". . . 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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Buckskin Breeches

My only claim to productivity today is I have learned about the deer skin trade of colonial Carolina and territories, where it went, and the market for it.

It was indeed huge.

Partly it was driven by the crash in beaver furs -- which happened in the New World as it did in the 16th century in Europe, due to over-hunting.  So something  had to come to take the place of beaver to signify rank and fashion,

Cocked hats were buckskin -- if I'd thought of them at all as to materials I would have assumed wool ....
especially in (men's) hats.  Deer skins, i.e. buckskins, played that part.  Not to mention his breeches, his gloves, the bindings of his books, and many other items of clothing and personal use signifying "gentleman."

Do I need to say that by 1750 the deer trade also collapsed to the regional scarcity of the animal by then?

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Economist's Anonymous Historians Mean To Slavers Whine Continues to Give

This time from Greg Grandin, whose latest book, Empire of Necessity, Freedom and Necessity in the New World, which looks at the relationship of slavery and the trade in all the Americas with 18th and 19th century global capitalism. It too got bitch-slapped in the Economist when it came out. *

Edward Baptist, author of The Half Has Never Been Told, the study of U.S. Cotton Kingdom slavery and the global capitalist revolution. The snarky, ignorant review in The Economist ignited a fire storm so great the magazine pulled the review and apologized.  The firestorm, however, continues -- here, and many other sites.
From Greg's article in The Nation:
Quote:The Empire of Necessity tries to establish the dependent relationship of slavery to the capitalist revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in all of the Americas, north and south, and presumes to use Herman Melville as embodying the moral complexities of that relationship. In other words, there’s a lot going on in the book. But the reviewer seemed only excited to find a few instances confirming that the trans-Atlantic slave system was not universally, 100 percent, absolutely, totally, categorically, “a matter of white villains and black victims.” “As is commonly supposed.” “Blacks,” he or she was happy to report, “profited from the Atlantic slave trade.”

The reviewer then complained about the book’s gloominess: “Unfortunately, the horrors in Mr Grandin’s history are unrelenting. His is a book without heroes. The brave battlers against the gruesome slave business hardly get a look in, although it was they who eventually prevailed.”One might think that “brave battlers” would be a good description of the group of West Africans who led the slave-ship revolt that is the book’s set piece. Having endured horrific captivity and transport, forced not just across the Atlantic but the whole American continent into the Pacific, the deception they managed to pull off under extremely hostile conditions was, I’d say, heroic. 
Slavery might not be black or white, but bravery and morality apparently are: whites possess those qualities, a possession that merits historical consideration; blacks don’t, at least according to The Economist. The Empire of Necessity didn’t “credit” William Wilberforce, the white reformist MP, or white abolitionist evangelicals and Quakers, for ending slavery. Nor, the reviewer points out, did I make mention of the British Royal Navy freeing “at least 150,000 west Africans from slave ships during the 19th century.” The book isn’t about abolition, or, for that matter, the British Royal Navy. No matter. “The British historians,” wrote the great historian of slavery, Eric Williams, “wrote as if Britain had introduced Negro slavery solely for the satisfaction of abolishing it.” So too, apparently, anonymous Economist reviewers.
This bit, quoting from The Atlantic Monthly's pundit, the British James Fallows, is fun:
The review itself was written in that smarmy style that makes US corporate managers and hedge funders swoon, identified some time ago by James Fallows as “colonial cringe.” Readers on this side of the Atlantic assign an Oxbridge accent to the text, which “involves a stance so cocksure of its rightness and superiority that it would be a shame to freight it with mere fact.”
Greg further informs us how far back and how deep are the roots of The Economist's pro-slavery and racist biases. In the U.S. Civil War The Economist was just about the only British publication that bellowed in favor of British support of the CSA and slavery.  I recall Henry Adams and his father's profound disgust for this at the time, so much so they could barely bring themselves to mention the publication at all, even to criticize its lies. 


* Full disclosure, el V's is referenced, and is among the acknowledgments for Empire of Necessity.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The War of 1812 and the Terrapins

The University of Maryland's football team is named the Terrapins.  They have changed their uniforms for tomorrow's game against West Virginia as commemoration of the Battle of Baltimore at Ft. McHenry's anniversary, which is tomorrow, September 13th.

Among other elements, the uniform will incorporate lines of "The Star Spangled Banner."  Usually the Terrapins' uniforms incorporate elements of Maryland's state flag.  Photos of Maryland state flag photos here.

Football and war go together like misogyny and racism.  Or, something-or-other ....

At least it seems the lines from the third verse of the "Star-Spangled Banner" glorifying slavery:
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave” ....
are not among those included on the uniforms.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thirteen Years Ago

This year too, the closer this day came, the more skittery and anxious we became.

So many personal, national and international catastrophes since.  They are, mostly, connected, at the very least by the greed that makes for climate change.

NYC has changed enormously in these thirteen years, including its skyline.  

This is what I see now, to the south, every time I leave our apartment.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reading Wednesday: Baronet, Robert Mountgomery, Scotts Traders, Colonial Carolina + Dreams of Azilia

I feel fairly safe in assuming that no one else on this Reading Wednesday will be

commenting on a work even vaguely resembling this one, what these days we'd call a prospectus for real estate development:

Robert Mountgomery.  London, 1717. A discourse concerning the design’d establishment of a new colony to the south of Carolina.  "A plan representing the form of settling the districts, or county divisioins [sic] in the Margravate of Azilia.”

Needless to say, the entire discourse is a crazy quilt of fantasy and outright lies, written by a person who had never been to the New World, much less this territory:

Nor is it probably necessary to mention that the Margravate of Azilla never existed -- just one more of the many feudal fantasies of of those who thought they could create entire kingdoms for themselves in this territory.  What is even more interesting however, is this may be the first of the very many southern fantasies that have their inspiration in imaginary Caledonian history, from Sir Walter Scott's medieval romances, to the invented discovery of the verses of Ossian, written by a James Macpherson

(President Buchanan's lover, the wealthy Alabama planter - slaveowner, William Rufus Devane King, 13th Vice President, read him Ossian's lines during their domestic evenings together in D.C.; his plantation was located near Selma, AL, named for Ossian's Songs of Selma), to the fantasy origin

story of the Ku Klux Klan in the novels such as The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, by Thomas F. Dixon

Instead of noble settlers peacefully overseeing laboring forces of Africans forced out of their homes to the New World, what was gotten in these territories during the 17th century and well into the 18th, were many, often Scots, traders, who worked closely with the native tribes of what now are the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and even into Mississippi.

Their first main product was deer skins -- for which, as far as I've been able to determine, the British army had constant use, though for what, I'm not sure.  I've read things that hint one of the uses was perhaps as the inner trouser legs and seats for the cavalry, but am not about to swear to that.

Quickly, their second primary product, and far more lucrative, was Native Americans, sold into slavery, mostly to the Caribbean, particularly to Barbados -- Carolina's "mother" homeland colony (as Georgia became Carolina's colony, finally -- the buffer between variously the French or Spanish Floridas, to where the enslaved Africans hied themselves from the coastal Carolina plantations, as soon as the Carolina settlers of Charles Town found out they could grow rice along the coast and the islands -- once they brought Africans who knew how to do it, to do it. There the escaped prisoners built free villages (called marronage villages), intermarried with natives, were sustained by the Spanish in particular as buffers against South Carolinian invasion from the north, and often taken into the military, given rank, arms and training.  (Quite a few already had the training, being pows sold by their African enemies into slavery.)  The very idea of African armed soldiers sent Carolinians into a frenzy of outrage, terror and hate from the very first days.

Their terror and hate did not prevent them however, from continuing to do with the Native tribes exactly what the Europeans were doing in Africa: pushing constantly at divide and conquer, provoking wars, in order to easily acquire coffels to sell off at Charles Town to ships that would the prisoners to the Caribbean or Mexico -- even, occasionally to South America.

This accomplished several missions for the traders and the Charles Town factors simultaneously: made money -- good money, in fact -- and was part of the process of the long term goal which was depopulate these extensive regions entirely of Natives all together.

Thus this long history of South Carolina's Indian Wars, which until recently, with the post modern re-examination of our nation's history with the First Peoples has been fairly ignored outside of South Carolina. One can speculate this is so because Calhoun and his South Carolina's political heirs' fundamental role in secession and making the Civil War has overshadowed her history with the Indian trade as national historical interest.

In fact, there were only two reasons South Carolina ever ratified the Constitution.  First, because it felt it needed help with wiping out the Indians -- it needed the U.S. Army, as her militia's job was to keep the African labor on the plantation and guard against uprising.  The second was getting the 3/5ths clause inserted into the Constitution, which allowed them to vote their wealth, which was valued in slaves -- and because there were no words about slavery in the Constution itself.

Once Andrew Jackson had crushed the tribes for once and for all, South Carolina no longer had any use for the federal government and began agitation for, what, in South Carolina's history, would be thought of as her second secession, or second Independence.

The first secession or independence was dumping the Lords Proprietors's authority decisively back in in 1719.  (Let us not forget these Lords were useless, impractical and supremely ignorant of the lands that they supposedly governed. Thomas Miller, overthrown by the coastal elite was the last appointee the Lords ever made.)

There were many, and even contradicting, reasons for ridding themselves the Proprietors, of course,  However, the Carolinian elite, from the beginning, with so many Scots and Irish among the traders and factors of Charles Town (it didn't become Charleston until after Independence) never had any use for government for anything -- except for war, and only a war that was conducted on the behalf of their own interests.

Naturally the Native tribes changed sides constantly among three colonial powers vying for control of North America, control of the Indian trade, and control of Indian lands. England's protection of the Indian lands for sake of the furs put the the North American colonists' demand for the Indian lands at loggerheads with England, even before the French and Indian Wars of the 1754 - 63.  In the meantime, from as far as our digging has been able to determine, the tribes were always ready to betray each other, and sell each other off to the traders, for the sake of guns and powder and European consumer goods. At times, when they went to war on the colonists, they were as vicious in the torture of the white prisoners as they were to each other.

Thus, the terror of Indians that haunted the Carolinians until after the days of Jackson, just as Haiti and armed Negroes did, and still do, for that matter.

Simms's home near Barnwell, SC -- Barnwell is a name all over the early history of South Carolina, as well, of course in the history of SC and Secession.

An illustration to Simms's The Yemassee.
See: The Yemassee. A Romance of Carolina (1835) by William Gilmore Simms. This is an historical novel of the Yemassee War of 1715-17, when the Yemassee, supposedly allied with the Spanish and other Native tribes -- and supposedly, African marroons, attacked South Carolina's colonial settlements.  It could only be written partly during the tragedy of Indian removal was in progress that today is known as the Trail of Tears.

The reading of this astonishing document from the colonial past, A discourse concerning the design’d establishment of a new colony to the south of Carolina, is because it's part of the documentation for the South Carolina history in The American Slave Coast. For some reason the colonial history of South Carolina prior to the rise of the great rice plantations on the coast and lowlands has been little noticed in the narrative of our nation's colonial development -- unlike Virginia's and Massachusetts's.  Of course South Carolina's own state historians know all this and have been documenting it carefully, even in those days, but an historian is going to have do a long, laborious manual search among the myriad of South Carolina's historical magazines and journals to find the sources for it.*

However, the story of these traders, who were the real reason Charles Town managed to exist for so long, is very long and fascinating all in their own right. It does give me shivers to know these men were covering all this region even before New Orleans was founded. They were very, very, very tough -- imagine, all this vast region was mostly covered in forest, through which they traveled thousands of miles, by foot mostly, by pirogue or horse when possible --  and as greedy and immoral as frackers are in our day.


*  The longer I'm at this history game the more impressed I am by the local historians of anywhere and any era, who are by-and-large, unknown, unsung. They have performed the most valuable, fundamental work for any sort of history.

Of course, until perhaps well into the 20th century, these men -- and yes indeed they were almost ALL men -- were people of leisure, due to either or both class and fortune -- as well as gender.  They possessed the education for this work. They could afford materially to do this work. They could afford to travel to see documents and to buy them. They could even afford to pay someone to perform some of the most tedious parts, such collating gathered information, do endless copying of drafts, and even pay to have the finished product published. No one else were so privileged, not even the mothers, daughters and wives of their own class and means -- women had other work to do, and generally did not have the education.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sophia Tolstoy + Leo Tolstoy's 186th Birthday Google Doodle

This was a non-dimensional tribute to Tolstoy's fiction -- sanitized of the terrors within his works, without any connection to the life the writer led, particularly of the terrible life he led Sophia, his wife, and their deeply troubled marriage, which was well known even then.

She was 18 when the 34-year old Leo Tolstoy married her.

A self portrait
Sophia Tolstoy was a photographer and diarist of significance, dealing with both tsarist Russia and Tolstoy and their lives; she copied and edited Tolstoy's work; eight of her 13 children survived childhood -- there were miscarriages as well.  Tolstoy himself found pregnancy and childbirth and babies disgusting, while she was overwhelmed with caring for the surviving children and everything else from keeping the accounts to overseeing running his estates, his serfs and the animals. Yet, people will wonder why their marriage became so troubled.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Bill Gates Discovers Big History

Bill Gates discovered Big History via dvds he watched while on the treadmill in his private gym.  He's decided to put Big History courses into all the country's high schools.

There are questions anyone should ask about Bill Gates dictating a nation's high curriculum.  He's responsible for the Common Core and other initiatives such as

Microsoft Encarta* that don't seem to have worked any better than anything else in creating an authentically educated population. By now these Big History courses are being taught all over the U.S. and Gates plans to get his plans added to thousands more schools within the next year or so.  However, anecdotally, the students in the university courses that we teach now and again, when asked, can't point to a map and show where a place is, whether in the U.S. or anywhere else, never heard of the Emancipation Proclamation or any of the Presidents, the Mexican War, the War of 1812, etc.

In other words, reading about these courses, students aren't learning actual history: there is no methodology for evaluation of historical actualities.  It's an undisciplined hodgepodge of unproven, if exciting, theories without supporting, discriminating documentation -- rather the way within genres, so much so-called alternate history is written.

Myself, am quite fond of Big History. It's a constant feedback loop, delving into the history of any where, any time and any place -- the local feeding into the larger picture and the larger world's affect upon the ever smaller and more local.  For instance, if one wants to understand the history of cotton's drive of the global economy and how it got to be a part -- and such a huge part -- of the global economy in the nineteenth century, a study of the history of a single Mississippi plantation is where to begin.  This moves one on to transport back and forth between Mississippi and Europe, European capital instruments, and how they flow to Mississippi and so on.  But without looking at both the larger and the smaller, the historian will have a process and a system that's incomplete.

In any case,  el V's books, and now our The American Slave Coast, are Big Histories of their subjects, because that's how I've always rolled -- the interconnections and influences among subjects and events within various time frames. Thus The American Slave Coast begins with Europe's first conscious voyages into what they called the New World.  Africans were on all those voyages, in a spectrum of positions from skilled seamen to those whose condition was that of being enslaved, from the time of Colombo's very first sail.

It is fun reading the description of Bill Gates discovery of Our Favorites: the Annales School of historians.

It's also fun to read how his advisor in these matters, Australian David Christian, began realizing his concepts.

He went through the same process I witnessed el V go through, in his first

attempts to write what became Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo, which became that book that people are still reading and teaching, precisely because it is a Big History.  It begins with the Phoenicians, and, indeed, that first section remains the most popular part of the book with those who aren't reading for the music only.

Back then El V didn't know what Big History was. He was so frustrated in his attempts to find his way into writing the book.  He kept going further and further back in time. (Though he'd done a great deal of very high quality, professional writing, until then he hadn't written book.)  I gave him a bunch of books from my shelves that he'd never looked at, including Braudel.  That was his eureka time -- a subject's story could be told from before the subject, i.e. Cuban music, existed -- it could and, for full understanding, should be told from the existence of the forces that made the crucible which brought the subject into being.  Fortunately with his Spanish language skills, he was able to dig into Spanish resources that most music writers don't have, and brought those early days of Phoenician traders in Iberia, and the era of the Peninsula's Roman dominance, into -- appropriately for the subject -- throbbing life.

The NY Times Magazine article about Gates and his new philanthropic education mission here.

*  Link here to description of Microsoft Encarta at Wiki, which supposedly destroyed Microsoft Encarta. I never found it useful -- too clumsy, and too difficult to extract any useful scope of information.  The same reason e-books are not useful for me: too much time wallowing around swiping, ticking, clicking, going from one place to another, rather than absorbing information, much less knowledge.