What the Trump Era Could Mean for Librarians and Educators – Historical Reflections on Promoting Tolerance, Intercultural Understanding, and Global Perspectives

Protesters in front of former Chicago Public Library and Grand Army of the Republic Hall, Chicago, Illinois, November 11, 2016

Protesters in front of former Chicago Public Library and Grand Army of the Republic Hall, Chicago, Illinois, November 11, 2016

Regardless of political affiliation, the recent elections in the United States have left many educators and librarians wondering how to make sense of what appears to be a dramatic political shift that impacts both our ideas of knowledge and notions of tolerance, multiculturalism, and global perspectives. This is not the first time we’ve experienced this kind of societal challenge, and a historical perspective may provide guidance regarding the challenges educators, librarians, and funding agencies that focus on fostering global and intercultural perspectives may face.

In a recent op-ed piece, Benjamin Soskis, historian of philanthropy at the Center for Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy and Policy at George Mason University, addresses how philanthropists and foundations might need to adjust to changes in the political landscape and respond to apparent lapses in support for both rural populations and others disconnected from the global economy[i].  Soskis’ analysis pointedly looks back to the challenges and activities of 20th Century philanthropy programs that broadly addressed educational issues in the US.  Soskis also alludes to the need to support dialogue and understanding that counters worldviews focused narrowly on ethnic nationalism and skepticism of international entanglements.

Soskis’ look back at the 20th Century is prescient in the observation of a focus on the educational needs of rural Americans but also in pointing to political parallels to what the United States and world may be facing.  Edward Kolodziej, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois, recently noted in a lecture on global governance that global politics may be moving back to a model last seen in the 1920’s.[ii]

How did some educators and librarians address these problems during this era?

Bookplate from International Mind Alcove program.

Bookplate from International Mind Alcove program.

In 1918, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) partnered with educators and libraries to promote what we would now consider global perspectives and intercultural understanding.  Through what were called International Mind Alcoves the CEIP freely distributed books aimed to encourage cosmopolitan thinking across the globe in order to foster the social and economic conditions for peace.[iii]  During the program’s 40 year history, the alcoves grew from a group of small, informal, book collections to a well-funded and highly organized operation. These books were used to promote learning about international relations and cultures and to influence people to realize their “duties, rights, and obligations” as humans within an international system.[iv] Beginning in 1918 and ending in 1948, the International Mind Alcove program established 1,120 adult collections and 447 juvenile collections in mainly rural US public libraries, plus additional collections throughout Europe, Latin America, the Near East, and Asia.

The notion of the “International Mind” was promoted heavily by the CEIP’s chairman of the Division of Intercourse and Education, Nicholas Murray Butler. The overall aim of this work was to replace nationalism with internationalism by nurturing perspectives that transcended political boundaries. This type of advocacy falls within Akira Iriye’s definition of cultural internationalism and the “variety of activities undertaken to link countries and people through the exchange of ideas and persons, through scholarly cooperation, or through efforts at facilitating cross-national understanding”.[v] Central to cultural internationalism is the idea that the key to a sustained peace is cross-cultural knowledge engendered by education and exchange. In the early and mid 20th Century, this new form of internationalism focused on the growing sense of a “global community in which all nations and people shared certain interests and commitments”.[vi]

The International Mind Alcove program’s history reveals an often complicated and controversial relationship between the State, education movements, society, and funding agencies. Just as current debates focus on the authority of knowledge and the confusing distribution of propaganda and false news through social networking platforms, early and mid 20th Century information dissemination generated debate about the value and power of knowledge in the public sphere.  These debates often played out in public libraries around the selection of books. For example, in Harlingen, Texas, it was reported that the  Public Library board debated the need for “more books on Americanism” as a way to “combat the spread of communism” in an article that also noted “an interesting report on the popularity of the International Mind Alcove collection”.[vii]

The role of knowledge and media in the juxtaposition of Americanism and internationalism also featured heavily on Capitol Hill.  In a series of Congressional speeches Massachusetts Representative George Tinkham, who was skeptical of internationalism, warned that “the manipulation of public opinion from sources which do not represent the general public will become the poisoned cup from which the American Republic will perish.”  Tinkham called for “a congressional investigation of the propaganda methods of the CIEP and its allies [to] . . . insure preservation of American independence and American neutrality”.[viii]  By the early 1950’s, these educational programs were again under fire. Through House Resolution 561, the 82nd US Congress investigated whether or not tax-exempt foundations were misusing their funds to support activities that countered national interests. The committees were charged with conducting a “full and complete investigation and study of educational and philanthropic foundations and other comparable organizations which are exempt from Federal income taxation to determine if any foundations and organizations are using their resources for purposes other than the purposes for which they were established, and especially to determine which such foundations and organizations are using their resources for un-American and subversive activities; for political purposes; propaganda or attempts to influence legislation”.[ix]  The Chicago Daily Tribune, which had long been critical of internationalist programs, editorialized that “huge foundations in the country have been diverted into propaganda for globalism”.[x] On the other hand, the New York Times, editorialized on the “dangers to freedom of scholarship, research and thought that lie half-hidden between the lines” of the committee’s investigation.[xi]

There is a clear historical connection between the continued debate between worldviews and the pendulum may be swinging once again toward ethnic nationalism and isolationism.  It is also apparent that educators and librarians continue to play a key role in helping communities navigate differences in worldviews amidst a media environment that inspires distrust in knowledge and the existence of multitruths. What lies ahead is unknown.  It is clear, however, that our work to provide opportunities for cultural engagement and to promote a critical understanding of the media and knowledge production are as important now as a century ago.

 

[i] Opinion: New Realities for Philanthropy in the Trump Era. (2016, November 10). Retrieved November 18, 2016, from https://www.philanthropy.com/article/Opinion-New-Realities-for/238379/

[ii] See: Kolodziej, E. A. (2016). Governing globalization : Challenges for democracy and global society. London: Rowman & Littlefield International.

[iii] See: W, W. S. (2014). International Mind Alcoves: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Libraries, and the Struggle for Global Public Opinion, 1917–54. Library & Information History, 30(4), 273–290. https://doi.org/10.1179/1758348914Z.00000000068

[iv] Butler, N. (1923). ‘The Development of the International Mind.’ Advocate for Peace, 85 (1923), p. 344–45.

[v] Iriye, A.  Cultural Internationalism and World Order. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 3.

[vi] Iriye, A. Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), p. 18.

[vii]  ‘Rotarians make gift to library.’ Heraldo de Brownsville. October 16, 1938, p. 5.

[viii] Tinkham, G. H. (1933). ‘Nicholas Murray Butler’s Attitude ‘Seditious’. Milwaukee Sentinel, February 26, 1933.

[ix] US Congress. House. Special Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations. Tax-exempt Foundations: Hearings before the Special Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations. 83rd  Congress. (US Government Printing Office, 1954), p. 1.

[x] Fulton, W. 1951. ‘Foundations Wander into Fields of Isms: Divert High Aims; Probe Planned Diverted to Globalistic and Red Propaganda.’ Chicago Daily Tribune, October 15, 1951, p. 1.

[xi] ‘Foundation Inquiry.’ New York Times, December 11, 1952.

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Sports and Sovereignty: An Interview with Antonio Sotomayor

Antonio Sotomayor, PhD, an Assistant Professor and Latin American and Caribbean Studies Librarian at the International & Area Studies Library at Illinois

This week we speak with our very own Latin and American and Caribbean Studies Specialist Antonio Sotomayor about his debut full-length book The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity, and International Politics in Puerto Rico. In March 2016, Dr. Sotomayor and his book received an in-depth profile from the Illinois News Bureau in addition to other national and international coverage. Since the 2016 Olympic games, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are growing ever nearer, we caught up with the author for a few more questions about this fascinating and little-studied topic.

Glocal Notes: Your book takes as its thesis that national sovereignty can be, more than many other means under colonial rule, expressed through athletics. What are some of the real impacts on politics or public opinion that have occurred as a result of Puerto Rico’s competition and success as a team in internationally?

Antonio Sotomayor: It depends on what you mean by “real.” I view Olympic sport, and sport overall, not only as representative of politics or culture, but as politics as such and as a cultural medium. In that regard, Puerto Rico’s membership as a sovereign nation in the Olympic Movement has “real” implications in the different dynamics involved in the Olympic movement that include international relations, foreign diplomacy, representations of the nation, women’s agency in a patriarchal society, etc. Hence, Olympic participation for Puerto Ricans has given them a voice on several international political issues throughout the existence of the delegation including the Good Neighbor policy, post-WWII reconstructions, different Cold War boycotts, etc. For example, in my book, I dedicate a chapter to the Cold War conflicts that came with Puerto Rico’s hosting of the Central American and Caribbean Games in San Juan in 1966 and discuss the different ways Puerto Ricans navigated Cold War and regional politics in relation to the participation of Revolutionary Communist Cuba. Some Puerto Ricans, as allies of the United States, wanted to exclude the Cuban delegation due to their communist ideologies and were even willing to go against any policy by the U.S. to uphold their beliefs. Other Puerto Ricans – those who sympathized with Communist Cuba – defended their Caribbean “brothers” and were willing to risk their freedom to do this. This event caught the attention of the regional and international media and the resolution involved the direct intermediation of the International Olympic Movement led by an American, Avery Brundage (President of the International Olympic Committee), and a Soviet, A. Andrianov (Vice-President).

GN: The internationally competing Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team is another example of sovereignty through sports. Can you tell us about any other examples of this phenomenon, whether historical, current, or in the planning stages.

AS: The Philippines competed at the 1916 East Asian Games as a sovereign country despite being a U.S. colony. Scotland participates as a sovereign nation in the FIFA World Cup – but with Great Britain at the Olympic Games. Taiwan participates as a sovereign nation at the Olympic Games as Chinese Taipei. On the other hand, the lack of Olympic sovereignty, despite being a cultural nation, can be seen in places like Catalonia, in Spain, which has petitioned to be recognized as an Olympic nation since the early twentieth century. These examples only portray how the Olympic Movement, rather than an apolitical movement focused on entertainment, makes very political decisions by allowing some countries to participate and denying recognition to others.

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Sotomayor, Antonio. (2016) The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity, and International Politics in Puerto Rico. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

GN: In your opinion, what are Puerto Rico’s chances of becoming a U.S. state or otherwise altering its political status in any way?

AS: Under the current socio-political, economic, and cultural conditions in the United States, I highly doubt that Puerto Rico will become a state of the Union. As for altering its status in any way, we’ll have to keep paying attention.

GN: There has been much in the news lately about Puerto Rico’s economic situation. Can you explain a bit about this?

AS: This is a very complicated issue and given that I’m not an economist, I might be misrepresenting the issue. But in very general terms, Puerto Ricans have had a complicated relationship with the U.S. and have grown increasingly dependent on U.S. markets. This occurred as early as 1898 when the U.S. took possession of the island after the Spanish-American War by transforming the growing local economy to fit U.S. capitalistic market interests. Local capital was destroyed in order to create dependency on U.S. goods and capital. This did not only happen through one-sided U.S. intervention; local capitalists who benefited from the new relations were also involved. Reforms during the mid-twentieth century only brought in further investment by providing tax incentives, a practice that continued until the 1970s. After new free trade agreements allowed U.S. businesses to relocate to cheaper markets, Puerto Rico slowly lost its edge and Congress eliminated the provisions for the tax incentives during a ten-year process, from 1996-2006. The remaining companies that left in 2006, coupled with the Great Recession of 2008,  created a “down-spiral of death” in the economy. Again, I’m oversimplifying the process. I would recommend that those interested in these issues read Judge Juan Torruella’s recent speech at the John Jay School of Law for a brilliant summary of the crisis.

GN: You open your book with a description of the thrill you felt while watching the live broadcast of Puerto Rico’s basketball team as they defeated the U.S. “Dream Team,” 92 points to 73, at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. What are some other important events in Puerto Rican athletic history?

AS: My book is not really a chronicle of great games or great events in Puerto Rican sport history. As a U.S. colony, I think  the greatest event in Puerto Rico’s Olympic history is having an Olympic delegation in the first place, a process negotiated with the most powerful empire the world has known. This story of Olympic agency and will is Puerto Rico’s greatest achievement.

GN: Finally, if our readers ever travel to Puerto Rico, what are some must-do, sports-related activities they should add to their itinerary?

AS: They should attend a professional baseball game during the winter season. The Professional Baseball League of Puerto Rico was established in 1938 and was, along with the one in Cuba, a training ground for some Hall of Fame major leaguers like Willie Mays, Josh Gibson, Perucho Cepeda, and Puerto Rico’s national hero, Roberto Clemente. The league champions participate at the famous Caribbean Series of professional baseball. They should also attend a basketball game of Puerto Rico’s Baloncesto Superior Nacional league, the island’s most popular sport along with baseball. At these games, the visitor will experience Caribbean sports, which are full of passion, music, and talent. As for sightseeing, they should visit the Parque Sixto Escobar, an art-deco stadium from 1935, named after Puerto Rico’s first boxing hero. The stadium is next to the popular Escambrón Beach. You can also visit the Casa Olímpica de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico’s Olympic Headquarters. Occupying the original YMCA building, the facility is great for hosting events and has an Olympic gym open to the public. A must-visit is Puerto Rico’s Albergue Olímpico in Salinas. There are athletic facilities to practice many sports and recreational activities. There are also children’s parks and pools, and you can visit Puerto Rico’s Olympic Museum.

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The Peace Corps Celebrates 55 Years

Note: In addition to his work at the International and Area Studies Library, the author is also the Peace Corps Recruiter for the University of Illinois campus community. He served as a Volunteer in the Education sector from 2008 to 2010 in the Republic of Cabo Verde. Join Peace Corps at UIUC and the International & Area Studies Library from 3:00-4:30 on March 30, 2016 in the Main Library Room 106 for our “Peace Corps and the University” event.

Peace Corps Media Library: Ghana

Volunteer Mary McFall, 60, teaches dressmaking, math, and English at the National Women’s Training Centre in Madina, Ghana in 1980. Ghana was the first nation to receive Peace Corps Volunteers, starting in August 1961, five months after the agency was officially established. Source: Peace Corps Media Library.

When John F. Kennedy said the famous words “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” during his presidential inaugural address on January 20, 1961, the plans were already in place to put substance and resources behind such a call to action. Soon later, on March 1st of that year, the U.S. Peace Corps was signed into law via Executive Order 10924:

This year, the Peace Corps celebrates 55 years since that day. Now, over 140 countries have been served by over 220,000 Volunteers, all working to promote the three goals of this independent federal agency:

  • To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women;
  • To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served;
  • To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

To find out more about the Peace Corps, check out these fast facts. This interactive timeline provides a wealth of historical information.

Since its inception, many books have been written about the Peace Corps experience.  Perhaps most well-known are those of the travel writer Paul Theroux. He has written both fiction and non-fiction works since he served as a Volunteer in the southern African nation of Malawi from 1963 to 1965. Theroux’s own Peace Corps story is a fascinating mix of adventure, political dissent, and humanitarianism. index.aspx

The Ugly American, a novel by government insiders William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick, was first published in 1958, when the seeds of the concept of international development support and “soft” diplomacy were just beginning to be sown in civil and political discourse. Contrary to what the title might seem to connote about U.S. hegemony and Americans’ bad behavior abroad, the eponymous “ugly American” of the story is in fact one of the few foreign nationals who integrates into the life of his adopted home, the fictional southeast Asian country of Sarkkan. His humility, goodwill, and skilled guidance in engineering allow him and his wife the opportunity to help their local community in a much more effective and sustainable fashion. This is contrasted with the more questionable approaches of the majority of other foreign workers in the region. Ideas such as Lederer’s and Burdick’s were integral to the earliest and most long-lasting principles of Peace Corps service.

John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man shows what can happen when a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) is tempted to use intimate knowledge of his host country for the benefit of an exploitative, for-profit endeavor after his service. The memoir offers a major caveat on the risks involved in international relations when large corporations are also interested players. This book also helps explain why the Peace Corps model may sometimes be viewed as suspicious by citizens of receiving nations.

For a comprehensive selection of titles written by Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, the Annotated Bibliography of Peace Corps Writers’ Books in the Library of Congress is an ideal starting point and is up-to-date as of the Peace Corps’ last major anniversary in 2011, its fiftieth. Below are a few more selected titles, all available at the University of Illinois Library:

Coyne, John. (Eds.) (1999) Living on the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press.

Meisler, Stanley. (2011) When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years. Boston: Beacon Press.

Schwarz, Karen. (1991) What You Can Do for Your Country: An Oral History of the Peace Corps. New York: W. Morrow.

If you’d like to know more about the Peace Corps, realities of service, how to apply, or any other related information, please contact me at peacecorps@illinois.edu or via our Facebook page. The events below are also planned for the remainder of the Spring 2016 semester. All are welcome! Of particular note is the panel discussion on March 30th, “Peace Corps and the University,” which will bring together four University of Illinois faculty and staff members to discuss how their Peace Corps service led them to their current positions in various fields. This event is organized in collaboration with the International and Area Studies Library.

Date Event Location Zipcode  State
03/09/2016 UIUC Career and Internship Fair: Peace Corps Info Table Activities and Recreation Center (ARC), 201 E. Peabody Dr., Champaign 61820 Illinois
03/09/2016 Peace Corps Info Session: Live, Learn and Work with a Community Overseas The Career Center, 715 S. Wright St., Champaign 61820 Illinois
03/14/2016 Peace Corps Application Workshop: Live, Learn and Work with a Community Overseas The Career Center, 715 S. Wright St., Champaign 61820 Illinois
03/30/2016 “Peace Corps and the University” Panel Discussion Room 106, Main Library, 1408 W. Gregory Dr., Urbana 61801 Illinois
04/06/2016 Peace Corps Info Session: Live, Learn and Work with a Community Overseas The Career Center, 715 S. Wright St., Champaign 61820 Illinois
05/04/2016 Peace Corps Info Session: Live, Learn and Work with a Community Overseas The Career Center, 715 S. Wright St., Champaign 61820 Illinois
05/05/2016 Peace Corps Application Workshop: Live, Learn and Work with a Community Overseas The Career Center, 715 S. Wright St., Champaign 61820 Illinois
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Memes: What are They and Why They Are Important

Today, we talk about memes.

“Meme” (pronounced /’miːm/, me-mm) describes a basic unit of cultural idea or symbol that can be transmitted from one mind to another and, inherently, everyone knows what memes are. In our everyday lives we live with memes; for example, catchphrases and clichés often serve the purpose translating non-literal, cultural ideas, while similes and metaphors hint at what words portray. Those are all memes.

So why devote an entirely new word, and even a study, to something that has existed for eons?

LOLCATs, a popular Internet meme, cat pictures with grammatical inconsistencies. Photo courtesy of icanhazcheezburger.com

The reason is: we live in a different time, where culture and international exchange is pervasive, especially with technology closing that gap. And, precisely because of this, as well as the emergence of the Internet society, multifaceted, non-standardized memes emerge to take the role for cultural and sub-cultural descriptors.

What’s fascinating about the present meme culture is its dependency on virality. If it lacks the audience and their appreciation (either on the positive or negative spectrum), then it will simply fade into obscurity. Presently, although an Internet meme is often correlated with pictures with offensive or funny taglines, it has proliferated for a much longer time. The intricacies of a meme lies in what the masses find appropriate to express an idea, regardless how simple or pointless it may be.

Rick Astley, English singer-song writer, at Macy’s 2008 Thanksgiving Parade. Photo courtesy of Ben W.

But, precisely because of this Internet culture, we find a convergence in meanings and creative output, even away from the Internet. For example, in 2007 an Internet phenomenon known as Rickrolling became a meme, where users are tricked, via bait and switch, into watching the music video for Rick Astley’s 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.”  Within a year, this practice has merged into mainstream media, and Rick Astley made an appearance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2008, effectively pushing him back into the spotlight as a popular cultural icon since his retirement in 1993. It can be very much argued that such memes (like Rickrolling) brought together a cultural concept, across the digital and international boundaries, to further tell us the story the advent of viral ideas on social media, as well as global change and connectivity.

For more resources regarding the study of memetics and memes visit the meme tag in the library’s catalogue.

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