Why Name a Hurricane?

As the 2017 tropical storm season, mercilessly trudges on, images and stories of the destructive power of nature dominate headlines. These tales of emotion and survival work in tandem with massive data sets to produce empathy and useful models of understanding that help create storm tracks, evacuation plans, coordinated rescue efforts and potential loss assessments. While the measurements and narratives seem similar every year, sometimes to the point of dull duplicity, context matters.

The devastation wrought by this year’s storms to the Caribbean is of historic importance both for its grim records and how current effects manifest from past relationships.  For the first time in 300 years the island of Barbuda completely evacuated. Meanwhile, former status as colonies impede recovery efforts in affected areas like Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten, and the British Virgin Islands.

Beyond the incomprehensible numbers, the one constant and eye catching element of the headlines has always confused me. Storms have names. Names like Harvey, Irma, Maria join the ranks of Camille (1969), Andrew (1992) and Katrina (2005). Personal first names suddenly become monikers for some of the most devastating ecological and social disasters. Why do we name hurricanes?[1]

Historically, naming storms served as a place maker, a milestone in history of the “notable storms”. Some are named after the places they devastated (Galveston 1900, Great New England 1938), the time that they hit (Labor Day 1935). Even storms depicted in historical accounts gain names because of their proximity to larger historical events. The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 was recorded in accounts of life in Jamestown, the first hurricane reported by a North American British colonial settlement. 1780 Storm-naming however was far from uniform. The record of the October 1780 tropical cyclone considered the deadliest on record consistently notes that more than 20,00 people in the Caribbean died. However, the storm’s name varies in accounts (San Calixto, Junon, 1780 Disaster, or simply The Great are but a few used). Two San Felipe (1876, and 1928, aka Okeechobee) hurricanes both hit Puerto Rico on the feast day of St. Phillip, September 13th.

Credit for uniform storm naming is often given to Clement L. Wragge, an eccentric British meteorologist who worked extensively in the South Pacific. After abandoning a future in law for the natural sciences, the North Strattfordshire-born Wragge moved to Australia where he worked from 1887-1907. ‘Wet’ Wragge worked tirelessly and through his publication (The Wragge) set about naming almost any major storm system he could.[2]


Clement “Wet” Wragge (pictured) is often credited with inventing the modern naming convention of  tropical cyclones and weather systems (Credit: Auckland Weekly News July 28, 1904 p3

Running out of letters and mythological figures from Greek and Latin, Wragge turned to feminine first names in 1898, with Eline being the first storm system so named.[3] Though he would later turn to naming storms after politicians he did not like, his practice of using feminine first names stuck. George Stewart’s 1941 novel Storm featured a cyclone named Maria inspired GIs working on meteorology during World War II in the South Pacific. After the war, and a failed attempt at uniform phonetic ordering, the alphabetical list of first names was used in 1953.

Only feminine first names were used to denote storms from 1953-1979, a practice that ended only after longstanding protests from various feminist organizations. Using first names however, stayed common practice. Per the World Meteorological Organization short personal names “help in the quick identification of storms in warning messages,” making these storms, “far easier to remember than numbers and technical terms.”[4] Communication between media, the public, researchers, and responders benefits from using distinct, yet short first names.

The Tropical Storms Chart at Weather Unground catalogues important tropical cyclone information and extends as far back as 1851 while a list of retired hurricane names  going back to 1954 shows us that some storm names can be devastatingly unique. More future focused? Then check out the six-year cycle list of future hurricanes-in-waiting.


[1] Hurricanes, like typhoons and cyclones, are types of tropical cyclones. Typically, the only distinguishing feature between the storms is where they occur (Hurricanes occur in the Atlantic and NE Pacific, Typhoons occur in the NW Pacific, and Cyclones occur in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean). All storms are given a name once a level of sustained winds reach 40mph, although category barriers based on strengths can differ in the 11 basin-monitoring organizations that track tropical cyclones associated with the World Meteorological Organization.
[2] Western Mail, Perth, WA, Friday, November 1, 1895, p.11
[3] The Brisbane Courier, Wednesday February 2, 1898 p. 5
[4] Adamson, P. (2003), Clement Lindley Wragge and the naming of weather disturbances. Weather, 58: 359–363.
Credit for the featured image goes to Joshua Stevens of the NASA Earth Observatory Sep 20th, 2017.

Lore Kephart ’86 Historians Lecture Series featuring Craig Harline, PhD

Join us Tuesday, September 26, 2017 for the ninth annual lecture A WORLD ABLAZE: The Rise of Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation by Craig Harline, PhD Professor of History Brigham Young University. 7:00 pm Villanova Room, Connelly Center Free and Open to the public, refreshments immediately following the talk. You can RSVP through this link.

Wyrd Historie #1: The Last Log Cabin of Sweden’s Odd Empire


It’s no secret that the Greater Philadelphia Area has a lot to offer for the lover of places and spaces of importance in Early American History. From the newly opened Museum of the American Revolution, to Independence National Historic Park, home of the Liberty Bell, the city boasts an impressive array of resources, and sites for engaging history. However, some sites (*ahem* anywhere in Old City *ahem*) seem to get more love than others.

We here at Wyrd Historie want to rectify that. We pride ourselves on being as odd as the number 7 and seeking the wild and wacky people, places, process and events. As we see it, history encompasses many dynamic and entangled threads, and the study of history encourages an appreciation of unusual tensions and connections among those threads.

With open minds, let’s start our adventure in the 17th century exploring a wonderful public history site that is: outside of Center City, close to home, and one of the last remaining structures of Sweden’s attempt at Empire.

Lower Swedish Cabin 

Last Cabin

The Lower Swedish Cabin is the last extant structure of its kind, and possibly the first log Cabin built-in the US.



Lower Swedish Cabin
9 Creek Road
P.O. Box 372
Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, 19026

Tours offered on 1-4pm on Sundays from May to October. 

It’s easy to forget that other European countries attempted to colonize North America (easier still to forget native sovereignty and land rights). Eventual British domination, the growth of urban centers, and time are all responsible for our less than comprehensive knowledge of the contested frontiers of North America. However, the changing nature of space and the distance in time from 1638 to today doesn’t make the following statement any easier to comprehend, at least for myself:

17th century Sweden was a transoceanic Empire.

Land of fragile furniture and military strength sedans? Home of EDM, ABBA, hipster-baiting music, and this gem of internet culture? Defenders of social justice, migrant rights and curators of human achievement and understanding?


Yes, that Sweden.


This map of the Swedish Empire at its height in the mid 17th century, with routes of migration highlighted, proving we are in fact referring to THAT SWEDEN


If you a stickler like me, you can head over to the Lower Swedish Cabin located in Upper Derby and built during the existence of Nya Sverige (New Sweden) 1638 to 1655. The two-story structure initially functioned as a trading post for Swedish colonists and the local Susquehannock Nation, and later became a private residence until 1937. There are contested claims that film pioneer Siegmund Lubin (possibly coined “cliffhanger” and certainly a pioneer of film piracy) used the site as a set during this time. After years of neglect, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, and got a full-makeover in 1987. Today the refurbished site stands as possibly one of the oldest log cabins in the United States.

The Cabin is more than a structure, it is a testament to the changing connections of the Atlantic World, the promise of colonization, and impact of Finno-Swedish settlers on America. Delaware’s largest city, Wilmington, began as Fort Christina, and recognizes this heritage in its city flag. Log cabins pioneered by colonists in New Sweden, hold an incredibly important place in American history. Iconic in both their widespread use and constructed meanings, log cabins shaped culture and contours of the frontier. Elsewhere, settlers of New Sweden became a symbol of assurance for later generations of Swedes: from 1870 to the early 20th century at least one million immigrated to the midwest.



Other unique connections of New Sweden demonstrate that despite lasting only 17 years it’s existence had important political implications in its time. The Dutch invasion of 1655 might have ended a rivalry with New Sweden, but it unexpectedly stoked the ire of another. The Susquehannock Nation and their allies enjoyed deep political and trade connections with the Swedes so in retaliation, they led an invasion of Dutch settlements across four mid-Atlantic states. The erroneously named Peach Tree War, devastated Dutch colonial authority. Farms were burnt, hundreds were killed, and even whole settlements, like Staten Island were permanently abandoned. The economic and psychological cost of Susquehannock victory likely contributed to the events of August 27th, 1664. On that date Peter Stuyvesant ceded the colony of New Amsterdam to British control, effectively ending the Dutch colonial presence in America.

For more information on the Lower Swedish Cabin, check out the Friends of the Swedish Cabin website or contact them at contact@swedishcabin.info.  A treasure-trove of information on the early history of colonial interactions in the Delaware Valley can also be found  at the The American Swedish Historical Museum located in South Philly.

Other Sources:

BartonHArnold (1994). A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans18401940. (Uppsala: ActaUniversitatis Upsaliensis).

ShortoRussell (2004The Island at the Center of the World (DoubledayNew York ) ISBN 0385503490




Landmarking Home: Preserving a Sikh Temple

James Agee once wrote, “How far we all come. How far we all come away from ourselves. So far, so much between, you can never go home again.” As I flew into Sacramento International Airport, surrounded by fields of winter wheat and alfalfa, I couldn’t help but think of the passage. I was headed to my hometown of Yuba City, CA, to the 33-acre peach and walnut farm where I grew up. I had been away for a long time: undergraduate in the Bay area, a career in southern California, and now graduate school on the east coast, but home has never been far my thoughts. And as I landed, I couldn’t help but feel what Agee had so clearly captured. The fields, the faint scent of moist earth and the hot sun, the blue sky that spanned the horizon without a building to obscure it; it was all the same. But then again, it wasn’t. And neither the young man who left home or the home he left, were the same.

I was headed home to work with Professor Nicole Ranganath at the University of California at Davis who was putting together a digital archive concentrating on the experiences of a particular immigrant group to which I belong: the Punjabi-Sikhs of northern California. Punjabi-Sikhs are a religious and ethnic minority in India. There are two components to their identity. Sikhs are a religious group, monotheists, whose founder blended elements of Hinduism and Islam into a faith remarkable for its egalitarianism and humanity. Beyond their religious affiliation, there is also an association with the Indian state of Punjab. Punjabi is a regional dialect, and the cuisines and customs of Punjabi-Sikhs are distinct from other regional, linguistic, and religious groups on the subcontinent. Punjabi-Sikhs represented some of the first Indian immigrants to the western hemisphere, entering both Canada and the US from ports around the world starting in 1900.

Main Vestibule

I had initially come to assist Professor Ranganath with research on the connection between my family, who were some of these Punjabi-Sikh pioneers, and a political party known as the Ghadar Party. The Ghadar Party was made up of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslim Indians, formed in Berkeley, CA in 1913.  Its sole purpose was the expulsion of the British Empire from India. It operated through the publication of a newspaper, The Ghadar, meaning revolt or rebellion. The party operated across the United States and Canada but had a special connection with Punjabi-Sikh immigrants of northern California. After Indian independence was achieved in 1947, many of these former Punjabi-Sikh Ghadars committed themselves to building Sikh Temples (Gurdwaras) for Sikh communities that had settled and grown in California. One of those temples was founded in 1969, in the community where I was born and raised. As my research moved from the Ghadar Party to the Sikh Temple, I was inspired by the structure itself and redefined the subject of my research. I would leverage my professional experience as a City Planner and Historic Preservationist to develop a state and national register landmark nomination for the Sikh Temple, Gurdwara in Yuba City, CA.

To achieve landmark status, a building needs to have maintained its integrity, meaning its original form and materials, its location, and its spatial relationships to its surrounding area. It also needs to meet one of four criteria. The building must be associated with a significant event, a significant person, be of distinctive architectural quality, or potentially yield important archeological data. The Sikh Temple, Gurdwara, Yuba City qualifies for landmark designation under two criteria. The first is its association with a significant event. That event is a religious procession known as the Nagar Kirtan. The Nagar Kirtan is a celebration honoring the consecration of the Sikh’s holy text, called the Guru Granth Sahib. In 1980, several thousand Sikhs from around the country and as far as Canada gathered to celebrate this occasion by parading the scriptures in a peaceful and reverent procession through the streets of my small town. 37 years later, the event draws tens of thousands of Punjabi-Sikhs from around the world and is covered by local, state, national, and international media. Although held annually, there were two years when the event intersected with globally significant political and social events.

In 1984, the parade was held the day after Indira Ghandi, Prime Minister of India, was assassinated by two of her own Sikh bodyguards. The assassination had been in retaliation for the Prime Minister’s orders to desecrate the Sikh’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, Punjab, India. Suddenly, a religious procession in a small town became the center for global issues including terrorism and religious persecution in India. The parade would become a forum for Sikh separatists looking to secede from India to speak, as well as for the many Sikhs who wished to remain part of India to respond. The dialogue would continue for decades.


Head Scarves

These silk and cotton scarves have been provided by the Temple for the use of those who enter the Prayer Hall. One must enter the Prayer Hall with their head covered.


In 2001, the worst terrorist attack in US History would lead to more violence against Sikhs as they were targeted by white Americans too ignorant to understand the difference between an Islamic extremist and a Punjabi-Sikh American. The Sikh Temple took a proactive approach and held informational seminars for the public about Sikhs, and their place in contemporary America.

The Temple meets a second criteria: architectural distinctiveness. Designed by a regionally significant architect, the Temple is a unique hybrid of traditional Mughal or Byzantine styles constructed with vernacular materials and building methods.


“But more importantly, the nomination will have an impact beyond the academic, affecting the material world and preserving and protecting a structure that contains a great deal of religious and social significance for not just Punjabi-Sikhs, but all immigrants who have struggled and labored to build a place for themselves in America.”


The amount of research required to prepare the state and National Register nomination was significant. I began by collecting building and parcel data on the Temple site, which led me to the Sutter County Assessor’s Office, the Sutter County Clerk, and Sutter County Planning Department. The parade was regulated by both the Sutter County Sheriff and the Yuba City Police Department. Primary sources on the parade were collected almost exclusively at the Yuba County Library and the Sutter County Library which had an extensive digitized collection of periodicals published in the area. Secondary sources were collected at two branches of the California State Library in Sacramento, CA, and information related to legal actions taken against Punjabi-Sikhs were collected from the Witkin State Legal Library. For all the records that I could obtain, more had been destroyed or had become otherwise unavailable.

The nomination developed into two parts. The first was the building history, a story that was concerned with the land where the Temple was built, when it was built, and its design and materiality. Also of importance were modifications to the structure and additions to the site over its life. The second part was the development of the historical context, the narrative which the structure is figuratively placed within to understand its significance. My research surrounds and contextualizes the physical building within larger historical trends, including immigration, discrimination, identity, education, social movements, and politics. The historic context extends back to the founding of Sikhism and relates those events to current events identifying the origin and evolution of Sikh religious, social and political activism. The period of significance related specifically to the structure, its form, construction, and operation spans a period of time from 1967 to today.

Langar Hall

Prayer Hall

Langar Hall (above) and the Prayer Hall (below) represent the simple yet profound interior program of the structure and exemplify the basic tenants of the religion, care of body and soul.


The nomination is currently pending, awaiting permission from the Temple’s Board of Directors to submit the nomination to the State Historic Preservation Office. Once the nomination is submitted, historians and architects at the SHPO will evaluate the submitted materials and analysis to determine if the structure meets the criteria for state designation. Once that determination is made, it will be a simple process of placing the nomination on the agenda of the SHPO Commission and declaring the building a state landmark formally by adopting a resolution. I hope to obtain permission to submit the document to the SHPO before the end of the year and hope to have it scheduled for a public hearing by mid-2018. If all goes well, it will achieve landmark status in the State of California thereafter. Once that process is complete, I will progress to the submission of an application to the National Register.

The product of the Summer Fellowship has been the discovery and compilation of an extraordinary amount of primary and secondary material concerning Punjabi-Sikhs and the Sikh Temple, Gurdwara in Yuba City, CA. But more importantly, the nomination will have an impact beyond the academic, affecting the material world and preserving and protecting a structure that contains a great deal of religious and social significance for not just Punjabi-Sikhs, but all immigrants who have struggled and labored to build a place for themselves in America. Lastly, the Fellowship has provided me personally with an opportunity to rediscover my own history, to identify my contemporary struggle with the historic struggles of my countryman and ancestors. And though we can never go home again, we can return with a humility and sincerity that will allow us to perhaps rediscover some of those things that are inevitably lost as we stray from those sacred places where we began.




A series of depictions of Sikh battles and scenes of martyrdom are displayed in the Langar Hall. These graphic images are meant to capture the valiant struggles of the Sikh faithful persecuted by the Mughal Empire.


Planning Leisure in The Indian New Deal

As part of the “alphabet soup” of New Deal public work programs, the Indian Emergency Conservation Work (IECW) ambitiously attempted to stimulate American Indian economic activity and land development during the Great Depression. Though waged work for improvement projects on reservations was the IECW’s primary function, the program also pursued a different approach to development, reversing a century of federal government policy towards American Indians in the process. Federal policy since the middle of the 19th century preached assimilation into the Euro-American culture as the only future available for American Indians. In practice, this policy operated in three important ways: a massive land allotment program that privatized land and deregulated its sale, separating children from communities in pursuit of “proper education”, and consistent reductions in the power of tribal governments and associations. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Commissioner John Collier, who held the position from 1933 to 1945 denounced past policies as underhanded tactics to grab more native-owned land while effectively promoting cultural genocide.[1] Collier and the BIA developed a plan for land cultivation with Indian economic and political independence as future goals, through community-based central economic planning. Whether the plan’s aspirations were compatible with BIA practices remains an issue of contention in the historiography of U.S. federal Indian policy.[2] One aspect of this program, however, appears unambiguously coherent; BIA policies from 1933-1935 considered cultural and community development. An analysis of internal newsletters circulated within the BIA during this early period, called Indian At Work, demonstrates how government agents and American Indians placed critical importance on “time off the clock”, specifically leisure time activities and organized sports, in constructions of economic and political development.


John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1933-1945

Understanding individual and communal health as interconnected and mutually beneficial became a central idea of BIA policy. Funds from the IECW were allocated to provide equipment, construction, wages, and infrastructure for new community centers enrichment programs for residents. These community centers functioned as hubs for communal teaching and learning. All reservation residents had access to the center and were encouraged to participate in planning and engaging with the center’s curricula. Individualized skill-building for technical jobs and lessons in agricultural self-reliance was deemed essential for the reservation’s economic vitality.[3] Typically, during the daytime, the centers operated as school houses for children, libraries, and as locations for cultural and political events while working adults used the space for night classes, and native literacy and language courses.

Even with such space effective engagement in education, BIA administrators continuously noted that organized sports teams and other athletic activities dominated free time on the reservations.[4] The low capital participation threshold and high motivation displayed by both men and women to participate made organizing sport on the reservation a cheap way of keeping individuals physically fit, engaged in the community, and therefore more happy and productive on the job. Participating in baseball and basketball games, and boxing matches were especially considered positive for the individual and community. Efforts to organize teams, clubs, and gyms through the BIA were undertaken as early as 1933 in some reservations. Organized sports provided more than just an ancillary activity that enhanced individual growth and communal cohesion. Increased funding for American Indian teams and athletes lead to increased levels of participation on the reservation, and more competition at local and national levels. Sport also became a space for cultural preservation and education: Indians At Work editions from April 1934 to February 1935 indicate that cultural events featuring archery, horseback riding competitions, and tribal specific games were largely financed by BIA funds.[5]

Unforeseen tensions between American Indian participation in sports and IECW goals did occur, largely at the expense of education. In an editorial, Commissioner Collier criticized the proliferation of Sports Therapy and Education degrees earned by American Indians as contributing to a dangerous dearth in diverse technical education and lacked practical application for necessary land development.[6] While an essential part of development, BIA officials feared that sports would become an indispensable part of Indian life, constricting the abilities of individuals to develop skills through other types of enrichment, and therefore negatively impacting the entire community. The story of Sullivan Miller, a Cheyenne resident of the Tongue River Reservation (Now Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation), provides a unique example of this tension. Miller received praise from the BIA newsletter for turning down an offer to play sports professionally in the National Football League, and choosing to attend a leadership camp for IECW crew work. Instead of taking a “lucrative contract with a professional football team” it was claimed he strengthened the future vitality of his people through his choice to improve himself and his skillset.[7] The fact that Sullivan Miller could choose to play, however, captures the way sports participation provided alternatives to reservation living, if only for a few talented individuals.

∗            ∗           ∗

This week marks the beginning of the 2017-2018 NFL season. Since the 1930s the NFL has grown from humble beginnings into a lucrative business model and currently sits on the verge of becoming a global, or at the least, a transatlantic brand. With the minimum rookie salary, currently, at $465,000 a year, witnessing a modern-day Sullivan Miller turn down a contract seems an unlikely prospect. However, despite the growth of the organization, today’s NFL still shares one important aspect of the 1930s game; football, whether consumed as spectacle, competed in for gain, or refused as part of a centrally planned economic development program has importance beyond the gridiron, after the end of the game. The importance of leisure activities on American Indian reservations in the 1930s was based on its effects. Sports, while dangerous to the goals of the IECW, proved a very useful tool for promoting productivity, developing interpersonal and technical skills, and in victory, instilling a sense of pride in self and community.


July 15th, 1935 issue of Indians At Work, the internal newsletter of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and later the Indian Service

[1] Indians at work v. 1 no. 11 (1934: Jan. 15). Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1933. http://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/indiansatwor111193415unit

[2] Rusco, E. R. (1991).”John Collier, Architect of Sovereignty or Assimilation?” American Indian Quarterly, 15(1):49–55; Kelly, L. C. The Assault on Assimilation: John Collier and the Origins of Indian Policy Reform. (University of New Mexico Press, 1963); Collier, John. 1947. The Indians of the Americas. New York: W.W. Norton.

[3] Indians at work v. 3 no. 16 (1936: Apr. 1). Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1933. http://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/indiansatwork31619361unit

[4] Each newsletter contained a section labeled IECW Reports, where both white BIA officials and American Indian supervisors and crew leaders would document the work completed and activities engage in. A sizeable majority of these reports mention participation in organized sporting events in a positive light, outnumbering mentions of education

[5] Indians at work v. 2 no. 10 (1935: Jan. 1). Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1933. http://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/indiansatwork21019351unit

[6] Indians at work v. 2 no. 10 (1935: Jan. 1). Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1933. http://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/indiansatwork21019351unit

[7]Indians at work v. 1 no. 5 (1933: Oct. 15). Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1933. http://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/indiansatwork15193315unit ; The NFL of the 1930s did not enjoy the cultural resonance of the league today, as teams struggled to compete with college football programs for talent and audiences

A Love of All Things Old: The Story of Jackie Clarke

Late in the spring semester last year, I was asked along with another Villanova student if I would be interested in acting as a guinea pig for a brand new two-month internship funded by the generosity of Emily C. Riley of the Connelly Foundation, the department, and the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. The internship was a brand new collaboration between Villanova and the Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina, Co. Mayo. I jumped at the chance being that I have a passion for Irish history, and it was the perfect professional opportunity for someone just coming out of a Master’s program. It would turn out that this two-month internship would become so much more than a professional opportunity, largely in thanks to the nature of the collection itself.

The Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina, Co. Mayo was born out of one local Mayo man’s love for all things old, and a passion for Irish culture and history. Jackie Clarke was a well-known and loved Ballina local and the son of newsagents and grew to love scrapbooking at an early age, making his first book of news clippings at the age of twelve. From there Jackie’s love grew as he did, culminating in a collection of over one hundred thousand artifacts relating to Irish history, covering a period of four hundred years by the end of his lifetime. Jackie was a fishmonger by trade, and lived above his shop with his wife Anne, and their five sons.


(A young Jackie Clarke)

By the time he had died, Jackie had made his wishes known in his will, asking that his wife donate the collection to the Mayo County Council with the hope that the Council would be able to facilitate the creation of a museum for Ballina. Jackie’s wishes came with several stipulations; the items could not leave Mayo, could not be sold, and any resulting museum had to be free of charge. He had hoped that it could be his gift to Ballina and Mayo.

The building that was eventually chosen to house the museum itself is a revitalized bank in the heart of Ballina, known as the Provincial bank. It is a stately and dignified three story brick and mortar building. It was originally built in 1881, and used as a bank until 1977. After the bank shut down, the building went through a series of different uses before falling into disrepair until the Mayo County Council rescued it in 2008 in order to give Jackie’s legacy a home.

Prior to being housed in the museum Jackie’s collection lived with the Clarke family in their apartment and was tucked into every nook and cranny, wrapped in paper bags and newspapers. After Jackie’s death, and Anne’s decision to adhere to his wishes and donate the collection to Mayo, the collection was placed in the repository above the local library a block away from the bank, where the archives remain today. And, despite the Jackie Clarke being a small house museum, it is flourishing today thanks to a wealth of exhibits, and a beautiful garden that is open to the public, and often used for community programing.

JCC Garden.jpg

(Part of the back garden set up for a civil ceremony)

The character of Jackie’s collection is part of what made the collection and the museum such a pleasure to work with. Each box, each artifact, held the potential for delightful surprise. Because of the inherent variety within the Collection itself, the work I was lucky enough to do was equally as varied. For example, one of our first assignments after starting at the Jackie Clarke was to help photograph and catalog a collection of pipes and other items that came from a pub that had closed in town, but the proprietor had not wanted the items to be separated, so he gave them to the museum for safekeeping.

We also worked reception twice a week where we greeted and helped visitors. It was the perfect balance of archival work and public history that culminated in a joint exhibit between myself and my fellow intern. Our exhibit was a visual exploration of Jackie’s own collection of issues of the Illustrated London News, one of the first illustrated newspapers of its kind:

exhibit photo

If the internship is to become a long-standing relationship between Villanova and the Jackie Clarke, as is hoped, its success will not hinge on what the museum has to offer alone. My time in Ballina was made complete not only by my own work but by the co-workers, neighbors, and friends I met while I was there. Ballina, Co. Mayo and its people have as much to offer future interns as the museum itself does, and I can only hope that it continues.

The Opening of the Museum of the American Revolution

“The American war is over, but this is far from being the case with the American Revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed.”
– Benjamin Rush, 1787

MoAR Image

The Opening Ceremony

The Museum of the American Revolution (M*AR) opened this Wednesday, April 19, 2017, on the 242nd anniversary of the Battle at Lexington and Concord and the beginning of the American Revolution. The opening ceremony represented the many components, exhibits, interests, and people involved in the creation of the Museum. On January 6, Blake McGready posted “Previewing the Museum of the American Revolution” after he attended a lecture by R. Scott Stevenson, the Vice-President of Collections, Exhibitions, and Programming, on the significance of the Museum. McGready wrote, “Since the War for Independence ended in 1783, all sorts of people have debated its meaning and legacy. However, the MoAR seems to be entering into this conversation at a precarious moment of heightened political divisions and fear of future uncertainties.”

The opening of the M*AR on Wednesday included such debates through a myriad of voices in the collections within the Museum and the speakers during the opening ceremony at the Museum’s outdoor plaza on the corner of 3rd and Chestnut Streets.

Opening day activities started with a tribute to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution at 8:00 a.m. in Washington Square Park and continued in front of Independence Hall. Around 10:30 a.m. the official dedication took place outside the Museum. Before the ribbon was cut and the Museum opened to the public, a number of speakers paused to reflect on the project and the contested meanings represented by the Museum.

The opening ceremony began with a performance of the Star-Spangled Banner by vocalist Jamez McCorkle. Michael Quinn, Museum President and C.E.O., was first to address the audience, followed by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. The following speaker, David McCullough, author of 1776, began his address by stating that “the American Revolution still goes on,” a theme that is prevalent in the Museum and in many of the speeches. “It’s not easy to understand the past,” he continued, “…it was their present, not ours…” Yet he and other speakers alluded to a continued legacy that is part of the nation’s present.

Ray Halbritter, an Oneida Nation Representative and Museum Board Member, commented on the omission of Native American’s from the national narrative and much of the discourse surrounding the Revolution, but added that, “these omissions only make this museum more significant.” Halbritter argued that the Museum is “not an exercise in self-congratulation.” The next speaker was Colonel John E. Bircher III, member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, who discussed the Purple Heart and George Washington’s creation of its precursor the Badge for Military Merit in 1782.

Sydney James Harcourt then performed “History Has Its Eyes On You” and “The Room Where It Happens” from the Broadway musical Hamilton with students from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

Following their performance, Cokie Roberts, author of Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty, described the long “eight years of American Revolution” and the importance of varied perspectives. Dr. Vincent Brown, Charles Warren Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, paraphrased a quote by Fredrick Douglass from his July 5, 1852 address, “What is the fourth of July to the African American?,” Brown asked. Douglass answered in his 1852 speech that it is “a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” Brown argued Wednesday, that the opening of the Museum is a reminder to pursue a rendering of the American Revolution that rebukes triumphalism; one that is “not content with reassuring origin stories.”

Next to speak was the Museum Chairman, General John P. Jumper, followed by a few words of thanks from Marguerite Lenfest on behalf of her husband Gerry Lenfest, Founding Museum Chairman Emeritus.

The keynote address was given by former Vice President Joe Biden, who explained that when preparing his speech he settled on a fundamental question, “What is this museum intended to stand for?” A question that he argues is “as relevant today as ever.” Biden continued, “What was the experiment about? I think it was about an idea…the revolutionary idea of the consent of the governed.” He discussed the role of Philadelphia as a center of revolutionary activity as well as the development of  ideas after the meeting of the First Continental Congress in 1774. It took “…thirteen years to put ideas into a document of governance…” Biden argues, however, that the institutions created  by the Revolution are the “guarantor not the deliverer” of rights, alluding to the unfulfilled promises and internal contradictions of the Revolution. He concluded his speech by exhorting the audience to analyze political “judgement not motive,” to search for a consensus, and to remember the revolutionary legacy of the “consent of the governed.” [1]

Following Biden’s remarks the ribbon was cut and the Museum was officially opened to the public. I toured the Museum the next day, April 20, 2017.


Main Galleries

There are four main interconnected galleries inside the Museum, “Becoming Revolutionaries (1760-1775),” “The Darkest Hour (1776-1778),” “The Revolutionary War (1778-1783),” and “A New Nation (1783-present).” Upon entering the first of the galleries visitors are met with “Prologue: Tearing Down the King” a video representation of colonists removing the statue of King George III from its stand in Bowling Green Park, New York on July, 9, 1776 after the Declaration of Independence was read to the crowd. The video ends with the question, “How revolutionary was the American Revolution?”

Visitors are then introduced to the many peoples living in British Colonial America and their views regarding the British crown in the aftermath of the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The following room includes “Boston’s Liberty Tree” a life-sized replica of the elm near Boston Commons under which the Sons of Liberty often met. The room includes an analysis of Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, “The Bloody Massacre in King-Street, March 5, 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment” (Boston, 1770). The exhibit draws attention to the depiction of colonists as innocent and unarmed victims. It also notes the exclusion of Crispus Attucks from Revere’s engraving and compares it to the lithograph by J.H. Bufford, “Boston Massacre, March 5th, 1770,” (Boston, 1856), which places Attucks in the center of the frame and clubs in the hands of the Boston colonists.

The next main gallery, “The Darkest Hour,” features the “Oneida Nation Theater” which explores the Oneida’s debates prior to the decision to ally with the American revolutionaries despite the alliance of most of the nations within the Iroquois Confederacy with the British, who promised to protect Iroquois land in return. Visitors can also enter the “Battle of Brandywine Theater,” an immersion experience which depicts the loss of lives during the battle.

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The final two main galleries include the final years of the war and the establishment of the United States of America. “A Revolutionary War” gallery is home to a replica privateer ship and a gallery devoted to the war and its affect in the southern colonies. The gallery poses the question “Could enslaved people find liberty, either in the American or British Armies?” by considering the hopes and risks of enslaved people in joining the fight. Many hoped that their service would be rewarded with freedom, but this was seldom the case. In 1795 Britain announced that enslaved people owned by rebelling colonists would be freed in return for joining the British army. Most of the enslaved people who enlisted with the British died of disease, starvation, or battle wounds. Any hope of freedom was lost after the American victory at the Battle of Yorktown. Similarly, few enslaved people who fought with the revolutionaries and survived the war were freed.

The final gallery features the debates surrounding the end of the Revolution and the formation of a new nation. The film “The Ongoing Revolution” asks, “What type of nation did the Revolution create?” It considers the legacy and promises of the revolution and implies that the American Revolution is not yet complete, that its future remains undecided. [2]


In addition to the videos and small theaters within the galleries there are two large theaters. The film “Revolution” can be viewed on the first floor in the Lenfest Myer Theater and “Washington’s War Tent” is in the second floor theater. The first film is comprehensive and includes many of the images from the gallery. Visitors may choose to view it first in order to provide themselves with a framework, or, as I did, last as a summation. “Washington’s War Tent” includes one of the most remarkable artifacts housed in the museum, Washington’s marquee.

My discussion of the galleries is in no way comprehensive. All tickets to the Museum provide admission for two consecutive days. In order to fully engage in each of the galleries, many visitors may find that one day is simply not enough time. There are numerous exhibits, films, and interactive displays each of them as layered and complex as the ideas they represent. By including varied perspectives, voices, and primary sources the Museum is engaging the ideas of the Revolution and the concepts of liberty and freedom, fraught with disparity and conflict. The result is a museum in which the American Revolution is simultaneously grounded in a specific historical moment and extended into the present as an idea.


Visitor Information:

The Museum of the American Revolution

101 South Third Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

(877) 740-1776

Extended summer hours: 9:30 a.m.- 6:00 p.m.

Tickets are available online or at the Main Entrance [3]

The Grand Opening Celebration continues this weekend April 22-23.


[1]  The Opening Ceremony at 10:30 a.m. was a seated ticketed event. The ceremony was streamed live online: https://www.amrevmuseum.org/opening-celebration-livestream

[2] “Museum Guide & Map” Museum of the American Revolution, 2017.

[3] Information can be found here: https://www.amrevmuseum.org/visit