Saturday, October 6, 2007, 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.
European Culture and Connections to North America
Irish-language Jokes and Rural Responses to Modernity, 1850–1900
Nicholas Wolf, University of Wisconsin at Madison
How do rural communities react to the decline of their regionally spoken language? This paper searches for an answer in the shift from the Irish language to English in Ireland in the decades following the Great Famine of 1845-50. Irish-language folk sources reveal an unexpected response to this change in the form of jokes told about linguistic misunderstandings. Such humor enabled Irish speakers to reshape their identity under conflicting economic and cultural demands, a tactic that has also been found in similarly situated communities from China and India to West Africa, South America, Europe, and North America.
Rethinking Labor in the Countryside: Petits propriétaires and the Concept of Rural Democracy in the Guadeloupe and the Aude
Elizabeth Heath, University of Chicago
This paper explores the efforts of French administrators to promote and support petits propriétaires (small property owners) and small-scale farming on the French Caribbean island-colony of Guadeloupe and the southern metropolitan department of the Aude at the end of the nineteenth century. It suggests that the policy reflected a need by French officials to define “Frenchness” and French traditions in the face of global economic pressures and internal political instability. As a result, the move to promote small-scale farming in the two regions marked a moment of potential assimilation between colony and metropole and the possibility of new forms of equality between colonial and metropolitan citizens.
Benvenuti stranieri: Italians as foreigners in the Arkansas Delta, 1884–1905
Lauren Braun, University of Illinois at Chicago
This paper is from a chapter in my dissertation, which follows a turn-of-the-twentieth century transatlantic movement to establish immigrants on small landholdings in the South. As this paper will demonstrate, rationales for importing immigrants from Italy overrode national and regional biases against Italians that were prominent at the turn of the twentieth century. Supporters of the project for Southern rural colonization pointedly chose to ignore the religion and origins of Italian families they recruited. As the organizers argued in their published writings, the work ethic of peasant Italians agreed with the Southern rural value system as they envisioned it. While the identity or “whiteness” of these immigrants - the real question being whether they could be incorporated into the American body politic - was hotly contested, the sponsors of Italian settlement in the South focused instead on the suitability of this population for a region struggling to become economically viable.
This paper will also utilize a unique data set taken from the 1896 end of season records and apply quantitative analysis to assess the impact of rational decision-making on Italians’ success at cotton farming. In the case of Sunnyside Plantation, Delta-dwelling Italians experienced distinct advantages and disadvantages because of their cultural, linguistic, and economic “foreignness.” Both resident Italians and landowners called upon their status as welcome stranieri – strangers - as a way to distinguish their contribution to as well as integrate them into the political economy of Delta cotton.
All papers are pre-circulated electronically to those who plan to attend the seminar in person. For a copy of the paper, e-mail Jenny Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 312-255-3524.
The Newberry Library Seminar in Rural History
Co-sponsored by the University of Chicago and Trinity Christian College
The Newberry Library
Dr. William M. Scholl Center for
Family and Community History
60 W. Walton St.
Chicago, Illinois 60610
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