exploring the artifacts digitized at the American Memory and Chicago Historical
Society archives on the Haymarket Affair, we’ll familiarize ourselves with
how two historians have narrated the events of Haymarket and analyze the
claims each historian makes about the Affair.
1) Under “Course Documents” read both Richard Suskind’s “World Shuddered
as Blood Flowed in the Haymarket” (Smithsonian 1971) and Lesley Wischmann’s
“Remembering the Haymarket Anarchists: A Hundred Years Later” (Monthly
Each of these historians will provide an overview of the Haymarket Affair,
from riot to trial to executions, but you should also read them with a sense
of skepticism. We often tend to view history as being more objective
than subjective—that is, the historian reports only the facts of what happened.
However, as Hayden White has pointed out, historians construct claims about
their subject—create stories from historical fact—through
how they choose to present material and the language in which they present
White says this in Metahistory:
is sometimes said that the aim of the historian is to explain the past by
“finding,” “identifying,” or “uncovering” the “stories” that lie buried
in chronicles; and that the difference between “history” and “fiction” resides
in the fact that the historian “finds” his stories, whereas the fiction
writer “invents” his. This conception of the historian’s task, however,
obscures the extent to which “invention” also plays a part in the historian’s
operations. The same event can serve as a different kind of element
of many different historical stories, depending on the role it is assigned
in a specific motific characterization of the set to which it belongs.
The death of a king may be a beginning, an ending, or simply a transitional
event in three different stories. (7)
In short, according to White,
by the process of filtering through extant artifacts, much like the ones now
available in digital archives, the expert historian makes up a narrative
by which we are to make sense of events.
Thus, as you read Suskind's and Wischmann’s accounts of Haymarket, be attentive
to how each narrates the story of the bombing, its causes, and its effects.
Your main concern should be to answer the following questions:
In addition, comparing and contrasting
answers to such questions as the following in a kind of mental grid should
also help to reveal the constructedness of each narrative:
- What is the primary
thesis or claim of each article?
- What significant subsidiary
or supporting claims are made?
- Do the authors reveal
the bases for their claims so that you can check them?
- Where are the authors
presenting "fact" and where "Interpretation"?
2) After you’ve completed the
readings, go to the "Suskind and Wischmann" forum on the discussion board,
where you will find the class divided into two or three groups.
- To whom does each historian
seem to be sympathetic?
- Who are the victims in
each story—the Chicago police, the workers, the anarchists?
- Are there heroes? villains?
- In what context does
each historian construct the story of Haymarket?
- What background is
given for the confrontation?
- Where do the accounts
begin and end? why?
- Do the accounts cover
the exact same events? Are there incidents or people in one account
but not the other?
- How would you describe
the language, the tone of the articles? Are there changes in language
at certain points?
- Are there pivotal points
in the narratives? Are there climaxes? In other words, is there
plot movement of some kind?
- Does the publication
date of each article have any bearing on the nature of the account?
- What is the purpose of
- What does each historian
see as the significance of the Affair for the present?
- Do the authors presuppose
any knowledge or pre-conceived attitudes on the part of their audiences?
- What response does each
historian want from his readers?
- Where would you place
each historian on an axis of objectivity <----> subjectivity?
- Can you tell when you
are receiving "fact" and when "interpretation"?
- Does "anarchy" mean the
same thing for both historians? Do they feel the same way about it?
Your post should have two parts:
- First, using one
of the prompts above or ideas of your own, compare and contrast the two historians
on one or two very specific points.
- To increase the pool
of knowledge within your group, read what's already on the board (if anything)
and post on a different point (or points).
- Please take care that
the subject line of your post is not flabby or general but clearly identifies
- Second, in a final,
separate paragraph specify two or three claims (not all from the same historian
if possible) that you would
like to test in the archive or, perhaps better yet, that you feel need
to be tested if you are to rightly understand the Affair.
- To increase the testing
pool, once again be aware
of what others have already posted and try not to duplicate.
- As usual with us, read
other posts as time permits, but reply thoughtfully to the post of at least
one other person (if at
all possible, reply to a person you haven't replied to before and who hasn't
received a reply).
- Consider an addendum
to your post as a result of reading others.
"If it is absolutely essential that seven men
hang, the American people could better
afford to sacrifice the seven judges of the Illinois Supreme Court than the