". . . 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

Friday, February 25, 2011

Black History Month

All month the K County public library system here has had events, presentations, exhibits and even workshops for Black History Month. This year the theme was on the history of the Civil Rights Movements, the one before 1955-1968, that one, and then the continuing struggles afterwards. The emphasis, as usual, was on local figures and histories.

Though I have criticized the area as being more segregated than anywhere else I've ever lived, yet, I must be fair, and add that I've never lived anywhere else where I see such a sustained sincere effort on the part of the 'progressive' members of the communities, whether of color or not, to educate each other and change that. From what I can tell, by digging into the local newspaper archives and other publications, this has been going on in the reform communities that emerged in the 1840's, after the Civil War during Jim Crow, and more lately in the mid-20th century with progressives and liberals. In each era there were radicals. Some of them got ridden out of town on a rail, tarred and feathered, other got broken out of the local jail and protected by the community. These events have been well attended. They have also been part of the month's calendar at the College and other institutions around the County.

This, when one wouldn't even know it has been Black History Month anywhere else, it seems.

One way and another the struggle has continued here, with many very good people of color and not, never letting go of their determination to achieve justice and democracy for all the members of the community.

While others, of course, in the eternal struggle, labor on behalf of evil's abyss.  As it was then (in today's Disunion column, "A Capital Under Slavery's Shadow," by Adam Goodheart), as it is returning today ("Prison Labor to Close Budget Gaps").

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rand's *Atlas Shrugged* -- Now a Movie, Part 1 (of 3 parts)

Why, yes, really. Why, yes, you may ask why, but there's no answer to that, at least not one that I possess.

The trailer makes the whole thing look ridiculous, if for no other reason than it's chronologically so weird: the architecture, clothes, etc. of our present present, set in the near future, but based on a novel set in a near future dystopia of the 1930's, though the book was published in 1957 -- but railroads. However, not highspeed, maglev railroads, just, well freight trains. One of the characters, Dr. Potter, is played by the actor, Armin Shimerman, who played Principal Snyder in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It opens April 1, er 15, tax day, so the tbaggers may rejoice, rejoice, rejoice. They can make parties and dress up as John Galt.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Orbit-Jack Womack Interviews Joe Abercrombie Live

The Orbit Podcast: Episode 1, with Joe Abercrombie

You can listen streaming, which I just did while preparing the chicken etc. to bake in the oven. In view of the faddles and fuddles over his The Heroes, most of which seemingly conducted by people who have not read any of the author's books! due to this -- JA's response here -- and a round-up of others' droppings here.  Earlier droppings on the same site.  And even earlier there as well.

Over on Live Journal some women attempted to enter the discussion with the question as to why it is assumed that women don't write gritty, neo or otherwise.  This is interesting because, as you see from the discussions linked to above, women have no role in this disucssion in any way at all.  For the discussants, women are invisible.

However, the author in question, does see women.  There's a woman among The Heroes' protagonists.  But she isn't part of the discussants' discussion either.

I have read Abercrombie's books. I think he got very good with Best Served Cold, so I am looking forward very much to reading The Heroes.  However, as we are writing a narrative history of the United States and slavery, from the earliest colonial era to the threshold of the Blood Atonement, a/k/a the American Civil War, I can't do that right now.  My entertainment reading is on the order of the constitution of the Confederate States of America, which is the darkest of dark fantasy, if you think about it.

It is interesting though me being me, I disagreed with parts of what he thinks, and some parts very much.

“My Kinsman, Major Molineux”

By Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, as a human being, due to his attitudes about slavery, as opposed to the excellence that he is as an author, feels more creepy as time goes on.

Anyway a citation and quotes from the story are going into The American Slave Coast in the pre-Revolutionary colonial sections.

el V doesn't know from Hawthorne, but at dinner last night (meaning dinner at the dining table in our dining room, not out -- it was already storming -- but we do dine by candlelight -- why not?) while discussing what we're learning about the Boston colonial mobs -- North Boston Mob and South Boston Mob -- how then they were run in the pre-Revolutionary era by the Loyal Nine, which then got folded in Independence times into the Sons of Liberty -- I began talking of this story, and also "Howe's Masquerade."

"Molineux" is set during the fevered anti-British feelings of the 1730's, during which the Mobs riot and parade, while "Howe" is during the Revolutionary siege of Boston, then occupied by the Brits. We thought references to these stories would help liven up our narrative of these times. We try to sprinkle such references from American lit through the text as we do music; for one thing, most histories don't do that.

We both love this sentence from "Howe" --

"The brilliantly lighted apartments were thronged with figures that seemed to have stepped from the dark canvass of historic portraits, or to have flitted forth from the magic pages of romance, or at least to have flown hither from one of the London theatres, without a change of garments."

Boston, unlike the other major cities of the day did not have a theater (which may be why they had so much Mob action in their streets -- public performance in public spaces where all the Motley can come together?) so yes, theatrical figures would have to be imported from elsewhere. It seems to me, thinking about this sentence now that Hawthorne was being most sly by referencing the London theater rather than one from New York or Philadelphia, in this time of British occupation of Boston in the Revolutionary War.

Yes, writers frequently have fun while writing. I enjoy identifying places in the text where a writer is having fun such as this -- which is perfect.  Perfect meaning the opposite of how inferior writers have fun, which is in your face, demanding your admiration, supposedly smart, witty, comic and perceptive, but instead it's coy and / or thudly.  This one sentence of Hawthorne's in this story is subtle in its slyness.  It matters not at all to Hawthorne or the reader that the reader know Boston had no theaters at this time (unless the Brits arranged to have one ... hmmm).  Hawthorne knew the history of public theater's absence in Boston, and that is what matters -- which knowing he knows adds a soup├žon of new pleasure my reading of Hawthorne.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Washington & Lincoln - It Is Presidents' Day

Ted Widmer, former director of the Starr Center, former Clinton speech writer, provides one of his best columns today in the New York Times' Disunion series, "The Foot Comes Down."

Disunion presents the chronological, daily account of the events 150 years ago, that lead up to the bloody atonement we know as the American Civil War. Today, Lincoln is winding up his inaugural railroad journey from Illinois to Washington D.C. He's left New York, is now in New Jersey, and will conclude in Philadelphia, on Washington's birthday.

The Patrick Henry House, where we are in residence this year, property of Washington College, is filled with images of President Washington.  The library shelves in the House include his papers, as well as those of many of the other significant Founders and Framers. The book we're here writing is about how we got from colonial times to the American Civil War.  In a very real sense Washington and Lincoln are the pole stars, beacons, forward and behind, to our ponderings upon our national history.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

First Season of HBO;s *Treme* Debutes on UK Television Screens

The U.K. Guardian is blogging it.  The first episode blog plus the commentariat is here.

Gee ... New Orleans.  We'll be back in about six weeks, reading selections from The American Slave Coast, as we've got it so far, at the Community Book Center.  It will be the first opportunity to get feed-back from the community on what we're saying and the direction we're going.  Can you spell S-C-A-R-E-D?

Madison News From the Ground

The following thanks to SFF Feminists on the ground:

The mood tends to be fairly excited in a good way, not just pissed off or even depressed, among the people on the square. Angry too, but free to express it. We're also dealing with some traffic and parking issues around the Square, but that's just a minor inconvenience and not much different from any of the other, frequent events on the Square.

Not surprisingly, many people connected with the science fiction community (and WisCon in particular) have engaged in activity, from disseminating information online to showing up at the Capitol every day. Adults are protesting, their kids are protesting, and sometimes they're even protesting together.

People have been using social media a LOT to spread information, both in general and in real time. For example, the Teaching Assistants' Association of UW-Madison has a Twitter feed and a Web site in addition to a Facebook presence.
Speaking of which, if you're on Facebook you can get frequent updates from local fans, especially these folks:

-- Meg Turville-Heitz
-- Cabell Hankinson Gathman (who held her Friday office hours just off the Capitol Square)
-- Fred Schepartz (good photos from Saturday)
Other links provided by SFF Feminists:
... favorite link of the hour: a brief press release from the City of Madison about Saturday's protests:

Talking Points Memo has been doing some good coverage:

More here on the broader aim, namely dividing us against one another, a tactic that unfortunately has worked well in the past:

A brief press release from the City of Madison about Saturday's protests:

Another great local Madison story:

Amplifying a news story with local information:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Historical Interest News - Abraham Lincoln & Caravaggio

Press Release:

On Saturday, February 19, 2011, at noon, Tulane geographer and award-winning author Richard Campanella will be in Chicago to speak at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, 357 West Chicago Avenue, about his latest book, Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History.

According to the publisher's website, Lincoln's 1828 trip down the Mississippi River to New Orleans "marked his first visit to a major city and exposed him to the nation’s largest slave marketplace. It also nearly cost him his life, in a nighttime attack in the Louisiana plantation country. That trip, and a second one in 1831, would form the two longest journeys of Lincoln’s life, his only visits to the Deep South, and his foremost experience in a racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse urban environment."

"Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828–1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History reconstructs, to levels of detail and analyses never before attempted, the nature of those two journeys and examines their influence on Lincoln’s life, presidency, and subsequent historiography. It also sheds light on river commerce and New Orleans in the antebellum era, because, as exceptional as Lincoln later came to be, he was entirely archetypal of the Western rivermen of his youth who traveled regularly between the “upcountry” and the Queen City of the South."

"Featuring new data sources, historical photos, and custom-made analytical maps and graphs, Lincoln in New Orleans brings new knowledge to one of the least-known but most influential episodes in Lincoln's life."

Campanella recommends this free public event to anyone interested in "New Orleans history, Mississippi Valley geography, and their connection with Illinois' favorite son."

Click here to read a recent Times-Picayune article about this fascinating new book.


Caravaggio's crimes exposed in Rome's police files, from the BBC.

Caravaggio's friendships, daily life and frequent brawls - including the one which brought him a death sentence from Pope Paul V - are described in handwritten police logs, legal and court parchments all bound together in heavy tomes - and carefully preserved in this unique repository of Rome's history during the Renaissance and after....

The documents that record Caravaggio's life in Rome are written in a mixture of Latin legal jargon and racy Italian vernacular that any modern Roman could easily understand.

They needed careful restoration, as parts of the parchment were breaking up - the acid in the ink literally devouring the pages.

A handful of sponsors including a local bus company and the Italian Land Rover distributors helped to fund the work. The Italian Culture Ministry has slashed budgets this year as part of Italy's austerity programme and libraries and archives have been particularly badly hit.

The restored files provide the historical context for the sellout show in Rome last year, when more than three-quarters of a million visitors queued for hours in stifling summer heat to see some 50 of the mad, bad and dangerous painter's works.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Color Of Money, Particularly C.S.A. Currency

I am looking at The Color of Money: Images of Slavery in Cofedeate and Southern States Currency (2002), that includes articles as well as the paintings that were in the exhibition with the same title.  We had looked at many bond, bills and currencies issued by states and institutions of the South while working on The World That Made New Orleans; we included some of what we learned in that book, as well as some of the images.  This art show and its accompanying book are solely devoted to that.  What this has helped provoke also is now in The American Slave Coast (with much, much revision and tweaking still ahead).

The C.S. A currency heralds its slave-based economy to the world.  The mansions are far in the background, though rendered in exquisite detail.  The foregrounding is ragged slaves, working in the cotton fields, toting cotton bales, driving mule-drawn ricks of cotton bales, loading cotton bales onto a steamboat, hoeing cotton, planting cotton.

The C.SA. constitution fills in the silences and absences of slaves and slavery (and women) in the U.S. Constitution by declaring explicitly that their nation is dedicated to exclusion, inequality and the enslavement of black people.

So, also then, the art of the currencies of the slaveholding states fills in the silences and absences of slaves and slavery in those signature contemporary paintings of slaveholders' families.  You have seen these paintings, from colonial times through the antebellum era.  The prosperous plantation slaveowner and his family, situated in the gardens or on the lawn of the mansion, not a 'servant' in sight. Or the other favorite view looking across their enormous acreage of cultivated rich fields, blooded horses, accompanied perhaps by their pedigree dog.  Again, not a 'servant' in sight cultivating the fields, carring for the liverstock, not even a little black boy with a watering can for Mistress's flowers.

The paintings go with the U.S. Constitution -- many of them indeed the homes of the Framers and signers.  You see many of them of Monticello, for instance.

The money, though, goes with the C.S.A. constitution.

It's one of those mirror reversals that will leave you marveling for days.  Particularly when what you got for VD, your BD and for Presidents' Day is a some horrid respiratory infection that means I can't be present tonight for el V's concert and reading at Rock Hall's The Mainstay.  Sob.  Achoo!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Constitutional Chapter of *The American Slave Coast*

You see the quote at the top of this blog from Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot? This writer is also a bridge to the section on the slave revolution of San Domingue and what it meant here.  You can't say we've tried to make things easy for ourselves.  The head, it hurts, from thinking, trying to think, to understand, to connect so many dots among hemispheres.

The Constitution chapter of The American Slave Coast is writing the history of the document's silences and absences, in terms of the history of this nation from the beginning until now. It is becoming the centerpiece of the work. It keeps expanding, and we'll be working on it up to the minute before publication, because that's what you do.  We're going to be crucified for it, by the usual suspects.  Doesn't matter that we are quoting the primary documents that were written by the Founders.

This chapter's been building up, layer-by-layer, and then out, bit-by-bit, ever since I went to work on Benjamin Franklin's early writings, and the books recently published on the making of the Constitution.  And the money. Then, there are the paintings.  Then I ran smack into the C.S.A. constitution.

This is really strong stuff we're saying.  We're not the only ones, but we're the ones that are pulling all these elements together (and no doubt others are on the same track as this too -- history and research are like that).  This chapter is a very deep collaboration, of course.  But unlike some of the other parts, this is the one where we can point directly at parts and know which of us brought it in.

OTOH, maybe it's all just balderdash.  I was given a respiratory infection for Valentine's Day and I'm really sick, which mean rilly stupid, dull and unperceptive.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Orleans, *Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter* & el V's Books

There was this book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which, in the natural course of events, is now a movie-in-production.

A while back some of the people working in the flick contacted el V for musical advice.  They ordered two copies of The World That Made New Orleans, a copy of Cuba and Its Music:From the First Drums to the Mambo, and a copy of The Year Before the Flood. Though the mail person has complete access to the gate that opens to the path that leads to the mailbox, the mail person just threw the boxes across the fence.  The others are OK, but The Year Before the Flood landed in a pool of water.  It is now being dried out and hopefully can be read soon, says the e-mail report.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How the Southwest Territory Became A State, the One We Know As Tennessee

I’ve been hanging out with that truly strange fellow, Andrew Jackson, whom, no matter what, I have a hard time finding a good word for.

My 'fun' bit out of this (no one has ever accused King Andrew of being 'fun') is how the Southwest Territory became the state of Tennessee. Territorial administrator-in-chief, Blount (young Jackson’s mentor, handler and father-figure), politician (and land speculator) extraordinaire, had a finely honed machine which ran the Southwest Territory just as they liked. Rather than having ambitions to join the U.S.A., Blount and fellows wanted to keep the U.S. gummit as far away from them as possible, for as long as possible. But then, there were the Indians. Settlers in the territory kept pushing into Indian lands, which Blount and Company were delighted by – they could sell the lands, administer titles, etc. all for hefty fees.

Nevermind that these lands were Indian lands by treaty etc. By god, where in hell is the U.S. army to protect our white settlers settling illegally on the lands we illegally sold them? Armies and militias are expensive in time and equipment. Damnit, what to do?

We know! Waving hands wildly! We solved the goddammit problem! We will become a state and then we can get OUR hands on that U.S. federal military money AND soldiers to drive the Indians out (and somehow manage to have a lot of some of it stick to our wildly waving hands).

They rushed through a census because a territory needed 66,000 free white citizens in order to qualify for statehood. Tennessee had 77,000 – nearly 9 thousand slave and nearly a thousand free people of color. They rushed through a referendum to become a state and won in the west though the east wasn’t so keen. They rushed through elections for governor – Blount, astoundingly won that office– for the two senators, and the single rep to which they were entitled, who happened to be from the east and be Blount’s fair-haired boyo, Jackson. Off they went to Philadelphia, then the Capital.

Hai! here we r. We r state now 2! We sit down in senate and house with u. Give us monies and soldiers to kill Indians!

O, rilly? says the Senate and the House. We never received a statehood request. We never had a discussion on yur ratification. U r not state. U can't sit with us. Srsly.

Srsly? Dayem! Request Statehood? Ratification? Who knew?

Srsly dudes. kbaiugohomenaonothnx.

They didn’t go home. They hung around and were handsome, courtly and impressive, especially Jackson. O, and did more land deals and speculations.

There was heated debate regarding the ratification of Tennessee statehood, because of slavery, and because of representation, including for electoral votes, particularly by the Federalists, who still existed then. But it didn't take that long before deals were cut and, thanks in part to Aaron Burr, the Southwest Territory entered the Union in 1796 as the state of Tennessee (choosing the state’s name is also a charming story).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Studying Andrew Jackson

Appositively, David O. Stewart writes about him in the Huff Po.  What Mr. Stewart is really doing in the article is running down the instances of violence committed by, and perpetuated upon, politicans.  This has never been much of a nation for civility in any of its national venues.

Andrew Jackson's great scholar is Robert V. Remini.  He's devoted his entire academic career to reading everything Jackson ever wrote, what has been written about him, what those around him wrote, and the eras in which Jackson not only lived (he was a British captive in the War of Independence when only 13; he was significantly mis-treated by his captors), but those that he shaped so much in his own character, which shaping endured long after the Jacksonian era concluded.

Jackson was there then, in the Era of Confederation, the Early Republic, the War of 1812 (which propelled him upon the national stage via the Creek and Seminole wars, not to mention the Battle of New Orleans), the so-called Era of Good Feeling, more accurately known, as Remini says, by Jackson and the country as the Era of Corruption, the Second Great Awakening (which Remini doesn't cover -- he's a political historian), Nullification, the Great Indian Removal; he died the year Texas entered the U.S. as a slave state, an issue very close to Jackson's heart.  He just missed the Mexican American War and the California Gold Rush which would have gratified his specie-loving, banks and soft money-hating, economic policies.

Back to Remini.  One of the pleasures of a scholar of that calibre devoting his energies to a very particular subject and period is that at a certain point he really knows it.  S/he knows it so well they can take complicated, subtle issues and synthesize their thinking in relatively few words, that are crystal clear to the rest of us.  Remini does this with three Jacksonian issues in a series of three lectures he gave in 1988 (the publication date for this slim volume -- 117 pages, including index -- published by the Louisiana State University Press).  The three issues are "Democracy," "Indian Removal" and "Slavery."

I learned something that I had no idea about previously.  It's easier to quote Remini describing it in the "Slavery" lecture than for me to try and describe it -- this is about the Nullification crisis during Jackson's presidency, which is connected to the southern imposed gag rule on any petition, report or discussion of slavery or abolition in Congress:
Although the abolitionist movement had long since been under way, it is interesting and important to note that Jackson and his spokesman regarded the introduction of the slavery question as a political issue in congress as having been conceived by the nullifiers to advance their efforts at disrupting the Union.  The position of the Jacksonians in 1833, therefore, was simply this: slavery was protected by the Consitution; only those intent on mischief seriously proposed that Congress could abolish slavery; and only nullifiers like Calhoun and his friends argued that there were irreconcilable differences between slave and nonslaveholding states, for the simple reason that they hoped eventually to establish a southern confederacy. (p. 92)
In other words, as Remini goes on to amplify, the stirring up of abolition controversy was manufactured by Calhoun and his ilk in hopes of so alarming the white men of the slaveholding states that they'd break away from the Union -- and make Calhoun their head. It was an imaginary movement, propelled by outright lies in the press Calhoun and his friends controlled and that supported them.

Now Jackson did see conspiracies in many places. It was a word he often employed, particularly in connection with those who opposed him.  But then, he had rather gotten sucked in by Burr back in the day during Burr's plotting to cut a personal domain for himself out of the Louisiana Territory.  Evidently that sort of power politic dreaming hadn't ended in 1806.

Now, there were indeed authentic abolitionist movements and organizations in play in the 1830's.  But for white men like Jackson -- and Calhoun -- they couldn't conceive there were any altruistic or humane ideals or concerns involved.  Any talk of abolition had to be for calculated political objective, because that is how they thought.  States rights, uselessness of central government except for national defense, no publicly funded projects even for infrastructure -- all of us are in this alone.  No one could actually give a damn about slaves and their condition within this democracy of rugged, self-sufficient individualists.

Slavery just was, and always would be. No problem. Except that for political and economic gain there were northern politicians who wanted to use them as an excuse to stirr up trouble for the south, just as there were southerners doing the same thing.

From my perspective here in the second decade of the 21st century this callousness about so many human beings, even among politicians, takes my breath away.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

First Solo Music Gig of 2011 Plus the Gulf Coast

El Vaquero writes:
my first solo concert of the new year will be next week, on february 17 at 7:30 p.m. in historic rock hall, maryland, which has a wonderful performance space called the mainstay.

it's part of a series of events at the mainstay that week in honor of new orleans. i admit, it wasn't my idea to call the event "oysters and ned sublette," but i think it's a fine name, and if i've gotta be second-billed, let it be to the great high-cholesterol fast food of colonial days. the plan is to have gulf oysters available at intermission, in support of the louisiana seafood industry.
The Mainstay is located at 5753 Main Street, Rock Hall (Kent County), MD.

*The Black Swan*

OK, a couple of people made the mistake of asking what I thought about the Black Swan, nominated for something like 5 academy awards. This expresses very well what I thought about it, though I would be less kind and say further the writing is thudly, lazy, dumb and unimaginative. In other words, the movie I saw was exactly what I expected to see and that is why I hadn't seen it before now, when three cabin-fevered friends employed it as a pretext to get the hell outta dodge on the first nice day in weeks and weeks of dreadful winter weather.

We shared our contempt of this movie. We agreed that the only bit that rose above the general mess was the staged solo of the Black Queen. That had the advantage of no dialogue, and of being danced by an authentic ballerina prima (Sarah Lane of American Ballet Theatre) to the authentic Tschaikovsky music, rather than the tarting up of Tschaikovsky by the movie's composer.

Nor are we the only ones to feel this way.  C said plaintively, "I suppose if you don't know anything about dance or artists you will think this is good. But I think even if I didn't know anything about dance or artists I still would have seen this as a bad movie."

We could not suspend disbelief. You just bet someone can dance with a blade of glass in her abdomen.  You just betcha a dancer whose entire back is covered in a tattoo will be accepted into a world class ballet company.

"But the ballerina must die.  They must die for the art.  Ballerinas' only role are to be instruments of the will of the male director. It's only a movie!  This is merely a paradigm of the ballerina's art. It's a horror film, for pete's sake, not to be taken seriously.  Lighten up you silly women."

Give us silly women a foxtrot break here. Now, if you wanted to do something new and exciting with Swan Lake, that remains a paradigm of the artist's and / or ballerina's experience, we effortlessly came up with several directions while we drove off to dinner in the dark.

At dinner we were bombarded relentlessly with the Super Bowl so-called entertainment up on the television screens which were on every wall and at every angle so thoughtfully provided by the only restaurants open on Sunday night down here.  This so-called entertainment was even dumber and more pointless than The Black Swan.

E said, "That movie wasn't worthy of my tutu.  I'm glad I decided after all not to wear it." C exclaimed, "E! You wouldn't have worn a tutu!" E looked at us. "Well, people dress up to see the Harry Potter movies." She reflected, spoon hovering, "I think they have more fun with Harry Potter than we did watching Natalie Portman starve, then kill herself and bore us all to death." Thoughtfully, she sipped another spoonful of her crab bisque.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Slavery's Constitution & the Perfecting of it in the Constitution of the C.S.A.

Some time back I worked through Richard Beeman's excellent, deeply informative study of the Philadelphia (Constitutional) Convention,  Plain Honest Men: The Making of the Constitution (2009). Beeman provides the debates and the articles that deal with slavery as much central attention as any of the other signally important issues, such representation in the hopefully central government.

That same year, 2009, David Waldstreicher also published a study of the Constitution and the making of it, Slavery's Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification.  A much slimmer book than Plain Honest Men, Waldstreicher (also auther of Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery and the American Revolution (2004)), it focuses on this Document sans the entertaining and enlightening context of the personalities and histories of the delegates to the Convention.  He also runs down the various 'historians' schools' approaches to the Constitution, which, like that of the

"... 'republican' or 'ideological school tends to see slavery as at most a side issue -- a distraction that nearly derailed the Constitution.  This is true even though the same historians are sometimes willing to discuss the issue of slavery in other contexts.  There are two reasons for this.  One is that the scholars of republicanism take ideas and rhetoric most seriously  In doing this, they have advanced our understanding of political change in this era. But they tend to see slavery as the opposite of ideas, of discussion, of reason.  Slavery in their view was an ancient institution propped up by a traditional, shared, and irrational racism that, Bailyn and Wood argue, hardly anybody challenged until many decades later.

Yet, recent scholarship depicts African slavery in the eighteenth century as a dynamic, changing modern institution.  Its innovations, and the rise of enlightened critiques of colonialism, contributed to the emergence of antislavery during the same decades, the 1760s and 1770s ... . Instead, these historians bring slavery back into the narrative as post-Revolutionary, American antislavery. ... this explains the Constitution's silence about slavery and suggests the praiseworthy antislavery implications of that silence.  It also excuses the framers from having done anything more. (pp 11-12)
Now, imagine reading along with these two books, a study of how the C.S.A believed it perfected the Consitution by ridding it of the distractions of democratic inclusion and all the other Enlightenment idealism.  The C.S.A. constitution filled in those perceived absences or silences of good taste (the Constitution never employs the words slavery or slaves) by making textually explicit that this is a democracy for white men only.  It was based ideologically and economically on white supremacy, slavery and the inferiority of anyone who is not a white man.  Among real life challenges the C.S.A. encountered immediately with this Constitution was ... C.S.A. women. The C.S.A women had to handle things alone -- whereas the C.S.A government and constitution promised to care for them, as naturally ordained inferiors -- like the slaves -- in the place of their naturally ordained superiors, their (white) male relatives.  Among many other problems, not that much later arrived the necessity to employ slaves and even freemen by the Confederate armed forces.

This book also puts the slaveholding thinking within a nineteenth century, international political and sociological matrix of white supremacist, anti-enlightenment and anti-democratic, anti-reform movements throughout Europe, South America and the U.S.A. Recall, for instance the re-institution of serfdom in Middle Europe and in Russia.  This book is Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (2010) by Stephanie McCurry. 

I've never seen anything quite like McCurry's study.  Among the many fascinating, unknown events are the women-organized food riots in the Confederacy.  Speculators and gougers hoarded food, raised the prices beyond anything that war or no war, the wives and mothers of the average troop in the Confederate army would never have been able to afford.  The biggest riot was in Atlanta.  For some reason Margaret Mitchell did not choose to include this very large event in her Civil War Atlanta in Gone With the Wind.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Beautiful Day, Plus The War of 1812, Andrew Jackson & *The Black Swan*

On the Eastern Shore! 46 degrees. The sun is shining. The wind is not blowing. Most of the snow has been washed and melted away, though the mounds from clearance of parking lots for instance, were so large, they are still significant. The birds are wicked active and vocal. Outdoors smells like April.

Upon arising I went to work, attempting to compose coherent take away on the War of 1812 and Andrew Jackson. What a land grab!  Most of what was soon to be known as the Cotton Kingdom.  Additionally he ridded his natal state of South Carolina of any need to further regard anything coming out of the U.S.A.  How differently things might have turned out for this country if Andrew Jackson hadn't been where he was when he was.  So much happened because of him, the person he was. Part of what he was, was that he, like Julius Caesar, was possessed of extraordinary battle luck.

About an hour into this a neighbor calls. She and another friend are determined to catch The Black Swan; today's the last chance to do so around here, over in Easton. Would I like to go with them? I hemmed for a minute. I decided it would be healthy to play hooky.

el V says it's nice in NYC too, and the rain of yesterday significantly reduced their snow mountains, which are considerably larger than ours! He's in a better state of mind after hanging out with our friends uptown last night.  He was so miserable Friday night and yesterday.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Numbers, Plus Squirrels

According to Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (2010), Yale University Press:

"Out of perhaps twelve and a half million (a number that has been revised upward from ten million) Africans brought to America, say Eltis and Richardson, only an estimated 389,000 came to the territory that became the United States, broken down as 129,000 to the Chesapeake, 211,000 to the Low Country, 27,000 to the middle territories and New England, and 22,000 to the Gulf Coast.[1] "
[1] Eltis and Richardson, 18

The Gulf region, including Florida and Louisiana, received about 22,000 Africans in total, and these people largely came in three periods - some 6,000 arriving in the 1720s, another 2,000 in the 1770s and another 10,000 in the first two decades of the nineteenth century (after the Louisiana Purchase by the U.S.), despite legal abolition of the slave trade from Africa after 1808.  Recall these numbers are ONLY for those brought to what became the United States directly FROM Africa.  These numbers are not imports from Cuba, other parts of the Caribbean or anywhere else.

Through the kitchen window this morning:  Did squirrel tails provide the inspiration for semaphore communications? Sycamore Squirrel Complains and Signals Via Tail:

There were nuts here.
I found nuts here.
I ate the nuts that were here.
Surely there are nuts here now.
Where are the freakin' nuts?!!!?!!!?!!!

Sycamore Squirrel & Nuts Update: he found new nut largess spread on the patio and already buried them. It took only minutes, because it's mulch in which he digs. He's now sitting in imitation of statue on one of the backyard storm-downed branches, tail silent.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

“Benjamin Franklin And the Birth of a Paper Money Economy,” Plus Birds

This was a lecture given by Professor Farley Grubb on March 30, 2006, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The Reserve Bank and The Library Company of Philadelphia co-sponsored this lecture as one of many events held in the city of Philadelphia to mark the 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin.

I never expected currency in the colonies and economist Farley Grubb would have played a role in the research for The American Slave Coast. I wonder if my amigo L and / or her husband are familiar with Grubb as he comes out of the U of Chicago School of Economics, and so does L's. husband.

W College's B&G's have not yet cleared away the tree and branches fallen into the back yard from the last storm. Despite the fog and sog, the temperature today is considerably higher than it's been in days. The birds love that broken tree and the branches. There's a surprising number of different birds -- surprising to me, anyway. Maybe the fall made sleeping insects / pupae? in the bark more accessible to them? I can see the birds very clearly through the kitchen windows since the trees are bare and the bushes flattened by the storm haven't stood up again. (I suppose the new glasses also help.)

As you can see from the county's Bird List, the county and the Eastern Shore are haven and home to enormous number of and kinds of birds, not only shore and water fowl. Jays, robins, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, finches, sparrows, juncos, cardinals and bluebirds are our common backyard birds.

What's also enjoyable to watch from the kitchen windows in winter are the squirrels dance-springing in the aerial acrobatics from tree-to-tree, fenced yard-to-yard. The cats also lost most of their invisibility, with the loss of foliage and the arrival of snow. You see them making their usual rounds along their usual paths now, where usually these passages are hidden. Through the windows I also contemplate the still unsolved mystery of certain tracks in the snow, and what unseen creature it is that makes them.

Elsewhere it was not a good day.  From Texas to Michigan, they're buffeted by 50 MPH winds, ice and rain, and then feet of snow.  In Egypt it was a really bad day for the Egyptians; it was not that good of a day for journalists either, but that's their job.  Zunguzungu has a great deal of well-informed commentary about Egypt, with good linkage.

What do women have to do with the origins of the Civil War?

The writer, Elizabeth R. Varon, goes on to say, "Growing up in Virginia in the 1970s, I often heard this answer: nothing."
Today's Disunion column is "Women at War," the war being the American Civil War.

"Much has changed since then. A new generation of scholars has rediscovered the Civil War as a drama in which women, and gender tensions, figure prominently. Thanks to new research into diaries, letters, newspapers and state and local records, we now know that women were on the front lines of the literary and rhetorical war over slavery long before the shooting war began. They were integral to the slave resistance and flight that destabilized the border between North and South. And they were recruited by both secessionists and Unionists to join a partisan army, with each side claiming that the “ladies,” with their reputation for moral purity, had chosen it over its rivals. So what do women have to do with the origins of the war? The answer is: everything."
The quality of this Disunion series that chronologically follows the lead-up to the Civil War is outstanding. The commentary's quality varies from equally outstanding, to insane.

The most consistently high quality commentary was in response to the column that quoted and discussed directly Jefferson Davis's and his confed's VP's speeches that proclaimed in detail how the confederacy was about slavery, first, last and always. The reason this column's commentary was so consistently high quality is that there were no neoConfeds jumping in to insist the war wasn't about slavery. It was impossible to argue with pres. Davis, I guess. There was one commentator though who did get in, "Why do you always have to drag in slavery when talking about the Civil War?"