SHERRY LEE LINKON AND JOHN RUSSO’S STEELTOWN U.S.A. SHERRY LEE LINKON AND JOHN RUSSO’S STEELTOWN U.S.A.
Youngstown, Ohio seems to belong to the world more than it belongs to Ohio. As a destination for immigrants, as a city essential to global industrialization, as a contested symbol of whatever lesson commentators outside of Ohio would have Americans learn about the changing global economy and its effects on local places, Youngstown is a community defined by “strangers” or by locals in response to perceived strangers.
Using the Linkon and Russo book, consider the following question: Have strangers, despite their risks, brought more value than danger to Youngstown? Or more danger than value?
This study guide contains questions relating to the book Steeltown U.S.A. The question for the paper assignment will be posted separately.
The first chapter discusses the landscape of Youngstown over time. Avoid thinking of landscapes as pretty vistas, babbling creeks, and sunlit meadows. Think instead of humanized landscapes, places that humans build, change, and destroy. The Youngstown landscape is a product of human decisions and thus represents the hopes, fears, greed, and altruism of the people who created that landscape. In this chapter landscapes are very often physical in nature, tangible expressions of human values.
Why is place an important part of individual or group identity? What place is important to your identity? Why?
Singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen says of Youngstown that it had a “beautiful sky of soot and clay.” Is that beauty to you? Why would it be to someone in Youngstown?
Flint was the first commodity to contribute to Ohio’s prominence in relatively large-scale trade networks. What was the commodity that pushed the Youngstown area to prominence in global trade networks?
How did Native Americans transform the Youngstown area landscape? How did John Young transform the landscape?
How does a landscape communicate conflict (conflict between races, classes, genders, for example)? Describe one landscape feature and explain how it conveys conflict along one of those divisions.
Who is Volney Rogers? How and why did he change Youngstown’s landscape?
In 1920 how many Youngstown residents were either foreign or the child of a foreign born person? For the most part, where had they come from? How did these immigrants shape the landscape?
Describe the landscape of East Youngstown, circa 1916.
What happened in the Strike of 1916? Where did it start? Why did it start? Whom did plant owners blame? Did they have evidence? What were the consequences of the strike (what changed?)?
Who were the “native Americans” in Youngstown, circa 1916? How did they explain attempts to organize unions? Name and describe the most important organization dedicated to defending the “native Americans.”
Other than unions, name and describe the most important organization dedicated to defending the immigrants.
How did Youngstown’s landscape reflect ethnic and racial divisions among the working class (both the landscape at work and at home)?
What was the Buckeye Land Company? How did it help workers? How did it help corporate executives? What purpose did the Highview houses serve?
Describe the demographic make-up of the Brier hill neighborhood in 1960 and then in 1970.
On page 42, the authors say that Youngstown area neighborhoods shifted away from racial diversity and toward ethnic diversity. What does that mean?
Youngstown once was ideally located: near coal, and in between both New York and Chicago as well as in between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Yet by the 1960s and 1970s, Youngstown’s location hurt the city. Explain what the problem was, focusing especially on any topic(s) we have been talking about all quarter long.
Throughout the much of the 1980s Youngstown averaged two arson fires a day. How do you explain this attack on the landscape?
What is the Parkview Counseling Center? What does its success tell you about the landscape in Youngstown?
What is Lordstown? What does its success tell you about the Youngstown landscape?
In the 1990s warehouses reshaped the Youngstown area landscape. What did these warehouses store and what did their success say about the Youngstown landscape?
What are the tallest structures in Youngstown today and what lights up the night skies? What were those structures circa 1920?
This chapter moves away from mainly physical or tangible landscapes to intellectual and psychological landscapes. In particular the authors discuss how locals and outsiders (strangers?) depict Youngstown in paintings, sculptures, poetry, Chamber of Commerce films to sell the community to investors, children’s textbooks, union advertisements, etc. Always keep in mind that the images are designed to reach specific audiences and often seek to persuade someone to act (invest? join a union? obey management?). The authors are particularly concerned with how various, usually competing groups tried to define the city’s core activity: steelmaking.
Describe the images of steel mills and Youngstown that city leaders and steel companies produced. Compare and contrast those images with the paintings of artists (George Breckner, for example) whose main audience was middle and upper class men and women. What one thing did they have in common? In what important way did they differ?
Describe how poet Kenneth Patchen described Youngstown, its mills, and its workers.
What does the phrase “working-class solidarity” mean, particularly as applied to the poetry of Michael McGovern?
How does the poetry of Michael McGovern create both a sense of working-class solidarity and a sense of exclusivity? Who is included and why? Excluded and why?
How does the poetry of Carl Sandburg improve upon McGovern’s narrowly defined ideal steelworker, yet fail to create a sense of working-class solidarity?
How did the children’s textbook Working Together We Serve the World (by Howard C. Aley) erase class conflict in Youngstown? According to Aley, when conflict did arise, whose fault was it? What was never the source of conflict? Who paid Aley to write these books?
In Aley’s books and other similar materials, men work to serve, to produce, and to cooperate. Work was virtue. But when workers talked about work and talked about unions, what did they say?
What do Victor Kosa’s 1944 painting and the St. Anthony’s Catholic Church image say about how working people viewed themselves and their work? Where is St. Anthony’s Church and who paid for the image (a bas relief frieze)?
In Michael McGovern’s poetry, who were the “whitemen” and who were the “blacksheep?”
This chapter is about deindustrialization. The authors don’t suggest any economic reasons for deindustrialization (other than greedy corporations). They instead seek to demonstrate how the meaning of deindustrialization is up for grabs, that the lesson we can learn from Youngstown depends on how remember it, if indeed we remember it at all. Was deindustrialization about needless human suffering caused by greedy, distant companies? Caused by cheap foreign labor? Or was deindustrialization something that happened because unions got too strong? Because the federal government was too focused on clear air regulation that corporations could not afford to implement? What is at stake? Is it simply memories, museums, and statues? Or something else?
What is the significance of George Segal’s sculpture, “The Steelmakers?” In other words, how does Segal’s sculpture depict steelworkers differently than the images in Chapter 2? What happened to the sculpture? What does that tell you about Youngstown and its search for meaning after the mills closed?
In chapter 3 who is primarily responsible for creating the image of Youngstown as the “poster child of deindustrialization?” Don’t take the slogan literally and simply look for the person who coined that phrase. Focus instead on the general idea that certain people or groups of people used Youngstown as a symbol for other problems in America. List three examples and describe who they were, where they came from/or at least where they didn’t come from. Analyze their agenda (In destroying the image of Youngstown and creating a new one for it, what did they hope to accomplish?)
Contrast the paintings of AgisSapulkas and George Dombeck. In which painting has Youngstown and its people lost to deindustrialization? In which painting is the conflict continuing, the human story still being written?
What good, if any, did the people of Youngstown do when they fought the plant closings? After all, the plants are still closed.
How does the Youngstown Historical Center for Industry and Labor honor the strangers who built and shaped Youngstown? How does it fail to honor their experience?
Summarize the arguments for and against destroying Bruce Springsteen’s “sweet Jenny.”
Does the Brier Hill Italian Fest celebrate the strength of working-class community life or erase the reality of lost work and lost identity?
A depressing chapter. Pay particular attention to pages 195-201. Here the authors explain what they think is Youngstown’s problem. Should we blame poor people for being poor? For having poor schools and bad city services? For living in dilapidated houses next door to drug dealers? For not moving to better places?
In the last 20 years, how has the national image of Youngstown changed?
On page 193, the authors say that Youngstown’s latest image erases the “economic violence caused by unfettered corporate behavior?” What is “economic violence?”
What is “unfettered corporate behavior?” Do the authors explain? If not, explain what you think that phrases means.
What is the connection between high murder rates and high unemployment in a community?
Whose fault is it that Youngstown once was Steeltown USA but is now a “nice place to do time?”
Describe the racial impact of Youngstown’s decline, focusing specifically on mortality rates for African Americans. Are the rates the same for men and women? For whites and blacks?
The image of Youngstown as a corrupt, violent, hopeless place allows outsiders to blame whom for Youngstown’s problems?
Youngstown’s location between Pittsburgh and Cleveland was ideal for growth of the steel industry, but how did it contribute to the nation’s perception of Youngstown as a violent, corrupt place?
Who is Michael Monus and what does his story say about Youngstown’s relationship with strangers/outsiders?
Who is James Traficant and what does his story say about Youngstown’s relationship with strangers/outsiders?
Who is Mark Shuttes and what does he say about Youngstown’s relationship with strangers/outsiders? Do the authors think he is right?
How is arson a form of public service rather than a pathology?
In the 1980s who was the only person to be convicted of arson in Youngstown?
Does the past matter? What good can anyone do in remembering what Youngstown used to be?
In the last 20 years or so, has the Pittsburgh-Cleveland megalopolis attracted much international migration? Explain the significance of your answer.
The authors argue on page 247 that “for a city to prosper, it must recover its identity by embracing its past and refusing to let others destroy or humiliate it.” What does this argument say about Youngstown’s relationship with strangers/outsiders?
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