Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bob's Dissertation--Chapter 1, Part 6 (The End!)

Hi folks,

Here at last is the final installment of the introduction chapter to my dissertation. (I left a couple of paragraphs of meaningless theory off the end, because no one but other academic archaeologists would be interested.) Enjoy, and as always, comments are more than welcome.
The Idea of Community in Hampden-Woodberry

Despite the ways in which local history has been tied up with larger currents of city development and even global capitalism, one of the key elements of the myth-model that has shaped local identity in Hampden-Woodberry is the opposition between the community itself and the outside world, particularly "others" considered to pose dangers to the values of the community. Most often this insularity has taken the form of racism and a desire to keep the dangerous city at bay: recall the alleged agreement between mill owners and operatives in the 1870s to keep African-Americans and immigrants, particularly Jews, out of the community. More recently, the racial turmoil of the 1980s caused local residents to reflect explicitly on their fears. Following the 1988 incident in which a black family was chased out of their rented rowhouse, one resident told an African-American reporter from the Baltimore Sun that, while he had "nothing against black people," he nevertheless believed, "You bring in one black family and you spoil the whole pot of soup . . .You'll have cocaine and heroin and everything" (Martin C. Evans 1988). More recently, many middle-class newcomers have claimed that what attracted them to Hampden-Woodberry in the first place was a feeling of community, similar to what they imagine a small town would feel like, that is missing in the rest of the city (see chapter 7).

Community identity has thus been defined almost entirely in opposition to the larger city. Perhaps the only traditional symbolic tie with the city that Hampden-Woodberry residents have enjoyed is the annual Mayor's Christmas Parade through the neighborhood. People outside of the community have been all too happy to agree that Hampden-Woodberry does not quite fit with the rest of the city, as well. Throughout the 20th century, numerous newspaper articles repeated the trope of Hampden-Woodberry's uniqueness and isolation (Anonymous 1923; Beirne 1988; Brown 1982; Kelly 1976; McCardell 1940; Porter 1951; Smith 1987; Sussman 1978; Whitehead 1987; Yardley 1947), while city histories and coffee table books have frequently had little or nothing to say about the neighborhood (i.e. Middleton Evans 1988; Geary 2001; Greene 1980; Hall 1912; Hirschfeld 1941; Olson 1997; Rodricks and Miller 1997; Sandler 2002).

But, indeed, this is the area where the myth-model is perhaps most misleading, and not just because of the myriad ways in which Hampden-Woodberry's historical development has been tied up with the city's. Additionally, and more importantly, the myth-model constructs a Hampden-Woodberry largely free of internal conflict, due at least in part to the homogenous Anglo-Saxon, Protestant population. I argue instead, however, that Hampden-Woodberry's past development and present condition can only be understood when we realize that the construction of local identity has simultaneously been shaped by a series of struggles over value within the community as well as its relations with the larger world.

In defining "value," I follow ethnologist David Graeber, who has identified three different scholarly definitions of value. The first working definition concerns "values": what is considered to be good and proper and desirable in life is valuable. The second meaning of value is economistic: value is determined by how much people want something and how much they would be willing to give up to acquire it (or conversely, how much effort they would be willing to expend in order to keep it). Finally, value can be based on a structure of meaningful difference: conceptual distinctions imply a hierarchy of meanings, which then have value in relation to other meanings. While value can be materialized differently in each of these cases, the important point, according to Graeber, is that each of these kinds of value is a refraction of the same phenomenon, namely, the struggle not just over the acquisition and disposition of value, but the struggle to define what value is (Graeber 2001:1-22, 86-89).

As I will attempt to demonstrate in this dissertation, community identity in Hampden-Woodberry has undergone a number of transformations and modifications that have been the result of various competing groups' attempts to define and control all three kinds of value. Economic power and personal freedom (economistic value), the boundaries of local citizenship (a variable structure of meaningful difference based on the notion of "insiders" versus "outsiders"), and the rights, duties and privileges attendant upon membership in the community (communal values) have all been contested multiple times over the past century and a half in Hampden-Woodberry. What ties all these struggles together is that in each case, "community" has been the ultimate value. The specific nature of that value, however, has been constantly negotiated and contested by various individuals and groups within the neighborhood.


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