Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sample Reaction Paper

(This a sample of a high-quality reaction paper. Note that the student does more than summarize the readings but goes on to give opinions and observations. Do it like this!)

[Smart Student]
Hometown History

Reader Reaction: Nearby History Ch. 7, 8, 9;
Blood Passion Ch 1-5.

Nearby History

These three chapters of Nearby History address the physical types of primary sources: visual documents, artifacts, and landscapes and buildings. The term visual document refers to photographs, motion pictures, and video tapes. Tips for “reading” photos for detail and background evidence seems to be most useful; photos can also be used as a memory aid. The section with the women from the St. Louis garment workers strike was very interesting. They seemed to recall many more details of the confrontation after viewing the photo.
Artifacts are material items, and can be as diverse as a hairbrush to a toilet brush and of course many other items used for countless tasks. The analytical approach to artifacts is an interesting section of the chapter. “Where and when it was made, by whom and for whom and why and successive changes in ownership condition, and function.” The section on museum dilemmas is also informative. It seems that bridging the interpretive gap between how a community views its history, and the story that historic evidence can tell about the same community is a risky endeavor. A museum can never forget that its funding is generated in the community about which it is telling an interpretive story.

Landscapes and buildings refer to all of the developments of a community, such as: roads, commercial and residential structures, utility delivery systems, and the changes which occur to areas of development. Tips included for the analysis of the cultural landscape are: “form (the principle of coherence), balance (one element offsets another), harmony (good visual sounds), and unity (things fit together to give the impression of oneness).” As well as looking for these components, one must look for their absence. A very interesting point closed the chapter. The trash heap is a valuable source for routine, daily use items which would have been of little value at the time, and thus were not preserved, and are a great aid to historians to interpret the past.

Blood Passion

The early stages of Blood Passion explain the fundamental problems which led to the Ludlow massacre. Interestingly enough, some of the key factors to the violence had nothing to do with the labor dispute, directly. The relative value of coal was increased by the simple but not always obvious developments: steam power for locomotives, and the use of coal to fire the steel industry. Steel production and the ability to transport it cheaply were key factors is the wealth building of the industrialists of the era. Rockefeller was the main robber baron involved in this particular episode of labor history.

This story is about more than economics, it is also about class struggle. Most of the miners were poor immigrants from many different European nations, while their direct opposition, the state militia, was composed of white middle class men. The mine owners were white men who had become wealthy by exploiting labor and natural resources for many years in many different industries. There was another class of individual involved, the corrupt police officials. Sheriff Jefferson Farr of Huerfano County is just one example. “Sheriff Farr would always have his men look out for them [union organizers] and run them out of the county and make things disagreeable for them the moment they would spot them.” The Sheriff’s idea of disagreeable included: threats, beatings, and outright murder. Farr never faced prosecution for a litany of crimes that he committed, and died a relatively wealthy man.

Prior to the massacre, Rockefeller brought in Lamont Bowers to run the mining operation, and hopefully make it a profitable venture. Bowers may have been a good executive and capable of running a large business interest, but he harbored an intense hatred for immigrants that made it impossible for the miners to receive reasonable treatment from management. Bower’s dim view of immigrants is clear in a letter he sent to Rockefeller in 1909. “66% of the employees at the mills are not Americans…selling their labor to the highest market…they will go back there to enjoy their bread and beer…live like rats in order to save money.” This perspective is frightening on its own, and even more disturbing when realizing how similar it is to recent rhetoric about illegal immigrants from South America coming to the U.S.

Martelle proceeds to exhaustively document the progression from hard feelings, to the strike, and the entrenchment of positions. This is a riveting narrative mainly due to the intense subject, labor/management violence. However, this also the only criticism, so far, of Martelle’s work; he lacks an analytical perspective of the people involved. His account of the events is well researched and documented, but more insight into the social setting surrounding the mine strike would helpful. Where did the scab labor come from? What kinds of living conditions were available for families of miners? How did the non-mining public react to the violence and corruption? These are just a few topics that would make this book a more rounded study of the Ludlow massacre.

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