I consider my first visit to The Historical Society’s biennial meeting a success. In today’s post, I’ll cover the session in which I presented. On Thursday, I’ll discuss the session on digital history.
Heather Richardson chaired and commented on my session, entitled “Popularizing Jacksonian America and ‘Frontier’ History.” Dan Allosso, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was the other presenter. His presentation centered on the use of local and family history in the classroom. My presentation, as you might recall, focused on Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
Richardson believed that both papers offered the opportunity to address the idea of the frontier as a constructed identity. For my paper, she proposed that BBAJ offered the chance to explore the idea of the frontier as political imagery. She made the observation that Alex Winters’ comment that BBAJ represented the populist politics of Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, John Edwards, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama was interesting, given that the three Republicans adopted a form of frontier imagery. (She then compared Obama to James Bond, in contrast to the American Cowboy imagery of the three Republicans. We all ignored Edwards, for good reason.)
One thought that struck me during the discussion, but which I didn’t bring up, was that historians such as Stephen Aron and my CU colleague Natalie Inman now talk more about the borderlands instead of the frontier. That type of designation hasn’t caught hold in the public dialogue; one of the reasons, I expect, is because “borderlands” is more a more realistic description of the United States’ development and can’t be utilized politically in the same way as the frontier imagery.
Audience member John Fea (of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog) noted the striking similarity between the BBAJ poster that I displayed during my talk and the iconic Springsteen image. Afterwards, he reminded me that Ronald Reagan adopted Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” for his 1984 reelection campaign, not realizing (or not caring) that the song was actually a critique of the government’s treatment of veterans of the Vietnam conflict.
In terms of pedagogical use, several audience members also recommended pairing BBAJ with another play/musical to help students overcome their difficulty in analyzing the play as a statement about Jacksonian and contemporary politics.
I thought the session went great. My thanks to Chris Graham and John Fea for tweeting the panel (and John for the recap). The former was disappointed that I didn’t sing some of the BBAJ soundtrack. So, Chris, just for you, here’s a short video of “Populism Yea Yea.”