Tag Archives: history

And for 2016 Our Series Is …

“No one was even looking in our direction, and I felt the way that I often felt in this country-simultaneously conspicuous and invisible, like an oddity whom everyone noticed but chose to ignore.” The Book of Unknown Americans.

I’m pretty excited for the 2016 Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy University. The theme was chosen Monday at our faculty meeting from among many ideas submitted by staff and faculty.

Joy Ochs, our faculty chair, was last year’s applause-o-meter, but decided the dignity of her office prevented her from doing that role this year. I, on the other hand, have no dignity that I am aware of, so I stood there, hands to my right, ready to sweep in an arc leftward to measure the applause.

There were a whole menu of ideas presented, but after brief discussion, the faculty settled on these finalists:

  • The Mercy Jubilee Year, declared by Pope Francis.
  • The Status of American Democracy.
  • Immigration to the United States.
  • Assimilation vs Identity Among the People Who Immigrated to the United States.

I’m not sure we exactly articulated the fourth idea that way—it was more like “the immigration and assimilation idea.” We got caught up in the interesting debate over whether to even use the term “melting pot,” which is mostly an analogy that works for white Europeans and not so well for everyone else.

But number 4 was a clear winner, the one that moved my hands most over to the left due to the volume of applause. I’m pretty pleased with that choice. The first idea was timely, and tied a larger Catholic theme to MMU, the second was certainly relevant and no doubt will be discussed in many class, and the third was likely to be a hot topic in this election cycle—but the fourth idea can incorporate many of the suggested themes as forum topics.

For example, the Sisters of Mercy come from Ireland, and one suggested theme on our larger menu of choices was to play off of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Uprising—to think about Irish immigration and what it means. Two of the suggestions had to do with prominent 19th century prejudices that have not completely disappeared in 21st century America: Anti-Chinese sentiment and anti-Catholic sentiment. Another idea had to do with the roots of the nativist movement in 19th century America. And any or all of these could become event-forum topics in our 2016 series.

Also today, we have Donald Trump’s first commercial, an abysmal video calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. “until we can figure out what’s going on.” One thing going on is a churlish attempt to create a religious test for immigration, something from which true Americans recoil in horror. But then, to be honest, “recoil in horror” is pretty much my default reaction to almost all things related to The Donald.

But, I digress. The Muslim-American experience is something that could be discussed in this year’s series.

We have a good theme for our 2016 series, one that taps into a universal American experience: The question of assimilation vs identity. It applies to all immigrant groups—and most of us are members of or come from various immigrant groups—as well as to Native Americans, who live in a country with an alien-dominated culture. No doubt all those good White Americans occupying a federal wildlife preserve in Oregon just want to return the West to its rightful, indigenous owners, right?

Sorry, another digression. I’m back on topic again.

Book cover

I’m about 2/3 of the way through this book. It’s a good read.

What the faculty selected is also a good theme because Christina Henríquez, the author of  “The Book of Unknown Americans,” is speaking this fall at MMU—so we already have an event set that can resonate well with the new fall series.

As a reminder, this is the third such series MMU has hosted. In 2014, we had a big conversation about the far-reaching cultural effects of World War I: “A Century of Glory and Shame: Mount Mercy Reflects on How WWI Made Today.” In 2015, we decided to try a Fall Faculty Series again, this time the theme was: “Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War.”

Both proved very popular, drawing faculty, staff, students and community members to multiple events. The two previous series also touched on anniversaries: The 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, the 50th anniversary of U.S. combat forces entering Vietnam in large numbers and the 40th anniversary of the war ending.

This year is neither a war nor an anniversary, but I think it’s good to do something different. Plus, even if it is not an anniversary, the theme clearly touches on immigration, which is bound to continue to be a hot topic.

Anyway, now comes the dreaming and planning. We need to name this thing in a way that resonates, that can draw community members in. Candice from nursing suggested that “journey” should be part of the name. We fussed a while at the faculty meeting over whether “melting pot” should be mentioned, and I brought up the competing “quilt” analogy.

Here are my initial attempts at names for the 2016 series:

“Journeys to America: What is Native and what is New in a Patchwork Nation.”
“The Reality Behind the Melting Pot: Assimilation and Identity in the U.S.A.”
“What it Means to be U.S.: Reflections on Our Immigrant-Ethnic Heritage.”

Honestly, none of them exactly rolls off the tongue. I’m not feeling the naming magic, yet.

So, what are your thoughts? If you were to name a series of events about how immigrants and natives assimilate or remain culturally separated in the United States, what would you call it?


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WWI Series Kicks Off Tuesday

ww1posterReminder, blog pals and those on Facebook or Twitter who will see this post—the World War I series at Mount Mercy starts this Tuesday.

I had the again odd, but pleasing, experience of seeing my face and byline in the paper this morning, along with two other presenters in the series who also wrote guest columns. The Gazette devoted a whole page to the Mount Mercy series, which is great.

If you don’t get the Gazette:


I think I made a slightly embarrassing error in the column—using the word “swatches,” when I probably meant the word “swaths.” The Gazette didn’t catch it, and of course it leaps out to me in print—and I can’t blame them, I’m 100 percent sure I used the wrong word in my draft.

Oh well , swatches or swaths, the column worked out well, I think, and I hope it helps draw more people to our opening event.

The library display, which you can see after the 7 p.m. panel discussion in Betty Cherry, will look wonderful, there will be cookies in the library (and ice cream nearby at the Campus Ministry open house).

Hope to see you on the Hill Tuesday night!

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Mount Mercy WWI Series Kicks Off August 26

If you are in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 26 consider stopping by MMU that evening. We’ll have a big panel discussion to launch the WWI series, which is full of lots of interesting events.

Sorry for the slightly chippy looks, it’s a snapshot from a PDF file, but here is a list of all of the World War I events this fall at Mount Mercy:


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History of the Slide

I was actually trying to look it up and Googled “history of the slide,” only to find out about slide rules and landslides …

So here goes, my proposed Wikipedia entry on “history of the slide”:

The ancient Greeks used a version of the slide–called a “slithde”—for political meetings. A losing candidate was sent “down the chute,” which was a symbol of shame. The idea was abandoned when it was discovered candidates were deliberately losing elections in order to ride the slithde.

The Romans did not borrow the idea from the Greeks. The Romans were a bunch of killjoy party poopers.

During medieval times, stone slides were built into the sides of Gothic Cathedrals to test for witches. A woman was placed at the head of a slide and shoved. If she slid, it meant she was “called by devil” and a witch. Again, the idea proved unpopular after a time, when church officials discovered: A) Sliding was fun. And B) Witches who slide typically did not wait at the end of the slide for their inquisitors to catch them, but jumped up and ran off. Only those foolish enough to re-enter the cathedral for another ride were caught. Then, too, C) There was that unfortunate incident in 1310 when the assistant bishop of Bordeaux, concerned that the witch was going to flee following her slide, himself mounted the slide—it turns out assistant bishops can also be called by the devil. Not good PR.

Modern slides were first made of cast iron and re-invented by an assistant to Thomas Alva Edison in New Jersey in 1898. Edison both claimed responsibility for the slide and refused to build them, since they distracted workers from constructing light bulbs.

The plastic slide was first installed in a B-29 bomber as an escape tool. Since the slide would not deflate or store well, it reduced the performance of the plane and was stored next to the landing strip on Okinawa, where it proved popular among the GIs, one of who, Eddie Playstation, would later found a major slide making company.

In 2011, the slide was discovered by Nikayla and Tristan. One, a witch, apparently, decided it was a device for quickly exiting a platform, while the other decided it was an inefficient, but fun, way to ascend to a platform. They were both right.

There you have it! Ready for Wikipedia? It’s got more information in it than their “real” entry on the slide!

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In praise of old auditoriums

Whatever else they do in downtown Cedar Rapids to rebuild and recover from last year’s flood, I hope the Paramount remains. Old auditoriums are often the neatest places, venues that seem to add class to any event.

We (Audrey, Ben and I) went to Des Moines Saturday to pick up Saminu, a Nigerian exchange student who will be with us this school year. The IRIS exchange program arranged an orientation at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines.

What neat, cool old auditorium. It was dark but “fancy” inside, full of the detailing that old auditoriums lavished on non-functional areas such as ceilings and walls. The interior was the inside of a dome, it felt like attending a program inside an egg. A balcony—a feature rarely seen in today’s auditoriums—was prominent, if not used.

There were box seats on the side, organ bays, a fancy proscenium arch-the works.

It reminded me very mildly of the auditorium at the old Muscatine High School, which was impractical, uncomfortable and very 1940s somber but pretty.

I’m not a person who things “older” always equals better. New auditoriums have their charms too—there is something to be said for good sound systems and a focus on the program rather than the walls. Nonetheless, there is a grace and charm in an old theater with a dark lobby and velvet seats.

It’s a bit like church, in a way. Some modern churches have their function and charms, but often it’s the old ones that have true character and whose very design helps inspire awe. There is sense of something timeless, of being connected to another era, in a stately older structure.

As Americans, we don’t seem to do a good job of preserving the buildings which represent our history. The original mansion at Mount Mercy was torn down as a fire trap. Warde Hall, our most graceful building, has a severe, unhealed elevator scar.

A few years ago, Mount Mercy moved its graduation ceremony to the US Cellular Center, abandoning the Paramount. It was a good move. The old P, while full of character, was too full of family—our graduation ceremony had outgrown its space.

But the Paramount is a “saver.” Nothing could replace it. It’s not exactly Hoyt Sherman Place, but then, that’s partly the point of old buildings—one is rarely exactly like another.

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