The fairly simple sport of soccer, known internationally as football, is the world’s most popular ball game in numbers of participants and spectators. With the 2022 Men’s FIFA World Cup currently in play, the IDHH would like to highlight the sport of soccer and its rise in popularity in the United States. Soccer was brought to North America by European immigrants in the 1860s, with informal matches being contested by Canadian and American teams by the mid-1880s. Already a pastime with a devoted audience and professional associations in Britain, soccer was not immediately popular in Canada or the United States, as ice hockey and gridiron football (American football) were becoming more prominent respectively.
However, American cities with large immigrant populations, such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York City, saw the sport played widely, and led to the official formation of the United States Soccer Federation in 1913. Over the first half of the 20th century, soccer’s popularity in the United States would steadily rise without ever truly finding a regular fan base. The sport’s fortunes would shift in the 1960s and ‘70s, though, as American teams began signing international players, such as the Brazilian athlete Pelé, and the passage of Title IX in 1972 further encouraged the participation of female players. Viewed as less violent and more socially inclusive than American football, soccer benefited from an influx of younger soccer players in the 1980s and ‘90s. The United States would host the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, setting an all-time attendance record as the U.S. women’s team led by Mia Hamm clinched the Cup. In the last two decades, soccer has solidified itself as a significant sport in the United States, with the creation of various national soccer associations and leagues, and a devoted following of American teams on the international stage.
Cooler weather. Baking spices. Warm cider. These things might conjure up a variety of associations and feelings, but for those of us living in the northern United States, they herald the beginning of the autumn or fall season. With the start of November, the IDHH would like to highlight that time of year when the daylight hours wane and sweater weather is in vogue. In the Northern Hemisphere, autumn is usually recognized as the time between the autumnal equinox toward the end of September and the winter solstice toward the end of December. This time of the year has held various significance across cultures and periods, but early associations in the Northern Hemisphere centered around the passing of the year and the importance of the harvest season in areas across medieval Europe.
While this connection to harvesting continues to be paramount for those working in agriculture, the environmental changes during the fall season have also become a key aspect of tourism for certain areas of the world. In the United States, portions of northern New England, Appalachia, and the upper Midwest offer prime views of leaves changing from their usual green color to vivid hues of orange, red, and yellow in the autumn months. Millions of visitors pour into these areas of the country to witness this stunning natural display – an act referred to as ‘leaf peeping’ in some circles. A phrase used colloquially in the United States since only the 1960s, leaf peeping is an autumn activity enjoyed internationally in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Canada, as well as in various parts of Japan.
Here are a few of our favorite items featuring vibrant fall foliage:
October marks that time of the year when we dress up as ghouls and goblins, decorate our homes with spiderwebs and skeletons, and indulge in all manner of frightening things. As a nod to these spine-chilling 31 days, the IDHH is featuring the fascinating use and art of tombstones and other grave markers. As diverse as the great variety of funerary traditions around the world, grave markers serve not only the utilitarian purpose of demarcating the physical space where an individual might lie, but also reflect the social values and traditions of a specific period or people. Cemeteries and other burial places held great significance from the earliest days, as providing a place for the dead was thought to be an important family obligation. This significance would eventually extend to larger communal graveyards and burial places as inclusion in these spaces became exclusive to community members, often excluding foreigners, criminals, and other unwanted groups.
The tombstones and grave markers within these communal spaces have communicated a number of ideas to visitors over time. As a work of art, the craftsmanship and skill in the construction of the tombstones can be an aesthetic pleasure in its own right. Such artistry leads people to create gravestone rubbings with charcoal and to capture graveyard scenes through painting and photography. The construction and grandiosity of these markers may also impart a sense of prestige or wealth, such as in the image below of Carrie Eliza Getty’s large tomb in Chicago. Of course, tombstones also act as a memorial to previous generations, prompting us to seek out the histories of those buried there, like of the Mabie family and their influential 1840s circus show in Wisconsin. Whether viewed as art, icon, or historical marker, tombstones offer a (spooky) glimpse into the values and customs of those who are no longer with us.
Here are a few of our favorite items featuring tombstones from across the Midwest:
From grand to upright to electronic, the piano has undergone a number of reinventions over the past three hundred years as musical tastes and needs have changed. With the start of National Piano Month on September 1, the IDHH would like to explore the history and influence of this versatile instrument on the wide world of music. Most sources point to the Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco as the inventor of the early piano. While the exact timeline of Cristofori’s work is murky, he undeniably had mastered the elements of modern piano action and created a piano (the fortepiano) by the early 1700s. While older keyboard instruments such as the clavichord and the harpsichord allowed for either dynamic control over individual notes or access to a loud, resonant sound, Cristofori’s fortepiano was revolutionary because it enabled players’ greater command of the instrument’s expressive tone and volume.
Over the next three centuries, variations in piano shape and design would multiply as renowned composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Frédéric Chopin wrote pieces specifically for the instrument, bringing greater attention and demand for the piano. By the 1860s, the upright piano had become a more practical and accessible musical option for use in private homes, as groups could now listen to simplified piano arrangements of popular music and enjoy an evening of tuneful entertainment together. Further innovations to piano design and construction were developed in the 20th century with the advent of electric and digital instruments, applying the technological advances of the era to the art of music making. Illinois has had its own role in the history of the piano, from William Wallace Kimball’s successful Kimball Piano Company in Chicago, to the numerous talented pianists such as Lillian (Lil) Hardin Armstrong who made Illinois their artistic home and contributed to the vibrant musical culture of the state.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring the versatility of the piano:
A staple lunchbox food, picnic addition, or food on the go, the sandwich is so ubiquitous these days that we might eat or make one without ever stopping to wonder about the history of this versatile dish. With August as National Sandwich Month, the IDHH would like to highlight this humble entrée and the many ways it’s permeated our everyday culture. While something resembling the sandwich has most likely existed since the consumption of meat and bread began, legend has it that John Montagu, 4th earl of Sandwich, once dined on sliced meat and bread while playing at a gaming table so that he could continue to play as he ate. Indeed, the name was adopted in the 18th century for the earl, but probably due to his requests for the dish in London society or perhaps from a penchant of his to eat sandwiches while working at his desk. Regardless, Montagu’s social status lent the food credibility, and the sandwich soon became fashionable fare on the European continent.
The food item’s simplicity and versatility allow it to be a suitable choice in a variety of environments. Just as welcome in the lunchbox of an elementary school student as a busy professional, the sandwich can be arrayed in a myriad of ways, dressed up for foodies or made as plainly as possible. The World War II poster featuring the character “Jenny on the job” illustrates how the sandwich was used as part of an appeal to a sense of manliness and competence for female workers stepping into roles traditionally filled by men, who were overseas fighting in the war. As versatile as the food itself, the word “sandwich” may also refer to non-food items as well, such as the town of Sandwich, Illinois, the Sandwich Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, or the sandwich mathematical theorem.
Have are a few of our favorite sandwich-related items from the collection:
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As the weather and humidity in central Illinois make it feel more and more like the temperature is over 100°F outside, the IDHH is highlighting the proverbial “dog days” of summer. While the phrase “dog days” or “dog days of summer” might be somewhat familiar, just what are these days and how did this expression enter our cultural lexicon? From an astronomical point of view, the phrase refers to the annual phenomenon in which the bright star Sirius rises into the sky at the same time as the Sun. This heliacal rising allows viewers to see both the Sun and the Sirius star simultaneously, leading to the belief that Sirius intensified or added to the Sun’s heat. In the Northern Hemisphere, this simultaneous rising may be seen during the hottest months of the year, in July and August.
Hellenistic astrologers in the Mediterranean were aware of the star Sirius, calling it the “Dog Star” due to the way it followed the constellation Orion into the night sky. The sweltering and humid weather in the Mediterranean during these months would often cause people to fall ill, and so the connection was made between Sirius’ heliacal rising and its effect on the populations below. A variety of detrimental effects to human activities were attributed with Sirius’ rising such as lethargy, fever, and bad luck, as well as the belief that this hot period brought out madness in dogs, further reinforcing the notion of the “dog days”. While we may no longer blame a summer fever on the “dog days of summer”, there is no denying the potent influence of a heat wave in July to inspire lazy dreams of a nice afternoon spent on the water. Between numerous lakes and ponds, miles of river, and spots like Navy Pier on the shores of Lake Michigan, Illinoisians have plenty of ways to cool down during the hot summer.
Below are a few of our favorite items highlighting ways to enjoy the “dog days of summer” and beat the heat:
As temperatures warm and days get ever longer, the sounds of bees buzzing past and birds chirping in the trees indicate not only the arrival of summer, but also the height of the plant pollination period. June 1st marked the beginning of National Pollinators Month, recognizing these creatures and the crucial role they play in the larger system of plant reproduction and proliferation. Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, encompassing such diverse animals as insects, birds, and even some mammals. These animals travel from one flower or plant to another, carrying pollen as they go, and fertilizing flora with each new plant they visit. The symbiotic dynamic between these plants and pollinators is vital to both groups, as pollinators eat the pollen or nectar for its nutritional content, while the plants rely on the pollinators to spread their pollen, aiding in reproduction.
The importance of this intricate process and the players within it has captivated human populations for centuries as butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators have been ascribed cultural significance and symbolism in various communities around the world. Such cultural significance persists today as we create entertainment like The Bee Movie that foregrounds pollinators, hold events such as the Aurora Pollinator Festival that highlight the role of pollinators, and design outdoor environments that offer ideal conditions for these animals. Indeed, as our climate changes there is a greater need than ever to create pollinator-friendly landscapes using pollinator-friendly practices. By providing habitats conducive to pollinator animals, we can simultaneously safeguard this essential process and beautify the natural world around us.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring one of the most popular pollinators – the honey bee:
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On January 28, 1969, an underwater oil well drilled off the coast of Santa Barbara, California suffered a blowout six miles from the coastline. Oil seeped out of the ocean floor bedrock at a rapid rate, creating an oil slick that would extend across dozens of square miles. The largest oil spill in American waters at the time, an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Santa Barbara Channel over the course of the next month. The impact on the local marine environment was extreme as thousands of sea birds and marine animals were killed, and the clean-up efforts took months to address the damage of the spill. The enormity of this environmental disaster, and the increased awareness among Americans in the 60’s of environmental concerns generally, would prompt President Nixon to sign the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 and inspire the creation of an annual Earth Day.
Held on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was conceived as an “environmental teach-in” that would educate citizens about the importance of environmental conservation. The product of collaboration between Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelsen and activist Denis Hayes, the day eventually abandoned the “teach-in” model and saw numerous demonstrations and protests across the United States as more than 20 million people organized in city streets, which is still the largest organized demonstration in American history today. Over fifty years later, Earth Day is an annual reminder on April 22 to support efforts protecting our ever-changing environment and to contribute to a more sustainable world.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring early Earth Day celebrations in Illinois as well as the beautiful nature of Illinois:
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For the ancient Romans, the Ides functioned as one of three fixed points occurring each month that helped them keep track of the current date in the Roman calendar. The Ides landed around the 13th day in most months, but took place on the 15th day in a few months of the year such as March. The Ides of March is particularly infamous due to its association with the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE by Roman senators. Marking the end of the Roman Republic, Caesar’s downfall during the Ides of March would be chronicled by Greek-Roman writer Plutarch in his work Parallel Lives, eventually inspiring a number of adaptations and artworks over the centuries depicting this historical event.
One of the more well-known adaptations of Plutarch’s writing on Julius Caesar is William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. First produced in 1599, perhaps for the opening of the Globe Theatre that same year, Shakespeare dramatizes the events surrounding Caesar’s assassination to pose questions about authority, political power, and fate. The tragedy play has had a varied production history over the last 423 years, as political regimes and movements have found the work’s themes sympathetic or contrary to their cause. Illinois theatres have hosted a number of historic productions of the piece, including a three-week run in 1888 at the Chicago Opera House featuring in the lead role of Brutus the actor Edwin Booth, brother of actor John Wilkes Booth infamous for assassinating Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Though during his attack John Wilkes Booth credits himself as shouting “Sic semper tyrannis!” — a phrase which his brother Edwin would cry in his role as Brutus — it is the words the soothsayer character uses to warn Caesar that we repeat today: “Beware the Ides of March.”
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
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March is Women’s History Month and March 8th marks International Women’s Day. The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on February 28, 1909 by the Socialist Party of America in honor of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York. While this was the first official observance of any kind, the movement for women’s rights was born much earlier in 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott held the first women’s rights convention in the US. From that convention in 1848, this celebration of the vital role of women in American history would progress over the next 139 years from an official day to an official week, to finally being a federally designated month in 1987. In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, the IDHH is featuring Jane Addams, an agent of change in Illinois history.
Born in Cedarville, Illinois in 1860, Jane Addams was an influential social reformer and activist who established the historic Chicago settlement house Hull House in 1889 with Ellen Gates Starr. Jane Addams would build Hull House into a hub of social and cultural opportunities for the largely immigrant residents on the Near West side of the city. In addition to her efforts with Hull House, Jane Addams worked with reform groups towards creating the first juvenile-court law, establishing an eight-hour working day for women, and advancing the cause of women’s suffrage. She would eventually help form the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919, serving as the inaugural president of the international organization. In recognition of her unwavering dedication to the ideal and objective of world peace, Jane Addams was the co-winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize, the second woman to ever receive the Prize.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring Jane Addams and her pioneering work with Hull House: