Alma A. Clarke

I know it’s the end of the semester, and I know we’re all bombarded with a ton of loose ends that need to be tied up – papers, assistantship things, graduation plans (hooray!) – but if any of you need a quick break, I’ve got something for ya!

Follow the link to check out what I’ve been doing the last 16 weeks in my internship with Rosemont College. I’m super excited, and no lie: kind of impressed with myself! The magic of digital history, and Omeka! During my internship I created an online site and exhibit dedicated to the life and work of WWI American Red Cross nurse Alma A. Clarke. She was pretty awesome, and was a key player in a really wonderful and helpful endeavor to aid the French mothers and children ravaged by WWI.

Here’s her story: Till I’ve done all that I can. Check it out if you get a chance!

The African American Museum in Philadelphia

Check. It. Out!

Three of our very own Villanova History Graduate students are doing awesome things! On April 25th, 2015, Michael Johnson, Elizabeth Motich, and James Kopaczewski will present their research “A Great Thing for Our People”: The Institute for Colored Youth in the Civil War Era, during the African American Museum in Philadelphia’s Special Event: “Emancipation 2015! Considering the Relevancy and Legacy of Emancipation.” The symposium will be held from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on Saturday, April 25, at the African American Museum, in Philadelphia. While free to the history-loving public, the event is limited seating, and RSVPing is required. Check out the link below for more information.

Congratulations, Michael, James, and Elizabeth!!

Emancipation 2015!

The Threepenny Opera

Do you like theater?

Do you like music?

Now do you like musical theater?

If you answered yes (or even no) to any of the above questions, you should go see Villanova Theatre Department’s The Threepenny Opera, by Bertolt Brecht.

A masterpiece of modern theatre, Bertolt Brecht’s biting critique of capitalism explodes with colorful characters, gritty London streetscapes, and toe-tapping tunes like “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” and “Pirate Jenny.” A sensational spin on the 18th-century Beggar’s Opera, Brecht & Weill’s groundbreaking musical tells the tale of MacHeath, London’s most notorious criminal, as he pursues the woman he loves while dodging the police and London bourgeoisie. Around him an assortment of corrupt characters maneuver for advantage, begging the question: must one be a criminal to survive in this world? “The granddaddy of all the singing, stinging portraits of fat societies on their eves of destruction.” – The New York Times.

If that’s not enough to grab your attention, how about knowing that one of our very own History Department graduate students, Dan Gorman (’16), graces the stage? Go and support our fellow grad, and see some good theater while doing it. You won’t be disappointed.

Check out the Donmar Warehouse’s 1994 production if you’d like a sampling of the musical numbers.

The Threepenny Opera runs April 14-26. Tickets range from $19-$25, with student pricing available with a valid ID. Click here for more options.

The Hottest Heads of State

Here it is fellow history lovers: the DEFINITIVE ranking of our Presidents based on hotness! I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for such a list; I’m just glad to be the one to deliver it.

“So Heather,” you may ask, “why do we care about how hot the Presidents are?” My answer: “WHY WOULDN’T YOU WAN TO KNOW?!” In all honesty, I found this list to be hilarious, and rather apropos, coming on the heels of Presidents’ Day.

Before I unveil the magical list, let us have a quick recap about the history (since that’s what we do!) of Presidents’ Day. This federal holiday honors the life of that great man George Washington. Although sources claim Washington’s birthday to actually be February 22, the government has deemed it appropriate to celebrate old George on the third Monday of every February. Not to be forgotten, Presidents’ Day also celebrates Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday falls in mid-February. But enough about this history stuff, on to the list!

Here’s the link: Click it. Love it. Believe in it. Let it change your life.

**Disclaimer: it’s okay to not agree with the entire list. I sure don’t. I mean, check out Rutherford B. Hayes, sans a beard! That should have moved him right up the list! #amiright #drewbreesdoppleganger**

Jack the Ripper Identified?

With Halloween quickly approaching, I thought: Hey! Let’s talk about something spooky, eerie, and creepy…Jack the Ripper!  I will admit: when I was studying abroad in England, I went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour through Whitechapel.  And it was fascinating!

And now, almost 130 years after initially grabbing headlines, old Jack is back at it. (Thankfully, NOT because of more murders.)  On September 7, 2014, UK newspaper, The Guardian, released a story claiming “armchair detective” Russell Edwards had unmasked the identity of one of the most grisly murderers of all time.

The suspects: The long line of men believed to be Jack the Ripper include, from left to right, Prince Albert Victor, Edward VII's son, allegedly driven by syphilis-induced madness, Queen Victoria's doctor, a Jewish shoemaker

Three suspects, including Kosminski

Aaron Kosminski, “definitely, categorically and absolutely” Jack the Ripper, was a 23 year-old Polish immigrant who fled to White Chapel in 1881 with his family to avoid persecution during the Russian pogroms.  Kosminski has always been one of the three most credible suspects.  Often described as a hairdresser, Kosminski was seriously mentally ill.  According to the Daily Mail, Kosminski was most likely a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered “auditory hallucinations and [was] described as a misogynist prone to ‘self-abuse’ – a euphemism for masturbation.”  Kosminski was admitted to a string of lunatic asylums, where he died in 1899 of gangrene in the leg.  This admittance is what may have caused the murders to cease abruptly.

Evidence: Russell points to the part of the shawl where DNA was found

The shawl discovered net to Catherine Eddowes; Edwards points to stains

So how did Edwards come to this conclusion?  Through a blood-stained shawl purchased at an auction in 2007.  Fascinated by the murders, Edwards found a shawl from one of the Ripper’s victims (Catherine Eddowes) up for sale; naturally, he bought it.  How did the shawl end up on the auction block, you may ask.  Answer: crack police work.  Allegedly, Sergeant Amos Simpson, who was on duty the night of Eddowes death, saw the shawl next to the body and decided to take it home for his wife.  Not surprisingly, the wife was horrified at the blood-soaked wrap, so she never wore it.  Although, she did keep it, passing it down through the generations, before turning up at the auction house.

Edwards, now in possession of the shawl, enlisted the help of scientist Jari Louhelainen to find DNA.  Dr. Louhelainen,  a leading expert in genetic evidence from historical crime scenes, began testing the shawl in 2011.  Through the use of an infrared camera, Louhelainen was able to identify not only blood, but also semen, stains that he would later test. Using traces of mitochondrial DNA, Louhelainen matched Catherine Eddowes DNA to Karen Miller, a great, great, great-granddaughter of Eddowes.  Similarly, a descendant of Kosminski’s sister Matilda, provided a mitochondrial match to Kosminski himself.

However, other Ripper experts cast doubt on the claims.  Richard Cobb, who runs Jack the Ripper conventions and tours, avers that the shawl has been touched by so many people over the years, rendering DNA samples less reliable.  But that isn’t stopping Edwards. He released a book in September: Naming Jack the Ripper.

So why do we still care so much? What’s the fascination?  Perhaps part of the obsession stems from the gruesome and sexualized nature of the killings.  These victims were eviscerated: the Whitechapel murderer removed parts of organs, including the uterus and vagina.  Add to that the fact that several of the victims sold sex as a commodity, and we’ve got one hell of a mystery, rife with all sorts of psychological and sexual connotations.  But perhaps it’s time to care more about the victims than the perpetrator?

Want to know more about Jack, his victims, or the case (the photos are gruesome)? Visit the Wikipedia page or the online resource for the Whitechapel murders.

Into conspiracy theories? Check this out–5 other Ripper suspects, including a Prince and Lewis Carroll!