This week, The Extraordinary Times ventures into space, as we catch up with Dean Regas, the Astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory since 2000. A renowned educator, author, national popularizer of astronomy and an expert in observational astronomy, from 2010-2019 Dean was co-host of the PBS program Star Gazers. He is the author of five books including "Facts From Space!" and "100 Things to See in the Night Sky". A Contributing Editor to Sky and Telescope Magazine and a contributor to Astronomy Magazine, Dean won the 2008 “Out-of-this-World” Award for astronomy education. He has written over 160 astronomy articles for the Cincinnati Enquirer, blogged for the Huffington Post and is regularly featured on television and radio. Dean is a frequent guest on National Public Radio’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow and NPR's Here & Now. He also hosts an astronomy podcast with Anna Hehman called "Looking Up!"
At the Cincinnati Observatory, he has developed his skills as a dynamic writer and public speaker who brings the complicated field of astronomy down to Earth for students of all ages.
Dean's newest book, "How to Teach Grown-Ups about Pluto" came out in May.
* Growing up, what fired your passion for astronomy?
I didn't really get into astronomy until I was an adult. It was as a part-time Naturalist working for the Cincinnati Parks that I gave my first planetarium show. When the lights went out and the stars hit the ceiling, that was the moment—that was when I knew this was the job for me. I never had the chance to look through a telescope when I was a kid and I feel that I definitely missed out. I want to give that experience to everyone—seeing the craters of the Moon or the rings of Saturn through a telescope is just so powerful. For some it may even be life-changing.
* As a popular science educator, how much time do you spend on the road, or writing books and articles on astronomy?
I give about 100 talks around Cincinnati each year. But over the past few years I have been touring around the country speaking at observatories, science centers, national parks, and more. So, I'm on the road about one month out of every year and love meeting new people and sharing my passion for astronomy education. I have written six books including a book for kids (and adults) called How To Teach Grown-Ups About Pluto. I think that my approach to the subject is really unique. In fact, I think people are expecting a stuffy lecture or brainy book, but I keep it simple, talk down to Earth, and add a lot of humor. My favorite comments from audience members that I hear so often are, "wow, I wasn't expecting to be entertained," "That was the best astronomy talk I've ever seen," and "you don't talk like an astronomer. You sound more like a game show host." I love what I do and it shows!
* Tell readers a little about the Cincinnati Observatory and its unique history ...
I have been working at the Cincinnati Observatory since 2000 and it is such an honor to be a part of such an historic institution. Every day I can use this gorgeous 16-foot long telescope made of mahogany and brass that saw its first light in 1845. It is the oldest operating professional telescope open to the public in the country. And it's right here in the middle of an historic neighborhood, five miles from downtown Cincinnati. When you turn the corner onto our street, there is this silver-domed brick and columned building looking like something out of storybook. It's an amazing place to work and I want everyone to visit. Tell them Dean sent you.
* What has been the public impact of NASA's James Webb Telescope and its amazing new images, and how are they inspiring a new appreciation of our universe?
I'm really excited about the public's reaction to the Webb Telescope's journey and images. It's a true celebration of science and engineering to make such a thing, send it one million miles from Earth, and deliver these amazing pictures of outer space. The detail on the swirling galaxies, the nebulas, and the stars beyond measure have really inspired a lot of people. It is helping make space even cooler and accessible to all.
On the evening of July 12, Reading Historical Society welcomed a special guest at the local public library. Flossie Harper McKinney—who also goes by “Christine”—was born in 1926. Back then, as host Dale Farmer remarked, Calvin Coolidge was in the White House, DeFord Bailey became the first black musician on the Grand Ole Opry, and Greta Garbo captivated American audiences in her debut film Torrent.
Christine McKinney—born in Rockcastle County, Kentucky, but now residing in West Chester Township, Ohio—is a lively woman whose energy belies her ninety-something years. Her family memoir The Harpers of Pongo Ridge was recently republished, recounting her childhood and kinsfolk in the Bluegrass State. Originally composed in 1989, the book inspired independent filmmaker Farmer—whose own Kentucky family McKinney described —as source material for his 2019 movie The Mountain Minor. Like the memorable characters in that film, McKinney and her late husband Ivan participated in the Appalachian Great Migration to southwestern Ohio. They settled in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Reading. There they raised four children and operated a Shell service station and car maintenance business for many years.
Following a brief introduction, McKinney regaled the audience with tales of her rural Appalachian upbringing. Her stories were humorous, sometimes riotously funny, though occasionally quite tough to reflect on. She conveyed a world long since vanished—a world of few modern conveniences, where indoor plumbing, the motor car, soft drinks, and electrical appliances were luxuries unknown to most folks. The family kept pigs and turkeys, but while meat was enjoyed in the form of bacon and sausages, “hams were sold and some kept for the relatives when they came to visit.” McKinney’s colorful father, Christopher Columbus McKinney (“Lummy”), eventually purchased a radio, “a wonderful thing that played music and talked.” Though Lummy enjoyed the latest music, he never lived to enjoy television—“this show and tell thing”—and “would never have believed Elvis.”
It was happy world overall, though shaded by hardship and occasional trauma. McKinney’s earliest memory, for example, arose when she was four years old. Having wandered off into the snow against her mother’s cautioning, she got home up bedraggled and soaking wet. “I held up my petticoat over the blaze,” she recalled, trying to dry out her clothes over the hearth. Although her mother got back to her in time, McKinney was “burnt all over,” when her dress caught fire. She was lucky to survive.
Despite her traumatic early experience, McKinney’s childhood was mostly carefree and happy. Even still, many of her escapades might offend the cautious standards of modern childhood. These included plying a fat toad with her father’s booze until “it got to bouncing off the tree.” McKinney and her siblings “played round with that toad all afternoon.” On another occasion, she went to purchase some chewing tobacco for her father, but she and her brother wound up sampling it on the way home. “We chewed and we chewed. One of us tried to get up, but these rubber legs wouldn’t work.”
All these stories and more are reflected in McKinney’s book. As she recalled, when asked about her “typical day”: there was “no such thing.”
Misadventures to one side, McKinney grew up to be a smart, thoughtful woman. She always valued learning, though education was hard to come by. School was a four-mile round trip on foot, with no transportation. She voluntarily repeated eighth grade, and “wouldn’t quit going to school.” Eventually, aided by a sympathetic principal, she transferred to Mount Vernon High School. At that time, high school education was no foregone conclusion, and college education was a virtual pipe dream. At Mount Vernon, she met her future husband Ivan, marrying in 11th grade. “They wouldn’t let you come to school after you got married,” McKinney noted. But she and Ivan enjoyed a long, happy marriage, moving to Cincinnati and raising their family. McKinney’s four children benefited from parental values of hard work and self-reliance. Each of them “grew up pumping gas and checking oil” in the family auto business. And McKinney at last is reaping the recognition she deserves thanks to her book, which placed Pongo Ridge firmly on the map. Perhaps the greatest recognition came last year, when at age 95 McKinney was at last presented with a diploma from Mount Vernon High School. To mark the occasion, her Kentucky alma mater celebrated “Flossie Day” in her honor. And quite rightly so. McKinney’s wonderful story has so much to teach us, a living thread to a vanished world.
This week I caught up with Kari Gunter-Seymour, Appalachian author and Poet Laureate of Ohio. Kari is the editor of a new anthology of Ohio Appalachian poets, "I Thought I heard a Cardinal Sing," which celebrates the diversity of Ohio's Appalachian culture. She will be joining several other poets on Thursday October 6 at 7pm for a special reading at the Wilks Conference Center (Miami Hamilton Campus), sponsored by Miami University Appalachian Studies and accompanied by live music.
Click below to hear the interview recorded with Kari (on Youtube)!
This week, The Extraordinary Times had the pleasure of catching up with Greg Hand. Proprietor of the “Cincinnati Curiosities” blog, Hand retired from the University of Cincinnati as associate vice president for public relations. Before his employment by the university, Hand was editor of the Western Hills Press in suburban Cincinnati. During his time at UC, he co-authored three books about the university with UC archivist Kevin Grace. In addition to his blog, Hand contributes regularly to Cincinnati Magazine and the WCPO-TV “Cincy Lifestyles” show. With Molly Wellmann and Kent Meloy, Hand presents history chats in bars and saloons through a program called “Stand-Up History.”
* What do you remember most fondly about your 36 years working at the University of Cincinnati?
It is an ongoing joy to run into students—now alumni—I met over the years. Their creativity and energy continue to give me hope for the future. I also recall some fascinating chats with faculty. Just sitting in their offices or laboratories was like getting my own private graduate seminar. I learned so much about Antarctic lichens and Pleistocene rivers and hypersonic engines and a plethora of interesting topics.
* Your blog Cincinnati Curiosities celebrates “the weird soul of the Queen City.” What inspired this fascination?
While I was running the public relations office, I worked with the university’s archivist to produce a few books about the university. While researching those books, I kept bumping into bizarre factoids about Cincinnati and threw all that material into a file, not knowing what I might do with it. There was a girl named Arachne Death and an archeologist who found a privy filled with cat skeletons in the West End and a heavyweight boxing champ who trashed a local bordello—that sort of thing. When I retired, I started a blog and began posting items from my “bizarre” file. I thought it might keep me busy for a couple of months. It’s now eight years later and I’m still uncovering new material.
The fascination with Cincinnati’s weird past derives from a thesis I have developed in my research. I believe Cincinnati works very hard to maintain a specific reputation as a bland, somewhat conservative, definitely safe place that has always had Skyline Chili, Graeter’s Ice Cream, Procter & Gamble and the Reds. In reality, this was a raucous, dynamic, frontier town often run by corrupt politicians and supporting charlatans, mountebanks and scoundrels. I want folks to remember that aspect of our history.
* What made Cincinnati weird, historically?
At one time, Cincinnati was among the 10 largest cities in the United States—and this was back when Brooklyn counted as a separate city! We were big, growing constantly and placed at the gateway to the West. Immigrants from all over the world and from all over the United States landed here looking for fame and, mostly, fortune. They all brought their own brand of weirdness, from Caribbean voodoo to European witchcraft and eschatological religious cults. Throw in a measure of shysters, quacks and grifters and you get a most entertaining metropolis.
* Is Cincinnati as weird today as in days gone by?
There are few folks who have the insight to evaluate their own time period. I am old enough to have survived the Sixties twice (insert rimshot here). I used to listen to students wistfully nostalgic for the days of hippies and incense and psychedelia that happened 30 years before they were born. I am certain that one day, their children will be yearning for the good old days of the Twenty-Aughts or the Twenty-Teens. In other words, if you look for it, you can still find some home-grown weirdness in the Queen City.
* What is your favorite Cincinnati story highlighted in your blog?
The story I keep returning to is the role of prostitution in Cincinnati from the early 1800s up to 1920. The sense I get is that a network of brothels run by some quite successful and politically connected madams created a significant woman-led segment of the local economy. At a time when women were brutally confined to a very few approved roles, the city’s “houses” offered sanctuary, support, medical care, and opportunity denied by “polite” society. The insights provided by studying this community expose all sorts of moral, ethical, and legal structures supporting a patriarchy based on openly accepted hypocrisy and misogyny. The whole system was demolished by progressive movements around World War I and resulted in the pimp-run exploitation by organized crime we see today. While hardly an ideal environment, the brothels were often the only option open to women cast off by their families and communities.
* What are you working on now?
I’m in the process of final edits for a book titled, by amazing coincidence, “Cincinnati Curiosities,” to be published by the History Press. It will be out this autumn sometime. I have also discovered—I monitor my readership closely—that the folks who follow my blog love lists, so I am researching lists of curious facts about Cincinnati Chili, lost bridges of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati subway, and a few others.
This week, The Extraordinary Times catches up with Haley Knuth, whose graduate research on race and journalism in pre-Civil War Cincinnati recently featured in Miami University’s public stories web page. A recent graduate of Miami’s History Master’s program (as of May 14) Haley’s research focused on antebellum history and Black history. She credits her time at Miami University, and the opportunity the History Department has provided, in enabling her to pursue her interests in museum content creation. Her Master’s Thesis Project, an exhibition entitled “Who Controls the Narrative? Newspapers and Cincinnati’s Anti-Black Riots of 1829, 1836, and 1841” is currently on display at Cincinnati’s Harriet Beecher Stowe House (the exhibit will be open through June 12 of this summer). When not pursuing history, Haley enjoys hiking in Hueston Woods, baking cakes or bread, knitting, or reading novels and nonfiction.
* What story did you set out to tell in your exhibit, "Who Controls the Narrative"?
I wanted to explore the experiences of the victims of the anti-Black riots that took place in Cincinnati in the antebellum period. Unfortunately, I discovered that I wasn’t able to find first-person accounts from Black victims of the riots (apart from two survivors, John Mercer Langston and John Malvin). This is partially why I pivoted to discussing the newspapers and their impact on the riots.
* What inspired you to produce a thesis exhibit for your Master's degree, rather than the more traditional written thesis?
I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in museum curation, and I thought that making an exhibit would be a great opportunity to get a feel for what it’s like putting together an exhibit for the public. I also thought it would be a good chance to meet some of the people who work in the museum industry in Cincinnati.
* What person, story, or event most surprised you in researching this project?
Probably learning the truly racist origins of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The first editors, brothers John and Charles Brough, not only were pro-slavery, they frequently opined that the abolitionists were at fault for the dwindling business prospects in Cincinnati in the late 1830s and early 1840s (never mind that Chicago and other Western cities were becoming more relevant and vying with Cincinnati for business prospects). And of course, they portrayed the events of 1841 as the fault of the abolitionists and the Black Cincinnatians who were trying to defend their homes and businesses. And John Brough went on to be Governor of Ohio in 1864!
* Do you see more differences or similarities between the role of the newspaper press in nineteenth century Cincinnati and today's media landscape?
Probably more similarities. I think that whether it be nineteenth-century newspapers or the twenty-four-hour news cycle and social media landscape today, media is the place where people go to try to influence others to think the way they do themselves. But oftentimes (especially when the people controlling the news all look the same way and come from the same background) the public only gets told one story. And just one story can be a very dangerous thing, especially when the person holding the pen (symbolic or otherwise) knows the position of power they are in and abuses it.
* What do you plan to do next after your Master's degree?
I’ve recently accepted a position as a Guest Services Specialist at the National Underground Railroad and Freedom Center in Cincinnati! I’m very excited to start working, the Freedom Center works to teach the public suppressed narratives, just like the history of the race riots in antebellum Cincinnati I worked to uncover in my thesis. It’s the type of work about which I am most passionate.
In his Autobiography, penned in his seventies, Benjamin Franklin conceded: “There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself … Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”
Despite being older than Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Company by a generation, Ben Franklin is the most modern of America’s founders. He was also one of the few revolutionary leaders from humble roots—Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Paine being the other exceptions. The son of a Bostonian soap maker, Franklin took huge pride in his rise as a printer-journalist, scientist, diplomat, and statesman. What he lacked in humility he made up for in self-awareness. He recalled as a young man making “a little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues.” Ranging from temperance to frugality, from industry to moderation, Franklin kept a running tally of these virtues, marking off, “by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.” Humility revealed itself the most consistent of his failings. This exercise in self-accountability, Franklin wryly called the “bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.”
Franklin was infuriating; he was vain—but he was often disarmingly witty. Fixing himself up in the Philadelphia publishing business, young Franklin rose to fame under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders, peppering his Poor Richard’s Almanack with the sort of folksy aphorisms that made these inexpensive volumes runaway bestsellers:
“Fish and visitors stink in three days.” “God heals, and the doctor takes the fees.” “The greatest monarch upon the proudest throne, is obliged to sit upon his own arse.”
“One of Franklin’s greatest inventions,” opines biographer Walter Isaacson in the new two-part PBS documentary, “is that American style of homespun humor—somebody whose pricking at the pretensions of the elite.” This “cracker barrel sensibility,” Isaacson insists, laid the foundations for subsequent American humorists such as Mark Twain and Will Rogers. Combined with Franklin’s business and political acumen, not to mention his scientific genius, such sensibility made Franklin America’s first modern celebrity—the first cultural hero whose fame spanned the Atlantic.
Ken Burns seems destined to tell the story of Benjamin Franklin. Like the Sage of Philadelphia—but behind the lens rather than in the public eye—Burns has blazed his unique sensibility on public understanding of America’s history.
All the Burns hallmarks are present: the sonorous narrator (Peter Coyote); the stirring music; the slow panning, zooming camera angles; the constellation of actors, historians, and biographers. Franklin himself is voiced by the Broadway actor Mandy Patinkin with gravelly dignity. Knowing the identity of the actor, however, made me half-expect to hear Franklin break into song at every unexpected turn. Other parts are voiced by Hollywood stars including Liam Neeson and Paul Giamatti, the latter reprising his role as the testy John Adams from the 2008 HBO miniseries of the same name. The gallery of historical talking heads is similarly first-class, featuring such luminaries as Isaacson, Gordon S. Wood, Joseph Ellis, Joyce Chaplin, H.W. Brands, and the late, great Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn in one of his last public appearances.
Viewers expecting a home run won’t be too disappointed. In truth, Benjamin Franklin is not the best Ken Burns documentary, but it seems churlish to gripe when the standard is so consistently high. Burns’s masterpieces—from The Civil War to more recent treatments of the Vietnam War and of Country Music—spin familiar strands into a rich tapestry of American history. They work best on an epic scale. Clocking in at four hours, Benjamin Franklin is certainly thorough, but lacks the panoramic qualities of Burn’s longer work, rooted in the experiences of ordinary American men and women. Reportedly, Burns is at work on a new multi-part retelling of the American Revolution, scheduled for release in 2025 and the 250th anniversary of the War of Independence. In this case, Benjamin Franklin may be only a foretaste of this bigger project, but fans of Burns’s unmistakable style will still enjoy this fresh look at an American icon.
Currently, Benjamin Franklin is free to stream online at pbs.org (no annoying ads; no subscription required): https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/benjamin-franklin/
This month The Extraordinary Times caught up with Ray Rechenberg, a 38-year resident of Hamilton and a 2008 retiree of Square D/ Schneider Electric in Oxford, Ohio. Ray’s business expertise was in the sales and marketing as well as the teaching of the company’s electrical products. About the time he retired from business, Ray discovered a community singing tradition known as Sacred Harp (“shape-note”) Singing. He has been immersed in the tradition ever since, singing the music in places as distant as New England, Alabama and Georgia, California, and Washington, and even overseas in Germany; and sings regularly with groups in Dayton, Cincinnati, and Columbus
* For readers who may be unfamiliar, what is the Sacred Harp tradition?
“Sacred Harp” is actually the name of the book that we sing from. The true (“generic”) name of the tradition is actually “shape note” singing. It is a method of acapella singing with no instruments involved at all; the only “harp” is your voice, the harp given to you by God. The basic method was developed in 11th century Italy when a music theorist used different shape noteheads to distinguish the notes of a scale on a page of music. The method came to America from Europe in the late 1700s and was prominent in New England to teach congregants to sing better in church.
The tradition fell out of favor in New England but spread to the southern states where it was kept alive (but under wraps) for 150 years. From 1800-1950, there were many “singing school masters” who conducted 1–2-week instructional classes throughout the south on how to sing the music using a 4-shape system. It had a re-awakening in the folk revival and festivals of the 1960s and has now spread nationally and globally via the internet. It is not like a Civil War re-enactment or a hobby, but rather a vibrant, modern, and continually maintained method of gathering people together for pleasant interaction around a shared passion.
The tradition today uses a 4-shape system where a triangle represents a “FA,” an oval represents a “SO,” a rectangle represents a “LA,” and a diamond represents a “MI.” Rather than the “do-re-mi” scale we are accustomed to (with all round noteheads), the shape note 8-note musical scale would be sung FA-SO-LA-FA-SO-LA-MI-FA as we read those shapes on the sheet of music.
* What is the root of your own enthusiasm for shape note singing?
I sang in choirs for nearly 50 years; High School, US Navy, and church choirs … but had never learned to read music, always relying on the person next to me to hit the right notes! As I retired from business, I also had retired from my church choir, because as age had taken over, I could no longer hit the high notes and I could no longer sing softly when the music called for it.
Then I discovered shape note/ Sacred Harp Singing where learning to read music with 4 simple shapes is MUCH easier. Also, the tradition is very democratic, warm, and welcoming. There are no auditions or rehearsals, and we do not “perform” as a choir. Our gatherings are informal, and for the singing itself, we sit in a “square” with the four voice parts facing inward to a person standing in the center, leading a song of their choice from our Sacred Harp songbook.
The tradition is very respectful of its elderly long-time singers and the way that those elderly have brought the tradition along, maintaining it though some hard times. Although the text of most songs is religious in nature, our gatherings are not religious at all. The powerful, soaring 4-part harmonies are what bring most people to the Singings and keeps me coming back.
* How has the Sacred Harp/ shape note tradition influenced subsequent bluegrass, gospel, and country music?
Mention ‘shape note’ to a performer in any of those genres and you will get at least a head nod. It was seemingly present in all of their youth as so many of those performers were exposed to it at the same time, they found their first interest in the pickin’ on the family front porch.
Shape note singing was one of the earliest musical influences on Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. It was a prime learning tool for The Cathedrals, one of gospel music’s most prominent groups of the last 50 years. Country music stars The Delmore Brothers and the Louvin Brothers both allude to their upbringing with shape note music. The intricate 2-3-4 part harmonies of many stars today were founded on their exposure to shape note/ Sacred Harp Singing.
* How can readers get involved with this music, or find out more information?
Go to a “Singing.” This is not music to be consumed like listening to a rock concert or even a symphony. It is participative music, where yes, you can listen for a while, but then you’ll find yourself joining right in! The tradition is practiced in most states of the USA and in many cities within any of the states. Just Google “Sacred Harp (city/state)” and find an event nearby.
The best resource for all aspects of Sacred Harp singing is fasola.org, where you can find various essays, links, and Q&A on this marvelous experience.
Note: among many representations, here is a good YouTube video explain the workings of one Singing in North Carolina.
This weekend I drove home to Ohio from the Appalachian Studies Conference in mountainous Morgantown, West Virginia. Conference-goers enjoyed warm hospitality and spring sunshine along the banks of the Monongahela River, gathering in-person for the first time since the pandemic. But for those attuned to distant news, the war in Ukraine furnished a troubling backdrop to an otherwise uplifting conference.
For several years now, the Appalachian Studies Association has hosted international scholars—geographers, historians, artists, and sociologists—from the Carpathian Mountains. Carpathia is a land of striking physical and cultural similarities to Appalachia. Its landscape even stood in for North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains as the location for the 2003 Civil War movie Cold Mountain. Carpathia’s coal-rich mountains extend from Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, through sections of western Ukraine, now trapped in the crosshairs of Vladimir Putin’s military aggression.
This year’s Appalachian Studies Association included the late addition of a roundtable discussion: “Appalachians/ Carpathians: Mountain to Mountain Connections During the Russian Attack on Ukraine.” Panelists from the United States and Romania were joined by Dr. Roman Poznanskyy from the Precarpathian National University, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, to discuss cultural connections and support for Ukrainian scholars, students, and citizens.
Symbols of solidarity were visible throughout the conference, notably the blue-and-yellow of Ukraine, displayed on badges and clothing. The bright, unfussy primary colors of the Ukrainian flag represent clear blue skies and golden fields of wheat, the produce for which Ukrainian agriculture is famous. They stand in poignant contrast to lurid atrocities being committed by Putin’s armed forces.
Though I have no immediate connections to Ukraine, this war has felt strangely personal. Since the invasion began on February 24, its horror has been flashed by on reflections from the handful of Ukrainians I’ve known in life. I think of my brilliant grad school friend from Kharkhiv in eastern Ukraine, a city reduced now to rubble. Or my wonderful colleague at Miami University—a fellow naturalized US citizen. Her 83-year-old mother has been trapped in the port city of Odessa. Such experiences are too common, patches in a quilt of human suffering.
Like many friends of Ukraine in America, I have watched the war coverage with growing alarm. As the brave resistance of Ukraine’s military has stalled the invasion, Putin has resorted to increasingly desperate and barbarous tactics, bombing and shelling apartment blocks, schools, theaters, and even maternity hospitals.
Whatever comes next, we must insist that this is Putin’s war, not the Russian people’s war. Thousands of Russian citizens have already been arrested in anti-war protests. These numbers will only rise as the carnage filters home in ways the Kremlin will be powerless to control. More Russian soldiers—often teenage conscripts—have died in the first three weeks of this campaign than combined US deaths from twenty years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They did not choose this war.
But the real victims are the ordinary Ukrainian people. At the time of writing, some 10 million Ukrainians—one in four—have been driven from their homes. Over 3 million have already fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, which are struggling to cope with Europe’s greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945.
What can we do to help? In the 1930s, thousands of foreign volunteers joined the International Brigades fighting the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Reportedly, thousands of foreign volunteers—including hundreds of Americans—have already joined the new Ukrainian International Legion, joining ordinary Ukrainians defending their homeland. But at a time when fewer than 1 percent of the US population is active duty or reserve military, such drastic measures are hardly to be recommended for those without the proper training and skills. More realistically, we can offer support with solidarity and generosity to the Ukrainian people. Numerous reputable agencies, including UNICEF, Médecins sans Frontieres, and the Red Cross welcome your donations to help the growing refugee population.
And when you tire of images of destruction on TV, consider joining or organizing a vigil or demonstration, such as the one that gathered in West Chester’s Union Center on March 7. Despite the freezing cold weather that evening, dozens of local citizens and interfaith leaders turned out to express solidarity with the Ukrainian people, including Ukrainian Americans who testified before the gathering. Although such displays of solidarity might be dismissed as mere rhetoric, words assuredly do matter. And demonstrations of action are the foundations on which healthy democracies are built, at home and abroad.
This week, The Extraordinary Times catches up with another good friend from southwestern Ohio. Mike Maloney was founding director of the Urban Appalachian Council (UAC) the forerunner of today’s Urban Appalachian Community Coalition (UACC) in Cincinnati, where he now serves as Convenor. Mike was recently honored for his distinguished career as a scholar and community organizer, being named 2022 recipient of the Berea College Service Award, along with fellow Appalachian activist Jane Stephenson.
Mike grew up in the mountain section of Eastern Kentucky, the son of a coal miner and a mother who managed to raise nine children under often harsh conditions. He has extensive teaching experience—having served as a lecturer in Appalachian Studies at six area colleges and universities—and providing training on Appalachian culture for social workers, health providers, and educators. He has served as a trainer for the Ohio Child Welfare Training Network and as consultant for the Ohio Appalachian Outreach Project for the Ohio Arts Council. The Ohio Humanities Council recognizes him as an expert on Appalachian culture. His work as a writer includes co-editing the 4th and 5th editions of Appalachia: Social Context Past and Present and the Urban Appalachian section of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia.
* From your own perspective, what does it mean to be an urban Appalachian?
Until the early 1970s, people who had moved to cities outside the Appalachian Region were called Appalachian migrants. In the Dayton-Miami Valley area we were often called “briars” or “briar hoppers” on the streets and in the factories where so many of us worked. In Cincinnati we were called hillbillies and by church and social workers Southern Appalachian Migrants or SAMS. Cincinnati Appalachian leaders used the Appalachian migrant nomenclature until one of the students in my Appalachian studies class challenged me. “Migrants are people who have moved recently. Some of your people have been here for a long time. You are not migrants!” After that we adopted the term urban Appalachian and named our organization the Urban Appalachian Council, keeping the initials of our first organization (1968-1970), UAC for United Appalachian Cincinnati. We have since defined urban Appalachians as people who moved to the cities outside the region or whose ancestors did so. What being urban Appalachian means to me personally is that my spirit will always live in the mountains from which I came. “My heart is in the Highlands” as the Scottish ballad says. I realize that the sense of being “from” Appalachian changes with each generation but in my family the awareness is still there at some level. A few years ago in Trenton, Ohio, I watched a 6-year-old grandnephew carefully cultivating a bean patch in his back yard and I knew our culture was still alive in that family. In my family there is a band of 2nd and 3rd generation urban Appalachians, 9 Castle Close, which plays mostly Irish Music. But when elders are present they always sing some songs from the mountains. My people still know who they are.
Note: When Phil Obermiller and I edited the urban section of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, the editors forced us to expand the definition of urban Appalachians to include people living in cities within the Appalachian region. (We knew we had coopted the term for our part of the movement and did not resist.)
* What influences in early life drew you towards scholarship and activism?
My family placed a high value on books and learning. Even my older brothers who got little formal education were well read and self-educated. My high school teachers and principal made sure that I went off to college. My family did not know how to make that happen. My family also had a passion for justice that was inspired by mountain culture (egalitarianism) and Biblical tradition. I was also influenced by Catholic social justice teaching and the civil rights movement as a young man in the 1960s.
* What was the original mission of the Urban Appalachian Council at its founding?
We wanted to found a social movement in which urban Appalachians could be proud of and celebrate their heritage, be recognized as an ethnic group and advocate for inclusion in the opportunity structure of our new home communities. We would advocate fair treatment for our neighborhoods, for our school children and our workers. This all came down to practical issues like better housing, job opportunities, recognition of our culture by school systems, countering stereotypes in the media. We provided cultural awareness training for teachers, police, and social workers. We set up identity centers and GED programs in storefronts and church basements.
* How is the UACC carrying on this mission, or developing it in other ways?
In many ways, we have scaled back and become a network with no real office or full-time staff. In other ways, we have expanded our reach by using social media. We serve a larger geographic area including Dayton, Hamilton, and Northern Kentucky. We still sponsor some arts and cultural events, co-sponsor civic events, do some advocacy (especially in health issues) and maintain community research and operate the Frank Foster Memorial Library. We are a resource for our artists and writers and for students, social workers and educators who want to learn about Appalachian history and culture.
* What is your proudest achievement in life?
I have been able to touch the lives of thousands of people helping them gain knowledge about and pride in their heritage. To do this I helped found the Urban Appalachian Council and now the UACC and helped found or strengthen at least 50 small non-profits across Southern Ohio—from Cincinnati to Martin’s Ferry and in other urban centers from Cincinnati to Cleveland and Baltimore. Community centers, GED schools, emergency services, a day care center, a domestic violence shelter, a community development corporation, the National Quilt Barn Trail. I have helped my people find their voice and raise their aspirations.
This month, The Extraordinary Times continues its exploration of southwest Ohio, with Dr. Jack Green, the Jeffrey Horrell ‘75 and Rodney Rose Director and Chief Curator of Miami University Art Museum. Originally from London, United Kingdom, Dr. Green received his M.A. and Ph.D from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (2001, 2006). His doctoral research focused on the archive and collections of Tell es-Sa’idiyeh, Jordan. He was curator of Ancient Near East at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford (2007–11) and came to the United States as chief curator of the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago (2011–15). He served as deputy director of collections, research and exhibitions at the Corning Museum of Glass, NY (2016–17) and as Associate Director at the American Center of Research (ACOR), Amman, Jordan (2017-21). Dr. Green’s interests include museum and cultural heritage studies, and the intersection of art and archaeology.
* How are you enjoying your first year at Miami’s Art Museum?
I'm enjoying being at Miami University Art Museum very much! Since arriving here last summer I've found everyone to be extremely welcoming and supportive across the university. Our wonderful team at the Art Museum and Sculpture Park does amazing work to bring together our exhibitions, public programs, collections documentation and research, as well as making the museum accessible for teaching and learning. It's in a beautiful location in Miami University's Western Campus and I love walking in the surroundings with its wooded areas, pathways, bridges, ponds, and streams. What I love the most about working at the museum is that there's always something new to learn, an artwork to be inspired about or new people to connect with. From day to day, you never know what might happen or who might walk through the door! What's also inspirational is the enthusiasm of students who visit the Art Museum as part of their classes, or just for fun. It's great to see how engaging with art transforms and enriches their experiences at Miami.
* How does Oxford, Ohio compare to Oxford, England?
I lived in Oxford, England for several years while I worked at the Ashmolean Museum, so I got the chance to know it well! There are quite a few similarities beyond the name and both being centers of learning. The name given to Oxford, Ohio, established after Miami University was chartered, emulated the dreaming spires and colleges of the University of Oxford. Natural beauty within its campus and surroundings is clearly an area of great similarity with Oxford, England. The "town and gown" distinction is often made in Oxford, England, i.e. a sense of a divide between locals and university faculty and students from the outside. I guess that's a familiar situation in all college towns and especially apparent at the start of the school year, as well as during the holidays when things quieten down.
One big difference is that Oxford, Ohio does not endure hordes of visiting tourists as does Oxford, England. Many more came after the Harry Potter films came out! Architecture is an interesting one to compare. Oxford, England has diverse architecture because of its longer history, ranging from Medieval, Baroque, Georgian, and Victorian up to modern and postmodern architecture. Miami's style is more nostalgic and uniform with its distinctive Georgian red-brick style—a notable exception being our own very modern building at the Art Museum.
* What are some new exhibitions and events at the museum this year?
We have some great new exhibitions and public programs, thanks for asking! In addition to our permanent galleries which present artworks from across 5,000 years of art history, as well as our outdoor sculpture park, we have three special exhibitions this Spring. From the Ground Up explores ceramic production from ancient to modern times with examples from our collections, in addition to pottery samples which you can pick up and handle. An archaeology-themed program related to this exhibition is happening at the Art Museum on March 16. Reflections: Visual Constructions of Race is a student-curated exhibition for the Art and Architecture History Capstone Seminar. This innovative exhibition explores how racial and cultural identity is represented by artists across the world, and how images of identity are interpreted in terms of 'self' and 'other'. Works on view include those by Kara Walker, Thom Shaw, Roger Shimomura, Felice Beato, and Paul Gaugin. A celebratory program marking over a decade of the Student Capstone exhibition will take place on March 9.
Lastly, we have Collections Highlights: Recent Acquisitions presenting 50 works including paintings, prints, photographs, textiles, and sculpture acquired by the Art Museum in the last few years. Our related program, An Activist's Lens: Donna Ferrato on Domestic Violence, will take place on February 24, in response to the Art Museum's recent acquisition of a number of the photojournalist's works.
In the Fall, we have three upcoming exhibitions: Miami Interconnected: Land/Identity/Community is a student response exhibition related to the theme of Sovereignty, developed in collaboration with the Myaamia Center. We have two photographic exhibitions, supported by and part of the FotoFocus Biennial: A Lens for Freedom: Civil Rights Photographs by Steve Schapiro, and PhotOH: Photographers in the Heartland.
Check out our website and subscribe to our e-news for updates!
* How has Miami’s Art Museum found different ways to engage visitors over the last two years?
When the global pandemic hit in 2020, many museums closed their doors, and turned to online engagement to reach their audiences and gain new followers. Miami University Art Museum did exactly that by increasing its online offerings, especially through virtual programs and guest lectures, collections connections videos, and more. Now we are back to being in person, we retain many of the skills and resources employed during the pandemic by providing a combination of in-person and virtual programs, and we create engaging digital content and marketing. One example this spring is a series of live virtual lunchtime talks and tours called Noontime Chatter. (Check out our website and YouTube channel for details.) We're also emphasizing putting our collections online for teaching and research purposes and raising awareness of the rich resources we have on offer to the Southwest Ohio community and beyond.
* What are some cool things to notice, for someone who has never visited the museum (or who hasn’t visited in recent years)?
The architecture of the Art Museum, as well as its surrounding sculpture park has an entirely different look and feel to the rest of campus. The architect—Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill in Chicago—designed our building according to his architectural "field theory," which is an ordering system based upon mathematical proportions. Each space corresponds to a series of interconnected or rotated triangles of varying size. As a result, our exhibition galleries with their ascending scales, have a subtle but profound impact on the visitor experience and presentation of artworks that goes beyond the traditional art museum. The building was quite ahead of its time in 1978.
Also, the recently repainted monumental sculpture For Kepler, by Mark di Suvero is particularly eye-catching, serving as a red burst of energy as you enter the Miami campus and Art Museum grounds.
Another thing you might notice is that the Art Museum has developed a strong relationship with the Myaamia Center at Miami University. The land upon which Miami University and the Art Museum stand on today is part of the traditional homelands of the Myaamia people. We currently present a number of artworks by Myaamia artists and collaborate with the Myaamia Center on multiple exhibitions and programs.
Matthew Smith, PhD (History). Public Programs at Miami University Regionals. Historian of Appalachia, the Ohio Valley, & the early American republic.