History (Not) in Comics

Welcome to the new semester! Here’s a post from the blog io9 to ease you into history the gentle way: “Ten Insane Fact Comics Taught Us.” Nota Bene: Since these “facts” include “Batgirl and Robin battled Benedict Arnold and Satan” and “Dr. Doom thwarted the Fantastic Four…with the power of Henry Kissinger”, you’d be well-advised not to cite this post as a legitimate source. Off to the races with you!

The End of History?

Some say that President Reagan’s demand that Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev  “Tear down this wall!” marked the end of the Cold War, signalling “the end of history.”   Tear Down this Wall

Sydney and Daren

Mattel, the famous toymaker and creator of Barbie, has been making dolls with different shades of skin color for years.  In 1967, it introduced Barbie’s cousin Francis, who looked just like Barbie, but she was painted brown. In 1969, Barbie got a black friend, named Christie. And in 1980, Mattel started manufacturing a black Barbie.  But, she looked almost exactly like the white Barbie.  FinallyIn 2009, Mattel decided that it needed to “diversify.”  It created six dolls that looked more African American for a line called So In Style.  But that was just the beginning.  This Wall Street Journal article gives a glimpse of how complicated doll-making can become.  Note, though, that the “freakishly skinny” doll body remains, well, “freakishly skinny.”

Grace and Trichelle. from Mattel


Yeltsin goes to Houston (really–Clear Lake) and and shops at Randall’s

“It was September 16, 1989 and Yeltsin, then newly elected to the new Soviet parliament and the Supreme Soviet, had just visited Johnson Space Center.  At JSC, Yeltsin visited mission control and a mock-up of a space station. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Stefanie Asin, it wasn’t all the screens, dials, and wonder at NASA that blew up his skirt, it was the unscheduled trip inside a nearby Randall’s location.  Yeltsin, then 58, ‘roamed the aisles of Randall’s nodding his head in amazement,” wrote Asin. He told his fellow Russians in his entourage that if their people, who often must wait in line for most goods, saw the conditions of U.S. supermarkets, “there would be a revolution.’ ” Read the full blog/ article in the Chronicle here .  thanks to G.Campbell for this note. 

The Creation of an American Hero

During the 1930’s the American escaped the tragic mood of the Great Depression by reading comic strips. By 1935, almost 2000 comic strips were being published in newspapers all across the country. Comic strip creators were treated as celebrities and were able to earn good money for their work. Many young men attempted to break into the comic industry to earn money in lack of proper employment, including the two sons of Jewish immigrants, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. These two friends created the characRiceter Superman, an alien who immigrated to earth and possessed superpowers who protected the American people. They pitched their idea for five years before it was picked up to be the first issue of Action Comics.

Superman became popular almost instantly because he represented justice for the unemployed and prosperity for immigrants. The unemployed American responded to a man whose job was to protect the common man, especially during the 1930’s where the average American felt powerless to big business and a 25% unemployment rate. Immigrants also identified with Superman, as Superman had left his alien home of Krypton behind to assimilate into the ideal American man. Superman changing his name to Clark Kent and finding success in both his career and his mission to protect justice made him a symbol of the “American Dream,” or being able to come into America and find success no matter one’s previous history.

Two years after its release, Action Comic’s published Superman in the first ever full-length comic book devoted to a singular character. His success sparked a new industry of comic books. By 1940, over two-dozen firms were publishing comics of their own myriad of super-heroes, such as The Flash, The Human Torch, and Plastic Man. Superman created a new industry that returned United States citizen’s faith in the American Dream during a hard time in history, and has continued through the 2st century.  posted by Holly Rice

Young Teddy in the Wilds

teddy-roosevelt2Those looking for a preview of some of the themes we’ll talk about in Unit 2 might be interested in reading this excerpt of Douglas Brinkley’s recent book on Teddy Roosevelt, The Wilderness Warrior. (Here is a link to the NY Times excerpt.) Roosevelt’s administration (1901-1909) took dramatic action to preserve national parks, setting a precedent for the twentieth-century efforts to set aside public lands. But this chapter is about Teddy’s early years, in which he loved nature so much that, Brinkley reports, he once saw a picture of a fox in a book and called it “the face of God.” That’s way before he saved that Teddy bear. This excerpt shows how Teddy, born the year before Darwin published On the Origin of Species, grew up along with acceptance of the theory of evolution, developing the appreciation for nature that he carried into the Oval Office. As TR himself would have said, Bully!

Hot Hot Hot

stevendepolo on flickr

stevendepolo on flickr

In Texas, we’re used to the endless stretch of overheated days and nights that extends from March to October (I exaggerate, but not by much!) We’ve modified our infrastructure so that we rarely need to be outside of air conditioned homes or offices, and as a result, not many people die as a result of the heat in the summer. Elsewhere in the country, and back in time, things were different. A professor of history at Bilkent University, Edward P. Kohn, has written a book about the great New York heat wave of 1896, which killed an estimated 1,300 people. (Here’s a link to an editorial Kohn wrote on History News Network about his book.) Kohn writes that although average temps during this ten-day heat wave were “only” over 90 degrees F, people who lived in tenements with poor ventilation (like the ones photographed by Progressive crusader Jacob Riis) endured indoor temps up to 120 degrees F. Teddy Roosevelt, who was the President of the Board of Police Commissioners at the time, instituted a scheme whereby poor people could access ice for free (ice was expensive back then).