachian congregations and put an ad in The Kentucky Explorer, a monthly publication. Mostly, though, there were a lot of lucky coincidences.
For example, I learned that someone from my church had taught at a college in eastern Kentucky. She was eager to visit old friends, so she and I traveled to Hindman, Kentucky, where she introduced me to some fascinating people.
When an Orkin inspector came to check for termites at my house, we talked about the forthcoming book, and she suggested I speak to her father, a World War II veteran from Kentucky. He gave me the names of several others of his generation who were willing to tell their stories.
At a French conversation group, I met someone who put me in touch with a friend from West Virginia. A chief master sergeant in the Air Force, he had given a great deal of thought to the cultural conflicts he was experiencing with his family back in the hills. One of my best interviews!
While I was taking an adult education class on country music taught by Fred
Bartenstein, the University of Dayton’s expert on the genre, I learned that Ricky Skaggs would be performing not far away. I used Fred’s contacts to arrange an interview. I think it was Fred who also had the contact information for Japan’s expert on country music. Michael Furmanovsky, who was born in Zimbabwe of Lithuanian Jewish heritage, grew up in England, and now teaches at a university in Kyoto. People never cease to amaze me!
* Amid all the challenges faced by Appalachians today (economic uncertainty, health inequality, the opioid epidemic) is there cause for optimism about the future?
There are challenges indeed, but the experts I talked to were generally optimistic. With the closing of the coal mines, people are putting their trust in the “new economy,” and governments are investing funds in technology and training. In the meantime, communities are promoting small projects; there’s “not a silver bullet, but rather a lot of silver beebees.”
Some believe that the Appalachian people themselves are the best asset, “unmined beautiful diamonds,” as Ricky Skaggs puts it. According to one political leader, “Their work ethic is second to none. These people will crawl into the side of a mountain and never see the light of day to feed their family. Imagine what they could do for a company with good working conditions.”
Even Robin Harris, who holds the unenviable job of directing the Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services Board for Ohio’s Appalachian counties, sees a ray of hope. “We are incredibly resilient in coming together and problem solving,” she says, as she sees the emergence of young leaders in the area.
As for the drug problems, new treatments, new ways of dealing with addicts, and concentrating on prevention are bringing results, as state governments confer and learn from one another. Law enforcement, too, is making inroads, according to Ohio’s Gov. Mike DeWine, who praises Ohio’s “bulk task forces.”
This week, The Extraordinary Times catches up with Dr. Chad Berry, Vice President for Alumni, Communications and Philanthropy, Goode Professor of Appalachian Studies, and Professor of History at Berea College, in Kentucky. Dr. Berry has authored, edited, or co-edited four books, notably Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles (University of Illinois Press, 2000), which examines the migration of millions of white southerners to the Midwest during the twentieth century. The book was inspired by his paternal grandparents, who left Tennessee in the 1940s, going first to Akron, Ohio, and ultimately settling in Mishawaka, Indiana. He edited and contributed to the PBS documentary companion volume The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance (Illinois, 2008). He co-edited, with Deandra Little and Peter Felten, Looking and Learning: Visual Literacy across the Disciplines (Jossey-Bass, 2015), and he co-edited, with Phillip J. Obermiller and Shaunna L. Scott, Studying Appalachian Studies: Making the Path by Walking (University of Illinois Press, 2015). Southern Spaces has done a feature on this book, which won the 2015 Weatherford Award for nonfiction.
* In your book, Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles you describe the phenomenon of the “divided heart.” What do you mean by this?
By divided heart, I mean ambivalence about having to leave a place that many people knew communally as home in order most often to find employment. Millions of white southerners, Black southerners, and native-born Latinos and Hispanics moved northward and westward to find work in the 20th century, one of this country’s largest internal migrations. The people I spoke with, for example, made meaning of their migration experience near the end of their lives as positive from an economic standpoint—they found the economic opportunity they were searching for—but they also often said that they paid a high price for having to leave home to find it. There were divisions in families, for example, between those who left and those who stayed. And, of course, for those who migrated but returned home, they often believed life in the North wasn’t worth that cost. And then, some solved this ambivalence by sticking out life away from home, working hard in their job, then retiring and moving back to their home community, taking their Social Security and any pension payments with them. The main point here is that migration often involves this “divided heart” about that experience.
* You dedicated the book to your grandparents, Ruby and Alvin Berry, "and the hundreds of thousands who came with them." How did Ruby and Alvin shape the way you understand Appalachian migration?
My grandparents were just beyond ARC [Appalachian Regional Commission] Appalachia, as my family moved to, through, and then slightly beyond Appalachia over the course of generations. They certainly helped me understand the human cost and benefits of migration, whether from the perspective of white lowlanders or white highlanders, as there were similarities, and also some differences between these groups. It was they who taught me from a very early age about how migration often made one an exile in a new land.
* How has the field of Appalachian studies changed in the last twenty years?
Goodness! This is a huge question. One important way the field is changing is to be more inclusive of different perspectives and groups, particularly in terms of race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and other areas. I think the field has also striven to try to transcend stereotype battles—certainly fighting them when they emerge but also not being reductive/essentialist that battling stereotypes is the main focus of the Appalachian studies inquiry. Finally, I think it has also welcomed younger people for their insights, perspectives, and commitments. All these are good things. I think the field can continue to learn from other mountain cultures and experiences around the country and especially around the globe.
* How is Berea College facing the unique challenges of this new academic year?
Since early March 2020, when the College was among the first to end in-person instruction in the interest of public health and safety, we’ve approached the pandemic on a weekly and often daily basis, striving always to be as responsive to new data and the latest science. We also are deeply aware of the low-wealth status of all the students we serve, and we therefore have tried to be as mindful and supportive of the disruptive effects of the pandemic and the digital divide that exists in our country as possible. Our students have been great at following new policies and practices in place to protect the College community, and we are grateful to them. As it has for many folks, the pandemic has been hard on everyone, including our students, staff, and faculty.
On September 14, Miami University Hamilton welcomes Coal Town Photograph, a unique live performance that speaks to the Appalachian experience of leaving home and returning home to find things have forever changed. Based on the book by Pauletta Hansel, Coal Town Photograph blends poetry, music by Raison D’Etre, and theatrical performance by Falcon Takes Flight—an outreach wing of Falcon Theater in Northern Kentucky.
The Extraordinary Times catches up with Clint Ibele, director of Falcon Takes Flight, and member of Falcon’s board. In addition to many roles at Falcon both on stage and behind the scenes, Clint is developing HIVoices, a storytelling project featuring stories of individuals living with HIV. Recently retired from the Northern Kentucky Health Department where he was an HIV case manager, Clint is an avid reader, amateur genealogist, and a fan of Ohio State football.
* What is the mission of Falcon Theater/ Falcon Takes Flight?
Falcon Theatre’s mission is to welcome all people to engage in passionate expression through live theatre. We strive to inspire conversation, cultivate understanding, propel innovation and celebrate the diversity of humanity.
Falcon Takes Flight collaborates with community partners to promote the arts and the love of theatre. Beginning in 2013, Falcon, in conjunction with the Campbell County Library, performed "Soldier, Come Home" for the library's inaugural Signature Series. From this relationship, Falcon Takes Flight was born. Since its inception, FTF has toured area venues including schools, museums, churches, community centers and libraries throughout Ohio and Kentucky.
* How has Falcon navigated the challenges of the past year-and-a-half?
The past 18 months have been challenging for everyone and especially for arts organizations. Falcon, like all theaters, has had to suspend all in-person productions during this time and find ways of remaining creative.
Last summer we produced several of our Falcon Takes Flight productions by having actors record the voice work from their own homes and then mixing those voices with music from Raison D’ Etre, a local musical trio, who have collaborated with us many times. These productions were offered via YouTube free of charge.
Over the past season we have also produced three full stage productions as Theatre For Film projects. These productions took a more cinematic approach, filming actors on locations but keeping the spontaneity of live theater at the forefront. All three of these productions (Daisy, The Agitators, and Ben Butler) were offered as on-demand streaming productions.
We are eager to re-start live productions in our theater but these projects have helped us provide some work for local artists as well as theatrical work for our audiences to enjoy.
* How did you come to collaborate with Pauletta Hansel and Raison D'Etre?
Since we began performing, our choice of materials has focused on Kentucky and Ohio poets, whose stories tell us about the people, the history, and the landscapes of our region. We were introduced to Raison D’Etre in 2013 by Janet Arno who oversaw special events programming at Campbell County Library. She told us about “Soldier, Come Home”, a series of letters written by family members during the Civil War. After reading it, I knew the addition of music from the era would help tell the story and asked if she might recommend a local musical group to accompany us. She introduced us to Raison D’Etre, and they have been a part of each production since.
Pauletta Hansel was part of Falcon’s and Raison D’Etre’s Poet and Song series a few years ago. At the time, we were looking for material for a future Signature Series and it was recommended I contact her about featuring Coal Town Photograph. As with each of our prior poets, she graciously agreed and a new relationship was formed. We’ve been fortunate in that all our local authors have been present at the performance. It’s great fun to watch their reactions as their words are read by another person in that setting.
* What kind of reception has Coal Town Photograph enjoyed?
We’ve only had the opportunity to perform it once, at the Campbell County Library’s Signature Series in January 2020. A few more performances were scheduled for the fall, but Covid intervened. It was greatly received at the Signature Series, drawing one of the larger audiences we’ve had. We’re looking forward to September when we may perform the long awaited show we were supposed to have last year!
Miami University Appalachian Studies Presents: Coal Town Photograph, Tuesday, September 14, 7pm @ Parrish Auditorium, Miami University Hamilton Campus.
This week, The Extraordinary Times is delighted to catch up with Daryl Baldwin. Daryl is a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and serves as the Executive Director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and Co-Director of the National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages. He earned an MA in linguistics from the University of Montana and in 2001 accepted a position at Miami University of what was then called the Myaamia Project (now the Myaamia Center). He has spent the last 30 years working with his tribal community and staff at the Myaamia Center building capacity around language and cultural education. In 2016 he received a MacArthur Fellowship and more recently in 2021 President Biden nominated him to serve on the National Council on the Humanities, Daryl’s entire career has been dedicated to the preservation of indigenous languages and cultures.
* How did you realize your calling to preserve the Myaamia language and heritage?
My interest in learning my native language came about with a growing interest to learn more about my heritage during my late 20s. I stumbled upon some Myaamia language materials in my grandfather's papers and began asking questions. This curiosity grew in me and I eventually left a ten year career in the trades in order to attend college, which eventually ended eight years later with a MA in linguistics. This was all happening at a time when I was starting a family and wanted to pass something on to my children. There was also a growing awareness of language loss on a global level that also motivated me to respond.
Around 1991, my wife and I began homeschooling our children in order to reintroduce Myaamia language and culture to the family. The homeschooling effort lasted eighteen years and my wife did the vast majority of the work teaching and I focused on language and culture. During the mid-1990s, some of us from the tribal community began developing community based language revitalization programs due to a growing need at the community level. Our community work led to the development of the Myaamia Center at Miami University in 2001. We chose to reach out to Miami University for help because the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma already had a relationship with the institution dating back to the 1970s. It seemed like the most logical and productive place to develop something like the Myaamia Center that could focus on research and educational development for the Miami tribe.
* How have relations between Miami University and the Myaamia people evolved over time?
I would like to start by saying that Miami University sits within the historic homelands of not only the Myaamia people but many other tribes who occupied this region. In 1795 the Greenville Treaty was signed by the tribes of the region in Greenville, OH, which ceded all of what is now eastern and southwestern Ohio to the United States. Miami University was chartered shortly after in 1809. In 1846 the Miami Tribe was forcibly relocated west by canal boats from their homeland in Indiana. That unfortunate journey followed the Miami-Erie canal which passed just east of Miami’s campus probably at a time classes were in session. This history, coupled with the university’s name ‘Miami’, points to many historical connections between the tribe and university that predate the current relationship. One outcome of that history is incredible loss on many levels. Our work today through the Myaamia Center, and the relationship overall, attempts to repair some of the damage caused by those historic events.
There is much written about the relationship between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University so I won't spend much time on those details other than to say that Miami University recognizes the sovereign status of the Miami Tribe as a self-governing entity. The university recognizes our need to rebuild our tribal nation and the tribe recognizes the need of the university to educate youth about the history and contemporary status of the Miami Tribe. It is through this commitment to ‘share’ that we created the slogan neepwaantiinki ‘learning from each other’ to represent the relationship. Our relationship continues to grow and deepen over time providing new opportunities to engage in ways that are unique for a tribe and university.
* The past year has witnessed intense questioning over issues of race, identity, and equality in the United States. What, to your mind, is the value of diversity in America?
I believe that all of life strives to be diverse. It's part of a natural force to fill the gaps of an ever changing and creative existence. Humans are no different. We strive ‘to be’ in our own image as individuals or as groups. From my personal perspective, the human endeavor to seek knowledge, explanation, and understanding is an exercise in freedom. When we have the ability to explore new ways of knowing and understanding diverse ideas and experiences emerge.
As Myaamia people, we are largely defined by our kinship ties to each other, our unique way of knowing that is best expressed through our language and culture, our shared history stretching back before colonization, and our inherent right to govern ourselves as a distinct group. As much as we must learn to value these definable features of our human selves, we have a responsibility to share certain aspects with those who wish to respect and learn through reciprocal engagement. The preservation and maintenance of our individual and group identities are what allows for a spectrum of human experiences to be shared. What is learned or experienced from the engagement between two different groups is the value of diversity, in my opinion, and the engagement requires ‘respect for difference’ without the need or desire to change each other. If change does occur, it happens through the forces of engagement not the forces of authority or power over others.
* How do you see the Myaamia Center developing in the future?
The basic premise for what we do at the Myaamia Center is to make sure that our indigenous knowledge, and related ways of knowing, are passed onto the next generation. Language and cultural preservation are central to that process. This is a fluid and organic process that draws on community strengths and is flexible enough to respond to an ever changing social landscape. I see our work as interdisciplinary and constantly evolving. The Myaamia Center is well positioned to grow with the tribal nation and respond to the needs of Miami University as long as the Miami Tribe and University desire each other's engagement.
The Extraordinary Times is on a mission to explore the cultural and historical landscape of southwestern Ohio. This week, we’re excited to catch up with historian Jennifer Morris.
Morris earned her PhD at Miami University in 2004. Since then, she has taught at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio and is affiliated with the Public History graduate program at Northern Kentucky University. She serves on the Executive Board of the Midwest World History Association and the Village Life Outreach Project, and is currently working on a biography of Priscilla Parker, co-founder of the Clermont Academy in 1839, which admitted both sexes and all races.
* How have you been keeping this past pandemic year?
The 2020-2021 academic year proved challenging, but rewarding. My university adopted a hybrid online course delivery format, so I spent a third of my class time in Zoom meetings while managing the rest via the online platform. It worked better than expected, and actually helped me to get creative and stay organized. I was also able to continue to research my current project on line, and take a course in Public History at Northern Kentucky University as well. As I reflected on the year, I decided it had been incredibly productive and fulfilling, and I state this with the full knowledge that I was very, very fortunate to be able to work from home and not contract the Covid-19 virus. So many of my students had to work to help support their families, and they worked 60-plus hours a week in addition to their academic responsibilities. They were truly extraordinary.
* Who was Priscilla Parker, and how did you become interested in telling her story?
Priscilla Mulloy Ring Parker was the co-founder of the Clermont Academy located in New Richmond, Ohio in 1839. I first became interested in her when I enrolled in the Masters in Public History program at Northern Kentucky University several years ago and learned about her as part of the excavation of the school site. Parker, who was born in Maine and migrated to Ohio in 1816 after the death of her first husband, Benjamin Ring, first stayed with friends in the area prior to meeting her future husband, Daniel Parker. Based on what I’ve learned about her so far, she was an incredible force both in her family and in Southwest Ohio. She and Daniel had eight children, owned a farm, and started the Academy together. Priscilla also owned her own oilcloth making business and she took on apprentices and was the single sales force for the product. One of my favorite stories about her was recalled by her eldest son, whom she took with her when she loaded up the oilcloths for sale each year. Priscilla travelled the area with her young son, selling her products and acquiring the items her family and household would need for the coming year. He noted that it was a special journey for him to accompany her.
* What things do you most admire (or find interesting) about Priscilla Parker?
There are so many things I admire about Priscilla Parker, it’s hard to find a place to begin. When she left Maine, she left behind an extended family who could have helped her after the death of her husband, with whom she had also had a son. That she chose to make the trip to Ohio with her infant son alone speaks to her courage, and that she somehow went on after losing her son as well is testament to her strength. Situated as she was on the US frontier, it’s clear that, as a woman, there were far more opportunities for her than there would have been had she remained on the east coast. Her roles included business owner, entrepreneur, teacher, school administrator, abolitionist, innkeeper, and temperance advocate to name a few. Her marriage to Daniel also defied convention, as she ran the farm and kept the books while Daniel pursued the “life of the mind.” Despite their religious differences, they clearly had a great deal in common both morally and ethically, and their relationship supported a family, a school, its students, and the wider community in which they resided.
* How does your work on Parker tie in to other new research on abolitionism in southwestern Ohio?
The work on Priscilla Parker will augment the scholarship and other work currently under way about the region of Southwest Ohio and the abolition sentiment that grew there. It’s becoming quite clear that the both the abolition movement and participation in the underground railroad that occurred in Southwest Ohio will be a powerful part of the narrative, and I’m fortunate to have found Priscilla Parker and to be able to tell her story.
* Any other projects on the go or in the future?
Other projects center around the same region, and into Northern Kentucky, where it is clear that there are many stories of the experience of enslaved persons that can be restored to history. There are a wealth of projects in the works at the moment, and I’m hoping to be a part of several of them!
The Extraordinary Times is on a mission to explore the cultural and historical landscape of southwestern Ohio. This week, we’re excited to catch up with Gary Walton, founder of the Cincinnati Type & Print Museum in Lower Price Hill.
Gary was originally an offset press instructor. He trained himself in the art of color separation, pre-press, advance color printing and digital color printing, and is now sought for his print media expertise. He has consulted and trained printers in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and other parts of the country. He is devoted to the printing craft, and continuously promotes the industry. He has trained over 3,400 graphic communications students at Cincinnati State.
* What is the mission of the museum?
Our purpose is multifold. We were founded in 2016 with the goal of preserving the history of printing, which played a big role in the fortunes of Cincinnati. Many people don’t know, but Cincinnati was the second biggest printing center in the United States at its peak. We also want to make people aware of career opportunities in print media, as well as to create an environment for artists to make handmade paper and print letterpress items. Finally, we aim to break the cycle of addiction by providing training, jobs, and dignity to men and women of Price Hill.
* Tell readers how you fell in love with type and print!
I truly believe, as a man is called into the priesthood, I was called into the printing industry. In 1968 I took an eighth-grade class on printing at Schwab Middle School, and was hooked. I fell in love with it immediately. In many ways, I wish we still had shop classes in our middle school education programs.
* What is your favorite object in the collection?
That would be the Franklin press made right here in Cincinnati by the Franklin foundry in 1857.
* Why does print technology still matter in this digital age?
False reports are out there when it comes to printing. People assume that printing is not needed but that is so wrong. Printing surrounds us. You’re Formica countertop is a printed piece of paper, your wallpaper is a piece of printed. Just look at all the packages in a Wal-Mart. Printing real soon will be producing all electronic devices, printing them on a traditional printing press. This is called Printing Electronics. It’s fast and it’s very inexpensive.
* How can visitors discover the museum?
We are open now to groups of three to five people, and in July open to large groups again.
Today is a day for celebrating Mexican heritage. While it may be a great excuse for a party, many Americans mistake Cinco de Mayo as the birth date of Mexican independence. The anniversary in fact commemorates Mexico's surprise victory over the French Empire at the 1862 Battle of Puebla. France's invasion of Mexico was a ruthless attempt to install a foreign puppet ruler in the guise of Archduke Maximillian of Austria. The redheaded pretender was proclaimed Maximillian I of Mexico, but his reign came undone before a Mexican firing squad. Though largely forgotten outside Mexico today, this failed intervention reflected the dastardly ambitions of Napoleon III, the scheming nephew of the more famous Napoleon Bonaparte (pictured above).
As fate has it, May 5, 2021 is also the 200th anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte's death. In honor of this Napoleonic coincidence, here are five remarkable facts on one of history’s more memorable characters:
¡Qué viva México! Napoleon III’s invasion of Mexico gave rise to Cinco de Mayo, but Napoleon Bonaparte played an arguably greater role in Mexican history. When Napoleon’s armies invaded Spain in 1808 and installed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne, France triggered a crisis of authority which led, in 1810, to frustrated Mexicans declaring their long-overdue revolutionary independence.
American ambitions: Napoleon’s ambitions did not end in Europe. He dreamed of a powerful French Empire in North America, centered in Louisiana and supplied by colonies in the Caribbean. France abolished slavery in 1794, but Napoleon restored it in 1802 as part of his efforts to crush ongoing revolt in Saint Domingue (later Haiti). Fierce resistance by Haitian revolutionaries led by former slave Toussaint L’Ouverture forced Napoleon to abandon the Americas, and prompted the sale of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, doubling the size of the fledgling United States.
Not now, Josephine! Napoleon’s Caribbean connections were personal as well as political. His first wife, Josephine de Beauharnais, was born on the island of Martinique to a family of white plantation owners. A powerful figure in her own right, Josephine was also known for her extravagant lifestyle, rivaling the decadence of Marie Antoinette. She was also a fanatical collector. Her home at Malmaison housed Europe’s greatest botanical garden, as well as a private zoo including zebras and a tame orangutan.
Laissez les bon temps rouler: Following defeat at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) Napoleon was exiled to the remote south Atlantic island of Saint Helena. This did not prevent sympathetic conspirators plotting to break him free, including former New Orleans Mayor Nicholas Girod, who offered his house as a refuge. Though the plot never transpired, today the Maison Napoleon thrives as a Napoleonic-themed restaurant, offering some of the finest jambalaya and Sazerac cocktails in the French Quarter.
A name to remember: Today the United States boasts eight cities named for Napoleon, including Napoleon, Ohio (44 miles southwest of Toledo). Napoleon’s other cultural namesakes include the Napoleon complex (the supposed inferiority complex of unusually short men), and the delicious mille-feuille, or Napoleon pastry.
This week The Extraordinary Times caught up with Auburn University historian and author James R. Hansen. Hansen has written on the history of science and aerospace technology for the past 30 years. His New York Times-bestselling authorized biography First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong (2005), was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film First Man (2019).
On Thursday, April 22 at 7pm (Eastern Time) Hansen will speak via Zoom on Neil Armstrong’s life and legacy for Miami University’s Michael J. Colligan History Project. This Earth Day 2021 presentation is free. To register, visit: MiamiOH.edu/Regionals/RSVP. To purchase an author-signed copy of Hansen’s First Man biography, go to: https://mrevak.com/product/first-man.
* What led you to become Neil Armstrong's authorized biographer?
I had been researching and writing about the history of flight—both aeronautics and space—for about 20 years when I got the idea in 1999 of writing Neil’s life story. He had an impressive career as an engineering research pilot before becoming an astronaut. He also had flown 78 combat missions in Korea. Then, of course, he was the most famous, yet least known, of the early American astronauts, and that intrigued me. Also, he became a global icon when he became the First Man on the moon—so I knew the book would not just be a biography, it would be an iconography. With all the different cultural meanings that had been projected onto Neil over the years, the book would also be a study of “us” not just of him.
I contacted him by letter; his reply was very cordial but was basically a polite no—he was still active with some of his corporate responsibilities and told me he wouldn’t have the time to invest in my project. A few months later I sent him a box with a couple of the books I had published, as a gift for his 70th birthday, in 2000. He thanked me in a letter and said he liked how I approached my subject matter—not sensationally or over-dramatically but as a committed scholar in aerospace history and the history of technology. He concluded by saying, “let’s stay in touch.” Several months later he invited me to his home in suburban Cincinnati. We chatted all afternoon, and, although it still took another year before he gave me the green light, I knew that we were on the same wave length and that things were probably going to work out. Neil was a very private man, and it wasn't easy to get his permission to do the book. The keys were that I was about 20 years into my career when I approached him, and I had been writing and teaching about aerospace history, both aeronautics history and space history. When I approached him, I had a body of books and articles. All of my books prior to approaching Armstrong had really dealt a lot with the history of engineering and how engineers think. I think Neil knew that I would take his technical side seriously. A lot of authors who had approached him before didn't have that kind of background, so I think that was really essential.
* What was Neil Armstrong like in private?
There was nothing in Neil's personality that tried to find the limelight. After Apollo 11 he didn't like the celebrity that went with it. Of course, he had become a global icon, the first of our species to step on another heavenly body. It was never about fame or fortune for him. It was about the flying. The most important thing to him about Apollo 11 was, "Let's fly this lander down to the successful landing and not kill ourselves." The act of stepping out onto the lunar surface was, for him, almost an afterthought and very secondary. Later he did everything he could to try to lead a normal life. It was kind of hard to do that once you had become first man. For a while after Apollo 11 he was getting 10,000 fan mail letters a day that he did his best, with some help from NASA secretaries, to answer. To the end of his life, he was getting requests for signatures and photographs and appearances at all kinds of events. He went to many of them, so he wasn't really reclusive. He had to be kind of selective about what he agreed to do. In terms of our personal relationship that developed, I found Neil very friendly, with a great sense of humor. He enjoyed telling corny jokes, walking our way pleasantly around a golf course, and talking about ideas (not so much people) over a beer or a glass of wine.
* How did Armstrong's Ohio upbringing shape his worldview?
I'm a strong believer that you don't understand any adult unless you understand their childhood—and Neil’s childhood took place entirely in Ohio. And not in Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Columbus. His family lived in different small towns in very rural parts of the state. His parents in fact had both grown up on farms. So the values of the farming life were very much a part of who Neil was. He grew up in small towns like St. Marys, Upper Sandusky, and Wapakoneta, surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans. My published biography of Neil deals a lot with him as a boy and as an adolescent and the character of the Ohio communities in which he grew up. From an early age he was passionate about flying. He nagged his mother when they visited dime stores in these little Ohio towns that the family lived in to get little balsa wood airplane models that he would build, and then he advanced to gasoline-powered models. He would train his little brother and sister to toss them out the upstairs window of the house in just a certain way so they would glide the best. Neil would be outside—he would have Popsicle sticks, and placed the Popsicle stick in the ground where that particular model airplane had landed. Even as a 10-year-old he's essentially doing test flying. He's doing research. He's studying. He had a little notebook as to how far each one of the models flew. He was kind of a proto-engineer even as a boy. Then, of course, he got his pilot's license on his sixteenth birthday. He hadn't even started to drive, or even try to drive an automobile. He was already flying airplanes.
* How closely were you involved in director Damien Chazelle's film adaptation of your book?
I was involved in virtually every aspect of the making of the film, but most particularly with the development of the screenplay or script. I was on set for most of the time the film was being shot. I had a lot of back-and-forth with Chazelle, screenwriter Josh Singer, and with Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy who played Neil and Janet Armstrong. I also answered a lot of technical questions about the flights of the aircraft and spacecraft and the Moon walk itself. Although it was a very exciting experience for me to help bring this brilliant film to fruition as its Co-Producer, it was also full of stress. I worked hard to keep the movie as genuine and honest to the real characters and historical events as possible, especially as they related to Neil himself, as I had been entrusted by Neil to serve as his only authorized biographer. It was my first experience turning on of my books into a motion picture and I learned many important lessons—some of them hard lessons—along the way. First and foremost, I learned that the goal of even a history-based film is not to create a documentary but rather to produce a moving, entertaining, and emotionally provocative theatrical experience for an audience sitting in a darkened room before a large silver screen. A beautiful film requires a great deal of artistry and must allow for some dramatic license with the actual historical events. As our screenwriter Josh Singer told me early on, movies are entertainment. If they aren’t entertaining, nobody shows up. And if nobody shows up, it doesn’t matter how interesting or thought-provoking your historical thesis is. You can’t get people to engage if you don’t get them into the theater. But I also learned that these two goals, good story and good history, are not mutually exclusive. Dramatic fictions can be kept to a minimum and used only when absolutely necessary for the purposes of the film.
Damien Chazelle is a brilliant, creative filmmaker and a wonderful man. We exchanged a lot of ideas, most of them privately. He always responded thoughtfully and generously whenever I offered ideas, which happened pretty often, as I was on set virtually every day. It helped that his mother is herself a university professor and historian, so he was accustomed to the kind of ideas I would offer. I was totally impressed with how he handled the actors and the entire crew, never a harsh word. He seemed to me very playful, very artistic, a true genius. He is our next Stanley Kubrick, I believe, in terms of the range, power, and diversity of the film he will give the world over the next half century.
* Armstrong passed away in 2012. What new developments in space exploration do you imagine he might have been most enthusiastic over?
Neil would be most excited about the potential of exciting young people about the potential of space exploration, but his ideas would be more fundamental than just being charged up about going back to the Moon, planning for a Mars mission, or promoting the idea of space tourism. Neil would make it clear that space is not just all about astronauts and rockets. He would not just try to excite young people about STEM (the study of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) but, more specifically, he would stress the all-important role that engineers and the technically-minded have played in the story of space travel. Many kids want to grow up to be astronauts. That’s fine. But he would want more young people to grow up to be engineers. Without the people on the ground, nothing about the eventual triumph of the space program, Moon landings, Space Shuttle, Space Station, Mars Rovers, or anything else, could have happened. He would want those engineers of the future to be well educated in a broader, literate way, also. They need to be sensitive to values and ideas that come out of a study of history, literature, philosophy, and the arts. Neil would not want a two-culture society where one culture is technical and the other is not. He would want better integration of those two cultures, and that only comes through proper education.
Matthew Smith, PhD (History). Public Programs at Miami University Regionals. Historian of Appalachia, the Ohio Valley, & the early American republic.