November 2007

I’ve been working all week on revisions of Chapter 2 (“War against the Advertising MDs”) and am feeling tired and burnt out.  My friend suggested that I come to her house this evening and watch her mop the basement floor rather than writing further.  I seriously considered it.


Over at the Minnesota Local History Blog, the folks from Historic Murphy’s Landing, a living history museum in a county park in the Twin Cities metro, are discussing their recent decision to change the site’s name.  The board had approved changing the name to “The Landing,” but have since decided to take a different tack.

The names under consideration are: 

  • Minnesota River History Park
  • Minnesota River Historic Park
  • Minnesota River Historical Park
  • Minnesota River Heritage Park

The name should:

  • be inclusive of all aspects and time periods of the site.
  • not emphasize the Euro-American aspects of the site.
  • be easily related to the Minnesota River, a constant theme for the site.
  • reflect the mission statement.
  • be easily remembered and evocative of the site.
  • be attractive to the public imagination.
  • be unique to the market place.

I find this totally fascinating.  At my small museum, changing our name was as simple as telling everyone what the new name was, and the name was changed mostly for consistency (are we a history museum or a historical museum?).  Here, the park board has a naming policy and very specific criteria for the site’s name, and we get a peek into how the renaming of a history site can happen.  I’m not quite sure why they’re changing their name, though.  Is this a part of a new branding campaign?  A new development campaign?  A reorganization of the park district (which changed its name from Hennepin Parks just a few years ago)?  To get rid of colonial implications in the name “Murphy’s Landing,” suggesting perhaps that the place has only been important since white folks landed on the banks of the Minnesota River?  This is a big decision, especially with a place that’s been around for forty years and has name recognition in the area. 

Questions involved in parsing out the particular form the new name will have are also interesting.  Murphy’s Landing seems set to become Minnesota River ____ Park, but what are the different shadings of history v. historic v. historical v. heritage? 

Also, I think living history museums also have a naming problem that other small historical organizations don’t.  The Whatever County Historical Society is a pretty recognizable formula for a small local history museum, as is the Municipality History Museum.  But living history museums don’t always call themselves “living history museums”  They generally rely on signifiers such as “village” or “farm” or “pioneer life” and so on.  (My friend Josh recently described Connor Prairie to me as “one of those places where you can learn blacksmithing.”) 

Unfortunately, neither “Historic Murphy’s Landing” nor “Minnesota River History Park” has any living history connotations.  “Minnesota River History Park” also sounds a little generic, as if it were a nice place for a picnic on the river with maybe a historic marker (and “heritage” is even more generic).  “Historic Murphy’s Landing” is interesting and unusual, even though it doesn’t jump out and say “living history” either.  It’s too bad the river has the same name as the state, too, because that means that “river” has to be in the name of the site.    “Minnesota River Living History Museum”?  “The Landing River History Park”?  I admit that I’m stumped for a good name myself, but this transparency in the naming process is really admirable.  Good luck, whatever you call yourselves!

Come by the U of M’s history of science colloquium this week for a talk by Evelynn Hammonds on the underrepresentation of women of color in science/technology/engineering/medicine.  She may discuss U of M’s own gender-equity class action suit, the Rajender case (a woman chemist, repeatedly passed over for tenure-track jobs, sued for gender discrimination in hiring in 1977.  The case became a class action suit under which over 300 people sued the university, particularly from the departments in the Institute of Technology).  (I regret that I won’t be able to make the talk, due to travel to an undisclosed location.)

Friday, November 30
Room 131, Tate Lab of Physics
3:35 p.m. (refreshments at 3:15 in Room 216)

Evelynn Hammonds
Holyoke Center
Harvard University

“The Marginalization of Experience”

ABSTRACT: This talk addresses the problem of the underrepresentation of women of color in STEM fields from a historical perspective.

For further information about the Colloquium, please contact Barbara Eastwold at (612) 624-7069 or For updates and changes check the web at

Good news! Not only was it just my birthday yesterday, but I have also now officially revised two chapters this month. For International Dissertation Writing Month (modeled on Nanowrimo), I pledged to revise three chapters, so I’m right on track. Here, FYI, is a tag cloud from Chapter Four, the one on Salvarsan and selling scientific medicine. I’m extremely pleased that “quack” doesn’t show up there at all.

administer administration advertising american around blood business chicago city code cure disease doctors dr drug ehrlich expertise health injection institute intravenous iv laboratories magic medical medicine methods microscope patient physicians popular practice practitioners regular reinhardts remedy salvarsan scientific selling skill specialists syphilis techniques technologies therapeutic therapy treatment used wassermann york

created at

Museums, conferences, St Paul, séances, battles of the French and Indian War?  You had to be there.

John Scalzi tours the Creation Museum.

See the WorldCat servers in person!

Missed MCN? (I did!)  Here’s tons of notes and slides from a session run by Nik Honeysett on Museum Directors and IT Professionals.”

Missed TCART?  (I did!).  Stephanie gives a report.

Manchester is to London as Minneapolis is to St Paul?  Find out at TC Sidewalks. 

Ben Franklin’s ghost pays spooky visits to spiritualists at Old is the New New.

St Clair’s defeat on the Wabash, 1791.

Andrea Barrett, The Air We Breathe (Norton, 2007)*

On first glance, this novel could be the American Magic Mountain: it’s set in a TB sanatorium in the Adirondacks (“Tamarack Lake,” a fictionalized Saranac Lake) during the leadup to the Great War. But Barrett’s themes and preoccupations are quite different than Mann’s. The Air We Breathe is about collective responsibility, or, more specifically, the failures of collective responsibility.

Leo Marburg, trained as a chemist back in Odessa, has been working menial jobs when he’s diagnosed with consumption and sent up from the city to Tamarack Lake. He joins a group of mostly immigrants at the public sanatorium. A wealthy industrialist, taking the cure in a private cottage, sets up a discussion group at the sanatorium to help enlighten the patients, driven there by the disaffected daughter of the owner of the private cottage. The group grows and the patients and staff become entwined with each others’ lives, leading to a tragedy paralleling the concurrently spiralling tragedy of the War.

The Air We Breathe gives a good sense of the boringness and sense of being out of time of the invalid experience, and the feel of the late 19thC sanatorium building. The way the disease feels, the worry about the new hollow spots in the lungs, these things were harder to approach. The novel does a good job of depicting the collective experience of medical institutionalization, but not of individual experiences of illness.

The novel is told in first person plural, “we,” the voice of all the patients (except Leo and a few others), in a choice explained only as the very end of the novel. By taking voice together, the narrators can, if not expiate, explain their guilt. The discussion in the weekly group of collective societies and utopian communities highlights the characters’ preoccupation with how people can or can not take care of each other: one patient finds Oneida, New Harmony, etc, interesting not for the failures of these communities, but for the deathless idealistic impulse to try again. The patients discover all the small and large places where they failed.
I understand the motivations behind the narrative “we,” but I found it distancing, getting in the way of my engagement with the characters. The endless foreshadowing gave the novel a sense of inevitability, which is exactly what I think one should avoid in doing history work, and particularly in historical fiction where everyone knows what’s going to happen (the US will join the war! there will be anti-immigrant hysteria!). Additionally, not having read any of Barrett’s other books, the family tree at the end gave away a plot point for me.

Overall, an interesting meditation on blame and the collective.

*I received an ARC of this book as part of LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program. Crossposted at LT.