Saturday, December 6, 2014

Repeal Day

Yesterday was Repeal Day.  Don't know what that is?  It is the day that the United States ratified the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, repealing the 18th Amendment, and ending national Prohibition.  I saw several articles, most lite on History and strong on how bars have started using Repeal Day as an excuse to throw a party.



Mixed in with the tales of revelry, I also saw a few "politically" themed articles as well.  Coming from the Right side of the political spectrum, these articles hailed repeal as a triumph of individual rights over progressive "values"and misplaced "big government" programs.

This line of "attack" on Prohibition have always struck me as interesting.  First, because they conflate modern liberals who claim the mantle of Progressive for their own with the historical Progressives of the early twentieth century, a group that is much more complex than modern political labels often capture.  Second, they often make an economic argument for repeal (mimicking many of the attacks of New Deal era wets) which don't hold up to the historic evidence (the 1920s economy did just fine without legal drinking, unemployment was hardly caused by Prohibition, and repeal did not end the Great Depression). Thirdly, they hold Prohibition to an impossible legal standard (100% acceptance) that no other law is expected to meet. And lastly, they ignore the complex moral reasons that caused many to support Prohibition to begin with (not to mention how different drinking was before Prohibition versus after repeal became).

One of the great things about the study of Prohibition for me (I have written two books on the subject after all) is finding out just how much we assume we know about Prohibition versus what actually happened.

So, when Repeal Day comes along next year, feel free to raise a glass.  But take a moment before you do to understand the complex History behind what you are toasting.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Professional Developments

The month of November has flown by!  And here, on the last day of the month we find the first day, for Christians, of Advent. As the years have gone by Christmas, which was always my favorite holiday has a child, has grown increasingly special.  And Advent, this time of preparation and anticipation, is no doubt a part of that process.

Although this morning is grey and overcast, a week ago I was basking in the sun of Southern California.  I was in San Diego, attending the American Academy of Religion's annual conference.  The weather was great and the city was wonderful, the convention was also a great experience.  I took part in a panel that focused on Disney (astute readers of this blog know that Book 5 is centering on just that topic), and I delivered a paper about Christmas at Disney (and said readers also know this is a topic I've discussed before as well).  One of the points I raised was of the Osborne Family light show at Hollywood Studios.  In the process of doing so, I talked about the Nativity set that kicks the display off.  During the question and answer time, that topic came back up, and one of my co-panelists commented that she believed the Nativity to be something of an "afterthought."

I have thought about that comment quite a bit over the past week.  And I have to respectfully disagree.  First, for Christians, the Nativity is hardly an afterthought at all, but rather the center of the entire Christmas experience.  Having one as part of the display, especially when one considers some of the light displays themselves, certainly makes a good deal of sense.  But then there is a second reason: Disney doesn't really do "afterthoughts."  Every portion of the parks are thought out, both in terms of design, as well as display and function.  The Nativity is there because it is supposed to be there.  And on this first Sunday of Advent, that idea should be front and center.

Coming home from the conference, I arrived to a short week which ended in Thanksgiving.  Obviously, it was Thanksgiving in the holiday sense--complete with trips to see family and eat a good deal of turkey.  But thanksgiving as well because Book 3 (Interpreting the Prohibition Era) is now out and (most importantly for me) my author copies arrived.  As a professional historian and writer, it is always gratifying to see the final product and even more so to hold it in your hands.  It is my hope that the book will serve its intended purpose.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The View from a Mile High City

Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Denver, Colorado to take part in a conference on university honors programs.  It was a great time to be out in Denver, I met colleagues from around the country, got to tour the city, and came home with all sorts of new ideas for the honors program at Butler University.

Part of my time was spent taking part in a City-As-Text exercise.  My group traveled to the Colorado State Capitol building as well as Molly Brown's house (she of unsinkable/Titanic fame).  It was a wonderful time, with some breathtaking views.  The steps up to the statehouse itself have been confirmed via GPS to be a mile above sea level -- and if you take the tour, your view can get even better, via the observation deck that is around the golden dome.

In what little down time I had, I did some further exploration of the city, witnessing Denver as a city proud of its past in many ways, excited about its future, and grappling with issues caused by growth, tourism, and homelessness (the climate, both environmental--generally temperate with 300 days of sunshine--and political contribute to all three).  I even managed to get a little writing and revising done on my next book.

As an author, I know all to well what it means to grapple with a text.  But the rewards (and most often they aren't monetary) are worth it.  I have been thinking about that quite a bit as my third book (Interpreting the Prohibition Era at Museums and Historic Sites) is due to come out this month.  As I relate in the book, at one point I never thought I would return to the world of wets and drys (which was, after all, the topic of my first book).  But with this new book, I got to engage that material in new ways, and found if not new understanding, at least new ways to view the Prohibition Era.  You don't always have to look at things from the mountain top perch, but some times doing so helps you appreciate the view.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Back to the Land of the Sycamores

Last night, I had the honor of speaking in Terre Haute, Indiana to speak to the Wabash Valley Genealogy Society (you can visit their website here).  My topic was Prohibition in Indiana and despite the weather (storms moved through during my talk and all the way home), there was a great turnout and lively discussion.  It was a wonderful event and I am thankful I got to share with them a bit about my own research on the noble crusade.

It is perhaps fitting that I spoke in Terre Haute when I did.  Looking back, my professional career started there (I had to travel to take the GRE at Indiana State University my senior year of college).  And so, in talking about Prohibition, which was the focus of my dissertation-turned-first book, I got to bring it back full circle.  As an added bonus, in Prohibition is here to Stay, Terre Haute graces the pages several times--both because of the breweries and saloon-based political corruption there, but also because the Reverend Edward S. Shumaker was a pastor for a time there in his early ministry (before he made prohibition his reform).  But it was also fitting because a month from now, my third book Interpreting the Prohibition Era will be published by Rowman & Littlefield.  As that date gets closer, I grow more excited by the fact that I was given the opportunity to "go back" to the time of wets and drys and think about Prohibition yet again and in new ways.

Not every historian or academic gets that kind of opportunity.  And while my current research has taken me far from saloons and churches (in some respects), who knows, maybe I'll come back to it again.  After all, as I was reminded last night, there are still many stories waiting to be told in places both near and far away!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Gift of Blurb

As readers of this blog already know, my third book is set to be released in November.  Published by Rowman & Littlefield, with the support of AASLH, the book is part of the new Interpreting History series, which looks at historical events and how Museums and Historical Societies have and can discuss them.  Back in the summer of 2012 I was contacted about the possibility of writing the book on Prohibition, an opportunity that I accepted.  Getting to return to the world of wets and drys was a fun intellectual experience, and getting to investigate how institutions (both large and small) have attempted to discuss and convey "the noble experiment" to visitors was a good deal of fun as well.

I was pleased to discover earlier today that the back cover review blurb has been uploaded to the book's website.  I am equally pleased to share it with you all now:


"Interpreting the Prohibition Era at Museums and Historic Sites is exactly the kind of book that busy interpreters, curators, and museum administrators need. Well-researched and lucidly written, it combines a brief history of prohibition with incisive guidelines for interpretation. Lantzer offers an informative account of the long war between “wets” and “drys” in slightly less than fifty pages. His guidelines demonstrate the enduring relevance of prohibition while offering suggestions for telling meaningful, engaging stories about it. Interpreting the Prohibition Era is sure to become a standard resource for public historians and museum professionals. In fact, by reminding us that prohibition left no part of the nation untouched, the book shows why its story deserves to be told – and how sites large and small can incorporate it into their programming."Daniel Vivian, Assistant Professor of History and Director of Public History Program, University of Louisville

 I am thankful to my editors at Rowman & Littlefield, the members of the AASLH for entrusting the volume to me, and Dr. Vivian for the very kind review.  I hope the eventual readers also find it "well-researched and lucidly written" as well.


UPDATE:   There is now a second back blurb review up (thank you to Eloise Batic, who was so helpful with the entire project):

"Interpreting the Prohibition Era at Museums and Historic Sites is a must-read for any museum professional seeking to uncover the Prohibition era in a museum gallery or program setting. Tapping into public interest by celebrating objects and stories from the local perspective is a wonderful opportunity for museums, but this book will help program developers understand the context in which their story sits. Taking the local story and asking the variety of contextual questions posed in this book will help museums explore the widest possible angle of history and spark countless new interests on the part of visitors."
Eloise Batic, Director of Exhibitions Research and Development, Indiana Historical Society


Friday, September 19, 2014

In the District

When I was in middle school, the biggest event of 8th grade was going on the Washington, D.C. trip.  For most of my peers, it was probably a big deal to go on a trip without their parents.  For me, the excitement came from going to Gettysburg and then getting to see the nation's capitol first hand.  For a "history geek" in the making, nothing could be more exciting.  There are days when I still am thankful for that trip, for Richard Smith (my middle school history teacher), and that may parents let me go on it!

I have been to D.C. multiple times since then, most only research trips.  The last time I left in the middle of a snow storm.  But this year I had the opportunity to come out to the District and teach an intensive seminar on D.C. and the Civil War as part of Butler University's Semester in Washington, D.C. program.  The students in my seminar are drawn from Butler students who are here, as well as several from our partner school, Centre College in Kentucky.  Over the course of the past two days, we have talked a good deal about the war, and today we did some tours that tied some of our discussions together.






Our first stop was the U.S. Capitol.  Our tour was facilitated by Indiana Congresswoman Susan Brooks.  It was wonderful to get to take my students into the very rooms so much of the history we had discussed.  From the dome (which was being worked on during the Civil War)....


....to the Old Supreme Court room, where the Dred Scott decision was rendered by Chief Justice Roger Taney......




....to the Old Senate Chamber, where the Compromise of 1850 was put together, and where Charles Sumner's desk was/is (where he sat when Congressman Preston Brooks nearly killed him by beating the abolitionist with his cane).

After we were done on the Hill, we headed out to Arlington National Cemetery.  Here we visited Robert E. Lee's mansion, which holds connections to George Washington and to the Civil War (as it was occupied by Union forces early on in the war, which led to the plantation grounds becoming a cemetery).





But for me, one of the highlights (beyond getting to spend time with some really great students) was finding the grave of Marion Anderson, Butler's Civil War Medal of Honor Winner.




I have really enjoyed the opportunity to teach this course, and to do "history on the ground."  It is something I would do again, and that I would encourage others in my profession to do as well.




Saturday, September 6, 2014

Listen to the Radio

I had the great pleasure, for the second time, to be a guest on Hoosier History Live today.  The only radio program in the nation dedicated to state history that takes calls from listeners.  Carried on WICR 88.7 (on the campus of the University of Indianapolis) the program tackles a new topic every week.

The first time I was on the show, the topic was interesting facts about Indiana's history.  My contribution was to discuss some of the communities that disappeared (chief cause, the creation of reservoirs), the final resting place of Uncle Tom (yes, the Uncle Tom), the "anti-Dillinger" police post in Goshen (always a favorite), and the origins of the name "Wakarusa" (well, maybe!).  

But today's show focused on Prohibition.  As I often tell students, it is a topic that is near and dear to my professional heart.  So, I got to talk a bit about my first book, and Book 3 as well (as the State Museum is about to host the traveling exhibit from the National Constitution Center).  That I also got to see an old graduate school friend (who now works at the Indiana State Museum) was just icing on the proverbial cake.

So, thank you Nelson and Molly, for putting this show on each and every week.  Next week's show, in which the guest is my dissertation adviser, Prof. James Madison, who is going to talk about his new book, Hoosiers, is sure to be a treat for listeners!