Past and Present

Three Wichita State history professors, Drs. Robin Henry, Robert Weems, and Jay Price, will talk about Wichita history, parallels between current events and historical happenings, and how historical events got us to where we are today.

Past & Present is also available through iTunes. Listen or subscribe here.

On September 8th, we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves. The book originated from pamphlets put together for a women’s health seminar taught by Nancy Miriam Hawley at Boston’s Emmanuel College in 1969. While the course started small it grew quickly in popularity through word of mouth. The classes became consciousness-raising events, providing women with the necessary tools, ideas, and resources that formed the nexus of the book produced by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.

Wichita Music History Project Facebook page

A few years ago, I became involved with a group of musicians who wanted to document the history of rock music in Wichita. These guys had played in bands in the 1960s and 1970s and opened my eyes to a vibrant music scene in Wichita. Back then, young people flocked to clubs like the Penthouse, The Fireside Club, and Sound Sircus to listen to bands play, sometimes every night of the week. There were “battles of the bands” at the Cotillion and outdoor concerts at parks, the most famous (or infamous) being at Herman Hill.

Courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society

Recently, I was at the Kansas Historical Society looking through historic maps. One was from the Santa Fe Railroad from 1865. Back then, the company had just started the line to the south of Emporia and this map showed the proposed route. 

AP Photo/Jefferey Z. Carney


During July and August of 1991, thousands of members of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue descended on the city of Wichita. Basing their actions on civil disobedience, their mission during what they called the Summer of Mercy was to “put their bodies on the line” for babies by ending legal access to abortion.

The recent passing of the legendary Muhammad Ali and the recent release of ESPN’s multi-part documentary, O.J. Made in America, has generated a re-examination of these two individuals’ lives and legacy.

Muhammad Ali and O.J. Simpson are similar in that their notoriety transcended their exploits as superstar athletes in the boxing ring and on the football field. Yet, they are dramatically dissimilar in that Ali lived a life linked with principled action whereas Simpson lived a life linked with public relations.

A few weeks ago, I gave a walking tour through the Fairmount neighborhood. The crowd and I had good conversations about noted buildings such as Fairmount Congregational Church and Holyoke Cottage.

The landmarks that aroused the most energy were a series of traffic barriers in the middle of certain intersections. These barriers prevent cars from driving down Fairmount to 13th Street or across 16th Street past Fairmount Park. I had been told they were put in to reduce congestion.

On May 31, 1790, President George Washington signed the United States’ first copyright bill into law. A short, half-page statute, it granted copyright to books, maps and charts for 14 years, with the option to renew for another 14 years if the author was still alive.

Ronald Reagan, during his presidency, promoted an economic policy that came to be known as Reaganomics. Linked with economist Arthur Laffer’s theory of supply-side economics, Reaganomics claimed that economic growth could be promoted by dramatically reducing the tax burden of America’s wealthiest citizens. They, in turn, would use this tax relief to spend and invest more. This new spending, theoretically, would then stimulate the economy and create new jobs.

This commentary falls between Earth Day, April 22, and the anniversary of the Moon Landing on July 20. Both days mark a series of events that took place in 1969 and 1970, among them several efforts to create a flag to represent the planet Earth. There was already a flag for the United Nations as well as several concepts for a flag to represent the world or humanity in general. Now, just as people saw the earth from space for the first time, some wondered if there should be a flag for the planet as an entity rather than just a collection of peoples.

When does a current event become history? As a historian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this transition has already occurred for the subject matter of my work. While new research can deepen my understanding of people, places, and events, very rarely does the historical landscape seismically shift under my feet. Colleagues writing about the late 20th century—like those of us who lived through it—have a different experience.