Learning from Lexington Tour

To really understand a place you have to go there and observe it in action. On Wednesday, September 13 the “Learning from Lexington” team met on the second floor of theLexington Market’s arcade and then had a tour from the Market manager Stacey Pack.

Stacey Pack shares the history of Lexington Market with the group as Baltimore Traces fellow Adam Droneburg records.

Pack took students into the Lexington Room where we will have our December “Learning from Lexington” event. We will listen to a brief student produced podcast on the rich history of the Market with a focus on the issue of change and how the public, both patrons and vendors, feel about these changes. We are envisioning the event as a way for the public to discuss the importance of the Market in their lives and how they envision change working for the public. Students are also working on a public history zine on the market’s past. Understanding the past is important to understanding the present and processing how places and communities are always in flux.

Stacey took the group outside to show the old bell that was ceremoniously rung to start and close business each day. We crossed Paca Street and looked at the stall numbers on the sidewalk along Lexington Street as Stacey explained how long the market once stretched.

The plans for a “new” Lexington Market (more on that later) include a plan to reopen Lexington Street, but as a pedestrian area rather than a street for car traffic. Currently Lexington Street ends at the Paca Street entrance to the East Market and begins again on the other side of the market building at the Eutaw Street entrance. It was highly controversial in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century when the market, originally a host of outside stalls where farmers and then produce sellers or butchers would sell their wares in covered stalls, was planned to be converted into an inside space with its own free standing building. As students have seen, while reading and compiling more research from the Baltimore Sun and Afro-American to add to Eli Poussson’s (Baltimore Heritage) Lexington Market: A Collection of Sources, change has long been a point of public contention regarding the Lexington Market. The vendors and some of the public fear change from the outside market into an inside market. Now the plan to tear down the current market building, which was built in 1952 with the arcade added in the 1980s, to open up space for a potential park and “farmer’s market” outside vending is in a way change for the future and a return to the historic outside stall model, abet one refashioned in the twenty-first century style of trendy “farmer’s markets” and “food markets.”

We can learn so much from Lexington Market about the city, urban space, and how power works in public spaces because it has changed with the times while maintaining its own distinct sense of place and identity directly connected to the life of a downtown… our city, Baltimore. The new changes are trying to make our market more like the Eastern Market in D.C. or Reading Market in Philly. These cities are both around the corner and completely distinct from Baltimore in many ways.

One of the highlights of the tour–one where we all had to sign release form before entering–was the catacombs. The catacombs are accessed by going through Tubbs, a restaurant and nightclub that operated under the market until … I believe Stacey said 1989 (and there was a violation for go-go dancing in 1988) but Baynard Woods, author of the longform profile of the market The Battles of Lexington for City Paper in April 2015 says he remember signs for events inside Tubbs dating to 2003. It seems like we should look more deeply into the history of Tubbs a strange ghost-like place of different times. The catacomb were “discovered” in 1951 when constructing a parking lot. The spaces below Tubbs are dark, cold, and have the old arch stonework of Baltimore basements. These spaces were used to cure meat and to bootleg whiskey… and there are stories that slaves were “stored” by their owners at the Lexington Market. That would make the history of the catacombs even more dark and nefarious. Stacey states that organizations have been interested in reviving the catacombs; however, with only one entrance, the space is not up to fire code.

We leave the dark and dank below ground space back into the daylight and walk across Paca street and into the light…


Learning about Lexington: Whose Market? Why Change?

With so many functions, meanings, and users, many of them at odds, the market was a contested space and a microcosm of the city and its people: diverse and vibrant, growing and changing, and buffeted by the convulsive forces of slavery, capitalism, and democracy.

— Robert Gamble, “The City That Eats: Food and Power in Baltimore’s Early Public Markets”


Looking through the Baltimore Heritage list of articles on the Lexington Market (LM) published in the Baltimore Sun from 1878 until 1990 (over a century) shows how impending changes to the historic market has long caused controversy. As a society, we are apprehensive about change. And for good reason. Change produces discomfort and fear.

Stall owners fear for their livelihood. Customers fear a hike in prices or a shift in products they depend on or places they frequent with ease and familiarity. Politicians fear chaos… rats, trash, crime, and always an image problem. However, change is going to continue to happen… always, until humanity is destroyed. We must deal with that. What we should fight is change where we lose control, lose something valuable and irreplaceable, like a truly democratic public space that sustains the culture and the distinct identity of a city, or when the change is based in consolidating power or oppressing people.

For the second week of class, I hope we can begin to articulate the goals of our projects, which will change as we better understand what people are thinking on the ground and in the market and environs. While we are partnering with the Lexington Market and Baltimore Heritage, public humanities programming is really for the public. In our case, the amalgamation of people on the street surrounding the market. Who is this city-owned public market for if not the residents of this city? The city runs on taxpayer dollars, so the real owner of the market are the residents of Baltimore city.

For my contribution to our collective research endeavors for this week, I read articles on the LM from Baltimore’s Afro-American newspaper. I limited my search to articles (always losing something, like fascinating ads, etc. … 272 total hits) and sorted the 67 result from oldest to the most recent (1908-1985) because I like to read through history, and occasionally look at the page view in the pdf options for larger context of the historical period I am reading about.

In the early 20th century the articles mention the LM as a spot on Lexington Street between Eutaw and Pearl Strs. visit, shop, or been seen. A 1928 “Around Town” column describes a Saturday at the LM that could be today: “As many come to see old friends and strut on parade, as to fill empty baskets with the weekly pay envelope.” A brief 1913 article “Ladies are Now Out to Land Good Fish” jokes that the women of the Auxiliary Rod and Gun Club have tea rather than “likker” in their flasks while fishing, perhaps leading to the fact that no woman needs to stop by the LM to buy fish as fishermen “are said to do.”

The Afro presents a picture of the ways of everyday life for African Americans living in Baltimore during the early 20th century, from produce dealers to hucksters and to the “old-timers” shopping in the market as much for socializing as for food. There’s even a recurring column on a nameless “Old-Timer” O.T. as he shops and talks politics and gives no-nonsense advice. There are also columns like “Judge, Good Morning!” covering petty crime, which the bustling LM is host to from its inception to today. From stealing chickens, oranges, or a beating from a man to a woman who asked him to marry her, crime reports at the LM are common.

There’s also a host of article on African American entrepreneurs ranging from artisans and artists (the itinerant card writer and philosopher from South Carolina) to the hucksters (the liniment faker with rattlesnake oil) during the early 20th century. There’s also portraits of figure like Dr. James E. Herdon a produce stall owner who is also “one of the city’s most successful citizens. Herdon’s death is reported in the Afro in 1961 and he ran a produce stand in the market since 1903, which is 57 years–the same amount of time he was married to his wife Eliza Burwell. I want to know more about this man and his life. The James and Eliza Herdons of the past are the reason I am interested in social history… and the stories places hold. [Also, Earl Bernard Green “Papa Earl” who was a founder of the Arch Social Club, the second oldest social club for African Americans, who also operated a produce stall at the LM.]

There are accidents from a man cut by a meat cutting machine to someone slipping on a banana peal to fancy ladies who had their fur coat and dresses sliced as they walked through the stalls. Many people are jailed for begging or tragically frozen to death while trying to stay warm in the outdoor stalls during the great depression. And there’s always the characters, like the legless dancer who works in a butcher shop (the big time) in the market but aspires for fame and fortune based on his dancing abilities despite losing both his legs in the great blizzard of 1898 to frostbite. Humanity, in all its vast forms, is on display at the Lexington Market in addition to the produce, meats, and sweets.

Racial, ethnic, gender, and class conflicts abound like the great-grandmother who read the Afro diligently for over 45 years who told a reporter in 1936 that she “traced her dislike for Italians to an experience at the Lexington Market some years ago when a fruit dealer tried to stab a boy who was loitering near his stall.” An article reporting that Blumberg’s Department store opened in 1928 and caters especially to “race women” shows the segregated nature of downtown. However, the LM also blurred the lines of race in some ways. This challenge to the segregation and apartheid in Baltimore is illustrated by Acorn Manuel (aged 113 in 1984) who told a Afro reporter: “Everybody did their shopping there [LM]. That was downtown and black and white …anybody who could afford to had a stall.”

Yet the final article in the database on the LM shows the intensification of racial segregation during the 1980s when Baltimore was bleeding industry and manufacturing jobs and white and middle class African American residents migrated to the suburbs. Even the city’s football team, the Baltimore Colts, left in the cover of night in 1984. In a 1985 column by Elizabeth M. Oliver “The devil wears a white jumpsuit” the author criticizes the “nasty, sneaky ways” whites avoid civil rights legislation as put all in on maintaining white supremacy. The LM offers a prime example of such social evils in the fact that the “so-called World Famous Lexington Market has but one black merchant, a tiny one, among over 300. The market has an enormous black trade amounting to millions of dollars. Some years ago the AFRO helped a black merchant get started in there…” The man’s stall was vandalized not once but three times. Oliver writes: “Later we learned that there is a certain circle of merchants, vendors who have been in the market for over 100 years, Italians, Germans, Greeks, etc. who band together to keep out ‘invaders’ and those persons include black merchants.”

In these trouble times we should remember that economics cannot be detangles from racial injustice in this city. This was true when the Lexington Market was built over 200 years ago. It is true today. It will probably be true for the next generation, unless something seriously changes. That is the kind of change I can get behind.

Next week’s blog: Fun with Sanborn maps

Garden Gala – Sunday, May 18 @ 2640 Space

Garden Gala: Bringing the Green Back To Filbert Street

2640 Space, 2640 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD

May 18, 2014 from 4 – 9 pm


UMBC students are working with Jason Reed, the director of a non-profit community garden and educational space, to host a fundraiser for the Filbert Street Community Garden of Brooklyn-Curtis Bay on Sunday, May 18 from 4 to 9pm.  The event will be at 2640 Space in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore (2640 St. Paul Street, Baltimore MD 21218).

The fundraiser includes food, music, history, art, silent auctions, raffles, and more to raise money to create the new garden manager position for this important Baltimore non-profit organization. Students in Professor Nicole King’s “Preserving Places” American Studies course and Professor Steve Bradley’s “Imaging Research Center Fellows” visual arts course worked together on planning this event as the culmination of their semester-long work with the garden.

The Filbert Street Community Garden is a conservation project, educational space, and food farm located in the Curtis Bay neighborhood of South Baltimore. In the past two years the garden has held 24 community workshops, logged 10,000 volunteer hours, provided 500 garden classes both during and after school, served over 600 local students, and produced and distributed over 3,000 pounds of fresh produce in the community. Residents need a garden because the area is a food desert, which means there is limited access to fresh produce locally.

Aaron Henkin of WYPR’s The Signal will MC the event.

Folk musician Jennie Williams will start off the evening’s musical performances at 5pm. Then Filbert Street garden director Jason Reed’s band Her Fantastic Cats. Next  we welcome local acts from Brooklyn-Curtis Bay, including female hip hop duo Double Impact and hip hop artist  Baby Boy. We will finish up the night’s line up with local Baltimore folk musicians Haint Blue and Bobby E. Lee & the Sympathizers .

Food is provided by Dynamic Strategies Catering, which is a small woman owner catering company owned and operated by Idalee Wagman DiGregorio and Lisa Hillring. They specialize in small to medium sized functions and prefer to use local seasonal ingredients and get many of their proteins from the Wagman family farm located in south central Pennsylvania. Relay Foods will have a table to talk about their healthy food delivery options in the Baltimore region.

We will also have a silent auction of an array of great finds from local Baltimore businesses and a raffle for gift cards for many great prizes. All ticket holders receive two raffle tickets with the cost of admission.

Tickets can be purchased online at: http://www.missiontix.com/gardengala. Ticket prices are: $20 general admission, $10 for students or Brooklyn-Curtis Bay residents, $5 for children 10 and up, and free for kids under 10. There will be a silent auction of art and exciting items donated by local businesses.

A student produced radio series on the voices of residents of Brooklyn-Curtis Bay (Baybrook) and Sparrows Point communities will air on the Marc Steiner Show WEAA (88.9) at 9am the week leading up to the event (May 12-16). The radio series in a collaboration with American Studies folklorist-in-residence and program coordinator for Maryland Traditions, the state’s folklife program, Michelle Stefano’s class on ethnography and Bill Shewbridge’s “Media and Communication Studies Fellows” courses. Never before have four different courses collaborated on a project of this magnitude at UMBC.

If you’d like more information about this event and associated projects or have any questions, please contact Dr. Nicole King:

Department of American Studies
University of Maryland Baltimore County, UMBC
1000 Hilltop Circle – Fine Arts Bld. 458
Baltimore, MD 21250
(410) 455-1457 OR (202) 345-6250 (cell)


These Projects are funded by a Breaking Ground Grant from UMBC

Collaboration with Marc Steiner and the Center for Emerging Media

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 11.03.19 PMThe Mapping Baybrook project (ART 390 & AMST 422/680) and the Mill Stories project (MCS 370 & AMST 403) are working with Marc Steiner and the Center for Emerging Media during the spring 2014 semester. We will all be working together on a radio series focused on stories of deindustrialization in the Baltimore region, specifically Baybrook and the Sparrows Point communities. The week-long series will air during the Marc Steiner show (WEAA 88.9) from Monday, May 12 until Friday, May 16 and have accompanying visual/video components. The series will focus on the following themes (1) The Power of History (2) Resistance & Revitalization  (3) Art & Culture (4) Futures.

We want to build bridges and see patterns/connections between the two places/projects and focus on amplifying the stories and visions of what the residents and communities think they deserve. We will be using the power of media to understand historical forces and to critically explore today’s important stories—specifically, the stories of post-industrial places in Baltimore. 

Students who missed Steiner’s talk at UMBC (Monday, March 10), please check out this introductory video and the audio or video (your choice) from Steiner’s lecture at UMBC (audio on Jonni’s (ART 390) blog OR the full video here) and write your own blog post reflecting on the lecture (due Tuesday, March 25) and any ideas you have for the radio series and accompanying media. We certainly want to include a piece on the Filbert Street Garden and the importance of our fundraiser on May 18.

When students in the UMBC courses met with Marc before spring break (Friday, March 14 at Tavern on the Hill) we started to come up with ideas. Our central questions were: How do we make connections between these two different industrial communities? How do we bring people together to share stories?

Students discussed including material culture and momentos  from the communities, focusing on family stories to generate collective memory, and giving cameras to residents to represent their own communities. It is also important to include the voices of the youth because their opinions matter, especially for the futures of the communities. While it is important to reflect on how knowledge is passed down by generations within the community, we also need to consider how things change and the views of “outsiders.” How do we best connect to a place as “outsiders”? How are representations reflected inside and outside of a community through the process of developing the identity of a place? We also need to explore how various flows of immigrants and migrants to these communities have changed and continue to change their identities. We also discussed how the culture of work is like another family in certain industries where workers find not only their livelihood but also their cultures and identities within their jobs.

We are all going to get together again in the IRC classroom (ITE 109) on Friday, April 4 at noon, to start to plan the programming for the radio series.

Fun with Sanborn Maps

Bb sanbornGo to the Pratt Library main page.

Search (upper right hand corner) sanborn maps.

Click on Sanborn Maps (Digital) – Maryland – Enoch Pratt Free Library

Enter your public library card number to login.

CLICK HERE to enter.

Under Select a State: Maryland.

Select a City: Baltimore [Baltimore Co.]

Select a date: 1928-1936

Select a volume: Vol. 5A 1936

Click on Key, Sheet Oa (click on download map at top = big map for context, you will have to zone and find your spot on the map) Sanborn 1936 general

Spots of interest:

516 Masonville

520 Filbert Street Garden

535 Fairfield

541/542 Wagner’s Point

545 Sledd’s Point

546 Hawkins Point (community)

Look around in 1914-1953 as well under 5A

We have a place, we have a date: Please save the date

Save the Date:


Green Gala: Fundraiser for the Filbert Street Garden in Curtis Bay

The evening of Sunday March 18 at 2640

2640 St. Paul Street – Baltimore, MD


History (programming/products): Katie, Brendan, Calvin, JJ, Dustin (videographer)

Event Planning: Rita, Bonnie, Mercedes, Conor, Cody, Katelyn

Outreach/Promotions: Kurtis, Dorothy, Dennis, Chris, D’Arcy


Image: Katie Hern

Image: Katie Hern

Sunday’s Visit to 2640

Students: Katie, Rachel, Cody, Kurtis

Conor, Dorothy, MAYBE: Rita, Brendan, Calvin

Please let people know if you sign up for something and cannot make it.

Craft Fair at UMBC – Wednesday, March 5 from 11am-2pm

Crowd Funding – Indie Gogo


T-shirts: 200 (black or dark green w white ink)

The suggested donation is $10-15

You can pre-order at the Craft Fair

We are still waiting on the final design from the ART students.

TODAY: Tuesday, March 4

–       Brief discussion of 2640 space.

–       Brief discussion of Craft Fair.

–       Any other updates.

–       STUDENT PANEL… past AMST 422 students return to give advice and answer questions.

The Saturday Classroom

gardenWe were lucky to have beautiful, sunny day with temperatures near 60 degree for our first trip to the Baybrook community on Saturday, February 22. Eighteen American Studies and Art students came along for our first time “hitting the streets” as a group.

I made a Google map of the tour for students who were unable to attend.

We began at the Filbert Street Community Garden (1317 Filbert St.) at 10:30am for an excellent tour and history from director Jason Reed. Students got to see the complexity of running and sustaining a community garden firsthand and to ask Jason questions. Next we went and toured the Polish Home Hall (Fairhaven and Filbert Streets), which was built circa 1905 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Next we went to check out the historic St. Athanasius Catholic Church (4708 Prudence St), which was built in 1891. Then we walked up to the highest point of the Farring-Baybrook Park for a group picture before jumping into our vehicles to head to the industrial peninsula.

422_studentsWe all meet up at the edge of the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant (3501 Asiatic Ave.) and looked at the industrial wasteland where the Wagner’s Point neighborhood once stood. We then headed to the corner of Brady Ave. and Fairfield St. where Rev. John Widgeon opened the First Baptist Church of Fairfield in 1908. As I discussed the history of Fairfield, I pointed out that we had just passed one of the massive auto terminals, where cars enter the U.S. from production abroad, and that behind us was the Baltimore Scrap Corp. where those cars go to die in the massive crushers. You can see the birth and death of American cars all within a few blocks—the cycle of American car culture and consumerism.

Shifting from heavy industry to “green” space, we headed to 1000 Frankfurst Ave. where the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center is located. We went inside to see the historical documents donated by Horton McCormick and the LEED certified building where children were just ending an educational session. We left the Cove and headed left on Hanover Street and made another left on Patapsco Ave. to cruise down Brooklyn’s main street, which was recently part of the Baltimore Main Streets program. However, the Main Street banners are now sadly gone.

We arrived at Fred and Margie’s for a nice lunch before all going our separate ways. I barely made it home before my Zipcar expired at 3pm, but I did it. No late fees! Exhausted I took a catnap in preparation for Saturday’s next event, a reading of Sparrows Point steelworker stories at the Windup Space on North Avenue.

The reading was the first in the New Mercury Readings series for 2014, a series organized by Deborah Rudacille (author of Roots of Steel) and John Barry. Two students (D’Arcy and Bonnie) made it to BOTH the tour of Baybrook and the reading… they both happen to be the only two students in both my AMST 422 course and Michelle Stefano’s AMST 403 course. Both of our courses focus on documenting the voices of workers/residents from industrial communities in the Baltimore region—mine on Baybrook and Michelle’s on the Sparrows Point (Dundalk and Turner Station) communities. See Mill Stories to learn more about the collaboration of Professors Stefano and Bill Shrewbridge. D’Arcy and Bonnie gain street cred for being hardcopy students of the city as classroom (double duty on a Saturday!). While I was tired from the morning/afternoon tour, the readings were wonderful windows into the steelworker experience at Sparrows Point. The stories expressed sadness, pride, and honesty about the effects of deindustrialization on people and their communities.

After the reading, Dr. Stefano and I caught the Charm City Circulator back towards my house in search of food. She let me borrow some of her 1920s attire to wear to the Bootleggers Bash, a fundraiser for the Young Defenders of the Maryland Historical Society. I headed there around 9pm for my final Saturday event. See history can also be fun and festive.

ball_cropOnce I returned from my third “history” event of the weekend, I was quite exhausted and took Sunday off to rest, relax, and read the newspaper. When I woke up Monday morning I started my research into the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant. All the AMST 422/680 students have their first cultural documentation project due on Thursday. Since no one signed up for the sewage treatment plant, which actually has a fascinating history, I took it on as my assignment. I have spent five-hours of my Monday workday reading all my sources, put them into Zotero, and started an outline for my write-up.

Zotero is a great way to organize your research. It can be downloaded for free here.

I want to write the blogs and complete the assignments I give students this semester because I am better able to teach something if I am actually doing it. Though I an not saying students must spend five hours reading about their topic (though it would be wonderful if they did!). I only have one-page to write it all up and list my main sources… not all 47 sources I put into Zotero this morning. It’s all about analysis, interpretation, and editing once you find your sources. I will tell a good sewage story. Even sewage can have a fascinating story. Sewage can be interesting… are you convinced?

Alas, Saturday I “hit the streets” and Monday I “hit the books” to get ready for Tuesday’s class where we will discuss the t-shirts, committees for our fundraiser, and RESEARCH, of course. It was a nice break to write my blog… but now I must get back to the sewage. THE SEWAGE NEEDS ME TO TELL ITS STORY!

Getting Started: Hit the Books, Hit the Streets

pratt studentsNow that we have gone over the basics of the AMST PI (read, write, take risks), some of you may think we are going on a stakeout or lurking around some smoky bar or even following some femme fatale. If so, you watch too much TV. We are hitting the books… and journal articles, and newspapers, and maps, and archives. While you will be “hitting the books” over the next week with your first cultural documentation assignment (see Blackboard under assignments for the specifics) we will also be taking our first trip to “hit the streets” of the community we are researching.

On Saturday we will meet at the Filbert Street Garden (1317 Filbert St.) in Curtis Bay at 10:30am to speak with garden director Jason Reed. Then we will head out to the industrial peninsula where Wagner’s Point and Fairfield were once located, by the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center, up the main street of Brooklyn (Patapsco Ave.), and end up for lunch at Fred and Margie’s (3605 Fairhaven Ave.). There is also a reading by Sparrows Point steel workers at the Windup Space at 5pm on Saturday.

For the AMST PI, scholarship is grounded in place–research, people, and place are all connected. In the conclusion to “Axioms for Reading the Landscape,” Pierce Lewis writes, “landscape-reading [learning to see the cultural landscape that surrounds us… to see place] is not going to put libraries out of business.” Lewis continues:

One can, however, quite literally teach oneself how to see, and that is something that most Americans have not done and should do. To be sure, neither looking by itself, nor reading by itself is likely to give us very satisfactory answers to the basic cultural questions that landscape poses. But the alternation of looking, and reading, and thinking, and then looking and reading again, can yield remarkable results, if only to raise questions we had not asked before. Indeed, that alternation may also teach us more than we had ever dreamed: that there is order in the landscape where we had seen only bedlam before. That may not be the road to salvation, but it may be the road to sanity.

Lewis gives good advice for the AMST PI. Now here are some places to begin your first case.

Research Pointers

To begin this process we want to start with secondary sources because we are entering an ongoing intellectual conversation and we need to know the landscape. Most of the readings we have done in the first four weeks of classes are secondary sources (interpretation and analysis) but some are primary (original docs). There are few secondary sources on Baybrook specifically… but do not despair, private eyes.

As Betsy Nix writes in her article we read on the Baltimore ’68 project, “The discovery of uncharted territory is every historian’s goal, but it proved unnerving for students who came to their history courses with stereotypical expectations: they thought they would read a processed account, memorize the salient facts, and regurgitate them on an exam.” No way. That’s no what AMST PIs do. Like Nix’s students at UB, we ask the big questions and do whatever it takes to answer them with the resources and tools available.

All students have (or should have) read my forthcoming article Preserving Places, Making Spaces in Baltimore” (Journal of Urban History, May 2014), which focuses on Baybrook’s history, for the first week of class. There is also community history produced by residents from 1976 (it’s referenced in the “History of the Curtis Bay Improvement Association: 1962-1977” document I handed out in our last class). You can and should download this community-produced history here. Now that we have some texts as starting points, we need to move the project—the case—further. Everyone has signed up for a topic (or if you missed class I just gave you one). Now we need to find out EVERYTHING we can about our topics.

An excellent guide to research on history (specifically environmental history) can be found on William Cronon’s Learning To Do Historical Research website. Baltimore Heritage has a guide to local history research and UMBC has a guide to Maryland history research (put together by archivist Lindsey Loeper and reference librarian Drew Alfgen). In addition, Mary Rizzo (Public historian for MARCH) has great blog posts on the methodology and epistemology for public humanities.

Now get to work…

Mining the Databases: (you must be on campus or sign in to access the links for the databases below)

Here is the History Subject Guide from the library.

Here are the basic databases with have at UMBC:

WoldCat (UMBC): everything… books, dissertations, images, gov docs, etc.

After WorldCat you will want to search academic journals:

Project MUSE Complete (new) Searchable full-text database of select journals in the humanities and social sciences.

JSTOR: electronic archive of core journals in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

Academic Search Complete (new) Multidisciplinary database providing access to peer-reviewed and general interest journals and magazines; book and film reviews; newspapers; and much more. Includes more full text than our previous version of Academic Search.

Then you want to look for information in the historical collections of newspapers:

Lexis-Nexis (academic) – newspapers, magazines, legal cases, company info, etc.

ProQuest – historical newspapers – At UMBC, we have the Baltimore Sun from 1990-present and New York Times 1851-2008 (the hyperlink takes you to the Sun 1990-present but also check the Times – we have the full NY Times but NOT the Sun at UMBC… unfortunately)

UMBC – Special Collections (we will be visiting later in the semester) There are two instructional videos from Special Collections, both are on the homepage: (thanks to archivist Lindsey Loeper for sending this link)

The first (at the top) gives an overview of the holdings. The second one is linked at the bottom of the page and shows what will happen when we visit Special Collections.

PRIMARY SOURCES: Get a Public Library Card!!! ASAP

Because your UMBC library card does not offer a comprehensive database for local history resources, I advise visiting the Enoch Pratt Library or the Baltimore County Public Library to get a local library card. You must bring your local id. If you are from out of state, you will also need your UMBC id and local address as well. I would recommend visiting the main branch of the Pratt at 400 Cathedral St. in downtown Baltimore. The Maryland Department offers a great selection of local books, articles, great vertical files (clippings), city directories/criss cross directories, Sanborn maps, and other local history resources. It’s an amazing historic building as well.

Once you get your library card you can access the databases listed below. At the Pratt library you can also access Ancestory.com… but you cannot do this off site with your library card, only at the library computers.


Baltimore Sun Historical

Baltimore Afro-American

The Internet

 The public history PI knows that the web is a great place to find information. You should do the “go-deep” Google search. This is public history PI lingo for an in-depth Google search for your topic. Search the basic terms and by “go deep” I mean read for pages and pages… really delve into what the Internet may hold. You must, of course, use the skepticism of the private/public eye when looking around on the web. Think about the source of the information. But, for the public history PI, everything is relevant… until it isn’t. Also, to “go deep” try a plethora of different search terms—different combos, terms, ideas, etc. You never know where that important tidbit may be lurching or hiding on the massive digital landscape of the web.

 Here’s some other websites the private/public history AMST PI may find useful:

 Historic Maryland Newspaper Project

Chronicling America: America’s Historic Newspapers

Historical aerials.com

Library of Congress – American Memory Project 

Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage – MHS

Ancestory.com – Go to the Pratt library and use it for free

Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI)

The next method we will add to our growing toolkit is oral history research methods.  Experienced oral historian Linda Shopes will be visiting us for our next class on Thursday, February 20. To expand up the advice of Peirce Lewis, the “alternation of looking, and reading, and thinking” should also include talking to people.

How to be an American Studies Public History Private Investigator (PI)

Because what we do is public we are Public (not private) investigators.

Because what we do is interdisciplinary we are not just public historians… we are Investigators.


Andrew Ross has famously framed the work of American studies (or at least his work) as “scholarly reportage,” by which he means the “blending of ethnography and investigative journalism.” In a sense we are asking the critical questions of our times and using whatever methods and tools we can get our hands on the answers to them.

I would push this “scholarly reportage” idea a bit further and argue what we can do really well in American studies is to be PIs… the public private investigators. So, what does that mean? A lot. To start, there are three general rules I want to begin with for the AMST PI. Before jumping into what we will be doing specifically in AMST 422/680 during the spring 2014 semester, we need to brush up on the basics.

American studies PIs must be willing to…

  1. READ… all the time and the right things. To develop a critical eye for contemporary issues that matter, you must read actively, critically, and often. You must read from various perspectives and always with a skeptical eye… the public/private eye.
  2. WRITE… well. Number 2 is directly connected to number 1. To write well you must first be a good critical reader. And you must realize that 80% of writing is editing. Write, read, and rewrite/edit… until the deadline.
  3. TAKE RISKS… what trails will we follow to get the story? We may end up with dirty hands in some community garden or stepping on a rat in some Baltimore alley… we may end up in a nice lady’s living room with some cookies and milk or lost for hours in an awesome archive. You never know where a case will take you. To be an AMST PI you must be willing to take risks but not stupid risks (of course, don’t put yourself in actual danger…ever). You must be willing to take intellectual risks and to “meet people where they are” [Andrew Ross, again]. Get out of the classroom, okay?

I frame our job in AMST 422/680 as AMST PIs not because I love long acronyms but because I truly believe the research process is a fun and exciting adventure of discovery. The private investigator seeks out the clues, stories, and missing links that solve the case and so do we. Yet with cultural history the case is never  solved; it’s always ongoing. We seek the riveting tales of environmental history in Baybrook… not just the existing neighborhood of Brooklyn and Curtis Bay, but also the mysterious and illusive “lost neighborhoods” of Fairfield, Wagner’s Point, and, in the most southern tip of Baltimore City, Hawkin’s Point. We strive to understand the past, act in the present, and envision the futures (yes, plural).

The general public may not necessarily think of an industrial community as having an important environmental history. That’s why us AMST PIs are needed—to help the public see what’s missing, overlooked, and lurking just below the surface. Baybrook has a long and complicated relationship with green space—the parks, waters, natural environments, and community gardens. The stories we find may also have a darker side—tales of unhinged industrial development, pollution, and even environmental disasters. The environmental history of Baybrook is as complicated as it is rich. We must always remember that we work for the community we are researching. It is their story—we are just on the case for a semester—and we must follow their lead. While private investigators usually have a single client, our client is plural. Our client is the comprehensive community—past, present, and future.

The stories of industrial workers and residents are often overlooked for sweeping tales of big business and big bucks. I find that story—the boom and bust of U.S. industry—a bit tired (it’s been told) and boring. I want to know what the people are saying in the bars, the living rooms, the backyards, and on the streets. This desire to know what people are really thinking begins to blur the distinction between the public and the private, which is a good place for the AMST public/private investigator—the liminal space between what’s public and what’s private.

We are working in the tradition of Sam Spade, Charlie’s Angels, Tess Monaghan, and other popular culture icons. Remember that research is fun and exciting business and you should find the things that interest you… the things you are curious, even obsessed, about. Most importantly, remember you are working to do justice to the actual stories of a real community on the southern tip of Baltimore City. Now get to work AMST PIs. What are the questions? What are the stories?

Week 1: Beginning our story… Preserving Places 2014

OCpic2The Preserving Places Project has researched the cultural history of the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay area of Baltimore and partnered with various local groups and non-profits since 2009. The spring 2014 cohort for the Preserving Place Project (AMST 422/680) is a very impressive group with diverse skills and interests (see more about them under the “Students” tab). This is the first semester the course has included grad students (we have three) and an intern (a past AMST 422 student) who will focus on the social entrepreneurship aspects of the course. This iteration of the course is designed with a focus on the important issue of environmental justice and environmental history, which are rich topics in the past and present Greater Baybrook neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, Fairfield, Hawkin’s Point, and Wagner’s Point.

In addition to our public history work on environmental issues, we are working with the Filbert Street Garden in Curtis Bay to plan a fundraiser for the garden to help fund the new garden manager position, which will help sustain the work on education and creating healthy food options that are already underway in the community garden. Save the date–the fundraiser will be at the 2640 space (run by Red Emma’s) in Charles Village on the evening of Sunday, May 11.

In the course students develop the skills of social entrepreneurship—working with local stakeholders to use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to assist with social change in local communities—as well as using place-based history and cultural documentation methods to tell the diverse stories of environmental issues in Baybrook. Those issues range from the history of industrial development and pollution to local green spaces and community gardens.

We also explore the past in the context of current development projects in the area—such as the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center and the Energy Answers incinerator planned for the community. We also hope to work with the Free Your Voice human rights organization based at Benjamin Franklin High School in Curtis Bay. Free Your Voice has made this video addressing both their community garden and their thoughts on the incinerator:

We will be looking at various perspectives on the past, present, and future of the Baybook community through the lens of storytelling. Narrative and storytelling are at the heart of public humanities projects. Students will respect the voices of current residents as we work to unearth the memories of the past in the hopes of creating a dialogue about the futures (plural) of Baybrook. Student work will be archived on the Mapping Baybrook website.

In the groundbreaking book The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (MIT Press, 1997) Dolores Hayden writes that, “social memory relies on storytelling” and that “historians have seen how communities gained from defining their own economic and social histories.” Our work in cultural history and event programming strives to create social space for people to come together and share perspectives on the environmental issues that matter to them. In the words of historian Jack Chen, we hope to create “dialogic space,” which opens dialogue and gives  communities the power to define their own collective pasts. Students will take part in both participating in community efforts underway in Brooklyn and Curtis Bay as well as contributing to the Baybrook Oral History Project by collecting the stories and perspectives of residents, past and present. In working with and for the community we hope to do justice to the diverse stories and perspectives in this historic industrial community in the southernmost tip of Baltimore city.

SoBoNet Meeting:

During the first week of classes on the evening of Wednesday, January 29 I went to the recently opened Family Health Center of Baltimore in Brooklyn for a SoBoNet meeting. South Baltimore Network began in early 2013, with the goal to improve South Baltimore, Maryland. South Baltimore consists of many different neighborhoods, ranging widely in population, socio-economic status, race, and age. South Baltimore Network strives to bring many of the non-profits who target South Baltimore together. Through fundraising assistance, financial assistance, and training, South Baltimore Network brings together local non-profits to help them better serve the local communities. During the meeting (the second one for the new organization) the group came up with a vision statement and discussed forming committees on issues of economic development/jobs, education, health, recreation, transportation, and childcare.

One of the main things discussed by Mike from the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development (CCYD) during the meeting are the upcoming Docs in the Park events that connect health care practitioners with local residents in parks to show the importance of outside exercise. After the meeting we got a tour of the brand new facilities Family Health Centers of Baltimore in Brooklyn (3540 S. Hanover St.), which provides needed health care options for local residents in a wonderfully rehabbed building that was once an industrial space.

There is a lot going on in South Baltimore and with the Preserving Places student cohort of 2014. Check here for updates throughout the semester.

If you are interested in participating in the Baybrook Oral History Project or finding out more about the Preserving Places Project, please contact me:

Nicole King, Ph.D. Assistant Professor

Department of American Studies, UMBC – 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250

(410) 455-1457 or nking [at] umbc [.] edu