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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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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Cultural Heritage As Symbols of Global Peace in Times of Conflict

Turn the World Blue

Monuments around the globe, lit blue on October 24, 2015

Since the early twentieth century, “heritage” has consistently emerged as a cultural specific response to international politics, and as a practice of memory. Heritage studies scholar Rodney Harrison, in Understanding the Politics of Heritage, describes heritage as an idea that emerges from the recognition of a potential or real threat to an object. When defined by its vulnerability, heritage necessitates protection measures. Because the condition of vulnerability is implied in the enacting of protective measures (whether actually needed or not), heritage is characterized as being rather weak. However, this stance is being contested today, as architectural heritage is gaining a more active role in fighting terror and conflict.

On October 24, 2015 more than 200 monuments, buildings, museums, bridges and other landmarks in nearly 60 countries were lit up with blue light to promote the United Nations’ message of peace, development, and human rights for all. Also as a means to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, the Turn the World UN Blue campaign represents a symbolic commitment to unite global citizens, promoting a sense of peace in the world. The long list of participating landmarks that went blue that day is an example of peoples throughout the world joining hands to fight conflict.

In the wake of war and hate, heritage has brought people together and given them hope for peace. It has been well publicized that the 1,500-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas suffered great destruction at the hands of the Taliban in 2001. The sandstone Buddhas, towering over 170 feet in the Bamiyan valley of the Hindukush Mountain range of Afghanistan, came to represent the complex inter-relations of religion, economics, and politics. Witness to a landscape that sustains centuries of passers-by in the forms of monks, merchants, and armies, the Buddhas embodied the coming together of a world culture, and their destruction caused a collective international outrage. The Buddhas are part of the UNESCO World Heritage List as the Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley. This makes the site not just a representation of a certain religion or nation, but the heritage of a collective, and thus an inspiration for the world to come together to take on the responsibility of fighting irrational destruction meted out in the name of religion and/or politics.

One of the two Bamiyan Buddhas recreated as 3D light projection [Credit: AFP] Read more at: http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2015/06/bamiyan-buddhas-rise-again-in-3-d.html#.VjenjmNXnQQ Follow us: @ArchaeoNewsNet on Twitter | groups/thearchaeologynewsnetwork/ on Facebook

One of the two Bamiyan Buddhas recreated as 3D light projection [Credit: AFP]

More recently, a Chinese couple, Zhang Xinyu and Liang Hong, gifted the technology of projecting 3-D laser illumination to the Afghan people. On June 7, 2015 they projected images of the Buddhas, filling up the voids left behind after the destruction. The Buddhas came back to assume their towering status in the Hindukush Mountains, bringing people together in their shared associations, even if for just one day. This gesture serves three purposes: it allows heritage to take active role in combating terrorism, it sustains living memories of local and global communities, and it also subtly reminds people of the horrors of hatred. Llewelyn Morgan’s book The Buddhas of Bamiyan excavates the layers of meaning that these vanished wonders hold for a fractured Afghanistan. Also on this theme, poet and environmental activist Gary Snyder wrote the poem “After Bamiyan,” collected in the book Dangers on Peaks, in which he responds to the experience of global conflict and personal pain by reminding readers of the values of continuity, art, and compassion.

Even more recently, in August 2015, the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, blew up a Roman temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, another World Heritage Site. The international response to this incidence was stronger. The chief of UNESCO, the UN’s cultural agency, described Islamic State’s destruction as a “war crime.” Certain groups voiced their concern for a change in international law that would empower protections of cultural property. Current laws, for example that of the United Nations’ 1954 Hague Convention, (“Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict”) are helpless when non-state groups decide to destroy monuments. Therefore, a call for reforming the laws to at least allow for the prevention future destruction is now at hand. The Hague Convention of 1954 prohibits using monuments and sites for military purposes and harming or misappropriating cultural property in any way. This was articulated after World War II, when representatives from the European countries realized the urgency of reconstructing historical knowledge and retrieving objects of cultural memory lost or destroyed during the war. Buildings are considered the most vulnerable objects to be destroyed, symbolizing the rampant obliteration of cultural memory because of war.

An ongoing project of bringing 3d cameras to sites in conflict zones highlights the possibility that vast scale community efforts can become a form of resistance against heritage destruction. The Institute for Digital Archaeology has devised an inexpensive 3-D digital camera to extensively document conflict-affected monuments with the help of local communities. The institute aims to distribute 5,000 cameras by December 2015 and has partnered with UNESCO to do so. These 3-D images could be used to build replicas of destroyed monuments, perhaps using 3-D printers. The documentation could also be used as evidence for investigations against plundering and destruction.

In 2014, George Clooney released his movie The Monuments Men. The movie is loosely based on Robert M. Edsel’s book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. The film narrates real events from projects undertaken by the Monuments Men Foundation, which was established in 1943 to help protect cultural property in war-affected areas during and after World War II. The group was comprised of about 400 service members who worked with military forces to safeguard historic and cultural monuments from war damage. When the war ended, they worked on finding works of art stolen by the Nazis and returning them to their respective owners. The movie persistently raised an unsettling question: Is a human life worth more than art? What is made clear is that the destruction of art and artifacts represents an attack on history, identity and civilization. This film addresses the intricacies of that question in a more nuanced manner, arguing that art represents the human spirit—just as valuable as human life if not more—in times of war.

The Monuments Men. UIUC Call Num: D810.A7 E23 2009

The Monuments Men. UIUC Call Num: D810.A7 E23 2009

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was established in 1945. In the 1950s and 1960s, UNESCO was instrumental in developing a framework for international collaboration in safeguarding the cultural heritage of humanity in the form of international recommendations and conventions, in order to provide a framework of reference for legislators and heritage managers. UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage 1972 was adopted on the principle that sites of outstanding universal value to all mankind should be protected and passed on to future generations, acting as a source of peace and sustainability. It advocated heritage as a “powerful tool for peace,” which must be protected. The 1972 Convention is a landmark, as it brings the concept of “world heritage” onto the global stage and equates the loss of any specific cultural or natural heritage with the loss of world heritage. With the emergence of the idea of world heritage, there emerged a shared sense of belonging and protection for symbols of identity. In 1978, UNESCO announced its first World Heritage List. Today, that list contains 1031 properties.

UNESCO World Heritage by Karte: NordNordWest, Lizenz: Creative Commons by-sa-3.0 de. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:UNESCO_World_Heritage.svg#/media/File:UNESCO_World_Heritage.svg

UNESCO World Heritage by Karte [Credit: Creative Commons]

To learn more about cultural heritage and current international politics, please visit the exhaustive collection at UIUC Library, which ranges from books, maps, movies, 2D art, and much more.

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