Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How the great North Woods became such a huge tourist attraction—through planning and of course, obstacles in the road.

A party of four women canoeing near an island on Burntside Lake, August 4, 1940. Here, author Aaron Shapiro recalls his own memorable North Woods experiences and elaborates on the efforts and collaboration that went into making the area such a popular tourist destination. (Believe it or not, north-Midwesterners, this weather will be ours once again. Soon. Hopefully.)
Photographs from The National Archives of the U.S. Forest Service.


Assistant professor of history at Auburn University

Spring is here (or so the calendar says), offering a time of renewal and dreams of warmer weather and summer vacations.

As someone who enjoys the cold, winter still lingers in my thoughts.

More than a decade ago, I traveled north from Chicago to spend several frigid December days along the Gunflint Trail and in the Boundary Waters. “Waters” is a slippery term, and at that time of year much of it involved the frozen kind. With a Gunflint Trail lodge to call home for a few days, I grabbed snowshoes and cross-country skis to traverse the national forest during the day and returned to a nightly fire. Later, Ely served as my dogsledding base for and the town provided good company, hearty meals, and a warm bed. As a North Woods vacationer, my experiences were possible because of local residents, environmental pioneers, government officials, tourist promoters, and visitors who helped craft a vacation destination. It is their stories—filled with conflict and compromise, success and failure—that are featured in my book, The Lure of the North Woods: Cultivating Tourism in the Upper Midwest. The North Woods is one of the most concentrated lake regions in the world and describes a forested landscape encompassing northern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But beyond geography and ecology, the North Woods describes an abstract idea forged by a range of actors during the twentieth century. In exploring the creation of the North Woods as a tourist destination, the book highlights the development of modern American tourism, the interwar origins of modern environmentalism, and how people’s responses to deindustrialization transformed work and the landscape.

One of many stories exploring these themes involves Ocha Potter, a superintendent with the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, member of the Keweenaw County Road Commission, and a mining champion. In 1924, Potter expressed reservations about tourism and saw little need for his company or the Commission to develop roads for tourists. But, depression on the copper range forced a change of heart. In the 1930s, Potter advocated for tourist development as president of the Copper Country Vacationist League. He secured relief funds, hiring former mining company employees to transform the area’s landscape. They constructed scenic roads and felled trees to create a golf course and used them to construct a lodge and cabins. While one local paper labeled the project Potter’s Folly, many residents voiced support. As a convert to tourism’s potential, Potter’s work on the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge and scenic Brockway Mountain Drive created local work opportunities and reshaped the landscape to provide a destination for average Americans to vacation. In the North Woods, Potter joined professionals involved in the nation’s first rural zoning initiative in Wisconsin as well as northern Minnesota residents who established lodges and cabins. Drawing on previous experience, they utilized public and private support, including funds for roads, conservation, and guidebooks, to develop tourism on their own terms.

Two forest officers visit three vacationists camping
at a canoe camp site on Birch Point on the south arm of Knife Lake.
Mining, forestry, agriculture, and tourism have long involved battles over natural resources as a source of pleasure, profit, and production. I uncovered accounts of these conflicts in the written records but it was hammered home during a summer visit to Michigan’s Copper Country where I swam in Lake Superior’s still cold waters, toured Keweenaw National Historic Park, and conducted research at the Michigan Tech Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections before returning each evening to a cottage on Torch Lake. While looking out on this landscape, I wondered what the promotional materials might say about this place. For nearly a century, copper mining activities produced tailings that contaminated Torch Lake. Despite the smelter’s closure in 1971, this place was still grappling with the transformation from mining to tourism and associated environmental issues. Torch Lake reminds us that landscapes have complicated histories and those that often seem pristine have certainly experienced the imprint of humans’ labor and leisure. From the Copper Country to the Boundary Waters and across the North Woods, work and leisure have proven inseparable from nature.

So whether you enjoy vacationing in winter, spring, summer, or fall, instead of following Carole King and James Taylor’s advice to just call, why not follow Wisconsin’s 1930s roadside signage to “Relax in Wisconsin: Where friends and nature meet”? Exploring the history of North Woods tourism can prove fascinating, particularly discovering how promoters have marked the region as an industrial behemoth, a land of agricultural plenty, a natural paradise, a rustic escape, and a vacation utopia. As they have for centuries, the humans who inhabit the region and the actions they take toward nature, each other, and the past will continue to determine the future of the North Woods.


Aaron Shapiro, a Chicago native and North Woods visitor since his youth, is author of The Luire of the North Woods: Cultivating Tourism in the Upper Midwest. He is assistant professor of history at Auburn University, and previously served as national historian for the USDA Forest Service in Washington, D.C., and as assistant director of the Scholl Center for Family and Community History at Chicago's Newberry Library.

"The Lure of the North Woods is likely to become the definitive history of tourism in the twentieth century Midwest, and a landmark in the history of modern tourism in the United States."
—Susan Sessions Rugh, author of Are We There Yet? The Golden Age of American Family Vacations

"When someone from the Midwest says they are going on vacation ‘Up North,’ they mean the North Woods—the forests and lakes of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. But as Aaron Shapiro shows in this insightful book, the region has not always been a tourists’ paradise. Shapiro demonstrates how the recreational needs of tourists, the economic needs of resort owners, and the organizational needs of experts converged to create one of the Midwest’s most cherished landscapes, exploring the intertwined roles of work and leisure, nature and culture, place and identity."
—Jim Feldman, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why do we have such faith in creativity?

William W. Caudill, "The Busted Box," New Schools for New Education, 1959, page 21. Despite its abstract nature, the term "creativity" is something of a hot commodity in contemporary educational rhetoric—a reminder of the discourse that flooded the U.S. after World War II.

Associate professor at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture in New York City.


We can’t seem to get enough of that word.

We encounter it everywhere: in stores, in media, in business, and now, according to a recent article, “Creativity: A Cure for the Common Curriculum” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, it is a general educational requirement on some college campuses.

In the article, Thomas R. Fisher claims, “Humans are naturally playful, creative beings … we’re doing something to kids in grade school that drums the creativity out of them.” Parents of young children have heard this before. They encounter the mixed message that their children are “naturally” creative, but also that the “right” toys will stimulate certain cognitive skills, and specific kinds of play or classes might help to develop imagination or musical ability. A similar logic is now being used on college students with the promise that their “innate” talents can be honed with creative thinking courses.

But why do we have such faith in creativity? What does creativity promise that we are so anxious get? The architectural critic Brendan Gill once described creativity as “a word as light and wayward and almost as untetherable as milkweed down.” The word "creativity" is associated with synonyms such as imagination, inspiration, innovation, and individuality. But these are as abstract as creativity itself.

Why, then, is there so much effort to lay claim to something so ill-defined and elusive?

Creativity is an attractive, perhaps even sacrosanct, idea and we often understand it in only positive terms. In this sense, it has attained the status of a cultural myth. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, childhood creativity was discussed as an untapped natural resource that could be cultivated and harvested for strategic future gains. Baby boom birthrates and Cold War tensions gave childhood creativity a special allure. Creativity became the useful opposite of totalitarianism and social conformity, and it renewed a much older exceptionalist notion of American ingenuity. Yet the trope of its universality, especially in children, was accompanied with the concomitant fear of its loss.

Herbert Matter, Poster for Knoll Furniture, 1955.
My book, Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America, attempts to historicize the idea of creativity rather than accept it as a “natural” fact. I argue that after World War II, creativity was a discourse that was understood in rosy, nationalistic terms and was embedded and materialized in toys, houses, school architecture, arts education curricula, and public museums. While toymakers invoked creativity to sell educational toys year-round, educators and architects embraced the idea of creativity as a way of engaging school-aged children in learning. For middle- and upper-middle-class parents of baby-boom children, creativity was a productive means of cultivating both childrens' minds and their own hobbies and interests. “Creative” building toys, playhouses, sculptural playgrounds, well-stocked playrooms were recommended in parenting magazines as ways of nurturing individuality and self-reliance. Low-rise public schools, psychologically informed arts education and new types of “hands-on” museums made creativity a key ingredient in building and sustaining democracy. Creativity served many interests and it was invoked, discussed, and given material shape in an era of dramatic social and educational change, and looming geopolitical anxiety.

Creativity was also a new field of scientific research. Postwar psychologists began to study the subject in earnest after J.P. Guilford gave his inaugural address on creativity in 1950 as president of the American Psychological Association. While some explored the qualities that distinguished great artists and scientists, many more promoted the idea that creativity was innate and often overlooked in American children. Harold H. Anderson argued at a conference in the 1950s that "creativity was in each one of us as a small child. In children creativity is a universal. Among adults it is almost nonexistent. The great question is: What has happened to this enormous and universal human resource?"

The desire to harness childhood creativity and a sense of peril motivated the expansion of the creativity discourse in the postwar era, just as it has today. Dan Berrett, author of the Chronicle article, suggests that colleges implementing creativity requirements reason that students "will be more adaptable both as employees and citizens in an uncertain future." The rhetoric of creativity in education is strongly tied to the marketplace and the fear that insufficiently creative Americans will lose out in the global economy. Robert J. Sternberg of Oklahoma State University's Institute for Creativity and Innovation wonders how students will be able to compete in a changing global economy and surmises that without adapting, "we're going to be left behind in the dust." These sentiments precisely echo postwar fears of Soviet scientific and military advancement and the radiant image of the creative child as the authentic figure of hope.


Amy F. Ogata is author of Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America. She is associate professor at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture in New York City.

"At a time when the news media is again concerned about a crisis in American creativity, schools are cutting funding for arts education, major foundations are modeling ways that students and teachers might ‘play’ with new media, and museums worry about declining youth attendance, Designing the Creative Child makes an important intervention, reminding us that these debates build upon a much longer history of efforts to support and enhance the creative development of American youth. I admire this fascinating, multidisciplinary account which couples close attention to the design of everyday cultural materials with an awareness of the debates in educational theory, public policy, children’s literature, and abstract art which informed them."
—Henry Jenkins, Editor, The Children's Culture Reader

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On healing, settler colonialism, and Hawaiʻi: How can we use Idle No More's momentum to push for changes in education?

In The Seeds We Planted: Portraits of a Native Hawaiian Charter School, Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua explores the paradoxes of reasserting Indigenous knowledge within a school system that has historically underwritten settler colonialism. She also asks how Indigenous and settler peoples can work together to unmake settler-colonial logics of elimination and containment. Here, Goodyear-Kaʻōpua comments on ways Indigenous movements such as Idle No More, an ongoing protest movement originating among Aboriginal peoples in Canada and formed in 2012, can move to the next level of resurgence and transformation.


Students of the Native Hawaiian Charter School Halau Ku Mana sail in Kanehunamoku's home waters of Kane'ohe Bay off of Honolulu. In her book, Noelani Goodyear-Ka'opua reveals a critical tension: the successes of a school celebrating indigenous culture are measured by the standards of settler colonialism.

In just a few short months, the ongoing protest movement Idle No More blossomed from four women and a hashtag to a multinational field of Indigenous uprising and vocal presence. INM has gathered Indigenous and settler peoples to stand up for the health of lands and the communities that rely on them, and it has brought the importance of teaching people about Indigenous nationhood to the fore. Most recently, various Indigenous activists and scholars have also called us to consider the next step—where does INM go from here?

In his commentary “Beyond Idle No More: Indigenous Nationhood,” Taiaiake Alfred asserts,

We need to go beyond demonstrations and rallies in malls and legislatures and on public streets and start to reoccupy Indigenous sacred, ceremonial and cultural use sites to re-establish our presence on our land and in doing so to educate Canadians about our continuing connections to those places and how important they are to our continuing existence as Indigenous peoples.

The work of regenerating Indigenous communities’ land-based relationships requires that those who have been galvanized by particular environmental concerns demonstrate lasting support for Indigenous nationhood and sovereignty. Healing is often a long and slow process.

In Hawaiʻi, five days after (yet in solidarity with) INM’s “#J11 global day of action,” hundreds of people marched on the State Capitol in Honolulu. January 16, 2013, was significant here in the islands not only because it was opening day of the state legislature, but it also marked the eve of the 120 years since the US began its prolonged occupation of the Hawaiian Islands, denying Hawaiians sovereignty. Like INM, what brought Native Hawaiians and settlers to the streets that day was a shared concern for the poisoning of lands, waters, and bodies by multinational corporations. The event was the most recent in a long battle against the rampant growth of corporate agribusiness use of lands in Hawai‘i for cultivating genetically modified seed crops. “No GMOs” has become the shorthand for opposition to a range of practices, from the patenting of Native food plants to the open field-testing of experimental GM crops. In The Seeds We Planted, I write about how students who became to be involved in early efforts to protect against the genetic modification and patenting of taro—ancestor and staple food of Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians)—learned valuable lessons about institutional power, legislative process and the strength of their own voices.

It was a new set of students from various Hawaiian culture-based charter schools that poured into the January 16th march along two miles of one of Honolulu’s main streets. Many held Hawaiian flags; their voices, booming ancestral chants, echoed through the corridor of buildings approaching the Capitol. The student groups were the most audible and visible, but they were joined by hundreds of others carrying banners with Hawaiian nationalist messages such as “Defend Hawai‘i” and “Aloha ‘Āina, Deoccupy Hawaiʻi!”

The march and rally also drew out another set of folks whose signs indicated a different focus: consumers’ right-to-know and curbing corporate power over land use and political processes. Their slogans read: “When it’s GMO, we want to know. Label it, Hawai‘i” and “Evict Monsanto!”

On one hand, the rally was—like INM—an invigorating demonstration of coalitional activism around protecting the earth. On the other hand, the fissures and need for dialogue between the various constituent groups was plainly apparent. As I stood in the crowd, some settlers who had come to support a GMO-labeling bill and to see world-renowned author-activist Vandana Shiva speak looked genuinely puzzled when Kānaka Maoli took up the mic to talk about the protection of Hawaiian burial sites or resisting the gathering of names for a state-sponsored Native Hawaiian roll. One man complained on the sidelines that the event was “hijacked” as a rally for Hawaiian sovereignty. I left feeling like the event opened the space for much needed further dialogue and education, but these were the kinds of conversations that would take more time and a slower pace than the rush of an action at the state legislature.

No GMO March & Rally at Hawaii State Capitol from A New Awareness Media on Vimeo.

Remedying the ongoing violences of settler colonialism and healing the land and our relationships with one another requires more protracted pedagogical work than can be accomplished in a series of rallies. One way that we can use the momentum created by Idle No More is to push for systemic change in our educational systems. In settler colonial contexts such as Canada, the U.S. or Hawai‘i, we need long-lasting, publicly-funded educational opportunities that engage Indigenous and settler participants in different ways of relating to the land and in dialogue with one another about how to place the health of our natural environments at the center, while attending to our different genealogical relationships to lands.

In The Seeds We Planted, I describe the ways Kanaka Maoli educators seized upon the opening created by the crashing of two distinct waves—late twentieth-century Hawaiian nationalist movements and U.S. educational reform movements based on school choice—into one another. The convergence of these movements produced a moment of possibility, as Kanaka Maoli communities could, for the first time in over a century, take direct control over our educational destinies by starting our own charter schools. Predominantly Native communities, which were explicitly asserting Indigenous rights to educational self-determination, accounted for more than half of those groups who initiated public charter schools in Hawaiʻi. As some leaders of the Hawaiian charter school movement put it, these new schools provided spaces of liberation from the failures of assimilatory schooling, as well as the inadequacies of earlier models of Hawaiian studies education that included representations of Kanaka Maoli without disrupting dominant epistemologies and relations of power.

Students at Halau Ku Mana observe and fortify the pu'epu'e (mounds) in which the taro plant grows. This type of interaction allows students to interact with their plants without damaging the root systems.

Reasserting Native Hawaiian land-based knowledges within a school system subject to settler laws and standards has not been without its paradoxes and problems, and I take some of these up in the book. But, these schools have created precious space for healing and liberatory education. One graduate I interviewed in 2011 talked about the seven years she spent learning ancestral orature and dance, agriculture and aquaculture, observational and analytical skills. She reflected: “What I value the most is connection to ʻāina (land) that was found within that process.” She talked about growing up in difficult family circumstances, without grandparents or a father present. But in the years she spent learning to sail a canoe and helping to rehabilitate an ancient loʻi kalo (wetland taro field system), she “found that quiet acceptance” she needed from “our oldest kūpuna (grandparents) [who] are the winds, the rains, the elements.”

These sorts of realizations and reconnections take time, more time than the few months in which Idle No More grew into an internationally recognized force. However, the momentum and visibility generated by INM can be leveraged to fight for the kinds of infrastructure, resources and autonomy that are necessary to create and sustain the long-term strategies that will bring healing to our societies and environments. We can direct some of the energy from this moment in history to carve out more educational pathways that will allow young people to learn how to rebuild structures that nurture the resiliency of their lands and social networks.


Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua is author of The Seeds We Planted: Portraits of a Native Hawaiian Charter School. She is associate professor of political science at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. She was a cofounder of the Hālau Kū Māna public charter school and served as a teacher, administrator, and board member at various times during the school's first decade.

"Like the stone walls of the ancient irrigation ditches rebuilt by the Hālau Kū Māna Native Hawaiian Charter School that Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua writes of, this book channels the pain, struggle, hope, and mana (power and authority) of the Hawaiian people into a place of life and growth. Drawing deftly upon Native studies, history, anthropology, gender studies, cultural studies, and education, The Seeds We Planted redefines the meaning and purpose of ethnography."
—Ty P. Kāwika Tengan, University of Hawai’i, Mānoa

"In this powerfully told story of Indigenous language, education, and cultural reclamation, Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua documents how the seeds of resistance to colonial schooling have brought forth a remarkable educational enterprise, the Hālau Kū Māna public charter school. The school exemplifies a strengths-based, Indigenous self-determined pedagogy. This beautifully written book is one that all those concerned with education for a critical, sustainable, pluricultural democracy will want to read, use, and share widely."
—Teresa L. McCarty, University of California, Los Angeles 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Housing and race: More than meets the eye

What is this billboard not asking us to question?

Architectural historian and director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

At a prominent intersection in my city, a billboard presents the face of a white woman, her furrowed brow and sad eyes conveying a state of distress. A red-lettered caption to the right of her portrait reads “I don’t want to lose my house.” Paid for by Making Home Affordable, a program of the Departments of the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development, the sign presents a poignant reminder that the U.S. housing crisis that began in 2008 is not behind us. An Obama administration program, Making Home Affordable is intended to help homeowners avoid the foreclosures that affected millions of Americans after the housing bubble burst and, according to the agency’s website, “to stabilize the country’s housing market and improve the nation’s economy.” The woman’s anguished appearance may elicit sympathy, while the red letters of the text certainly convey important information to the many Americans facing financial distress and the horrific prospects presented by the possibility of home loss. These are important and necessary messages.

What the billboard does not ask viewers to question, however, are the deep and historic structures that tie the housing market to the U.S. economy in a seemingly inexorable set of links that likewise give shape to the contours of race, class, citizenship, and respectability in this country, now as they have for decades. That the U.S. economy has depended on a robust housing market is not news to anyone who listens to or reads financial reports. Housing starts are, as they long have been, a crucial measure of the nation’s financial health. In times of economic depression, such as the years between the stock market crash of 1929 and the end of World War II in 1945, the number of housing starts dropped to a point of near stagnation; after 1945, the pent-up demand for housing that was coupled with the return to postwar economic prosperity created an enormous surge in residential construction. Aided by the federally subsidized construction of highways and the rise in consumption of automobiles that allowed the possibility of commuting lifestyles, as well as by the system of federally insured mortgages that became part of the GI Bill, developers created large-scale suburban developments built largely on former agricultural lands, dramatically transforming the U.S. cultural landscape in the process. Where productive farms once grew produce that fed the nation, postwar homeowners instead cultivated lawns that consumed fuel and returned nothing except a verdant horizontal divider demarcating one of the most sacred of American institutions: private property. That these suburban developments were largely available to middle-class whites to the exclusion of many others, and that they were created largely without concern for the environmental consequences wrought by large-scale sprawling development meant (and continues to mean) little in the face of economic growth.

So when I drive to the grocery store and I pass that billboard, I wonder about the additional content it represents but that is harder to see. I am not surprised that the billboard includes the face of a white woman because the majority of single-family homeowners in the United States are still white (although one of the images on the organization’s website does include the portrait of a black man). I wonder about the ideological work this image performs; I wonder about the lack of prominent signs elsewhere in my town and in the United States offering government assistance for those who have experienced unfair housing practices, unfair lending practices, and the steering of discriminatory real estate agents for decades, practices that have made it far more difficult for people of color to accumulate wealth and to pass it down to their families through generations; I wonder why our government seldom questions the wisdom of an economic system predicated on the economically and environmentally unsustainable model of a housing industry that must remain perpetually in a state of new production if the U.S. economy is to thrive; and I wonder whether our most vulnerable citizens are yet truly protected from the predatory lending practices that got us into this mess in the first place.

The history of these issues—housing segregation, the seeming ineffability of white privilege and its connections to home ownership, and the cultural work performed by representations of houses and housing issues—all lie at the heart of my recently published book, Little White Houses: How the Postwar Home Constructed Race in America. Although we already know and understand a great deal about the history of segregation in the United States and the impact of specific economic, political, and social structures on the creation of inequality and social injustice related to housing, I wanted to know more about the fine-grained, material dimensions of that system that demand our everyday participation. Thus, the book examines very ordinary, commonly found images, objects, and texts to try to understand the ways similarly ordinary houses and the visual culture attendant to them continuously and pervasively shaped and reshaped ideas about the connections between white identities and homeownership. Ultimately, I discovered that the history of U.S housing in the postwar period is closely connected to the ways we may receive the billboard I now drive past on my way to the grocery store; that the story I tell in Little White Houses creates a significant backdrop for understanding the ways we are meant to understand the foreclosure crisis and the many Americans now struggling to hold onto their homes. I hope it might also help us ask new questions about the ways the housing market is imagined in a United States that still lacks equal opportunities in housing for all.


Dianne Harris is an architectural historian and director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign. She is author of Little White Houses: How the Postwar  Home Constructed Race in AmericaThe Nature of Authority: Villa Culture, Landscape, and Representation in Eighteenth-Century Lombardy; and editor of Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania.