I Always Forget I’m A Public Historian

I always forget I’m a public historian. To be honest, I often forget what public history even is. After taking several courses on the subject, it should probably be clear to me by now. But it’s not.

To be honest, one of the reasons I’m most excited about this project is the potential it has to help me work through my own personal issues of opaqueness. I think the first step is realizing that whatever I come up with, it can’t be another research paper. As much I like research, and as much as I like translating that research into text-based narratives, I’m also well aware that most people don’t like to read.

No judgement though! We all get lazy with reading, some more so than others. Nowadays it seems the majority of things I read are on a computer screen, which makes it all the more enticing to just zone out and give your eyes and brain a break from the laborious process of long form word concatenation.

That being said, short blurbs on historical events or places can be quite effective. If you’ve noticed I’m actually practicing that right now by keeping all of my paragraph breaks to around 10 lines. This is something we worked on a great deal in my digital public history course, getting things down to succinct chunks that effectively communicate the themes of a story. It’s a lot harder than it seems, as I’m sure many of us struggled with this week.

So with all of that in mind, I think there are a couple ways that I could go on this project:

1) I mentioned to Dr. King the HistoryPin app. It essentially lets you tag a place or building, write an historical-lish blurb about it and superimpose a recent photo with an one one (which you can cooly transition between with a slider on the screen). My initial thought was to compile the entire classes research into a kind of tour of Hollins Market using HistoryPin, with each site telling a short story about something related to the respective building (who lived there? Who died there? When/why/etc.). The HistoryPin app is honestly a little clunky, as most history apps are, but that could be a good way to go.

2) As I was writing this, and thinking about the idea of a tour of Hollins, there is also another app called Storymap which be a more effective tool to achieve that end. It is essentially an interactive map that you can assign specific places with specific text. The idea is that it takes the viewer on a specific path through a geographic area, often telling a story while it does it. At this point I have no idea what that story would be though and I’d rather not just have it be an aimless sort of tour to random spots in the market like “Heres Lithuanian Hall, ok now heres Zellas! Yay that Hollins Market!” Depending on what the class comes up with, maybe there is a way to pull a cohesive narrative about the history of the market out of all these disparate spots. Maybe?

3) Depending on how much audio interview material we get, it could also be cool to create some kind of online digital exhibit preserving peoples oral histories of the Market. Sort of like how Preserve the Baltimore Uprising does their thing, but this would be specifically for Hollins. That way, it could be something that we give to the community and be like “if you want to document your neighbors oral histories, this is a safe, effective, and easily accessible place to store it”.

Anyways, these are my thoughts and I’d love to hear any feedback.


Reflections on Hollins Market Tour

As someone who likes to think of themselves as having a pretty good historical awareness of Baltimore City and its neighborhoods, I must say that Hollins Market is an area that I know very little about. One of my good friends used to live in Sowebo and would occasionally tell me about some of the who’s and what’s from his time there but beyond that I didn’t/don’t know much. I went to a birthday party at the Lithuanian Hall last year and that was my first time there. I had heard of it of course since I have been living in/involved in the music scene in Baltimore since 2008, namely the dance nights like Save Your Soul, but never knew where it was in relation to anything else, other than that it was located somewhere on the west side. Other than that, for about a month in 2017 I was thinking about doing some kind of a project on Sowebo, as an historically racially diverse area in an otherwise overwhelmingly black West Baltimore. That is pretty much the extent of my knowledge of the area.

So needless to say that Curtis gave us last week was eye opening, especially because it made me realize how much of my Baltimore experience outside of Hollins has in fact been influenced by, or reflected in Hollins. Which is probably another way of saying how small of a city Baltimore can really be/feel like sometimes. I have known about and seen the arabbers since I lived in Baltimore, but didn’t know they were based in Hollins. I’ve been to Zella’s Pizza before, but for some reason it never occurred to me that it was in Hollins. I know some of the people who help out with Black Cherry Puppets, but never realized where that place was or what they did. Even the newsletter that Curtis and the Southwest Partnership put together which was talking about alley gating, made me think of this alley gating project I worked on at Neighborhood Design Center this summer. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the more I get to know the city, its strengths and its weaknesses and struggles, the more I start to see continuities and connections between projects and initiatives going on all over the place. I haven’t lived in a bigger city but I would imagine that gets lost in a larger community. It feels especially easy to get involved in Baltimore and feel like you are making some kind of a difference or an impact, even if it is very very small.

One of the things I was most struck by was when Curtis was talking about how there were residents in Hollins who had quite possibly never left the neighborhood and have never seen anything outside of Baltimore in real life. I remember initially feeling a sort of claustrophobic anxiety upon hearing that. As someone who often looks forward to getting of the city when I start to feel too claustrophobic within my own social circle or neighborhood, or apartment or whatever, it was hard for me to imagine never leaving. However that initial feeling quickly went away when we walked into the barbershop. I dawned on me that there exists this entirely deep and rich community within that neighborhood that is, for lack of a better word, missing where I live. Now I have no idea what those people Curtis was talking about, who live in Hollins and have never left, feel or think about that idea. But my point is that there exists a profound sense of community, connection, friendship and shared experience within Hollins that seems to me more than enough to sustain an entire lifetimes worth of experience and memory. I got that sense in the barbershop and it really leveled me. It also made me think how that sense of community is missing in the suburbs where people don’t really have to get to know their neighbors, where you don’t walk anywhere because you can’t walk anywhere, and where everyones house is basically their fortified castle. I went in to our tour thinking theres a great big world out there and that successful experience is measured by how much of it you see before you die. By the end of our tour I had a zen-like realization that less can be more when you just slow down and appreciate how profound reality can be within a single place that is so tight knit and with so much shared experience and heritage.

I don’t know where I am going with that as far as our class project on places within the market, in my case the Lithuanian Hall. But it is something I want to keep in mind as someone who often finds themselves looking to fit neighborhoods, places and people within a larger social context of globally seismic events. It might be better to just let a place exist on its own merit and allow the small stories that happened within it speak to bigger picture rather than the other way around.

An Unusually Hot Decade

Perhaps the most notable thing to happen in Baltimore during the decade spanning 1900-1910 was the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Starting near what is today Camden Yards and scorching much of the city’s downtown businesses west of the Jones Falls river, the event led to sweeping reforms of Baltimores decaying urban infrastructure. Despite the widespread destruction, Hollins Market was spared. In fact, the Hollins Market Hall building briefly served as home to the Maryland Institute College of Art, which lost its home campus building of just over 50 years in the ruinous blaze. The Baltimore Sun reported on the generous offering of the Hall to the Maryland Institute, saying: “[t]he city authorities canceled other events and placed at our disposal Hollins Market Hall.”(1) As late as October of 1905, almost a year and a half to the date of the fire, night classes for Maryland Institute were still being held at the market.

Not withstanding the tumultuous Great Baltimore Fire and the subsequent collectively massive city wide rebuilding effort, local and national politics in Baltimore during the decade were also quite divisive and lively. In several instances, the Hollins Market Hall served as the setting for several often polemic discussions and debates on issues where which were happening across the nation.

At the center of it was race and suffrage. Maryland had been a solidly Democratic state since 1868, following the demographic trends of other “Southern” States prior to and after the Civil War. Prior to 1896, the state had elected a Democrat to the governorship in every cycle. This was despite Baltimore City having the country’s largest free black population since, a voting bloc that generally favored Republicans. In 1896, this changed when a Republican Lloyd Lowndes Jr. became the first ever Republican governor of Maryland. That same year, Marylanders voted for Republican President William McKinley for the first time in over 30 years. Lowndes and his fellow Republicans had courted the black vote and, owing in part to their success in doing do and general gains in black voter enfranchisement, they were rewarded with the state house and the presidency.

With the re-election of McKinley in 1900, many Maryland Democrats began openly expressing their contempt for the Republicans and what they viewed as the “ignorant negro suffrage” that had lost them political control (2). A Baltimore Sun editorial summed up this sentiment several years later by saying:

“We all remember the increase in lawlessness and disorder amongst the negroes when the Republicans were in power from 1896 to 1900.”(3)

One Annapolis man was much more blunt on the subject, saying:

Give the negro money for his vote at the polls, fill him with beer, whiskey, morphine and cocaine, with his disposition and temperament, low mentality, animal passions and instincts, you have an animal to deal with more savage than any beast this country is accursed with (4).

By the end of the decade, Maryland Democrats had gone so far as to support passage of a suffrage amendment to the constitution which would enfranchise white women voters at the expense of offsetting the votes of black African Americans that had helped tip the presidency. This of course was contingent upon suffrage being extended to only white women, leading one Maryland Democratic women to write in to the Baltimore Sun in 1909 with a rather sadly ironic question:

“I have just been told that if ever we women are given the right to vote in this State, unless the proposed amendment to the Constitution is passed all colored women will get the same right. Is this true? If it is, instead of being in favor of womens suffrage, which I have been for years, I shall strongly be opposed to it. Please let me know, for such a thought of a colored woman having the right to vote has never occurred to me before.”(5)

Although the Amendment ultimately failed, Maryland had returned to Democratic control by 1900 and would remain throughout the decade. However, against the backdrop of this politically vitriolic decade, Hollins Market Hall was an important setting for local Republican politicians looking to convince Baltimore African American male voters to remain loyal to the party. As early as 1907, Maryland Republicans like ex-congressman Charles Schirm held rallies at the hall to drum up support from the “black corner” of the Hollins Market Hall. In one particularly paternalistic stump speech, Schirm is quoted as saying:

“Some of you thought you were not being treated right…The Democrats asked you to come over to them and they would give you succor. Possibly you remember that when you gentlemen drew away from the Republican Lloyd Lowndes went down to defeat…We may not not give you all that you want, my friends. But what we do give you is protection.”(6)

The above stories are undoubtedly only a sampling of the many other stories which must have taken place at Hollins Market. It was my intention to show how Hollins Market Hall in the first decade of the twentieth century was a dynamic building set in an even more dynamic time in American history. One that could simultaneously serve as a temporary home for an academic institution displaced by fire to a racially charged political assembly hall for Baltimore Republicans. Further investigation of the building during this period would undoubtedly yield even more fascinating discoveries.

1. “ITS HISTORY AND WORK.” The Sun (1837-1992), Jan 02, 1905. http://proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/docview/536982132?accountid=14577.

2. “PROMISES THE NEGROES “PROTECTION.”.” The Sun (1837-1992), Oct 26, 1907. http://proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/docview/537449543?accountid=14577.

3. TOCSIN. “THE SUFFRAGE AMENDMENT.” The Sun (1837-1992), May 25, 1905. http://proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/docview/536995951?accountid=14577.

4. Worthington, J. M. “FROM THE PEOPLE.” The Sun (1837-1992), Apr 19, 1909. http://proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/docview/537692737?accountid=14577.

5. A, B. M. “The Suffrage Amendment and the Woman Suffrage.” The Sun (1837-1992), Sep 22, 1909. http://proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/docview/535452444?accountid=14577.

6. “NEGROES THEIR TOPIC.” The Sun (1837-1992), Oct 25, 1907. http://proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/docview/537429359?accountid=14577.