This issue includes five essays that address globalism and American expansionism, Black social movement and the arts, logistics of empire, and technologies of settler colonialism. These works are followed by an extensive review section that engages a range of topics and issues. Three event reviews discuss the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum: From Slavery to Mass Incarceration and its companion site, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Alabama; the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park, in Dorchester County, Maryland; and two sets of art and performance at Velocity Dance Center and the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, Washington. In Digital Projects Review, Hannah Ackermans examines CriticalCodeStudies.com, a companion website to Mark C. Marino’s book Critical Code Studies (2020). Finally, three book reviews cover diverse scholarship on various themes, including the implications of subject participation in advocacy projects; the relationship between racial capitalism, colonial domination, and the violence of abstraction; and the role of militarized technologies in shaping modes of seeing and being.
Documenting Racial Terror Lynchings
The history of racial terrorism in the US can be daunting to teach, not just because of the graphic and disturbing subject matter but also because of the disparate nature of the material and the difficulty of finding primary sources. Although there are now dozens of book-length monographs and scholarly articles about lynching and racial terrorism, not all are accessible for courses that have to cover a great deal of material in a limited amount of time. Students pursuing individual research may also have difficulty amassing evidence to support work on this subject.
Digital humanities projects have the potential to fill in some of these gaps. User-friendly blogging, mapping, and exhibit platforms have made it possible for a variety of people and groups to present research in a way that can reach a wider audience than scholarly articles in academic journals. Over the last decade, students, social justice organizations, and church groups have created websites that document the history of lynching and commemorate the victims of racial terrorism. Some of these projects are backed by professional researchers but others are the work of communities pursuing racial healing. Central to many of these web-based projects is using maps to locate the sites of lynching and naming and remembering the victims.
Although the Equal Justice Initiative can be credited with amassing the largest and most accurate list of the victims of lynching, their data is not available on-line. The interactive map on their website, a duplicate of the one in the Legacy Museum, is a striking visual representation of the results of their research. However, the amount of information they present is limited. For example, the map shows the number of lynchings that took place in every county, but does not include the date or the names of the victims. (The exceptions are short videos about five separate incidents.) Although it is possible to find out more information based on the “Lynching in America Report” (available as a PDF on the website), neither the report or the map provide details such as exact dates, specific locations, or the names of the victims. No reason is given for the omission but the absence of names does preserve the privacy of families, offering them the opportunity to honor their relatives before the information can be consumed haphazardly or disseminated without the necessary historical context that is curated in the museum.
It could be argued that studying raw data might de-sensitize students to the violence the numbers represent. But studying data has the potential to of draw attention away from the gruesome images that have widely circulated, most notably the postcards reproduced in James Allen’s book and exhibit “Without Sanctuary.” As important as these historical artifacts are, they put the reader in the position of re-witnessing these spectacles, perpetuating the dehumanization of the victims through an “objective” historical gaze. But properly contextualized, gathering and visualizing data can have a transformative affect, especially when the data is paired with tools that engage the viewer on multiple levels.
There are many websites that document the history of lynching in some way. Some simply list the names of the victims as a part of events in which all the names are read aloud. Others have been developed in conjunction with the Equal Justice Initiatives Community Remembrance Project and typically commemorate a single event or victim. Here I discuss several sites that feature interactive maps and use primary and secondary sources that might enhance teaching and research, especially for high school and undergraduate students.
“Lynching in the United States, 1883-1941” is an interactive map that supplements the research of Charles Seguin and David Rigby (Seguin and Rigby, 2018). Because their research pertains to European immigrants as well, the map is not restricted to states in the South. Color coding highlights the density of lynchings by location and by zooming in, more details are revealed, including a specific location, the date of the events, and the names and race, (if known) of the victims. Names, dates, and location make cross-referencing, comparison, and discovering related primary sources possible.
Several communities have compiled data on lynchings that took place in a specific county, town, or state. “A Red Record: Revealing Lynching Sites in North Carolina” was created by students and faculty at the University of North Carolina. Here the color-coded dots mark the date of each event; clicking on the dot reveals the name and age of the victim and the exact location (if known) of the event. This map also records White, Native American, and mixed race victims and search filters make it possible to isolate members of a single group or by location. This map also contains a list of all the known or named victims making it possible to search for information about a single individual. The map is linked to a second data set that embeds the data on a contemporary road or satellite map. There is a great deal of information here but it is intuitively organized and easily searchable. Presenting the same information in multiple ways allows students to see data as layered and complex rather than linear and mono-dimensional.
Another regionally delineated map focuses on Virginia. The “Map of Virginia’s Lynching History” was created by Sterling Giles and Brian Williams while they were undergraduates at Virginia Commonwealth University. There are two options for exploring the map: clicking on each individual marker or taking what amounts to a guided tour, directing the visitor through the map. Clicking on an arrow advances the visitor from location to location. Each stop shows the name of the victim and a brief description of the circumstances under which the lynching took place. The incidents are marked on a contemporary map that shows the location of shopping malls, airports, and suburban neighborhoods bringing past and present into uncomfortably close proximity.
The Lynching Site Project documents lynchings in and around Memphis Tennessee and was created by community and religious leaders with the support of local scholars. To the left of the map itself is a list of the victims; clicking on a name in the list leads to the location of the lynching. Crimes that are well documented are linked to other information: A short essay describing the events, a transcript of news coverage, or an image of the site itself. There were, as far as is known, twenty-four incidents in this area, but the site expands beyond a simple recitation of the facts and includes other material such as photos and video that highlight the groups work for restorative justice.
The most expansive site that maps and documents lynchings is based on the scholarship of Monroe Work and his wife and collaborator, Florence. Work, a sociologist at Tuskegee, compiled the most extensive list of lynchings in the United States. The website, “Monroe and Florence Work Today,” preserves their work and adds to it other primary and secondary sources. The site is one of many projects at “Plain Talk History,” designed by and for teachers. There are two ways to navigate through the site: by following the embedded lesson plan or by moving directly to the maps and other data. As useful as this might be for students and teachers, it can be cumbersome for researchers or casual visitors who do not want or need to read background information or respond to discussion questions. However, exploring the map is well worth the time it might take to navigate to it. Once the map is visible, there are three ways to access the data; by typing in a location in the search bar at the top of the page, by zooming in on the map or by choosing a date range with the slider bar at the bottom of the page. Searching for all the victims in Atlanta, for example, produces a pop up window that shows the names of all the victims in chronological order. Zooming in on any dot on the map reveals the name, date, and location of the incident, along with a brief description (from news reports or other primary sources) and a link to the site bibliography. This source list is particularly helpful because it aggregates information from the dozens of scholarly books and monographs that have been published up to 2016. (The bibliography is available as a PDF.) Information that comes directly from the Tuskegee Archive is noted and annotated if sources are missing, disputed, or in some other way unreliable. The site is continuously updated with corrections and additional information.
Information presented on websites has obvious shortcomings: There is no built in peer review process to validate or verify the work and no copy-editing to check for mistakes or typographical errors. Websites are also ephemeral unless they are hosted by a reliable institution and regularly overseen or updated. Student researchers should approach these sources with caution. But interactive maps are powerful tools that draw the viewer, the student, and the researcher into the past and provide a more nuanced approach to teaching and understanding the legacy of racial terrorism.
Charles Seguin and David Rigby. (2018) “The Racial Position of European Immigrants, 1883-1941: Evidence from Lynchings in the Midwest.” Social Currents, 5:5 (438-457).
The Holy Childhood Association on Earth and in Heaven: Catholic Globalism in North America, c. 1843-1893
Fig 1. Detail from Holy Childhood Baptism certificate, c. 1940
Over the nineteenth century, the Holy Childhood Association enrolled tens of thousands of Roman Catholic children in a project to save Chinese babies by baptizing them before death. North American and European children donated their pennies to “ransom” a baby from sin, becoming its godparent in the process. By the early twentieth century, the Holy Childhood congratulated its supporters on having sent twenty million “pagan” babies “directly to Heaven.”
Bishop Charles-Auguste-Marie de Forbin-Jansonof Nancy, France, founded the Holy Childhood in 1843. Shortly after, Quebec was named its North American hub, a role it retained until the end of the nineteenth century. This essay discusses how its French Canadian promoters imagined their power as a set of scale-making projects in the continent and the world. Taking French Canada as a starting point for this North American story is important; Quebec usually appears only once in histories of the United States at this time—in conjunction with the best-selling Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk (1836), a sensationalized account of a Protestant girl imprisoned in a Montreal convent. Its infamy relegates Quebec to a foil for US politics and obscures the continental links between nineteenth-century Catholics.
This essay flips the usual script by focusing on a French Canadian hemispheric vision that included a Catholic United States, rather than a (Protestant) US vision that included or excluded Catholic Canada. At the same time, it clarifies underlying frictions as North American Catholics reproduced and contested European power, particularly vis-à-vis France. In this period, France (as much as Rome) was the heart of Catholic internationalism, as historian Vincent Viaene has shown.
Another aspect of the essay emphasizes that supernatural frameworks can broaden which people and societies are included under the rubric of globalization. It lingers on the Association’s evocative, and remarkable, suggestion that dead “pagan” babies became angels that could cement global ties by becoming really present with their North American donors. It was a world characterized, as historian Robert Orsi puts it, by “a tangle of reciprocal bonds that connected [Catholics] . . . in a direct and consequential way to the fate of other persons, living and dead.” In effect, the Holy Childhood reworked older theological concepts related to death to provide the mental trigger of nineteenth-century Catholic activism.
It was not humanitarianism in a contemporary sense, of course. Yet I argue that ultimately this distinctive Catholic globalism should be understood in conversation with ‘secular’ humanitarianism: the Holy Childhood constructed a vision of the world in which Western Christians brought “life” to faraway others, with the expectation of growing global unity and gratitude as a result.
I cite scholarly work on the Holy Childhood in the nineteenth century. Two full-length articles that helped inform my research are:
- Henrietta Harrison, “‘A Penny for the Little Chinese’: The French Holy Childhood Association in China, 1843–1951,” American Historical Review 1.13 (2008): 72–92.
- Sophie Heywood, “Missionary Children: The French Holy Childhood Association in European Context, 1843–c. 1914,” European History Quarterly 45.3 (2015): 446–466.
Other historians have written about the impact of the Holy Childhood on Quebecois and American views of China in the twentieth-century:
- Alain Larocque, Losing “Our” Chinese: The St. Enfance Movement, Working Paper Series No. 49 (University of Toronto–York University, 1987)
- Margaret Kuo, “Pagan Babies”: Orphan Imagery in the Passionist China Collection and the Emergence of American Sympathy for the Chinese in the Early Twentieth Century,” The Chinese Historical Review, 26.2 (2020): 128-155.
I’ve also written about aspects of the Holy Childhood elsewhere. In American Religion, I focus on a woodcut from the mid-1850s that I couldn’t get out of my head. In an essay for American Historical Review, I compare the Holy Childhood’s Catholic child saving program with its Protestant counterparts.
In his podcast Catholic: Under the Hood, Fr. Seraphim Beshoner discusses the Holy Childhood (episode 260) “Pagan Babies for Christ.”
Malcolm Guy, co-director of Productions Multi-Monde, posts a tongue-in-cheek reflection on the “petits Chinois” for the blog, Being Chinese in Quebec (Être Chinois au Québec).
Some of the tracts I discuss are available online, for example Compte rendu de la Sainte Enfance en Canada, 1860and Oeuvre de la Sainte Enfance (c. 1859).
I mention that the Montreal Holy Childhood hub forwarded medals to its affiliates across North America. Catholic children were still awarded Holy Childhood medals into the twentieth century. Today, numerous examples are available on Etsy and Ebay.