Where’d ya go, Chip Hilton? Our historical imagination turns its lonely eyes to you.

chiphiltonMy sabbatical is mellowing me out and I’m definitely enjoying the relaxed, non-wired vibe at the Huntington.  The Huntington is wired, but what I mean by un-wired is that people here appear to be living their professional and personal lives in meatspace, face-to-face, rather than online.  They’re reading historical manuscripts and valuable rare books, they’re having coffee with each other, they’re meeting for lunch in the garden cafe.  In other words, not everyone in the world is on Twitter or blogs or Instagram all of the time!  It’s like it’s the War of 1812 or something:  before telegraphy even.

So, inevitably, I’m going to miss a lot of what’s happening now.  (I do believe my knowledge of both British and North American history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries will be nonpareil in Colorado upon my return, however.)  Clearly, I missed a fascinating little interview with James McPherson of Princeton University in the New York Timeswhich is purely coincidental to the publication of his new biography of Jefferson Davis, I am sure.  McPherson is probably the most famous American military historian, and among the most famous historians of the Civil War era.

Some friends of mine alerted me to this interview, because something about it just didn’t seem right.  Let me quote an extensive passage from it now:

What books are currently on your night stand?

Ron Chernow, “Washington: A Life,” and Daniel James Brown, “The Boys in the Boat.” In very different ways, these books chronicle unlikely triumphs over seemingly insuperable odds to found a nation from 1775 to 1797 and to win an Olympic gold medal in 1936.

What was the last truly great book you read?

James Oakes, “Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865.” A powerful analytical narrative of the confluence of politics and war that ended America’s shame and trauma.

Who are the best historians writing today?

Bernard Bailyn, David Brion Davis, Gordon Wood, Eric Foner, David McCullough, David Hackett Fischer. In elegant prose, based on impeccable research, they have covered the broad sweep of American history from the early colonial settlements through Harry Truman’s administration.

What’s the best book ever written about the Civil War?

The best book is actually an eight-volume series published from 1947 to 1971, by Allan Nevins: “Ordeal of the Union,” “The Emergence of Lincoln” and “The War for the Union.” It is all there — the political, economic, social, diplomatic and military history of the causes, course and consequences of the war, written in the magisterial style for which Nevins was famous.

Do you have a favorite biography of a Civil War-era figure?

Jean Edward Smith, “Grant.” A lucid and empathetic account of the victorious general and underrated president that helped usher in the current revival of Grant’s reputation.

Continue reading

Randomly generated spam comment, or Camille Paglia?

 

Random spam generator?

Random spam generator?

It’s increasingly difficult to tell them apart:

Sex crime springs from fantasy, hallucination, delusion, and obsession. A random young woman becomes the scapegoat for a regressive rage against female sexual power: “You made me do this.” Academic clichés about the “commodification” of women under capitalism make little sense here: It is women’s superior biological status as magical life-creator that is profaned and annihilated by the barbarism of sex crime.

Continue reading

The Union Army’s false Afro-Canadians

Via my Twitter feed, I see that my host for the Past Present talk last week has an interesting article in the New York Times‘s blog on the Civil War, Disunion.  Adam Arenson, who is headed to Manhattan College later this year, has discovered a number of false Canadian volunteers for the Union Army.  After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, it was no longer sufficient merely for runaway slaves to cross into a free U.S. state, as Eliza did in Uncle Tom’s Cabin in her desperate bid to cross the semi-frozen Ohio River with her little boy from Kentucky to Ohio.  The Fugitive Slave Act effectively denied that there was any such thing as a free state, so escape to Canada was the only sure means to escape the grasp of the U.S. slaveocracy.  The result, according to Arenson?  Fake Canadian volunteers!

As for those men who enlisted in St. Louis in August 1864, the man listed on the rolls as Jerry Watson explained to pension officers: “I did not tell them I was born in Canada and I was not asked where I was born.” Another, John Adams, said he had been enslaved in his home state of Kentucky, and that “I ran way from there and came to St. Louis and enlisted.” So why was he listed as a foreigner? “They had me say I was from Canada,” Adams replied. They — white substitute recruiters, paid a portion of the bounty, or perhaps even the enlistment officers themselves — seem to have coached these black men to claim foreign birth, and the advantages of a new identity for joining the Army. That could explain the strange phrase on Adams’s enlistment record: “born Canada British Prov.” — a description that doth protest too much.

With the flick of a pen, fugitive slaves could gain a connection to British North America, and lose some of the clues that would allow angry slaveholders or worried family members to track them down. Some of the African-Americans who had escaped to Canada considered the Great Lakes crossing as a new baptism, or coming under the protection of the British Lion’s paw. The experience of these soldiers as fake Canadians demonstrates how the talismanic power of Canada could extend far south of the border, to dwell in the minds of Union citizens and soldiers alike during the Civil War.

Continue reading

Happy Labor Day!

labordayvintageposter

After driving all over L.A. and Orange Counties yesterday to visit friends, I’m taking it easy today.  Here’s a cool Labor Day poster, especially for those of us who work for government.  Enough of the attacks on public sector employees and the small subset of us who are still unionized!  Solidarity forever.

Here’s something I heard while driving around what Southern Californians apparently call “the Southland.”  (Maybe it’s just because I’m an American historian and a professional Yankee by birth, inclination, and residence, but I’d never call anyplace I live “the Southland.”  Just sayin’.): a hilarous segment from Latino USA:  “The Worst Latino.”  Well worth a hearing for anyone who’s ever felt like an inferior member of an ethnic group, political movement, religion, or whatever.  It’s all about interest group boundaries, and how they define us and bring us together as well as potentially alienate us. Continue reading

We U.S. Americans are now beyond parody: guns, race, gender, and parenthood, ca. 2014

9-youzi

Shame!!!!!!

Jesus Mary and Joseph.

As I’m sure all of you know already, a nine-year old killed the man who was instructing her in the use of an Uzi submachine gun this week at a shooting gallery in Arizona.  The  juxtaposition of this story with a story from earlier this summer, in which a mother spent more than two weeks in jail for letting her 9-year old girl play in a park by herself while she did her shift at McDonald’s, says it all:  “In America Today, a 9-Year Old Girl Can’t Play Alone in a Park But She Can Play With an Uzi.”

Andy Borowitz satirized the current conversation about parenting and guns yesterday in “Nation Debates Extremely Complex Issue of Children Firing Military Weapons,” but then I open the L.A. Times this morning to find exactly this kind of “experts say. . . “/”others argue that. . . ” debate as to the best way to teach children to use guns in the pages of one of America’s great newspapers.  As though the use of semiautomatic weapons by children is a debatable issue!  Where were the voices of public heath experts, family practice doctors, and pediatricians?  Where were the voices of parents in Chicago, whose neighborhoods are routinely interrupted by gun violence and who fear for the safety of their children just walking to and from school? Continue reading

The Native American & Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) annual meeting needs early Americanists!

Dear Readers,

Historiann here.  Today’s post is from a comment from Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, who teaches in the Department of Transnational Studies at the University of Buffalo.  We clashed a bit around my post criticizing this year’s Omohundro Conference, as she thought that my post overlooked her panel (and it did), but in the end I believe we agreed that we’re both rowing in the same direction when it comes to diversifying early American studies.  

We emailed a bit over the following month, and she graciously agreed to permit me to publish a modified version of one of her comments on the Omohundro post to help advertise the 2015 Native American & Indigenous Studies Association conference.  Alyssa is concerned that very few early Americanists, so far, are involved in NAISA.  So if you are an early Americanist, or anyone working on Native American or Indigenous Studies, read on and consider putting together a proposal for the seventh Annual Meeting of NAISA, which will meet in Washington, D.C. on June 1-6, 2015.  Take it away, Alyssa!

It’s been a few weeks since I jumped into the fray here, and I wanted to follow up with some comments that developed out of a very productive email exchange with Historiann.

I want to make clear that I am invested in opening up lines of communication regarding scholarship among and between those working in Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) and those whose work focuses on the early Americanist period. From what I’ve seen over the past seven years since the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) was founded, there are very few early Americanists who regularly attend NAISA meetings. I’m interested in working to change that and toward that end I helped Coll Thrush organize two sessions around the theme of “Indigenizing Early Modern and Early American Studies” at the 2014 annual meeting of NAISA in Austin. The standing room-only crowds (over 100 people) that attended the linked panel and roundtable seemed to signal that there is a significant scholarly audience for this work and this discussion. Continue reading

History, Judge Lynch, and Walking While Black: thoughts on Ferguson, MO

cowgirlcoffeeStop by and sit for a spell.  Have a cup of coffee, too, while you’re at it!  (It’s fresh, or at least it was this morning.)  As you have probably guessed, I’ve crawled my way out of the wilderness and back to internet-connected civilization.  Although the entrance to The Huntington Library and Gardens is torn up now because of a major construction project, everything indoors and out is pretty much its usual quiet and studied perfection.  As commenter Susan noted in the comments on my last post, the Corpse Flower is about to bloom here, so we’re all on the edge of our seats.  (Follow the progress on Twitter, #CorpseFlower).

I’ll surely be reporting more from my new sabbatical year location, but I’m actually getting lots of writing done this week (!) so I don’t want to let the blog suck too much of my mojo right now.  I’m enjoying the offline company of my fellow nuns and monks here.  It’s a refreshingly cloistered environment, in which people still cultivate the attention spans required for long study and deep reflection rather than the instincts of the blogosphere or Twitterverse.

The Huntington is also culturally and environmentally about 15,000 miles away from Ferguson, Missouri.  Working and strolling through this privileged environment, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the incredible liberties I have even amidst the many botanical, art, manuscript, and bibliographic treasures.  All it takes is a “reader’s card” on a lanyard around my neck, and I have nearly the run of the place.  And who am I?  I haven’t paid a dime for the pleasure–in fact, I’m a huge welfare queen!  I’m getting paid to be here!  What a tragically different experience Mike Brown had of his own neighborhood. Continue reading