Tag Archives: history

Past Conflicts as Backstory

A common thing in book series is when there was some kind of serious conflict in the past which is affecting present-day events. Sometimes this conflict is only ever revealed as backstory: the reader is given some basic details of what happened, but never actually sees it on the page. Other times it might be revealed via a flashback: cutting to a scene in the past that shows the reader exactly what happened. But then there’s times that the backstory was revealed in the main narrative, but in a previous book.

How this works out depends a lot on the type of series you’re reading. I’ve read a lot of book series where there is an overarching plotline that spans the entire series. The Wheel of Time is a good example of this; while each book has its own beginning and end point, there’s no complete resolution until the very end. If you picked up a random book in the middle, you’d be lost about a lot of what is going on. Whereas a series like The Dresden Files has a different style, and every book is more self-contained. Events from one book can influence events in a later book, but the stories are able to stand alone. I haven’t yet read a book in the Dresden series that wouldn’t have made sense without the other books.

Sometimes, the difference between these styles can get a bit blurred. For example, I’m currently reading Guilty Pleasures, an Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel by Laurell K. Hamilton. I picked it up mostly at random without knowing where it fell in the series. While reading it, I’ve learned that there is a lot of backstory for Anita, from the cross-shaped burn scar on her arm, to her past missions slaying vampires with a flamethrower-wielding mercenary, to the hints of a romantic past between her and the vampire Jean-Claude. Not having read any other books in the series, I just assumed that some of these events were things from a previous book. Except that I found out this is Book #1 of the series. Meaning that the backstory in this case had enough depth and detail to it that I believed it was something that actually happened. It’s definitely a good compliment to the author, and I’m sure she had worked a lot of Anita’s background out in advance before writing the first book.

A good example of this is also when a new villain is introduced. In the case of Guilty Pleasures, a vampire named Valentine is introduced early in the book, and we find out he tried to kill Anita several years earlier. She threw holy water in his face, leaving him permanently scarred. The author went into a bit of detail about those events, not quite giving a full flashback, but painting enough of a picture that the animosity between the two characters is quite clear. It worked well, and the story of that past conflict is interesting enough that I almost hope it gets revealed in a prequel story one day.

It’s given me a lot to think about in terms of my own writing. How to manage a series is an issue I’ve been studying for some time, and I’ve blogged about it before. There’s always a question of how much backstory to reveal, and how much turns into long-winded exposition. The balance between the two seems to vary, based on how important the details are and how much you can “show” them instead of “telling” them.

I’m going to keep this in mind as I continue reading this novel, so I can see how the past conflict influences the events to come. I expect Anita is about to get into a lot of trouble with this vampire from her past, and it’ll be interesting to see if the current conflicts are stronger and more compelling based on what I’ve learned of their history together.

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Guest Post: Creative History: On Building Deviltry

Today’s post is a guest blog post by my friend, Steph Lehenbauer. She’s recently published a really awesome novella about a kick ass Native American woman who is a ship captain/space cowgirl who kicks a lot of ass. Deviltry is the first novella in a series that is part Western, part Firefly, and a whole lot of excellence. I’ve read it, I loved it, and I suggest you read on to learn more about it, then go check it out for yourself.

Hello, Jason’s blog readers. It is I, the Batman!

WAIT NO. Not again. Damn it, I’ve got to stop that. My name is Stephanie, AKA S.E. Lehenbauer. I am the author of Deviltry, the first novella of in my space western series. The stories follow the adventures of the spacecraft Wanderlust and her crew.

Jason’s been kind enough to let me take over his blog today, to talk about world building. Specifically, world building around real history. Deviltry takes place in the 1860s, but it’s definitely not the same world as we know it. Earth is now Terra Fragmentum, a collection of small planets held together in Earth’s old place by the gravitational pull of the moon. (Ah, the creative liberties we can take with science.) These frags are the remnants of Earth, after being attacked by aliens roughly 40 years before our story begins.

So, it’s still Earth, kind of. They are still the same countries (for the most part), and the cultures are still quite similar to what they were in the 1860s. However, contact with aliens introduced humanity to space travel, to an alien internet system that people use but don’t understand yet, to advances in machinery and medicine. It’s Wild Wild West meets Farscape, in a way.

The tricky part of this kind of world building is cherry-picking from real history. Using historical figures, places, events, and so on, is a great way to ground your fantasy world. Steampunk books almost always mention Queen Victoria for this very reason—just that simple mention of a real figure we all have some awareness of instantly sets the groundwork in a reader’s mind. But due to the geography or cultural upset in your story, you may not be able to keep everything.

For example: I knew that I would be focusing quite a bit on Native American culture and history, so I chose to keep as many events related to the tension between American settlers and Native Americans as I could. Sally’s parents, Kit Carson and the Cheyenne woman Making-Our-Road were real people who were really married for a time (although as far as my research could tell they never had a child). I turned up some interesting facts about Carson’s involvement with the Mexican-American war, and because it gave significance to an event in Sally’s fictional life, I also kept as much of that war as I could.

However, the American Civil War has been completely erased from our history. (In fact, the stories take place during what would have been the Civil War years.) The reason for that is two-fold: first, America is divided into two separate frags. For a world that has only just discovered and begun to use spacecraft, a war between frags doesn’t seem plausible. The other reason is more complicated. When I divided up the world into frags, I just sort of took a marker to a printed map and damned the consequences. Whatever got a line drawn through it was what got blown up. The southern United States and Mexico didn’t end up with very much water (like, hardly any at all…it’s been a huge annoyance to write around), so the economic make-up of America is very different. One of the biggest factors in the Civil War was the fact that the South was the main source of agriculture, while the North was industrializing. Without water, the South can hardly be the agricultural center it was in real history; so with that factor gone, the War became even more difficult to account for.

In addition to deciding which parts of history go or stay, you must also consider how real-life events would have been shaped by the factors in your new world. In real-life London, there was indeed a Reform Act of 1832. It was an Act of Parliament that made changes to England’s electoral system. In my story, I needed a political movement that would set up the nation of Seachrist: the single moon-based territory of Terra Fragmentum. The concept of Seachrist came from the minds of a few upper-class English families, and the timing of the act was perfect, so I borrowed it. Now the Reform Act of 1832 was a declaration by Parliament to colonize the moon. That little bit of truth within the lie gives my fictional world enough familiarity to create that groundwork I mentioned earlier.

Being a student of history is incredibly helpful to an author. It can, at times, also become a great source of procrastination as you spend weeks picking what stays and what goes. Not that I did that. Definitely not. The single piece of advice I might have would be to narrow your focus as much as possible. I knew that I’d be visiting certain countries and nations within the Wanderlust’s adventures, so I kept my focus to just those places’ histories. When I could, I narrowed it down farther to specific states or cities. (When a shiny thing about the development of Alaska popped up in my research, I had to firmly sit it down and say, “No. I’m not going to Alaska. There’s just no time. I’m sorry Alaska, you will just have to go without.” I filed the shiny fact away for something else and went on.)

Thanks for letting me crash your joint! You’re all invited to the Batcave any time. Earlier this month, I was at the Ravenhart Press blog discussing the ideas of diversity within Deviltry; if that’s something you are interested in, please check it out!

Deviltry is out now from LARRIKINbooks at most major booksellers. (Buying the paperback copy at Amazon nets you the Kindle version for free!) You can find more information and links at my website, www.selehenbauer.com/books/.

Searching the Present for Signs of the Past

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been engaging in research lately with a focus on learning about the connections between the past and the present. I’ve learned that there are a lot of things I just haven’t been exposed to, such as some of the less savory aspects of this country’s history, as well as many present-day issues that are ignored by the media and the general public. Oftentimes these ignored parts of history are directly connected to the ignored political issues of today. For example, our schools here in New Jersey fail to teach students that the lands we’re living in today originally belonged to the Nanticoke tribe. My research has shown that while they lived here for thousands of years before us, they began losing their lands not long after European settlers arrived, and they still struggle with this issue today. As early as the 1700s, the Nanticoke were restricted to reservations in Delaware and New Jersey, and in more recent times, the tribe is still struggling with issues like state protection of their lands, property tax issues, and pollution.

onlooking_horowitzIn addition to learning about specific political and civil rights issues, I also wanted to learn about how to see more signs of the past right here in the places I live and work every day. It occurred to me that there could be issues right in front of my eyes that could connect to things from the past. So I took a step back from examining specific issues in order to learn how to look at what is around me. The inspiration for this exploration is Alexandra Horowitz’s book, “On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.” In her book, Horowitz takes walks around her familiar city blocks with various experts, including her dog (who “saw” through scent and thus introduced her to a new way of seeing the world), a geologist, a bug expert, an expert on typography (who could tell her a lot of things about a building’s history just by the type of font used on the building signs), a doctor, and even a blind woman. After traveling with each expert, Horowitz found her mind opened to new ways of seeing the world around her.

Along those same lines, my hope was that being guided by an anthropologist might give me some insights into understanding how the world can be seen when you understand the connections between the past and the present. I contacted the Rowan University Anthropology Department, and I was put in touch with several professors who work in the Museum of Anthropology at Rowan University. The museum is brand new, having only just opened in 2012. I was taken on a tour of the museum’s collection by Maria Rosado, Rowan professor and one of the museum’s curators. I asked her to explain the museum’s artifacts to me so I could understand how they can serve as evidence of the past.

Most of the collection included bones and skulls from humans and various other species. Some were real bones, while others were plastic and plaster replicas made from the originals that are kept in other museums. Professor Rosado explained that original artifacts are always kept in museums near the place where they were discovered. I found this to be an interesting fact in relation to my Native American studies; just as many people wish to remain in the lands where their ancestors lived, it seems that anthropologists believe in keeping fossils and artifacts near their place of origin. The artifacts on display at the museum included replicas from Clovis, New Mexico, from the La Brea Tarpits, and from various other places around the world.

When I first asked what could be learned by studying these bones, Professor Rosado told me one of the main uses is forensic anthropology, which she called “The study of corpses as evidence.” Markings on the bones, for example, can indicate the cause of death, such as from a bullet wound or a stabbing. She also explained that the bones alone can tell a researcher a great deal about who the person was when they were alive. The shape of the skull can indicate sex, the size of the teeth can indicate whether it was an adult or child, cranial sutures can tell age, and the shape can even identify race. Individual physical characteristics can also be determined, such as by measuring the bones to determine the person’s height.

We then began looking at some of the animal fossils on display. I asked Professor Rosado what we could learn about human history by studying animal bones. It turns out that there is a lot we can learn. First, she showed me a fossil of an ancient horse skull, and she explained that horses were extinct in America for about 10,000 years. In fact, it turns out that American horses lived here for millions of years, and some that traveled across the land bridge to Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Present-day zebras are descended from those horses that originated in America. The horses that remained in America, however, died out as part of the mass extinctions that came as the planet grew colder and many species were unable to adapt. Horses were then reintroduced thousands of years later, when Europeans brought them here during the colonial period. Other examples included the American Mastodon, the Giant Beaver, the Giant Armadillo, and the American Lion. While most of these species are extinct today, they were alive when the ancestors of Native Americans first came to these lands, and they would have been hunted by those original inhabitants of the country.

This led to us discussing the evolution and migration of human life. Professor Rosado explained that current evidence suggests all human life began in Africa. She also sat that National Geographic has been tracing genetic mutations to compare populations to determine where people came from geographically. The oldest known human skeletons were found in Ethiopia, and date back 120,000 years. Genetic tests on ancient fossils, however, can do more than just tell us where people came from. They can also show a connection between present day humans and their ancestors, by tracing DNA. Professor Rosado explained that DNA comparisons between fossils in Africa from 50,000 years ago have been matched with the DNA of people living in the same region today, showing that those people are descendents of the land’s original inhabitants. Along those same lines, it is possible to test DNA to show the connection between Native Americans living here today and their ancestors who inhabited these lands for 10,000 years.

After speaking with Professor Rosado, I had a second guided tour by Rowan Professor Jared Schultz. This tour went beyond the Museum of Anthropology and took us out onto the campus itself. The goal was to see what we could find around campus that could be connected to the past. Specifically, we were looking for anything that could be connected to Native American history and culture.

We walked around the campus on  a warm spring day, which was conducive to an open and exploratory stroll. The first thing that Professor Schultz pointed out was the trees. He pointed them out as an artifact of cultural ecology, and as a renewable resource. He also explained how Native American tribes of the northeast cultivated the land through the use of what he called “slash and burn agriculture”. He explained how they would burn down trees, shrubs, and undergrowth in order to simultaneously clear and fertilize the land. This not only kept areas cleared of undergrowth to make plantation easier, but at the same time the burned plant life created nutrients for the soil.

Professor Schultz then pointed out the overgrown plant life that covered the campus just off the cement walkways we were walking along. Several of the trees were overgrown with vines that were choking them and stunting their growth. Professor Schultz explained that when the lands were cultivated with slash and burn agriculture, that kind of overgrowth wouldn’t have occurred. The overgrowth was made worse by the introduction of invasive species, which are often brought in for aesthetic purposes without proper consideration for the effect they will have on native plants. In fact, Gloucester County, NJ, where Rowan University is located, is home to 163 different invasive species of plants. Some of the invasive species commonly found in New Jersey include English Ivy, which was first introduced to the United States by European immigrants, and which can often be found growing over walls and choking tree trunks.

While we were examining the trees, Professor Schultz also pointed out the tree trunks and drew my attention to their bark. “We’re looking at the presence of Native American culture that’s not being used anymore,” he explained. The bark, it turns out, was once used in the building of wigwams, longhouses, and wattle and daub houses. Different types of bark would have been used for different purposes: birch was used in the construction of wigwams by the Algonquin, elm was used in the construction of longhouses by the Iroquois, and wattle and daub houses were made with rivercane and wood by the Cherokee. Other types of trees would be used in making other tools or canoes, depending on the type of wood.

After examining the plant life, we also toured some of the campus buildings. While we didn’t find many examples of Native American art, culture, or architectural influences, one modern thing that Professor Schultz did point out was the Rowan Lacrosse team. Lacrosse, he explained, was originally invented by Native American tribes. It was played as far back as 1100 AD, and it was introduced to European settlers in the 1600s.

At the end of the tours, I was left with more questions than answers. These connections, from DNA to plant life to sports, are just some small examples of the connections between the past and the present. What was most interesting, however, was how those connections can be found in such simple things that are right in front of our eyes. Hopefully, in the future I’ll be able to learn to look at such things with new insight. It takes a lot of deeper digging to learn all of the facts and details behind such things, but knowing where to look in order to ask the right questions is the first step.

Past and Present Oppression

As you may know, I’ve been doing a lot of research lately into Native American culture. I’m about to start working on an article based on what I’ve learned so far, which with any luck will end up being published somewhere in the near future. In the meantime, I’ve still been exploring different avenues of research and trying to make connections between them. A few weeks ago, I attended the Native American Voices exhibit at the Penn Museum, and then I had the privilege of speaking with an official representative of the Nanticoke tribe in Delaware. These experiences, combined with the reading I’ve been doing, have led me to want to learn more about how issues of the past are connected to the present.

Initially, I made some connections between past and present issues of oppression. Native Americans have been oppressed in the past and are still oppressed today, and a lot of the reason has to do with the way history has depicted them. For example, in elementary school, my class learned about Native Americans in the 1600-1700s, in relation to colonial history in the United States. What we learned back then has three major issues. One, students are only taught about Native Americans from a colonial perspective, so almost nothing is taught about Native American history and culture before the Europeans arrived. However, there are thousands of years of history that go back long before Europeans ever came to these lands, and that history is far more vivid and deep than most people are taught. I’ve begun learning a bit about it by reading the Book of the Hopi, which combines Native American history and mythology with present-day archaeological research to tell a detailed account of the lives of Native Americans before the arrival of Europeans. This book is just one small example, but it represents an entire ignored area in our education system. If the depth of Native American history before the colonial period were taught in schools, then their culture might not be ignored as much as it is today.

The second issue in this education is that it only depicts Native Americans in ways that are easily stereotyped and which tell us nothing about their real culture. For example, children are taught about the First Thanksgiving, but the typical depictions have led to us having a certain inaccurate image that persists in our cultural awareness.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

This image, however, has been described as not only inaccurate, but as being based on a story that is completely made up. Furthermore, it presents an image of Native Americans that isn’t accurate to who they are today. We don’t think of modern day Americans as still being the same people as the pilgrims that first came here in the 1600s, but many people still view Native Americans based only on these images from the past. This leads to issues like the #NotYourTigerLily debate over the  selection of white actress Rooney Mara to play the role of Tiger Lily in the upcoming live-action Peter Pan remake. In addition to protests over casting a white actress in a Native American role, there are protests against the very use of the Tiger Lily character, based on the argument that she portrays a stereotypical view of Native American women that is harmful and offensive. This view ignores the reality of modern Native American women by depicting them as a caricature rather than as people (imagine, by comparison, if modern day white women were still viewed in the images of their Puritan Protestant pilgrim ancestors). By contrast, many online activists have been posting pictures showing what real, present-day Native American women are really like, such as in this photo posted by online activist Jacqueline Keeler.

The third issue, which stems in many ways from the first two, is the complete lack of education about the present-day struggles of Native Americans. In addition to the mascot debate I’ve been researching, and the #NotYourTigerLily debate I just mentioned, Native Americans still struggle with many issues that are ignored. For example, 28.2% of Native Americans are living below the poverty line (and on reservations, that can increase to between 38% to 63%). By comparison, the National Poverty Center reports only 15.1% of Americans nationwide living below the poverty line (it is also worth nothing that the NPC  page linked here includes subsets for the poverty statistics of whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, but doesn’t mention Native Americans). Another issue related to the media portrayal of Native Americans is that Native American women are twice as likely to be raped as women of any other race in America. One explanation for this is that Native Americans are viewed as a “conquered people,” and media portrayals of Native American women (such as in movies like Peter Pan) depict them as weak, vulnerable savages that are submissive to white men. This portrayal leads to them being more likely targets for aggressive and violent criminals. There is also the issue that many of the assailants are never prosecuted, and tribal courts often lack the legal authority of their own when state and federal courts fail to act.

These and many other present-day issues are often ignored by the general public, and awareness of these subjects seems to be low. At least part of the blame for this lack of awareness surely stems from the lack of education in mainstream schools. The schools I’ve attended, from elementary school through high school and college, educate students about plenty of other “current events” issues, including the gay marriage debate, copyright laws in the digital age, healthcare reform, and the wage gap between genders. My classes have been invariable silent, however, on any issues related to Native Americans.

While exploring all of these issues, I became very aware of my own blindness and lack of understanding. I therefore sought out the assistance of experts who could better understand the relationship between the past and the present. This is the core concept of Anthropology, which is defined as “the study of humankind, past and present.” To learn more about this, I contacted a group of Anthropology professors from Rowan University, two of whom were kind enough to take the time to assist me in my research. My next post will explore what I learned from them as I attempted to open my eyes to seeing beyond the world right in front of me and into the connections with the past.

Ethnographic Hockey, Part 1: An Orange and Black Philadelphia

As part of my ongoing research into Native American culture, sports culture, and racism, I decided that I needed to go to a sporting event. My purpose in going was to make sure that I gain some kind of understanding about what sports mean to people and the role sports play in people’s lives. With the ongoing debate over the names of teams like the Washington Redskins (which some people argue mock Native American culture and others argue honors them), I feel that it’s important for me to get to know sports culture in order to understand the perspective of the people who say that their teams are part of a longstanding tradition.

On Tuesday, March 18th, I attended the Flyers vs Blackhawks game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. I tried to go in with an open mind. I’d never been to a hockey game before, and my previous experience with live sporting events had been sharply limited. My dad took me to two baseball games (Phillies vs Pirates and Phillies vs Expos (the Montreal Expos, I have since learned, are now renamed the Washington Nationals)) when I was a kid, and I don’t remember much of anything about them. One of my uncles took me to an Eagles game, and I only remember that it was really cold. Then, as an adult, I once took a girl to a New York Giants football game because she was a football fan and I wanted to impress her (it didn’t work). Attending a hockey game on this occasion was helpful because it is a sport I’m completely unfamiliar with (thus allowing me to enter with as few preconceptions as possible), though the fact that both football and baseball were out of season had a lot to do with the decision.

I bought my ticket online, after a fair bit of confusion navigating the ticket purchasing website. I eventually found that those attending the game can select whichever seat they like from an interactive stadium map that shows where each seat is located, how many seats are already empty or filled, and the seat’s position relative to the rink. I chose a seat in the mezzanine level (because those were the cheapest tickets), at a position I thought would give me an adequate view of the game: Section 222, Row 13, Seat 18.

I printed the ticket from my computer at home, though there is also an option to pick your tickets up at the box office.
I printed the ticket from my computer at home, though there is also an option to pick your tickets up at the box office.

I left early, wearing my NaNoWriMo hoodie and carrying my fieldnotes book in my pocket. I brought two pens, just in case. Which is a good thing, since one of them ran out of ink before the game even started. I ended up taking quite a lot of notes during the following five hours.

Excuse my poor handwriting.
Excuse my poor handwriting.
I filled up nearly the whole 180 page notebook.
I filled up nearly the whole 180 page notebook.

My goal during note-taking was to capture as much as I could about the people, their behavior, the way they talked, and the reactions they had during the game. However, I also spent a lot of time looking at the environment, since a stadium is a very unique setting not quite like any other.

I arrived at the Wells Fargo Center at 6:00 pm. I paid $16 for parking (which, I should note, is actually cheaper than the $21 parking price at the Penn Museum, which is only a short distance from the stadium). I noticed an advertisement for 1-800-Lundy-Law on the front of the parking lot ticket booth. When I first entered the parking lot, my initial reaction was confusion. There were parking spaces all around, but most of the lots were blocked off by barriers and orange cones, while lot attendants in neon orange vests waved the cars forward and directed us elsewhere. Uncertain where I was being led, I followed the line of cars in front of me until we circled nearly the whole building. Eventually, I was waved into a parking lot and found a spot. While the complexity of parking was at first confusing, it later became clear that it was a necessity. During the game it was announced that 19,932 people were in attendance, and with that many people, the parking situation could easily have descended into chaos without the aid of stadium employees telling us all where to go. The stadium has a maximum capacity of 21,660, which means it doesn’t get much more packed than it was that night (in fact, the announcement made on the JumboTron called it a “sell out”).

Upon my arrival in the parking lot, I already saw dozens of people dressed in orange and black clothes, hats, and jerseys. While not a hockey fan, I’m familiar enough with the Philadelphia Flyers to know that orange, black, and white are their team colors. I initially spotted only a few people wearing Blackhawks jerseys, which wasn’t surprising, since the game was taking place in Philly.

I took a few minutes while in the parking lot to just observe the area. The first thing I noticed was that there were several stadiums clumped together all in this same area. From the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center (which, according to banners hanging on the side of the building, hosts games for the Flyers, the Wings lacrosse team, and the 76ers basketball team), I could see the nearby Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Eagles football team), and the Citizens Bank Park (home of the Phillies baseball team). I have always found it curious that all of the stadiums in Philadelphia are named after banks. It also leads to frequent name changes when banks undergo mergers. Just as customers of those banks find the name of their local branch changed, the Wells Fargo Center has changed names from the CoreStates Center to the First Union Center to the Wachovia Center, before settling on its current name. Yet the name is much more than a simple identifier: the original CoreStates bank paid $40 million in 1996 to get naming rights of the stadium for the next 21 years.

Before leaving my car, I took note of where I had parked. A sign on the nearby lamppost said this was section “D3,” and below that was a Toyota logo. I mused about the significance of parking in the Toyota parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center, remembering how I’d paid for parking at the “1-800-Lundy-Law” ticket booth. I then headed up to the stadium.

More people wearing orange and black continued to pass by me. An announcer spoke over the speakers overhead, telling me that “1-800-Lundy-Law welcomes you to the Wells Fargo Center.” The same announcer warned me not to buy tickets from scalpers and said that they would not be accepted at the ticket booth. It occurred to me later that the term “scalpers” is a potentially offensive one. My earlier research into sports and racism brought up a news article about a Sonic Drive-in sign referring to scalping, which read “‘KC CHIEFS’ WILL SCALP THE REDSKINS FEED THEM WHISKEY SEND – 2 – RESERVATION.” The sign was later taken down after multiple complaints were issued, and Sonic issued a formal apology. However, there is a certain disparity between using the term “scalping” to refer to sports teams like the Chiefs and the Redskins versus using it to refer to ticket resale.

I continued onwards, and reached the main entrance to the stadium. In front of the entrance, five tall flagpoles stood in a row, the flags on top of each flapping lightly in the breeze. I looked up and examined each of the flags. One showed the logo for the Philadelphia Wings, the next the logo for Comcast Sportsnet, the next the 76ers, then the Flyers, and finally the American flag.

I stopped and considered the meaning of this for a moment. The flags representing the sports teams were hung alongside the American flag, at the same height, depicted with the same significance. It seemed to be symbolic of the position sports played in the lives of Americans. Sports are, notably, considered a national phenomenon in many ways. Baseball is called the “National Pastime.” ESPN has a program called “SportsNation.” And as noted earlier, the Canadian-based team the Montreal Expos was later moved to Washington D.C. and renamed the Washington Nationals. The Nationals’ mascot is Screech, a bald eagle, and many of the team’s logos are red, white, and blue, with stars.

Image Credit: SportsLogos.net
Image Credit: SportsLogos.net

The significance of a team’s mascot and logo seems particularly important. As I noted in an earlier post, the Blackhawks team name and mascot are based off the original team owner’s World War I infantry division, something which holds a lot of historical and cultural importance. And while the Philadelphia Flyers have no actual mascot, their team logo is a stylized “P” representative of their home city of Philadelphia. The name “Flyers” was chosen because “it captured the speed of the game and went well phonetically with Philadelphia.” The design of the logo also incorporates a wing to represent speed, a circle at the center of the “P” that represents a hockey puck, and a sweeping stick shape on the back end of the “P” that looks like a hockey stick. The combination of these factors blends the concepts of “speed,” “hockey,” and “Philadelphia” into a single image. It’s easy to see how this would help fans from the Philadelphia area identify and associate with their team, feeling a connection between their own status as Philadelphians and their hockey team.

Image Credit: GoodLogo.com
Image Credit: GoodLogo.com

The Flyers aren’t the only Philly team to have a mascot or logo that forges such a connection. The Philadelphia Eagles use the bald eagle, which is also the symbol found on the Great Seal of the United States.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

This seems particularly significant when considering that Philadelphia was the original capital of the United States, from 1790-1800. Philadelphia is also one of the oldest cities in America, founded by William Penn in 1682. It’s a city that has played an important role in our colonial history.

Image Credit: hoopsmanifesto.com
Image Credit: hoopsmanifesto.com

This connection between the Philadelphia sports teams and Philadelphia history is also seen in the logo of the 76ers. The Sixers are named after the year 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Their logo, like the Washington Nationals, includes red, white, and blue colors, along with a circle of thirteen stars in the same design as the first American flag.

I turned away from the line of flags and into the stadium, pondering the cultural significance of these connections. I had already encountered a great deal of symbolism and history, and the game hadn’t even started yet.

This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 2: Autographed Jerseys and Buy One Get One Hats.

Fieldnotes and Practice Research

As I’ve mentioned a few times lately, I’m currently doing research into racism, sports, and Native American culture. As part of this research, in the near future I have plans to visit a Native American Museum in Delaware (which, unfortunately, isn’t open weekdays until April) and the Native American Voices exhibit at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia (which I will hopefully be visiting this coming Thursday, March 13th, if all goes according to plan). While visiting these museums, I plan to collect as much information as I can, including talking to any experts I might encounter who can share more than what is seen in the exhibits.

In preparation for this, I’ve engaged in some practice field research, taking notes and studying the “culture” of a local bookstore. Alongside my classmates and fellow researchers, I observed a variety of individuals and their interactions. My goal was to capture as much about the moment as possible so that it could later be recreated as a written scene.

This is the first of three “practice research” blog posts where I’ll be compiling the results. Below are pictures of the hand-scrawled fieldnotes I recorded at the bookstore, along with typed translations of my poor handwriting and more complete descriptions in full sentences. There will also be a post dedicated to composing a full scene based on these notes, and then a third dedicated to making a more vivid description of an individual from the bookstore in an attempt to capture and relay their image.

  • Cash Registers:Bookstore Fieldnotes (1)
  • The cashier wears a black sweatshirt, a scarf, glasses, and a small frown. When I first saw her, it seemed strange that she wasn’t wearing any kind of uniform or nametag. If she hadn’t been behind the register, I wouldn’t have known she was a bookstore employee.
  • She sits behind the register, her eyes down on the table before her. She seems to be reading, texting, or doing something else with her smartphone.
  • When a customer approaches she rings him up without saying much, bags his purchase, says “Thanks,” and then returns to her phone before he has even left the store.
  • One of my fellow researchers approaches and engages her in conversation.Bookstore Fieldnotes (2)
  • The cashier says she can tell us about what really goes on in the bookstore. Her first remark is that the store is cold. She gestures to the windows behind her and says, “These windows are not insulated.” She also explains that the windows in the manager’s office are insulated, and complains about the unfairness of that.
  • When we ask, she confirms that the cold (especially with the register being right next to the door) is why she is wearing a sweatshirt and scarf.
  • She then begins telling us about what it’s like to work here. “I’ve been here so long,” she says. “I’ve worked here so long. Each semester gets worse.”
  • She begins complaining about the college students who come to the bookstore and asks, “How do these kids get into college? Do you not know when we return books?”
  • She tells us about an example of a student who bought a $200 textbook before class started, who clearly didn’t read the directions. The bookstore puts a sticker on the books including the latest date that returns are accepted, and telling students not to unwrap the plastic-wrapped books (which include sets of multiple books and sometimes additional CD-roms) until they’re sure if they’re the right ones. Some, she explains, end up with the wrong books or end up dropping the class, but then find they cannot return the book sets that have been opened.
  • She then tells us that even though the bookstore offered an additional extension of nearly two weeks, students still came in after the deadline.Bookstore Fieldnotes (3)
  • A sign right above the cash register reads “Last day for returns is 1-27-14.”
  • Despite this, she says that some kids came in as late as February 9th and said “I wanna return my book,” then they “get an attitude” when she tells them they’re past the deadline for returns.
  • She also says, “It’s not even the kids – it’s the parents.” She tells a story about a student who brought their parents down to the bookstore to try to argue about the return, in one case even when the Bookstore Fieldnotes (4)book was supposed to be returned last semester.
  • She concludes, laughing, that “Students have no common sense.”

History of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape

In order to fully understand the various racial, ethnic, political, and personal issues related to the Washington Redskins name change debate, I’ll need to start with a stronger historical background. My prior knowledge of Native American history and culture is greatly limited, mostly stemming from my elementary school education. In order to supplement this knowledge with deeper and more nuanced information, I’ll be starting with some basic online research. Depending on the resources I find, this may be supplemented by print materials (books, magazine articles, or academic journals).

To start this exploration, here is a summary of the information I’ve found so far:

General History

The Lenape have lived in parts of what are now New Jersey, Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania for over 12,000 years. When European settlers began to arrive in the mid-1600s, the Europeans began encroaching on Lenape territory. There were some initial efforts to stop this encroachment, including the creation of the earliest Indian Reservations in the 1700s. Despite these efforts, they were eventually pushed out, and many of them later migrated west and settled in Wisconsin. The Lenape living in New Jersey today (approximately 3000 in number) are the descendents of those who either remained behind or eventually returned to their ancient homelands.


Names are a big part of the debate over the Washington Redskins, and the “Proud to Be” video created by the National Congress of American Indians focuses on the types of names Native Americans embrace for themselves. Because of this, I think that understanding the history behind some of these names is also important. I found that the name “Lenni-Lenape” means “Men of Men” or “Original People.” Rather than using these names, however, the European settlers called them “Delaware Indians.” I find this historically significant since it represents a similar issue to the one being faced today: present-day Americans of European descent are still using names of their own choosing, rather than using the names embraced by the Lenape themselves.

What seems to make this even more significant is the fact that the Lenape are also referred to as “grandfathers” or “ancient ones” by other Native American tribes. According to the website listed above, the Lenape are a tribe that has existed longer than many of the other tribes, and even spawned a number of them. I can’t help but think of these names in relation to the fact that the Lenape were the original inhabitants of North America, long before European settlers arrived. This dimension gives the name a multi-layered meaning; the Lenape were both the “original” tribe that spawned many of the others and the “original” inhabitants of the lands before European settlement.


The Lenape have been involved in many conflicts, both as warriors and as diplomats. There were times when they helped to mediate disputes between European settlers and other Native American tribes.

I already previously knew that there were a number of violent conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers, but I also learned that there have been some alliances. First, the Lenape (along with the Seneca and the Shawnee) sided with the French during the French and Indian War. The conflict began between British colonists and the French, over who would control the Ohio River Valley. The Lenape at the time didn’t want the British to continue settling in their lands. They sided with the French because of the trade agreements they had that benefited both the Native Americans and the French, and because the French had no interest in settling the disputed lands.

Later, during the American Revolution, a treaty was signed between the new American government and the Lenape. The treaty “allowed American troops to pass through Lenni Lenape territory. In addition, the Lenni Lenape agreed to sell corn, meat, horses and other supplies to the United States and to allow their men to enlist in the U.S. army.” The American government offered statehood to the Lenape, which would have included representation in Congress. However, these promises were not kept. There was also division among the Native Americans, some of whom didn’t wish to get involved in the war. American soldiers later broke the treaty and engaged in several massacres of Native American people during the war.

In later years, Native American soldiers fought as part of the United States military in the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I & II, and beyond. This included more than 12,000 Native American soldiers in WWI, and more than 40,000 in WWII. The above linked article describes Native Americans during WWII as having “an intense desire to serve their country” and that they “were an integral part of the war effort.”

Citizenship and Rights

The American government didn’t recognize Native Americans as citizens of the United States until the “Indian Citizenship Act of 1924”. Then it wasn’t until 1978 that the “American Indian Religious Freedom Act” gave them the right to practice their religion and cultural practices without interference.

All of this information is just scratching the surface, but after reading all of the above articles, I definitely have a more detailed understanding of some of the major historical events. This should serve as good background for future research.