February 2013 Archives

By: Christopher Hansen, Communications Intern for Chicago Studies

On Wednesday, January 30, the Chicago Studies Program hosted the winter quarter's first Faculty Fireside Chat featuring Professor Amy Lippert.

Amy Lippert is an Assistant Professor of American History in the College. Her research and teaching focus on the cultural and social history of the United States in the nineteenth century, with a special interest in the mass production, consumption, and interaction with visual imagery and problems of perception. She teaches courses and seminars on Visual Culture in American Life, nineteenth-century U.S. Cultural and Social History, the U.S. West, American Urban History, Gender and Sexuality, American Cultural Institutions, Consumerism and Mass Culture, and Death and Memory.

Lippert's Fireside Chat focused on contested versions of Chicago's labor history surrounding the series of late nineteenth-century workers' rights demonstrations that occurred in the city. Perhaps the most important of these demonstrations, argued Lippert, was the Haymarket affair which took place on May 4, 1886. Organized at the corner of Des Plaines Avenue and Randolph Street in Forest Park, Illinois, the Haymarket affair started as a peaceful rally in support of an eight-hour work day. The gathering quickly turned violent, however, when an unidentified person threw a dynamite bomb at police officers as they attempted to break up the crowd. Seven police officers and at least four civilians died in the altercation that ensued.

Contemporary historians have not been able to account for who initiated this violence. Due to the enigmatic nature of that day's events, various historical sites have sprung up around the city that offer contesting versions of Haymarket's "official" history. For Lippert, these sites present "radically different versions of history that play out and continue to play out..." across the city's landscape.

Lippert highlighted one such site, the Pullman State Historic Site, to which she took her "Nineteenth-Century American Survey" course as a part of a Chicago Studies-sponsored Course Connection. The Pullman State Historic Site was established in honor of the legacy of George Pullman, a nineteenth-century business mogul who opposed many of the labor rights reforms proposed at the time of the Haymarket affair. In fact, Pullman financed a statue to commemorate the police officers who died in the May 4th riot. Lippert recalled her students' surprise that the Pullman museum seemed to downplay the importance of George Pullman, Pullman Town, and its blue-collar residents in the city's labor movement. The visit to the Pullman State Historic Site, for Lippert, changed the trajectory of the course for the duration of the quarter as she and her students critically considered, "What is at stake in these different versions of history?"

For information about how to incorporate a Chicago Studies "Course Connection" into your classroom experience, please email chicagostudies.ucsc@gmail.com.

Relevant links:
• Professor Lippert's Faculty Page
• Chicago Studies Course Connections
Pullman State Historic Site
• Chicago Historical Society's Haymarket Affair Digital Collection
• Historian Carl Smith's Urban Disorder and the Shape of Disbelief