During the music video presented by the undergraduate class “The Nineteenth Century City”, many different historical buildings located in Tuscaloosa. Unfortunately, during the 1800s, while the Civil War was still under way, the Union army set fire to and burned several of these timeless buildings. One building lost in the fire was the rotunda for the University of Alabama. Only one photograph of the rotunda found in an old book give us an idea of what the building looked like. It was located where Gorgas Library currently is, and drew inspiration from two notable sources. Both the Parthenon inspired it and the rotunda found in the University of Virginia. Through modern technology, we have been able to take the existing photograph and create a 3-D model of the rotunda. Another building that Dr. Mellown discussed was the former state capitol building that was located in Tuscaloosa. Tuscaloosa was actually the capital of Alabama for twenty years in the 1820-40s, with the capitol building lost to the fire. Several artifacts were recovered from ten feet under the buildings ground, and efforts were made to use the recovered building fragments to create a monument in Capitol Park. Several fragments and sections of columns were found in the backyards of Tuscaloosa resident’s homes. Tuscaloosa lost the title of state capitol due to the lack of roads in Alabama and the only way to navigate to Tuscaloosa on a commercial level was by using the Warrior River, which was only possible six months out of the year.
One of the bigger exhibits in the interpretive center/museum in Moundville is seen as soon as you walk in the front door of the museum. The exhibit is called “The Procession: Splendor at Ancient Moundville.” This is an exhibit of a young elite woman being carried around by four noble warriors with the help of a greeter and a flute player. These young elite women who were carried around were almost always the daughter of a ruler in the community, because in the Southeastern Native American way of life, descent was very important. Around the elite women being carried around there would be gifts including copper, bowls, exotic feathers, squash, woven goods, among others. These elite brides were generally being carried to see their husband, who is generally the heir of a ruler in Moundville.
Another exhibit from the museum that was very interesting was the pottery made in Moundville that was on display. The exhibit explained the history of pottery and how it was made in that time period. Pottery was first introduced over 4,000 years ago in North America in parts of the Southeast. Pottery was originally created as plain bowls with thick walls. As people became more familiar with pottery, it became more complex and advanced. In Moundville, pottery was created from clay, with the addition of mussel shell. The pottery in Moundville was more sophisticated and included different shaped pottery bowls with increasingly more difficult designs. Pottery was also included on the exhibit with the elite woman being carried around. Among the gifts that were on the chair with the woman were bowls of pottery.
This portrait of Sarah Erving Waldo done during the period of British colonization. The artist's intention was to use naturalism and realism as an inspiration to portray and represent gentility and luxury, which is seen on Sarah's dress as well as the style of her hair and her pale skin. The style and color(it is apparent that it is white) of her gown suggests her family comes from a wealthy lifestyle and high class of social structure. Social structure is also seen through the objects in the picture such as satin and lace along with pearls. It is also appropriate to make this assumption because she is sitting at a tea table, a luxurious way of living in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In class, we have discussed this specific time period which included British colonization and many laws which were failed to be carried out such as the Stamp Act and the other many attepts made by Parliament.
This painting was done by a Pueblo artist in which includes landscape and little naturalism. This can correlate to our class discussion over the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 in which the Pueblo Indians began an uprising against the Spanish who were taking control and beginning colonization in their province. This was one of the most successful rebellions in North American history and it took several years for Spain to reconquer the area that the rebellion took place in. In the painting the Indians seem to be celebrating in front of a cemetery or church of some sort. This might be a possible indication that it was a tradition to come together and dance and also sing which was certainly apart of their culture.
The Jemison Mansion, which is located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was constructed over the years of 1859 to 1862 by Senator Robert Jemison Jr. Jemison was said to be a shrewd man when spending money on his home so it explains why the house was constructed by the work of slaves and materials from his many slave plantations. Jemison was a very wealthy business man and owned many sawmills and coal mines. The Jemison household was very advanced for its time having a plumbing system, indoor lighting, a relatively modern refrigerator, a gas stove, and indoor lighting. Jemison owned six plantation homes and over 500 slaves and started becoming involved in Alabama politics in the 1830s. Although the Jemison mansion was created pre-civil war, Jemison worked with the Confederate army as a defendant of the south. Jemison was a large advocate for the building of an institution for the mentally insane (Bryce Hospital) in the city of Tuscaloosa. The architectural firm Sloan & Stewart was brought from Philadelphia to build both the original hospital and the Jemison home. Although the house looks to be finished, while it was in the hands of Jemison and his family the house was never completed, partly due to the timing of the eruption of the Civil War. A notable fact is that after the end of the Civil War, Jemison was a large part in the rebuilding of the University of Alabama due to the fires on campus and destruction. After Jemison's death in 1871 and post-Civil War, the Jemison house changed hands many times to a distant relative Jemison-Van de Graaf who has restored the house to its relative state. The house was previously used for a public library until the late 1970s, to now being a space for tours and large celebrations.
At my visit to Moundville and the Moundville museum, I learned a lot more about the ancient native civilization that was mentioned over the course of the class. The inhabitants of Moundville were part of the Mississipian culture located in the southern Mississippi River Valley over the years of 900-1350. During this time the Mississippian culture had a patchwork of chiefdom, towns around central plazas and temples, and a labor system, governmental structure and a highly advanced trading network. When visiting Moundville, I was able to examine all of these characteristics while learning about the Moundville society in the museum. In the Moundville museum I was able to learn about the different roles individuals played in society such as those who fished, made goods for the tribe and to trade in the trade network, those who held high positions and what separated people within the hierarchy. One aspect of the museum that stood out was how the inhabitants handled burials and how they are supposed to have believed in a life after death. In one of the parts of the museum, it showed how a burial of a member was held and how close relatives gathered as the dead was lowered into a grave and buried with food and goods for the afterlife. What I enjoyed most about Moundville was seeing how advanced of a society Moundville was with its collection of goods such as bowls and intricate celebrations, highlighting the different roles individuals played in their culture.
Professor Kim Nielsen’s lecture on the history of disabilities was very eye-opening. Some of the themes that emerged throughout the lecture have also been present in class. The most apparent was how definitions and statuses can change over time. Another noticeable topic was racism and how it was related to disabilities. Through history an argument about disabilities was also tailored to back up sexism. The role of the impaired and the definition of disability had great impact on history.
The common belief about disabilities today is that they are a medical problem that can be fixed or compensated for. This definition, however, has not always been the dominant view. The public opinion about disability during the industrialization of the eighteenth century was that the disabled lived in poverty and were uneducated, according to Nielsen. This definition, and the reality of it at the time, limited handicapped people’s access to power and jobs. Nielsen explained that these limits resulted in a social structure with impaired individuals near the bottom.
Society did not offer any help to those who were disabled. One example of this is the slave ship Le Rodeur. This ship sailed in the early nineteenth century and carried a disease that caused blindness. Nielsen stated that almost forty slaves and a dozen sailors went blind or experienced reduced eyesight. Rather than attempting to aid the inflicted, the slaves were thrown overboard and the sailors were offered no help. These acts not only showed society’s unwillingness to help the handicapped, but also the deep rooted racism that has been so prevalent throughout class. Nielsen mentioned southern physician Samuel Cartwright, and explained that he believed that African Americans were natural slaves and those who did not accept it were disabled. The doctor believed that any slave that did not work hard or attempted to escape was mentally impaired.
Nielsen said that, like slavery, submission of women’s rights and education was backed by theoretical disabilities. A man named Edward Clarke actually believed that women who wanted better education were disabled. He called their minds “feeble” and held the notion that a college education would injure them. This restriction placed on women is something that occurs often throughout history and has appeared in class many times.
Handicaps even affected who was admitted into the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nielson said that even Charles Steinmetz who was a well-renowned mathematician was initially rejected entry because of his hunchback. By the definition at the time, he was a disabled man. America was attempting to keep out those who were weak and dependent, which was correlated with disabilities at the time. The ideal citizen was strong, independent and capable, and the country was trying to keep those who could not fit that profile from entering. Nielson also argued that the government did not comply with the disabled during wartime. Some handicapped people needed to drive their cars to work, but would require more gas than their rations would give them in order to drive every day. They needed the gas to get to work and keep their jobs. People that reached out to the government for more rations were told that they needed to sacrifice. The government would not spare any more rations in gas, even though some of its citizens needed them to stay employed.
During the presentation Nielson’s central argument was that disabilities have had an impact on history more than we know. It was argued many times that women and African Americans were disabled. These arguments were used to justify things like sexism, racism, and slavery. What determined that someone was disabled has changed greatly over time. Today we also give the disabled more compensation due to their limits. Overall the lecture was intriguing; I had never learned about the history and influence of disabilities before.
Response to a lecture by Dr. Kim Nielsen
In the days of the slave trade in the United States, a slave was most useful if he or she was in pristine condition. The slave was borderline useless with a disability such as blindness. A slave ship in 1819 named La Rodeur carried hundreds of slaves to the United States. While on their journey across the Atlantic Ocean, 39 slaves lost their eyesight. These slaves were rendered useless as a slave trader was quoted, “even those blind of one eye would sell for a mere trifle.” Since it was assumed that these slaves could not perform manual labor, they were thrown overboard. The slave holding ships were followed by sharks, so these slaves were all but dead the moment they reached the water.
Samuel A. Cartwright was an American doctor in the nineteenth century. He was the inventor of the disease named Drapetomania, which was said to be a disease that caused the enslaved to attempt an escape. The African American body was considered to be inferior to that of a white American. Another disease that was said to be synonymous with an African American was Hebetude which cause laziness and the damaging of property.
Living with a disability would be very difficult in this day and age; however, hundreds of years ago it would have been even more difficult. Prior to the industrialization of the United States, women with disabilities could work from their home; however during industrialization, as factories began to open, those with disabilities had a much more difficult time getting around, and it was difficult to even get to the factory.
The lecture "Disability and the American Story," given by Professor Kim E. Nielsen, focused on how disability is rooted at the center of American history. Some specific examples she touched on related to class themes such as the dehumanization of African Americans and views of women as inferior. On a French slave trading ship named La Rodeur, many African Americans became disabled due to contracting diseases such as drapetomania and hebetude. Thirty-nine went blind and twenty-six had diminished eyesight. Because they were disabled, the crew members viewed them as worthless, tied a block to their feet, and threw them into the sea. The owner of the ship actually filed an insurance claim for damaged cargo. In the case of African Americans, disability led to the maltreatment and dehumanization of them because disability was viewed as dependency, dependency was viewed as weakness, and weakness of the African Americans heightened the superiority of whites. As far as women were concerned in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were viewed as inferior to men. Even though education slowly became available to women as time went on, some men considered women who were getting an education as disabled. They believed that if a woman was pursuing an education, then she was mad or insane. Madness or insanity was viewed as being disabled, especially by James Otis Jr. who said that the only people who should have their rights taken away were idiots or madmen; ironically, he was eventually declared insane and stripped of his independence and property. So women were not only inferior, they were also insane if they pursued an education, which would lead to the loss of independence, by perhaps being assigned a guardian, or loss of property, if they owned any.
Professor Kim Nielson’s lecture on disability through out American history gave an interesting insight on an often-overlooked aspect in American society. Everyone always hears about the travesties that slaves, African-Americans, women, and Native Americans went through, but rarely do we hear about the disabled. Helen Keller, for example, refused to publicly endorse a candidate for Presidency because she was afraid no one would pay attention to anything but her disabilities. Slaves were thrown overboard if they were considered disabled.
This all ties into the themes we’ve been learning in class because it yet another section in society that was prejudiced against. Industrialization brought about lots of change in the American society, but what most people don’t realize is that it struck the disabled the hardest. People who could work just fine in their own homes could not get jobs in the factories. The factories themselves caused many to get disabled, whether they went blind or even lost a limb.
America is the melting pot, where tons of immigrants mingle and create a unique society. Back in the early 1800s, immigrants were turned down admission into the United States if the had “poor physique.” Since the definition of ‘disabled’ is very vague, this covered anyone with a “frail frame, flat chest.” It also covered undersized people and homosexuals.
The struggles of the disabled in America are often overlooked. These people are stigmatized as not being able to contribute to society, though this is often not the case, such as the deal with Helen Keller.