Thursday, April 26, 2007

National archives

I'm on a research trip to Washington, DC, working at Archives II building in Silver Spring, Maryland.

If this is the most impressive archival building I've ever worked, it's not quite the prettiest. At the ECLA/CEPAL building in Santiago, Chile, there were live peacocks running around in a cactus garden outside my windows. Here, the windows open onto pleasantly dense forest, and I've seen a few raptors circling around.

What's the strangest thing I've learned at the archives that I'll never be able to use in a real research project, you ask? Well, thanks for asking. It's the following: once upon a time (1930s and 40s, mostly), there was an ultra-right wing, quasi-fascist political movement in Mexico known as Sinarquismo. In some US intelligence records, I learned that the Mexican president, roundabouts 1940, tried to get them all to settle in Baja California, presumably to get rid of them. (Much like we in the US use Wyoming.) Of course the previous residents of Baja weren't so keen on this, but the real problem was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After that, the US considered Baja California strategically important and asked the Mexican president not to let it be overtaken with folks who were, at the time, hostile to the US. There's more: I also learned that the US apparently floated the idea of buying Baja California from Mexico during World War II, a request that Mexico was kind enough to find amusing rather than insulting.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

More Indianapolis

From another plaza in Indianapolis, the strange sight of a fountain that created a wall of ice for itself.


Most. Patriotic. Picture. Ever.

That I've taken, anyway.

From the Indiana War Memorial at the center of the city, with the view of the state house in the background.

Out of the cave

From the forest outside of the cave. Nicole's blog has more about the trip.

From the cave

From old mining operations (19th century) near the main entrance to the cave.

Mammoth Cave

In Kentucky, we made our way to Mammoth Cave National Park. Mammoth Cave is by far the largest cave system in the world, but letting people in to explore on their own would be both dangerous to the people and destructive to the cave. So, in spite of its hundreds of miles of cave systems, you can only tour very limited areas with lighting systems and the like. It's hard to get good pictures in that sort of light, but this one came out OK - you get a sense of the scale if you look at Nicole in the corner. There were much larger sections as well, and areas with underwater lakes, rivers, stalactites, etc. I found the human history of the cave fascinating: it's been a tourist attraction since the early 19th century, and it has been used for mining for thousands of years and a small section briefly housed a tuberculosis sanitarium. (It didn't help the patients.) Another interesting bit: in different words, the park service brochure mentioned that national parks were important in the creation of American nationalism. It is well known that nationalism rests on an imagined antiquity; but the United States couldn't call on civilizational antiquity in the way that Europe could. Its natural history filled part of the gap, so to speak, claiming places like Mammoth Cave and the Grand Canyon as part of "American heritage." One could say more about this, of course. I wonder if there are any serious studies of this aspect of the history of the NPS.

New Harmony

While in Southern Indiana, where my Grandma lives, we went to a small town called New Harmony. It started, I learned, as a utopian community founded by the Welsh socialist Robert Owen in 1825. (Did you have any idea that he made any communities in the United States? I sure didn't.) The experiment was short-lived, but for whatever reason another group tried a similar thing in the same place in the 1830s. Today, the town has preserved some of the old cottages and houses that formed parts of these communities, while the rest of the town has attracted a few oddballs and some good artists. Looking through the window of one of the earliest cottages, I took this picture.


To celebrate completing my orals exams, Nicole and I claimed a few days for a belated spring break. We drove south, to southern Indiana and Kentucky. We were right that it would be greener in the south, but that bizarre distortion of the jet stream was sucking Canadian air down as far as Arkansas and Georgia, so it absolutely failed to be warm. In fact, most days struggled to get out of the thirties, and while we were in Kentucky it snowed. (In April! How often does it snow in Kentucky, period? Much less in April?) Still, a good time, and a nice break from work. Here's a picture from Audubon State Park in Kentucky, near the town where John J. Audubon spent a lot of time collecting many of the bird samples that he used in his famous books and prints.