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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.

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 Window Has Closed

Congrats to the Cleveland base ballers for their MLB record 22nd consecutive win. I’m enjoying the streak and the attention it is bringing baseball, showcasing how fun a sport it is. Yet, it was a bit disheartening that tonight’s win came against my Royals. Recall that the 2002 Oakland A’s won their 20th consecutive game against Kansas City, which is the last time I team has compiled a streak this long.

Cleveland’s late-inning rally was a sad reminder of how quickly things change. Our once unhittable bullpen, clutch hitting, and fleet and slick fielding defense has vanished. Tonights loss was reminiscent of those early 2000s teams, where the clutch hits never came, balls seemed to always jump out of our fielders’ gloves, and you could never rely on the bullpen. The window has closed.

To be sure, it was a spectacular ride. The Royals played in 2 World Series, winning won while losing the other in seven games. We redefined bullpen play with our Cyborgs, and brought back highlight reel defense and speed, energizing a new generation of baseball fans. You can’t win every year — and the Cubs have recently proven that you can’t lose every year either — but competitive windows are fleeting. Ours is close.

Rebuilding is a precarious project. You have to Trust the Process, hold on to hope, and believe that eventually it will pay off. The Royals brief window and incredible success the past few years has shown me that it does. Let’s hope I won’t have to wait so long this time because I’m not sure if I will be as patient.


Note: Today I successfully defended my dissertation. Because few people will ever see or read the acknowledgements section of my dissertation, I am posting it here. Thank you to everyone for your support and friendship during this process. I could not have done it without you.

I never felt more alone than while writing this dissertation. It was the single most challenging thing that I have ever done. It tested my patience, focus, endurance, and commitment on a daily basis. I would not have survived this process without the invaluable help, encouragement, and assistance of dozens of people. Thank god it is over.

Crucial to this project’s completion was my advisor, Randy Roberts, who is the reason I chose to attend Purdue University. He inspired me with his work ethic and compassion, making me a better teacher and writer while setting an example impossible to match. Randy helped me navigate Purdue, providing unwavering support, challenging me when I needed it, giving me time and space to struggle, and shaping me into the scholar I am today. Being one of his students means joining an impressive fraternity of scholars and sport historians, who support each other. I never realized the extent of this network until I attended the North American Society for Sport History convention in 2016. There I heard firsthand the reverence for Randy and the work of his students in shaping the field of sport history. This is an intimidating legacy; one that I am embarrassed that I let scare me for so long. I accept that this dissertation would have been better had I followed more of his advice.

My committee members also helped prod me along. Kathryn Cramer Brownell challenged me to think big and encouraged me to make this project about more than football. Her suggestions were pivotal in refining many of my ideas and helping me broaden my analysis. Katie bought into my vision, read drafts of several chapters, and pushed me to explicitly engage with historiographic conversations. Beyond the dissertation, she introduced me to dozens of scholars and helped me locate myself within the profession. Michael Morrison, who sadly passed away before my defense, was always supportive. He offered me feedback and advised me that I did not need to include every detail of every peripheral story in each chapter (sometimes I did anyways). Mike also indulged my love of baseball and sent me thoughtful and encouraging notes during the Royals spectacular 2014 and 2015 postseasons. This dissertation would have been about college football during the Great Depression, if not for Johnny Smith. He is a testament to the fraternity of sport historians trained by Randy. Johnny took interest in my work and generously redirected my research, suggesting that I explore Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma dynasty. Although I am certain that the end result is not what he had in mind, I would not have undertaken this project without him. He badgered me to keep writing (and warned me not to jinx his Spartans on Twitter), knowing all too well that there are distractions everywhere. David Atkinson agreed to join the committee at the end, unsure of what he might contribute. I thank him for his advice about how to analyze Cold War puns, and warmness as a faculty member, who showed interest in my work before being required to.

My master’s advisor, Dick Davies, never stopped advising me. Early on during my time at Nevada, he targeted Randy and Purdue as the next step for my career. He taught me to think strategically about my career and provided me countless opportunities to develop professionally. Once I started writing, he instinctually sent me encouraging emails and offered feedback on the bits and pieces of chapters I published as blog posts. I would not be the scholar I am today without Dick Davies. I’m so fortunate to have him as a mentor and a friend.

Beyond my committee, I have had the pleasure of learning from remarkably talented faculty members at every institution I have attended. At Purdue, I am thankful for the personal conversations and insightful courses with Tithi Battacharya, Cornelius Bynum, Jim Farr, Nancy Gabin, Kim Gallon, Will Gray, Doug Hurt, Caroline Janney, Wendy Kline, John Larson, Venetria Patton, Yvonne Pitts, and Ronald Stephens. I also want to thank Fay Chan, Rebecca Gwin, and Julie Knoeller for all of their help navigating the red tape. At Nevada, Greta de Jong, Hugh Shapiro and Barbara Walker introduced me to ideas that have stuck with me. Even though we have all moved on to other places, Scott Casper, Eleanor Nevins, Bill Rowley, and Tom Smith were also important mentors during my time at Nevada. The influence of Alicia Barber in this work is impossible to miss. She inspired me with her work and continues to be a role model as I develop as a public and digital historian. My undergraduate training and my first foray into graduate work occurred at Baker University, where I also coached track and worked in the archives. It was truly a transformational experience that prepared me for success as a professional historian. Karen Exon spearheaded it all. John Richards helped. Bruce Anderson offered important mentoring and friendship. Anne Daugherty and Gwyn Mellinger taught me how to take the next step as an academic. The late Brenda Day and Harold Kolling offered countless hours of mentoring and encouragement while I worked in the Baker archives. Without Brenda’s faith in my ability and my future, I would never have chosen to pursue graduate school. She knew I could do it before I did.

Several members of the graduate community at Purdue made my life less miserable. They were there to chat, drink, and indulge my sporting obsessions. They best of them did all three. I especially want to acknowledge, A.W. Bell, Wes Bishop, Trevor Burrows, David Cambron, Mauricio Castro, Suparna Chakraborty, Alex Dessens, David Graham, Ed Gray, Padraig Lawlor, Dane Lawson, Tim Lombardo, Mark Otto, Jeff Perry, Max Rieger, Keenan Shimko, Andrew Smith, Erika Smith, Beca Venter, and Brandon Ward. Thanks for keeping me sane.

One of the best and worst decisions I made while writing my dissertation was to launch the “Sport in American History” group blog. Most of the chapters in this dissertation began as blog posts there, where I felt shame for not writing or meeting my commitments more than anywhere else. In time, the blog became a burden and an escape, a catalyst of ideas, friendships, and productivity. Cat Ariail, Russ Crawford, Josh Howard, Andy Linden, and Lindsay Pieper helped ease that burden and have become supportive colleagues and friends. So too have dozens of my other fellow bloggers, particularly those at the “U.S. Intellectual History” blog. I am grateful for Twitter conversations and friendships with Robert Greene II, Devin Hunter, Paul Putz, and many others. Thank you for being there.

Librarians are wizards. Interlibrary Loan at Purdue University did an excellent job of acquiring far off treasures for me. The Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma fueled most of this project, and the folks there were friendly and helpful. The same is true of the people at the Carl Albert Congressional Research Center. Early in my research, Randy and I took a trip to the Joyce Sports Research Collection at the University of Notre Dame, where George Rugg treated us like VIPs. The NCAA was the least helpful of my research trips. They failed to return my emails, and when I showed up, barely let me in. They must be hiding something.

I also want to thank the Department of History and the African American Studies and Research Center at Purdue University for paying me. Being a teaching assistant and instructor was by far the most enjoyable part of my time at Purdue. I loved my students and hope they learned something in my classes. Besides my stipend, I am thankful to the Department of History for the Harold Woodman Research Award that teamed with a Purdue Graduate School Summer Research Grant funded a summer in Norman, OK to complete the bulk of my research. I want to thank Geri and Linda who provided me with an affordable and convenient AirBnB accommodation in Norman. I am particularly thankful for their interest in my research and sharing with me their knowledge as Sooners fans. I also received two College of Liberal Arts PROMISE Awards to present research related to my dissertation and engage in fruitful conversations with colleagues at conferences.

Countless friends and family members have supported me and listened to me talk about the 1950s, Oklahoma, and college football. I am lucky that sport history makes for good bar conversation or this would have been an even lonelier existence. Thanks to Eric Brady, Rhett Buwalda, Jesse Corbett, Drew Davis, Joe Wenig, and Mike Zelaznik. I also want to thank Paul Boone, Peter Kopp, Travis Lacy, Amy O’Brien, Ethan Opdahl, Sarah Roberts, Travis Ross, Marysa Stevens, and Edan Strekal, who have remained friends long after I left Reno. I am grateful to several friends back in Kansas, which I still consider home, Matt and Emily Baysinger, Paul Hefferon, Tom Niermann, Torre Norton, and Zac Towns. There are many others across the country, especially Billy and Patricia Mills and Sagar Sane, who have had a hand in helping me on this journey. I am blessed to have such great friends.

I come from a long line of teachers and scholars, though none were historians. My Great Grandmother earned a master’s degree. So too did both of my grandfathers. Several of my aunts and uncles have graduate degrees as well. This lineage has provided me with an immense amount of privilege as well as social support. Spending over a decade in college is not normal to most people nor is it cheap. I’m lucky to have a family that somewhat understands my career path. I especially want to thank my Grandmother, Donna Swank, for always offering me a place to stay in Kansas City whenever I travel. My aunt and uncle, Laura and Todd Harper offered guidance as people who have gone through the PhD process and landed on the other side. My parents have also been patient and generous during my education.

More than anyone else my brother, Malcolm, has been an unceasing advocate, soundboard, and counselor throughout my time at Purdue. I could not have conceived of nor executed this project without his advice and willingness to not just listen but offer substantial suggestions and critiques that have improved my work. This started during his time at the University of Virginia, where I helped him matriculate into the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. We shared books and reading lists, and then had long phone conversations fleshing out arguments and conceptualizing our own work. More than anyone else, Malcolm has been instrumental in helping me craft this dissertation. He has also been pivotal in helping me stay sane. My time at Purdue has been the most physically and emotionally unhealthy experience of my life. I relied on Malcolm to help me get through these past six years. He listened to my rants, counseled me through the periods when I debated quitting, and never thought less of me.

Finally, I must acknowledge my best friend, Brutus. Living with a graduate student cannot be easy, especially one who finds it nearly impossible to stick to a normal sleep schedule. Dogs intuitively perceive and react to their people, and he has improved my life immeasurably with his well-timed nurturing. He has been an incredibly loving, sweet, and tolerant companion. I hope I have been as good to him as he has to me.

DeVos Confirmation Rant

I am reposting this rant from my Facebook wall so that I can share it more broadly. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

You can’t tell the story of modern conservatism and the neoliberal project without discussing the all-out attack on public education. It’s been there from the beginning and has taken many forms. Today’s confirmation of Betsy DeVos fits into the long struggle to dismantle not just New Deal programs, but major Civil Rights accomplishments. It represents a decade long effort to dismantle essential public democratic institutions and hand them over to the an ill-equipped private sector so they can profit off legally required public goods.

Seriously, read Dochuk, Kruse, Lassiter, Farber, Hartman, Rodgers, Moreton, Mehlman-Petrzela, Delmont, and tons of other historians of modern conservatism and the culture wars. These movements come through in each of their books and articles. You have the fundamentalist “Save Our Children” movement, Georgia threatening to end public schools rather the de-segregate, the so-called bussing crisis, the school voucher movement, the never-ending textbook wars, the battle over bilingual and sex education, the prayer in school movement, the home school movement as well as many others — all aimed at undermining, weakening, and de-funding public education. And that’s just K-12! It has been done with phrases like “choice” and “local control” that are code words for the neoliberal market ideology that funnels tax money into private corporations that subvert federal regulations meant to ensure equality. Charter schools and the complete bullshit Teach for America program are among the biggest offenders of this. They rebuild class and racial barriers, promote unqualified and unproven teachers and teaching methods, all in the name of an anti-American ideology where the myth of hyper-efficient corporatism and so-called choice matter more than an educated public. Indeed, education has been shown over and over again to be an important factor in improving your quality of life, in upward mobility, yet under the corporatist structure, a good, equitable education becomes harder to access and afford. This re-inscribes existent structures that sustain widespread inequality along race, class, urban/suburban/rural divides.

This is why the DeVos nomination mattered. This is why so many of us our outraged. This isn’t some kind of leftist conspiracy, this is well-documented history. And I’m sad to be a part of this movement. My parents were duped like many average Americans. They believed in vouchers and homeschooling. They tried to trick me into agreeing at a young age, encouraging me to write my Senators about it. They were naive, wrong, and misguided. Democracy demands strong public education. The American Dream requires it. I don’t want to live in a country where we treat our children — our future — like a commodity that we can sell to the highest bidder, and those who can afford it are screwed. I don’t want to live in a country where education is a corporate product watered down by the customer is always right mentality. I don’t want to live in a country where universities brag about what kind of salary their graduates get rather than quality of education they receive and the impact they are making in the world.
Education is a public good. It is a central component of a civilized and modern society.

Today’s vote undermines that. It is a failure to uphold the basic tenets of our social contract. It represents a selfish oligarchy that values money and power over equality, and millions of the nation’s schoolchildren.

Readings on Black Athletes and Dress Codes

I’m trying to use this space more often and in conjunction with Twitter to better collect thoughts, suggest readings, and just more generally communicate. A few minutes ago I unleashed a Tweet-thread on the Cam Newton dress code violation yesterday, that resulted in him sitting out the first drive of the Carolina Panthers game against the Seattle Seahawks. The Panthers lost that game, and Newton’s back up threw an interception on the first drive.

Today former Packers Vice President Andrew Brandt Tweeted this (see below), highlight the hypocrisy, racism, and overall stupidity of dress codes for professional athletes:

In the interest of fully exploring the racial dynamic of dress codes as a form of policing the behavior and appearance of black athletes, here are a few articles/chapters/books that address the issue:

“No [Hoodies] Allowed’: The NBA’s Dress Code & the Politics of New Racism,” An Excerpt from After Artest: The NBA & the Assault on Blackness by David J. Leonard (via NewBlackMan (in Exile).

“The Real Color of Money: Controlling Black Bodies in the NBA,” by David J. Leonard in the Journal of Sport & Social Issues, Volume 30 Number 2 (May 2006) p. 158-179.

“Blackballed: Basketball and Representations of the Black Male Athlete,” by Linda Tucker, in American Behavioral Scientist, Volume 47 Number 3, (November 2003) p. 306-328.

“Goodbye to the Gangstas”: The NBA Dress Code, Ray Emery, and the Policing of Blackness in Basketball and Hockey,” by Stacy Lorenz and Rod Murray, in the  Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Volume 38, Number 1 (2014), p. 23–50.

“Please Don’t Fine Me Again!!!!!” Black Athletic Defiance in the NBA and NFL,” by Phillip Lamarr Cunningham, in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Volume 33, Number 1 (February 2009) p. 39-58.

There are certainly other takes and likely more academic articles, but this is a solid introduction and discussion of the issue. I have PDFs of these articles that I will share upon request.

Update: An additional reading from the comments:

“Dressed for Success? The NBA’s Dress Code, the Workings of Whiteness and Corporate Culture,” M. G. McDonald and J  Toglia in Sport in society,Volume  13, Number 6 (2010), p. 970-983.

Southern Jaunt #1– KFC & My 52 Chevy

I’m on a 2-3 week trip through the South, visiting family, attending a workshop and conference, and enjoying some time away from Indiana. I’m call the excursion my Southern Jaunt. This is the first in probably a few posts about my trip. 

I left Indiana on Saturday and drove to my parents’ house in South Carolina. It’s about a 10-11 hour drive, depending on weather (there is always rain in the Kentucky/Tennessee mountains), road construction, and pit stops. I usually take at least two stops for fuel, and, if I have Brutus with me, at least one or two more to do some natural business.

Sander's Cafe -- the original KCF! Corbin, KY.

Sander’s Cafe — the original KCF! Corbin, KY.

Corbin, KY has become one of my regular stops. It’s about halfway, and usually around when I need fuel. The first few times I made the trip, I saw signs noting that Corbin, KY is home to the original KFC location. But it wasn’t until a 2014 that I visited the restaurant. Because Brutus was with me this time, I only made a short stop, but I snapped a photo and bragged a bit on social media. As I said, I’ve stopped there before, and without the dog. it is a fun site to visit, and the KFC is the same as any other location (good and bad). The lobby area has displays about Colonel Sanders and the area, and then the seating area of the restaurant looks old-timey and has some “house museum” style displays of other rooms, such as the kitchen, a bedroom (the original KFC was a part of an inn), and so on.

It’s a nice stop, and depending which exit you take, you can drive through downtown Corbin to get a feel for small-town Kentucky. I love seeing rural downtowns. I like to imagine what they are like today and what they were once like. I try to guess the high school mascot and the major industry, etc. —  boring and nerdy stuff, but important questions that get at “who lives here” and “why.”

I spent today at my parents’ house, which is outside of Columbia in South Carolina. It was relaxing. i don’t come down here that much, and its nice to get out of Indiana a bit. Part of relaxing was taking a Sunday afternoon drive in my old truck to the grocery store and around my parents’ neighborhood (Brutus copiloted the second trip). I miss driving the old truck.
tumblr_o7lt8b5h4Y1u60765o1_540It’s a 1952 Chevy that originally belonged to my Great Great Grandfather (Walter Erikson), who died at age 98 in 1983. He drove the truck mostly in the pastures and lanes in rural Chase County, Kansas. It was used mostly as a far truck. Indeed, it has a sheet of metal welded in the bottom of the bed to haul grain and other things. He was going blind (and I think went blind before he died) so he had a few accidents. It’s not in great shape.
I bought it for $500 from my uncle in 1998. My uncle got it when my Great Great Grandfather died, and had big illusions about restoring it. Instead, he kept it in my Great Grandmother’s barn, when is experienced the Great Flood of 1993, and several rat infestations. When my Great Grandmother sold her house and auction off things on the property, he decided to include the truck in the sale. That’s when I got it. It was loosely an inheritance to me — I was supposed to get $500 from the auction profits, but instead got the truck. 
It didn’t run and was in pretty miserable shape. We got it started after little work, but it smoked really bad. Little by little, my Dad and I planned to get back into working order. My Dad wanted to keep it as close to original as possible. Now, when I got the truck I wasn’t 16. I couldn’t drive. I honestly wasn’t all that interested in the massive project, either. But I wanted to keep the truck because of the family value. My Dad wanted the truck real bad, and I think saying it was mine was one way to convince my mother and justify the expense. After all, originally, it was supposed to be my car when I was old enough. In retrospect, that entire plan is hilarious, but it worked in acquiring the truck and “keeping it in the family” — which has always been a big thing for us with cars.
Initially we did quite a bit of work on it. We took the engine a part and got things tested and figured out what we could work with and what we couldn’t. We cleaned it up and tore out the years of rats nests. It was dirty work and incredibly smelly, but also kind of fun because you could see progress quickly. That was my Dad’s plan, clean it up, do some cosmetic stuff, and then hopefully I’d be excited about the project and buy in a little more.
That didn’t happen. I discovered running and throughout high school and college it occupied my time. I ran year-round (cross country and track) so I had little free time to work on it. I ended up getting a different car to drive, so the need to get the truck running wasn’t as pressing either. We also moved to Kansas City for my freshman year (I was in 8th grade when I got the truck), and didn’t have the extra garage and shop to work on it. So the truck sat for nearly 8 years, driving my mother insane because of the space it took up in the small suburban 2 car garage. Occasionally we work on it. We took parts to my Grandfather — a former auto mechanics teacher — to get worked on by skilled old-guys, and those projects took months on end. Progress grinded to a near halt.
Then, the summer after I graduated from undergrad we were jolted into hyper-productivity. My Dad got a new job in the Carolinas and they were selling the house and moving. This was the summer of 2008, and so they planned to downsize and rent for the first year to avoid the bad market. In preparation for my parent’s move from KC, we had to get the truck driveable.
The summer began with me returning home with a fresh BA and no job prospects. I had a lot of free time. My Dad took a buyout from his old job and wasn’t starting his new one until August, so he also had a lot of free time. Together, we spent the summer readying the house for sale (it miraculously sold in 2 days), and working on the truck. With a firm timeline to get done by and no other distractions, my Dad and I rebuilt the engine, did some painting, re-did the interior and several other things. By summer’s end, it was roadworthy and ready to go.
That August I took a job as a graduate assistant cross country and track coach (and began my master of liberal arts degree), opting to stay in Kansas. Since I technically owned the truck, it stayed with me. Also, because my parents didn’t have a place for it and didn’t want to tow it to downtown Charlotte where they moved.
A year later, I quit my coaching job (and graduated with my MLA in December) because I decided I wanted to be a college teacher more than a college coach. I had been accepted to pursue an MA at Nevada and was moving. To be honest, my parents were all that crazy or supportive of the idea, but they flew back to Kansas to help me get things in order before I life. One of those things was the truck.
We decided to temporarily leave it in Kansas at my uncle’s house when I moved to Reno (the same one who used to own it). That winter my parents bought a house and moved to South Carolina from Charlotte, NC (because of work), and now had space for the truck. The summer of 2010 my Dad and I towed it here, taking a wonderful tour through the backroads of the Deep South. We drove along two-lane roads in Mississippi and Alabama, avoiding the interstate because you our trailer wasn’t supposed to drive over 55 mph (I don’t think it would have exploded if we did). That was a really fun trip, despite the monotony of me and Brutus following the rental truck in my car (you know, just in case something broke down).
Since that summer trip in 2010, the old truck has been here in South Carolina, where my Dad still tinkers on it, while I’m in graduate school. The plan is for me to take it back whenever I finish my PhD and land a permanent job (though I doubt my Dad will want to give it back). It’s a solid plan, but it means that I only get to drive it when I come visit (which isn’t very often).
tumblr_o7lt8b5h4Y1u60765o2_540Driving it is fun. Or, at least as fun as driving any old car without power steering and power brakes. But there’s a lot of pride in it still mostly being original. You have to use a start pedal to fire it up, with a throttle and choke lever. It runs on a 6-volt battery system, and its windshield wipers are vacuum powered from the motor. We just recently added a second taillight because it didn’t require one due to being grandfathered into modern rules. We still haven’t added turn signals yet. It is an experience.
Driving a half-century old  automobile in relatively original condition bring with it all sort of feelings. When driving it, I think about the truck’s lineage. Sitting in the same seat as my Great Great Grandfather. I think about how my Dad and uncles learned to drive in that truck. I also think about how things used to be built — solid metal, easy to understand, and long-lasting. And when I switch back to my daily drive, I realize how far we’ve come. It’s a thrilling and worthwhile experience. It’s one I especially cherish as a historian, particularly as one who is writing about 1950s America.
Thinking about my truck in the context of my research, it something I hadn’t done until now. The 1947-1954 Chevy pickup was among the most popular trucks ever made. They style was called “the advanced design” — differing from whatever came before. Today people still collect them and restore them because there were so many on the road. My Great Great Grandfather had one in Kansas. In Oklahoma, I imagine several farmers also owned them. They were farm trucks, work trucks, maybe even daily drivers. It’s likely that they were in an important part of building “Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma,” and transforming postwar Oklahoma. It’s fascinating to ponder hundreds of similar trucks lining the highways of Oklahoma and parked in rows outside of Owen Stadium in Norman. While the experience of driving the same kind of truck matters very little for my research, and likely wont affect anything I write, it’s a fun discovery.

Q&A with Neftalie Williams, Research Director of The African American Experience in Major League Baseball Project

Sport in American History

In early October I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about a new oral history project aimed at collecting and preserving the stories of African Americans in Major League Baseball. The project was launched in 2013 by Dr. Daniel Durbin, the Director of the Annenberg Institute of Sport, Media and Society (AISMS) at the University of Southern California. Neftalie Williams, joined the project last September, and currently serves as its Research Director.

Because the project will be of great interest to sport historians, I recently reached out to Williams to learn more. Williams was eager to share his experiences with the project and answer my questions. He was excited to share its progress and goals with our community, particularly after reading Josh Howard’s excellent piece on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ removal of their Negro League heritage from PNC Park. On Tuesday afternoon, we chatted about his experiences…

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Additional thoughts on the “Royals vs. Mets: Champions of the Expansion Era”

I’m back writing about the Royals at Sport in American History ahead of the World Series. It is the first World Series featuring 2 expansion teams. I explore what that means and how baseball has changed during its period of relocation and expansion. I also suggest that the Mets and Royals are the best symbols of this era.

Missing from my post is a discussion of race. As Dave Zirin of The Nation points out, because both teams were founded in the expansion era (after 1961), they were never segregated or all-white. The issue of integration is yet another change in baseball in the postwar era that continued on into the expansion era. With this in mind, you can further “read” the expansion era as one of democratic opportunity — more teams, more playoffs, integration, etc. That this is the first World Series without a legacy of segregation highlights progress and change in baseball, but it also shows how recent segregation was, how its legacy permeates baseball, and few of our beloved cultural institutions were innocent. The Mets and Royals are more innocent by the fact of their expansion births, but they too contribute to current racial issues in baseball, such as the under-representation of minority coaches, managers, and administrators. Like the the expansion era, the Mets and Royals represent more democratic opportunities, but full equality remains a dream of the future.

Sport in American History

By Andrew McGregor

Tomorrow night the 2015 World Series begins with the Kansas City Royals hosting the New York Mets. For the first time in its 111 year history, this year’s World Series features two expansion teams. While for most baseball fans this is mostly a meaningless footnotes, it’s a reminder of how much the professional sports landscape has changed over the last 50+ years.

While on the surface, Kansas City and New York seem like opposites, their franchise histories indicate they’re actually quite similar. The Royals and Mets characterize a distinct era in baseball history characterized by relocation and expansion. Both teams were founded to appease critics and preserve MLB’s status quo. They’ve also been two of the most successful expansion teams in the postseason.

Relocation and Expansion

During the 1950s, Major League Baseball (MLB) had a relatively small geographic footprint. The 16 major league teams were located…

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