". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, November 24, 2014

Favorite Line of the Week So Far

From David Blight, summing up Andrew Johnson, as a states' rights Unionist from Tennessee, hates black people, total white supremacist, festering resentment of the planter class, self-made success and politician:
"He was a complicated guy.
[Meditative Pause] 
 He could have been interesting."

Yah.  This was one of the times Lincoln politically screwed the pooch.  Maybe if there wasn't a white supremacist as vp, assassinating Lincoln may not have been seen as such a good idea, then Reconstruction would have gone the path Lincoln had planned, and so on and so forth.  But that's 100% counterfactual, which has no place in writing history.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The House of Stuart -- Europe's Most Hapless Monarchs

A new history of England has been published by Allan Lane -- England, as opposed to Britain -- The English and Their History, by the Professor of French

history at Cambridge, Robert Tombs.  It's reviewed in the Guardian - Observer.

From the review, this was particularly striking, studying as we do, so much about the House of Stuart, because of the colonial history section of The American Slave Coast. I must agree with Tombs's assessment of the Stuarts, from Mary Stuart through to

the last Stuart, the popular Queen Anne, who dies from to the complications of bearing 17 pregnancies, without issue, after a short reign (1702 - 1707):
In Tombs’s depiction, the succession of King James VI of Scotland as England’s monarch after Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1603 proved “disastrous” for the English, for in the House of Stuart “the country acquired Europe’s most hapless dynasty”.
My positive introduction to Queen Anne, as with so many probably, was as royal patron to Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, in The First Churchills (1969),

played to such enchanting effect by the enchanting Susan Hampshire.

Queen Anne was played by Margaret Tyzack in The First Churchills.
though, perhaps some put up the Spanish Hapsburgs in competition with that rank, because they fell from the greatest glory, wealth and empire into madness, poverty and backwater isolation.

However, the Stuarts never had any glory, they never had an empire, or even any wealth.  Indeed, they weren't able to even keep their own thrones and countries, most of them. Most of them lived as pensioners upon the largesse of French monarchs, as they begged, gambled and borrowed their way around Europe.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Reign - Season 2 - Episode 7 - Prince of the Blood

Writers of Reign, to play nicely with history, to the satisfaction of everyone who watches, you need to know your history.  When it comes to this era you really need to know the history of protestants everywhere, and France's protestants in particular, as well as the history of the RC Church -- because all of this period is opening the gates into the century we know as the Wars of Religion.

Which perhaps might be taken as a caution that perhaps pitching a show as "fun entertainment" in which all the primary figures are hip deep in the blood, torture and plunder that are the Wars of Religion is not a good idea after all.  Especially as one of the primaries at least shall soon be dead, and the other gone back to Scotland to tread her inevitable road to imprisonment and losing her head.  This is not fun.

So, for starters here's something you all needed to know before you began writing: the protestant movement in France, the converts to Calvin's version of protestantism and reform, known as the Huguenots, did not begin with "the people."  In fact, "the people," the peasants, were strongly anti protestant.  They wanted to keep their rituals, their feast days, their Virgin, their priests, their cathedrals and beautiful music and the theater of the mass.  They preferred their Church so much, that they were terrific auxiliaries to the throne's slaughter of  the Huguenots.

The second thing you needed to know before you began writing was that in France, as in England and Germany, the Huguenots were both a religious and political movement.  That the nobles aligned with the crown would find them a credible threat to their power and authority is precisely because so many of the one million plus converts in France were nobles and wealthy merchants.

So, Reign writers, you see  all that courtly handwringing that if "the people" who had converted to protestantism weren't put down and punished, conversion cantagion of the body politic might spread to the nobles is o so badly wrong, that the entire idea of fun entertainment goes up in the flames of the noble's burning chateaux.   This is why, ultimately, Catherine and Charles are for the pogroms -- to remove these dangerous elements, who have both wealth and power, from their kingdom.

As well, there are other deadly intra-conflicts and intrigues, as many of those aligned with the crown, scheme to take it for themselves, as Charles is so young and the Queen Mother is still a hated Medici Italian, with all her grasping relatives grabbing money, land and power.  This was already going on while Henri II still lived.

O, and Condé, Louis I, Prince of the Blood, military leader of the Huguenots?   He gets whacked by the Guises, fighting to save de Coligny (who also gets whacked) at the battle of Jarnac.

Condé was a hunchback and by the time we see him on Reign he looked like this.
Condé didn't look like this.
What you all needed to do, Reign writers, was read the definitive history, The Huguenots, by Geoffrey Treasure.  Or -- maybe you did, but you all just don't care because, hey, Wars of Religion, they are such fun entertainment!  Who cares how much the suffering and brutality mattered to the formation of the political and economic movements of the time, the effects of which did so much to create the Europe, North America, the Caribbean and South America, at least, in which we live today.

The thing about the 16th - 17th Wars of Religion is that they were not fun for anybody, including those wearing crowns, see: Mary Stuart losing her head, for instance. This did not take place in an historical sidebar to the reign of Glory the Virgin Queen. These events were all interconnected.  Without the wars of religion at this time, Mary wouldn't have been such a tempting figurehead around which the French and other Catholic powers to rally to replace Elizabeth on England's throne.

The response to that is, as has been seen before -- hardly anybody knows this so who cares?   Anybody who does know isn't our audience, so stop being such a huffer and puffer.  We've made a GREAT story here.

Well, I dunno about that. It sure does look like your reliance, such as it was, upon a few historical details instead of doing the work of entirely reimagining a historical era into a historical fantasy world, you all have written yourselves into a corner in the dungeon of non-renewal.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Glory Road and Gone With the Wind

Bruce Catton's Glory Road, second volume in his first trilogy, Army of the Potomac, was published in 1952. The concluding volume of the trilogy, Stillness at Appomattox, received the Pulitzer for history in 1954, and the National Book Award for nonfiction. 

Heinlein serialized his Glory Road in the high summer of the Civil War centennial, 1963.  I've often wondered whether Catton had any influence on Heinlein's choice of title for that space adventure, or in any other way.
By 1963 the Civil War was branded as Catton's War as he published his second trilogy of the Civil War, called The Centennial History of the Civil War (1961 - 1965).  His 

books sold -- no exaggeration -- in the millions.  From his first publication, he was a successful popular history writer, but his Civil War books drove his reputation up into the stratosphere. During the Civil War's Centennial Catton was on television, radio and in all the publications. At least so says the biographical materials. 

I wouldn't know about that from personal experience since I too young and too far out in nowherelandia -- in a state that didn't become a state until 1889 -- for the Civil War centennial to matter or even be noticed. Settled mostly by immigrant Nordic, German, Polish and Russian farmers in the homesteading years at the end of the 19th century, there were few if any people in my my state who had a great, a grand or father who fought in the Civil War. In 1861-66 Sherman and his railway cronies hadn't even yet begun the slaughter of the great buffalo herds in my state. The gallant officers of the Lost Cause went to the Far West, like Wyoming, to reinvent themselves as stockmen/cattlemen (as Theodore Roosevelt divided owners from labor (the cowboy), or to New York, London, Chicago to become successful lawyers, bankers and investors,  not as dirt farmers in the midwest. The Civil War was only talked about in the 4th grade American History class and the high school sophomore American history class.

But Catton's name as synonymous with the Civil War was so pervasive it did penetrate my consciousness a little because he was listed among the offerings from the Book of the Month Club that my grandmothers weren't interested in, and there were adverts for the books in the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune's book pages, which I would glance at without reading, while waiting for my dad to get through with the comix section.  After church, while waiting for us kids and Mom to get out of Sunday School -- she was one of the Sunday School teachers -- he'd drive to town and buy the Minneapolis paper, almost only for the comix.

Whether Heinlein had any interest in the Civil War, I don't know.  But Catton might have been interesting to him if only because he was such a successful writer, who served briefly in the navy during WWI, began his writing life as a journalist, who quickly became so popular and successful he was syndicated. He served as an information specialist in WWII (too old by then for active field service) and was the editor of The American Heritage Magazine until his death -- if I have that correctly. And then there was the Civil War Centennial.

I find Catton unreadable, despite all the positive remarks about him made by David Blight -- for whom I have the greatest respect.  Blight admires Catton's writing style, which I find purple, mawkish and sentimental, and thus, his text, too often, ultimately dishonest.

Catton came by his fascination with the Civil War honestly, in the same way that his contemporary, Margaret Mitchell did, by listening to the veterans of the war in his small town telling each other experiences in the war, and attending gatherings of observances and pageants that were rather like early Civil War reenactments --see his memoir, Waiting for the Morning Train (1972), which is a lovely book, about an America that had long been gone for Catton too. 

In some ways his first trilogy at least was a reaction to Gone With The Wind, as the war is perceived from the viewpoint of the average Union troop.  But he can't resist falling for the gallant courageous knights in grey* and the glory that is war, death in service to a Greater Cause. Despite the Centennial History inclusion of social and economic causes and effects of the war, slavery, well, he's not particularly interested in it, and ultimately doesn't think the average black slave was as unhappy with his condition as northerners though. However, the war was a tragedy, in that the blood of so many gallant white people was poured into the ground in an effort that may not need to have been mobilized.

That there might some tragedy involved here for the millions of the African Americans about whose bodies everybody was fighting, including themselves to possess themselves, isn't part of his narrative. For Catton the significance of slavery and the Civil War is embodied in Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union's triumph, which is America's triumph of perfecting itself in its unfinished glory of its exceptionalism. What Catton thought about it can be found here.

Part of that for Catton, was that he, like most historians (did he or his academic full-time research assistant paid for by his publisher, read Kenneth Stampp's blow-up-the-paradigm, The Peculiar Institution, one wonders, published in 1956?) followed the line of definitively disproven thinking that slavery was an inefficient and economically non-productive system, which would soon have withered away, if the fire eaters on both sides, that of secession and abolition, had been effectively gotten to sit down and shut up. 

Another way of putting it is that Charles Sumner got what he deserved from Preston Brooks.  (Edmund Wilson certainly thought so, as we see in his Introduction to Patriotic Gore.)

Catton's vision of the Civil War is essentially Romantic, which has fully digested the Glorious Lost Cause revisionism. He cites how often Byron was found in the possession of a dead troop on both sides, and even, here we mention them, in a slave's cabin, harvested from the left behind possession of his former master, running from the Union army. In this way, I will state that Margaret Mitchell was a more honest writer than Catton: Scarlet O'Hara saw and never did see anything glorious and Romantic about the War, before, during or after.  She saw it as a terrible stupid waste of time and blood, and of women's hopes and dreams.

What they had in common though, was a negative: neither of them was interested in the waste of time and blood, the hopes and dreams of African Americans.

This, while the Civil Rights movement was at its height ....

Then, there's Shelby Foote's narrative of the history of the Civil War, from the same period.  Ken Burns, what you wrought was a regression yet again.  But that's yet another tale.

What I really want to say, which is a caution: reading these books is still a worthwhile experience, but they should not be the first books about the Civil War one reads, because imprinting is inevitable, nor should they be the only books read about the Civil War.  This holds at least as much for Foote as for Catton.


* Most of the troops in the CSA army never received a uniform and those that did hardly ever got a second one; the CSA couldn't organize itself to uniform its army. But then they were mostly poor men, who were, in the opinion of many of their planters' sons' officers, no more worthy of the respect of clothes than their slaves back on the plantation.  They weren't paid or given leave, tents, blankets or food either -- just like the people back home on the plantation that the troops were bleeding for the planters' to keep possession of.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

General W.T. Sherman - Front Page News Again

150 years after Sherman began his infamous-in-some -quarters, March to the Sea -- out of Atlanta to Savannah -- Atlanta has put up an historical marker commemorating his conquest of the city with additional facts about what his army did and did not burn.

A journalist from Atlanta reports on the reaction in Atlanta to the placing of this Historical Marker and the information it provides in the New York Times:  "150 Years Later, Wresting With the Revised View of Sherman's March."

 One of the marker’s sentences specifically targets some of the harsher imagery about him as “popular myth.”
“ ‘Gone with the Wind’ has certainly been a part of it,” W. Todd Groce, the president of the Georgia Historical Society, which sponsored the marker, said of regional perceptions of Sherman and the Union Army. “In general, we just have this image that comes from a movie.” [The burning in the novel and film of Gone With the Wind was the first burning of Atlanta, set by General Hood's and General McPherson's troops as they retreated from Atlanta.*]
While many of Atlanta's residents -- perhaps most, as Atlanta's population is 50.1 percent African American --  have no problems with this Marker, as one would most certainly expect, those, like the leadership of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, O! so most certainly do!
The marker near the picnic tables at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is the fruit of a reassessment of Sherman and his tactics that has been decades in the making. Historians have increasingly written that Sherman’s plan for the systematic obliteration in late 1864 of the South’s war machine, including its transportation network and factories, was destructive but not gratuitously destructive. Instead, those experts contend, the strategy was an effective and legal application of the general’s authority and the hard-edged masterstroke necessary to break the Confederacy.
They have described plenty of family accounts of cruelty as nothing more than fables that unfairly mar Sherman’s reputation.
“What is really happening is that over time, the views that are out there are being challenged by historical research,” said John F. Marszalek, a Sherman biographer and the executive director of the Mississippi-based Ulysses S. Grant Association. “The facts are coming out.”
To that end, the marker in Atlanta mentions that more than 62,000 soldiers under Sherman’s command devastated “Atlanta’s industrial and business (but not residential) districts” and talks of how, “contrary to popular myth, Sherman’s troops primarily destroyed only property used for waging war — railroads, train depots, factories, cotton gins and warehouses.”
Sherman’s aggressiveness, the marker concludes, “demoralized Confederates, hastening the end of slavery and the reunification of the nation.”
The marker, placed in Atlanta at a time when more and more of its residents are not natives of the area, drew relatively little criticism ahead of its dedication on Wednesday morning, Dr. Groce said. But some say its text is an inaccurate portrayal of history that amounts to an academic pardon for a general some believe committed acts that would now be deemed war crimes.
That these were Sherman's objective and strategy were on his March to the sea are not news to anybody who has read any honest account of the campaign -- or, even read about his Meridian, Mississippi campaign.

In Georgia he did specifically target certain plantations such as Howell Cobb's -- he who was one of the fire eaters who structured secession, while holding federal office, was briefly VP of the CSA, and who had stolen the federal government's gold before leaving D.C., and his post as Secretary of Treasury under the slave power's stooge president, James Buchanan.  Cobb only lived after that long to see the defeat of his darling CSA, dying in 1868. His son got it up and productive again -- with African American labor -- within a year or two of the end, with the help of northern investment. That's how much these ilks actually suffered.

I am breathless at the speed with which Sherman accomplished his objective. He would make Julius Caesar, Henry II and Richard I proud.

His army started out 150 years ago today, November 15, and he presented President Lincoln with Savannah as a Christmas gift, the city having surrendered to him on December 21 -- however he arrived there on the 10th.  That's less than a month of marching -- what one can do without the cumbering supply line, living off plundering the land -- and most of all, having an ever-growing auxiliary of eager, enthusiastic free people, who know the land and have the skills to create roads through swamps in rain and snow.

Sherman's army did not burn Savannah.  However, unlike Savannah, but like Atlanta, in the final act of the Western Campaign, Columbia did not get off so easily when the Union arrived there in January. The capital of the heart and south of secession, South Carolina, as in Atlanta (and again, soon with Richmond) was set on fire by the retreating CSA forces under the command of the oft-removed by Davis, General Johnston.  As with the state as a whole, with Columbia, Sherman did not restrain his troops from their own revels of destruction amid the fires already set.

This is when South Carolina suffered for her secessionist sins, as earlier, did Mississippi.  Though, as with Mississippi, the balance sheet of destruction is more than evenly divided between the destruction caused by CSA loyalists and foragers and the Union forces.  At least the Union forces fed the starving women and children -- the CSA forces were the ones plundering everything they could from the families of the poor men fighting at the orders of the rich men who made the war.

Sherman would continue his successful military career, doing his best to remove the Native Americans from the way of the transcontinental railroads, by assisting with the slaughter of the great buffalo herds.

*  See more about this in this week's NY Times Disunion column, "Who Burned Atlanta?" by Phil Leigh.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Proofing / Fact Checking, Why Yes, This Is A Big Part Of Writing

It took much of the morning and most of the afternoon to proof the 30 + pages that is our References list for The American Slave Coast (not the same thing as the citations sourcing various quoted text, facts and so on for those not familiar with the tedious process of writing this sort of work  -- which includes the delight of citing one of historian Andy Halls's posts from his blog, Dead Confederates, and a couple of other online friends and colleagues).

What's only interesting to me was noticing that when it comes to the books on the Reference list (there are other References too, that aren't books, but collections of papers and so on*), there are more books among those titles that are published by the University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill), than from any other publisher. Runners-up would be the LSU press, Yale University Press, Harvard University Press and Oxford University Press.

There's, of course, a lot of sourcing to digital materials put up by the Documenting the the American South project, which is one of the most useful tools for American history there is. Also to the University of Virginia's Southern History site, plus many others, including state Historical Societies. More and more state history magazines and journals have succeeded in digitizing their

archives, putting them online in searchable format -- as are a vast number of historical runs of no longer existing newspapers and magazines.

All this content -- as well other digital sources, such as JSTOR, can be accessed from one's own laptop at home.  Even five years ago when we began The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry, a lot of this hadn't yet gone up. A miracle for researchers. That one can access holdings in institutions all over the world this way has changed research so much in just the last five years, it can't even be quantified.  For one thing it allows more people to actively pursue historical studies than ever before, people who didn't have the necessary advantage of being on a faculty at a university.

In ye olden days there were institutions that didn't allow access to materials at all to anyone who wasn't a certified academic or some other acceptable researcher, like a journalist affiliated with a Big Name paper, a presidential speech writer, and so on.   Often hefty fees for the privilege would be charged too.  This is no longer much the case.  Which is good. This is what I mean by "information wants to be free."


*  It must have been about five years ago too, when I read an observation made by Robert V. Remini, he, who despite having left us, still owns the Jacksonian Era: "When I first began doing this work," he said, speaking of his graduate school researches and the work that became the first volumes of his massive life of Andrew Jackson, the Jackson papers were all still in longhand, they hadn't been put into type yet and published.  The difference working with the typeset papers from attempting to decipher the handwriting of so many not all that literate correspondents and Jackson's own writing made my work so much faster and easier."


vs. this:

You decide.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Egypt in 1862 -- Photographs

"Francis Bedford’s astonishing photographs of the 1862 royal tour" --.

These are photographs of the four-month tour of the Middle East in 1862 of the 20-year-old Prince of Wales -- sent off by Queen Victoria and Albert, as both punishment and cure for Bertie's discovery that he could have sex.  Before the Prince of Wales set off, Albert died, and Victoria disliked her son and heir even more.

Click the link for more photos of the from the trip in the Guardian photo gallery.

Talking about this article with a friend, her take away was that nobody in the royal family could even sneeze without the Royal Permission, and how stifling and suffocating this had to be.

1862. Alix and Minnie with their mother Queen Louise of Denmark.
Which led me to observe that the clothes alone, for both men and women, were stifling and suffocating, and the higher up the social scale, the more clothing was heaped upon the body, concealing its natural shape and form, making it the more difficult to move -- particularly for women.  Good thing that servants were cheap in those days and one could mistreat them pretty much at will ....

Thoughts about European clothing of 1862 are prompted naturally by an observation in the article about the Christian (Druze) and Muslim conflicts in Lebanon:
Even the cheapness of English cloth had sharpened resentments between the various groups, enriching the Christian agents of the Manchester houses and impoverishing Muslim weavers – unintended consequences of the Industrial Revolution and globalisation.
Now I'm curious as to what happened with the Muslim weavers in the next few years, as this was 1862, and the British factories were soon going to starve as the Union blockade of the Cotton Kingdom's product got more effective. This, in

Mehmet (Muhammad) Ali of Egypt, who began the large-scale cultivation of cotton in Egypt.

turn, set off in Egypt, what is still historically called the "cotton boom," to supply the English textile industry.  Note: the Egyptian cotton boom was accomplished by slave labor ....