Garden Gala: Bringing the Green Back To Filbert Street (5/18)

Gala_fundraiser-page-001The Garden Gala: Bringing the Green Back To Filbert Street will take place on May 18 from 4-9PM at 2640 Space, 2640 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD.

The Gala is a fundraiser for the Filbert Street Community Garden, a conservation project, educational space, and food farm located in the Curtis Bay neighborhood of South Baltimore. The fundraiser includes food, music, history, art, silent auctions, raffles, and more to raise money to create the new garden manager position for this important Baltimore non-profit organization. Students in Professor Nicole King’s “Preserving Places” American Studies course and Professor Steve Bradley’s “Imaging Research Center Fellows” visual arts course worked together on planning this event as the culmination of their semester-long work with the garden.

Click here for more information.

Constructing Heritage (2/18)

james-early1 Constructing Heritage is a panel discussion taking place on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 from 5-6.30pm in the Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery.

The process of constructing heritage is inherently political. Whether displayed in a museum, protected as a site, or thought of in terms of shared, cultural knowledge passed down over time, heritage is identified, defined, and interpreted through policies that both shape its very nature and exclude that which is not. This forum marks the beginning of a series of ongoing, critical discussions on the mechanisms of constructing heritage and the power relations embedded within its enterprise, from international to local-level perspectives.

This panel discussion will feature:
James Counts Early (pictured), director of Cultural Heritage Policy, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Mariano Sto. Domingo, adjunct faculty, Department of Psychology
Michelle Stefano, folklorist in residence, Department of American Studies
Ashley Minner, Community Artist and Activist, Baltimore American Indian Center

What Remains? Baltimore Neighborhoods in Transition (9/19)

Michelle Stefano, folklorist in residence for UMBC’s department of American studies, coordinates the Maryland Traditions program for the Maryland State Arts Council.

Michelle StefanoWhat are the impacts of post-industrial change at the community level? Whether industrial landscapes – the temples to the long-standing and once thriving US manufacturing enterprise – are re-purposed or destroyed, what lives on in the hearts and minds of those who knew them best?

The decline, dismantling, and disappearance of the many industries across the US deeply affects the towns, cities, and regions in which they were situated and the local communities with which they were intimately related. I believe understanding the effects of these post-industrial transitions, especially with respect to the relationships between community and place in both historical and contemporary contexts, is key to ensuring economically, environmentally, and culturally sustainable futures for American communities.

Sparrows Point 3

(Photo: UMBC New Media Studio)

Nonetheless, when we hear about these stories of plants, mills and factories closing, it is often through the language of economics; statistics reflecting jobs lost, the rise in unemployment and the crumbling of local businesses tend to mask the more personal, or human, elements of such change. In this light, the panel, What Remains? Baltimore Neighborhoods in Transition (Thursday 9/19, 4:30 p.m., Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery) seeks to spotlight the stories and memories – the intangible remnants of post-industrialization – of the communities of two historically interrelated and, yet, geographically separate areas: Baybrook, a group of six ethnically and racially diverse industrial neighborhoods in the southern peninsula of Baltimore City and the Sparrows Point Steel Mill area of Dundalk, situated just across the southwestern city border in Baltimore County. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Baltimore area residents (and beyond) have been shaped by these industrial centers, and the significance of them – from the personal and shared perspectives of those who knew them best – does not disappear as quickly.

(Photo: UMBC New Media Studio)

(Photo: UMBC New Media Studio)

Panel participants are both UMBC researchers and members of the Baybrook and Sparrows Point Steel Mill communities. Deborah Rudacille (English), who grew up in Dundalk, will reflect on the changes she has seen in the Sparrows Point area, drawing also from her oral history research for the book, Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town. Steve Bradley (Visual Arts) and Nicole King (American Studies) will discuss their work in Baybrook, funded in part through the BreakingGround initiative, focusing on the mapping of places of both historical and contemporary importance, as well as the stories and memories associated with them. Bill Shewbridge (Media and Communication Studies/the New Media Studio) and I will highlight our work in the Sparrows Point area, Mill Storiesa collection of digital stories that aim to amplify the voices, experiences, and importance of the Mill to a wider public. Community members include Jason Reed, who is involved with environmental justice projects in Baybrook, and Troy Pritt and Eddie Bartee, who worked at Sparrows Point for numerous years. Eddie is a third generation Sparrows Point steelworker who grew up in the company town, which was situated in the middle of the Mill complex and was razed in the 1970s. Denise Meringolo (History), whose research has focused on community-based public history practice, particularly in Baltimore, will moderate the discussion.

Contact the author, Michele Stefano, at

Collector of Stories

Jennie Williams ’14, American Studies, is a UMBC resident assistant, Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar and Undergraduate Research Award Scholar.

Jennie WilliamsI enrolled in American Studies 422: Preserving Places Making Spaces in Baltimore last fall because I was interested in taking part in a class where I could get involved in meaningful and original research. Dr. Nicole King, who was both the instructor and my academic advisor, encouraged me to take the class in order to broaden my technical skills. But I was also attracted by the course’s orientation to social action. With the Mapping Baybrook project, we were not just going to be collecting data, we would be making a civic contribution in partnership with Baybrook residents.

Baybrook is the conjunction of Curtis Bay and Brooklyn of south Baltimore. It was once rich with immigrant culture and thriving family businesses, but is now mostly overcome by invasive industry among the surviving residential areas. The goal of our class has been to collect the memories of community members, helping to preserve the community through their stories. For our individual projects, my classmates and I decided to choose businesses along the main streets of the community to investigate their history and impact through oral history interviews. [Read more…]

Blood and Fire: Looking Forward from the Catonsville Nine

Theodore S. Gonzalves is associate professor and chair of UMBC’s Department of American Studies.

Theo GonzalvesForty-five years ago, a couple of miles from the UMBC campus, nine activists seeking to change a culture and end a war put their futures on the line and took a stand. As I described in a WYPR radio interview earlier this week, their action involved using blood and fire—symbols with deep cultural and historical resonance—to destroy Vietnam War draft records. By the late 1960s, the scope of politics was widening: activists who had learned hard lessons about nonviolent direct actions at home in the South wondered if their nation could act nonviolently abroad in places like Latin America and Southeast Asia. In 1967, the Baltimore Four “anointed” draft files from a downtown office by pouring blood directly onto them. In 1968, the Catonsville Nine broke into the local selective service office, and burned nearly 400 documents with home-made napalm in a parking lot. The protestors waited peacefully for police from the Wilkens precinct (at the edge of UMBC’s campus) to arrive and arrest them. Their action stirred passions, dialogue, and action across the U.S.

As we think about how to live BreakingGround values by applying our passions and creativity to shape our world together, let us reflect on these powerful local examples of culturally disruptive thinking and action. Throughout the semester, I’ve taught an American studies course (funded through a BreakingGround grant) where students focus on the local spaces and personal experiences involved in the civil disobedience and trial of the Catonsville Nine. Students, in collaboration with community activists, have explored the historical significance of those actions as well as how we think about social protest, civic duty, and citizenship today.

The project culminates this Friday, May 10th, with an exciting event open to UMBC and the greater Baltimore community. The UMBC Social Sciences Forum and Department of American Studies will present a panel of scholars, activists, and two members of the Catonsville Nine, speaking in the Proscenium Theater (Performing Arts and Humanities Building). The event will begin with a reception (2:30 p.m.), followed by a film screening with director Q&A (3:00 p.m.), and panel discussion (4:30 p.m.). I hope to see you there.

Contact the author, Theodore S. Gonzalves, at

Cultural Documentation in Partnership with Communities

Michelle Stefano, folklorist in residence for UMBC’s department of American studies, coordinates the Maryland Traditions program for the Maryland State Arts Council.

Michelle StefanoStudents in my Cultural Documentation in Partnership with Communities course (AMST 358) are working with local residents and former steelworkers to document their varied experiences with the recently closed Sparrows Point Steel Mill in Dundalk, Maryland.

The students spent the first several weeks of the semester learning about concepts, techniques and ethical considerations in approaching qualitative research from a community-based, out-in-the-field perspective; broader notions of community cohesion, senses of place and belonging; and the realities of post-industrial economic and social transition. Now they are also becoming key players in the promotion of the mill’s significance to a wider public by helping to safeguard its living heritage: the memories and stories of former and active steelworkers, as well as other mill personnel and community members.

In this video, UMBC New Media Studio director Bill Shewbridge and I share the ideas and experiences at the heart of this collaboration.

Contact the author, Michelle Stefano, at

What Would I Do? How Do I Live Out My Values?

Theodore S. Gonzalves is associate professor and chair of UMBC’s Department of American Studies.

Theodore GonzalvesThe BreakingGround initiative is has turned out to be a wonderful platform for the kind of learning community I’m interested in helping to foster.

I first started teaching a course on the history of U.S.-based social movements when I was offering American Studies classes in Honolulu. Over the years, scholars and activists have had to fight to get the histories of various social justice and anti-colonial movements onto college and university campuses. At one point in our nation’s life, it was novel to think about the specifics of a history from below — by people who rarely leave behind archives or who have stories written about them — histories like the African American freedom movement, or the struggles waged at Stonewall, or by Latino students in the Southwest, or by Asian Americans protesting the Vietnam War. [Read more…]