AR-TX REDI

The A&M administration asked that we attend a rally this afternoon that celebrates the launch of the AR-TX Regional Economic Development Inc. — a new non-profit organization aimed at bringing jobs and such to the region (which is rather poor). They wanted to get a good sized crowd since Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Texas Governor Greg Abbott both came to speak as well as the Grand Poobah of the A&M system, John Sharp. That classic sort of civic boosterism mentality.

After I finished teaching, I grabbed Brutus from home and we headed downtown to check out the event. I was excited to check it out because quite a bit of my research relates to civic boosterism. I wrote an entire chapter in my dissertation on Oklahoma’s 50th birthday celebration, showing how image, economics, and politics worked alongside college football to build a new Oklahoma. So witnessing this event was like watching one of my primary sources in real life — I am sure other political and Sunbelt historians can relate!

There was a lot of energy and a decent crowd, including at least three local high school bands. You can’t see most of the crowd in this picture because Brutus and I stood in the shade since we haven’t fully adapted to the 90*+ heat. It was fun hearing the rhetoric. There were familiar platitudes about economic development mixed with calls for unity and lessons from a shared history (including a reference to Stephen F. Austin). There was also overt symbolism, including knocking over the famous sign where people take their photo straddling the stateline, to denote the new unified of economic development. There were sports references too, of course. Hutchinson noted the last time the region was this unified was when Texas, Arkansas, and Texas A&M tied for the Southwest Conference title in 1975. Who knows how this will all workout or how long I will be around to see the development, but it is fun to witness the optimism.

So Long Lafayette

This afternoon I taught my last class as an instructor at Purdue University. It is a bittersweet ending. Purdue has been a wonderful and nurturing intellectual home for the past 7 years. I am thankful for all of the opportunities the Department of History and the African American Studies and Research Center gave me. During my time here, I taught 16 of my own courses, presented over a dozen conferences papers, published book reviews, chapters and articles, started the sports blog, appeared on ESPN. Met and networked a host of incredible scholars as well as Olympians Billy Mills and John Carlos. Purdue is a program that thinks about the little things and takes the task of professional development and personal mentoring very seriously. Thank you to everyone who helped me to find my scholarly identity and encouraged me to keep going. I am blessed to have had so many wonderful mentors and colleagues, and I am excited to see what they do in the future.

Beyond the university, I have developed an incredible network of friends who are kind, generous, and supportive. I would never have survived my time in Indiana without such wonderful people. I am really going to miss all of you.

After a few weeks in transition, I am finally moving this weekend. I’ll be heading to Texas, where I will be a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. I am excited about this next step in my career and eager to get down there and settle in.

Genealogy Rabbit Hole

I went down a random online genealogy rabbit hole last night. While I already knew all of the names of these ancestors because a distant cousin of mine traced this lineage in the late-1990s when the Internet first started to get going, it was fun to piece it together. I also knew based on findagrave.com that my Great Great Grandfather was born in Indiana.  This is what got me going. I was curious about where in Indiana he was from and thought maybe I would try to visit that part of the state before I move (especially if I could find any relatives buried there).

This map shows Gibson County in red.

A couple of quick Google searches answered that question and led me to some pretty cool information about my ancestors. Like I said, I already knew that we came to the U.S. during the late 1700s, and that one who emigrated was also named Andrew. I’m not named after him though, because my parent’s did not know that when they named me. Anyways, it seems like after he finally ended up in Gibson County, Indiana, (he was in PA, VA, and OH before that) he had a good-sized family (8 kids from 2 marriages).

Through Google Books, I found a history of Gibson County, Indiana (linked below) that shares some information about Andrew and his family (the sections focus more on his grandsons Andrew (son of George) and John Kell (son of John). One of the passages about George’s son Andrew, mentions the extend family. It notes that his brother “Hamilton, who many years ago went to Missouri and has never since been heard from.” I assume this refers to George Hamilton, and my branch of the family. It seems as if maybe we were the black sheep!

Below I have mapped out my branch of the McGregor Family tree.

Andrew McGregor — b. 1775 in either Argyllshire, Scotland or  Derry, Ireland (emigrated in 1781)
d. 1873 buried in McGregor Cemetery, Mackey, IN (more info)

George McGregor — b. 11-25-1807 in Virginia
d. 12-1876 buried in McGregor Cemetery, Mackey, IN (more info)

George Hamilton McGregor — b. 12-1-1840 in Princeton, IN
d. 6-15-1913 buried in Index Cemetery, Garden City, MO

Elmer Logan McGregor — b. 11-1866 in Princeton, IN
d. 3-16-1923 buried in Lincoln Cemetery, Lebo, KS

Alfred Dean McGregor — b. 11-1-1903 in Kingsville, MO
d. 9-27-1978 buried in Lincoln Cemetery, Lebo, KS

Gary Alan McGregor — b. 2-15-1935 in Morris, KS

James Dean McGregor — b. 4-18-1957 in Emporia, KS

Andrew Duncan McGregor — b. 9-5-1985 in Kansas City, KS

Information about the Indiana McGregors found in: Gil R. Stormont, History of Gibson County, Indiana: Her People, Industries and Institutions, with Biographical Sketches of Representative Citizens and Genealogical Records of Many of the Old Families, (B.F. Bowen, 1914). Access in Google Books. I also found useful information relative to the Indiana McGregor’s at the genealogy.com site of Clair Juenell Williams Owens.

**Interestingly, when I went and dug out my copy of the family genealogy, I found a copy of the relevant pages from Gil. R. Stormont’s book.**

Ideas for my 5-week Summer Start Course

I’ve mentioned this on Twitter a couple of times lately, but I am scheduled to teach a section of U.S. History since 1877 during Purdue’s 5-week Summer Start program. Although the program is now open to all students, it was originally created three years ago to help borderline students gain full admission. During the 5-week program, students take two 7 credit hours that consists of two regular academic courses plus a 1 hour transition to college class where they meet with a success coach, learn study skills, and get help adjusting to college level work. Last summer I had the chance to serves as a Teaching Assistant for my advisor so I know first hand that It’s a really great program.

This summer, now that I have my PhD in hand, I get to teach my own Summer Start class. Because I taught online during the past academic year, it will be my in-person (not counting TAing) class since Spring 2017. I am really looking forward to getting back into the classroom. There’s just something about the energy and excitement of the classroom that I haven’t been able to replicate online. I’ve missed it.

Preparing for the class has been fun, but, as you might expect, a bit challenging. I already know that I can’t cover everything, but deciding what to leave out is tough. Usually I try to cover roughly a decade per week in my full-semester course, giving me time to mix up my lecture topics by talking about politics, culture, race, foreign relations, etc. on different days. The class meets 5-days a week for day for 90 minutes, so I can still do that to an extent but either in less depth or by skipping some time periods. My advisor already suggested starting at 1900 and thinking of each week as a period rather than a decade. Something like Progressive American and World War I for the first week, the 1920s and Great Depression for the second, World War II for the third, and then diving postwar American into a 1950s and 1960s week and a modern American week for everything after that. It’s not perfect, but it allows me to highlight major events and themes that shaped the United States.

Still, I’m trying to find ways to break up the time and give students something more than straight lecture. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I was told to expect between 45 and 55 students, and absolutely no more than 60. So it’ll be a fairly large section, which in some ways limits what I can do. Last summer we incorporated discussions on Fridays about the readings (since there was two of us, we broke them into groups) and also showed period-specific films to give students something to analyze. We augmented the discussion with an online forum as well so students had a chance to get used to Blackboard and think through questions ahead of time.

We used Margaret O’Mara’s Pivotal Tuesdays: Four Elections That Shaped the Twentieth Century as our course text last summer, which worked pretty well. Because the book focuses on four elections (1912, 1932, 1968, & 1992), it made it easy to talk about one each Friday, and leave one Friday ‘off’ for the midterm or Final. I’m planning to use the same book and structure the discussion in a similar (both an online forum and small groups in class). I also want to show films that serve as a historical text for the students to analyze too. Last summer we showed a pretty wide range from the 1918 silent film Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley to the 1964 Cold War thriller Fail Safe. Each movie gave us a chance to talk about how popular culture portrayed issue of that era. I’d certainly show Fail Safe again, but I’m not sure I’d do another silent film. I’m already fairly certain I am going to The Grapes of Wrath (1940), given my research on Oklahoma and the Okie image. I like the idea of using The Wizard of Oz (1939) for the earlier period because it helps explain Populism and some of Progressivism, but there might be something better from that era. I’d love to hear people’s suggestions for films that roughly fit in with the weekly breakdown.

So far I am more or less recycling most of the elements of the class my advisor and I taught last summer, but I want to add something new. I explained a little bit of what I want to do on Twitter. Basically, it’s a sort of campus history scavenger hunt activity. One of the themes I always try to emphasize in my survey is that history is personal and that it happens all-around you. In the past I have assigned a book on the history of swimming pools to challenge students to think about how their history reflects complex changes in U.S. history and themes like race, class, gender, sexuality, public works, technology, and so on. Instead of using that book, I want these assignment to force students to go out and explore campus and local community with an eye toward history. My hope is that the assignment with accomplish two things. First, since these are all newly admitted first years, it will encourage them to explore and become more familiar with the campus. Second, it will help them see that there is a lot of history at Purdue and in the surrounding area.

I’m still trying to decide exactly how to structure the assignment. I kind of want to leave it open-ended, and simply have each student take a photo of something historical each week and write a paragraph about the item that explains what it is, a little bit of its history, and connects it to something they’ve learned in class. The connecting it to class requirement will be the most challenging, but I’m often surprised by the connections students make on their own.

I already have a few ideas of things they might photograph. We’ve got a handful of old buildings and New Deal projects, several statues, and some plaques strewn across campus. These include people like our namesake John Purdue, Neil Armstrong, John Wooden, and Amelia Earhart. There is also a Louis Sullivan jewel box bank a couple of block from campus and other areas of campus that have markers, such as Freedom Square outside of our Armory and the Memorial Union. I don’t expect too many students to venture out to the Tippecanoe Battlefield or across the Wabash River to Lafayette.

The trick will be getting students to search for history beyond some of these obvious items. I am thinking of giving a bonus point for the most creative or unique items each week because I am worried that I might get 45 submissions of the same thing. I may also require that their weekly photo roughly correspond with the time frame we are covering that week. Hopefully, this will ensure that they are thinking historically and can make a class connection. I’ve never done an assignment quite like this before, but I think the Summer Start program offers the perfect opportunity and that it helps aid the adjustment to college mission. I’m hoping that by learning about the campus will help them connect with Purdue and feel more welcome here.

There you have it — the basic overview of what I plan to do in my 5-week Summer Start course and a few of the assignments I’m planning to try out. I’ll post the syllabus on my Teaching page when I have it down. Until then, if you have suggestions of films to show or how to improve my campus history activity, I would love to hear them! 

The President’s Council for Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition: Some History and Context

OK, so Trump finally named people to be on his President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition. This is something I sort of study and I don’t really understand why people are making a big deal out of his choices (we can talk about policy when we see it). I swear that some people just want to complain to complain. In this post I want to add some history and context to his choices to show how they are fairly normal.

Nearly all of the Council’s past chairs have been famous athletes or coaches. The Council has long used celebrities as ambassadors of fitness. To my knowledge, few since Bud Wilkinson have played a major role in policy development.

For education sake, here is a list of all of the chair/co-chairs in the council’s history. Note the council has changed names a few times. I’ve put notes in parentheses to identify the person’s career, which I think highlights just how normal’s Trump’s picks are. These might be among the most normal thing he’s done while in office.

President’s Council on Youth Fitness
Eisenhower’s Chair: Richard M. Nixon, 1956-1961 (sitting Vice President)

President’s Council on Physical Fitness
Charles (Bud) Wilkinson, 1961 – 1963 (active college football Coach)

President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Johnson’s Chair: Stan Musial, 1964 – 1967 (Retired MLB Player)
Johnson’s Chair: Hubert H. Humphrey, 1967 (sitting Vice President)
Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter’s Chair: James A. Lovell, 1967 – 1977 (Astronaut)
Carter’s Chair: Jerry Apodaca, 1978 – 1980 (Governor of NM)
Carter’s Chair: Al McGuire, 1980 – 1981 (Retired college basketball Coach)
Reagan’s Chair: George Allen, 1981 – 1988 (Retired NFL Coach)
Reagan’s Chair: Richard Kazmaier, 1988 – 1989 (former college football player, 1951 Heisman)
Bush’s Chair: Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1990 – 1992 (former body builder and actor)
Clinton’s Co-Chair: Florence Griffith Joyner, 1993 – 1998 (former Olympian)
Clinton’s Co-Chair: Tom McMillen, 1993 – 1997 (former college basketball and NBA Player, retired Congressman from MD)
Clinton and Bush’s Chair: Lee Haney,1999 – 2002 (former body builder)
Bush’s Chair: Lynn C. Swann, 2002 – 2005 (former college football and NFL player)
Bush’s Chair: John P. Burke, 2005 – 2009 (CEO of Trek)

President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition
Obama’s Co-chair: Drew Brees, September 2010 – January 2017 (active NFL Player)
Obama’s Co-chair: Dominique Dawes, September 2010 – January 2017 (former Olympian)

President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition
Trump’s Co-chair: Mariano Rivera, 2018-present (retired MLB player)
Trump’s Co-chair: Misty May-Treanor, 2018-present (former Olympian)
Trump’s Co-chair: Herschel Walker, 2018-present (1980 Heisman, retired NFL player)

I think Trump’s renaming of the council is interesting. The only change is a reordering of the words Obama used. While it may be a simple error in transcribing the old name, it could also signal a shift in priorities that emphasizes sports and competition over general fitness. Trump has clearly wanted to put is own stamp on things a president. Subtle as it may be, there are implicit ideological battles at play in a covert culture war over the proper ratio of masculinity, toughness, and discipline in sport versus fitness in our present discourse. Football and yoga are not on the same plane.

I’m working on a more in-depth piece that looks at the history and use of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. While I do think Trump is largely following tradition in appointing celebrity athletes and coaches, there are certainly some questionable figures. Deadspin has a nice break down identifying who’s who on the new council.

By my count there are 7 former athletes and an NFL coach. At least four people have connections to The Apprentice, including an NBC ad buyer. A couple are executives of weight loss, supplement, or fitness products. There a few doctors too, including renown TV quack Dr. Oz. There is also a handful of folks with political connections to Trump or the GOP. One hosted a fundraiser for him at his health club, another served as Romney’s finance director in 2008, and there’s also a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Most previous councils had a mix of celebrity athletes, doctors, politicians, and people from the fitness industry. This document lists the members of each council from Eisenhower through George W. Bush. Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson’s councils relied more on other cabinet members and political figures. Starting with Nixon, the Council took on a different look. He included people such as ABC Sports Executive Roone Arledge, Purdue University President Frederick Hovde, former Olympic Diver Sammy Lee, former Yankee Bobby Richardson, and former Miss America, Judi Ford. Presidents Ford and Carter kept astronaut James Lovell as their council chair as well as some of the same members (Sammy Lee served under all three). Carter also added diversity to his President’s Council, including Hank Aaron, Billy Mills, and Dorothy Hamill. Like Trump, Carter also included business executives, doctors, and TV hosts — but it is unclear if they had the same sort of crony personal connections. 

Sports celebrities, whether former coaches, TV announcers, or retired professional or Olympic athletes remained a mainstay of each council and many council members served for multiple presidents. Sports figures dominated appointments, though Bill Clinton did include Tae Bo spokesman Billy Blanks on his council. Obama further broadened his council, including the addition of nutrition to its name. Among the people he appointed in 2014 were ballerina Misty Copeland, TV cooking show host Rachel Ray, and openly gay former basketball player Jason Collins. His council coordinated with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and efforts to improve the quality of school lunches.

While this hastily assembled post offers only a brief discussion and overview of the council’s membership and history (I hope to offer a bit more depth at another time and perhaps in another venue), I think it shows that Trump’s council doesn’t differ that drastically from previous iterations. As I said at the beginning of this post, there’s not too many reasons to be up-in-arms about the appointments when we look at them in context.

Of course, composition is only a minor thing, especially since most appointments are only for two years at a time. The policies and programming that Trump’s council pursues will certainly provide fodder for deeper analysis. Will Trump push the council to emphasis sports and competition imbued with masculine overtones that drown out and downplay previous efforts that focus on fitness, wellness, and nutrition as too universal and weak? Or will the questionable science and practices of figures like Dr. Oz, Matthew Hesse’s Ab-Cuts, and Chris Tisi’s SlimFast come to characterize the council and steer it towards promoting suspect health and wellness practices?

These are certainly causes for concern. And while I agree with historian Natalia Mehlman Petrzela that presidential health matters because it signals the importance of wellness to the American people, my somewhat rudimentary reading of the President’s Council’s history suggests that it generally focuses more on marketing-type advocacy rather than dictating policy. The Obamas changed that a bit, and so much of their advocacy likely will be reversed as Trump continues to create a stark contrast between him and his predecessor, but my gut says his pushback isn’t as drastic as it has been in other areas. In short, I don’t think these choices will make American any less healthy than the terrible policies Trump has already enacted. What they might do is effect the culture of health and fitness. Only time will tell, but certainly we are seeing how sports and fitness continue to be a central (and often overlooked) part of the culture wars.

My 2017 in Pictures

Things I did in 2017

Here is a list of things I did in 2017 in no particular order: