". . . 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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Prouts Neck

Is Hot!  and Humid!  Who knew?

Wifi iffy in these old, old houses.

Food is delicious.

The scenery spectacular.

Since all I feel like doing these days is mooching about in history it's a good thing I'm in a place where some history happened, in the 17th century. This region took part in the decades-long King Phillip's War, that got many a tribe gone-gone-gone from New England, and their lands safely available for the invaders settlers.

Why Banks Don't Worry About the Fed

A confidential report and a fired examiner’s hidden recorder penetrate the cloistered world of Wall Street’s top regulator—and its history of deference to banks.
by Jake Bernstein 

This American Life audio version can be heard here

It is essential reading / listening for every one who is affected by the boom and bust cycles, both of which tend to make the 99% poorer and the 1% richer, that the U.S. calls an economy.

As are the members of the Federal regulation investigators who do the job they are hired and paid to do -- when they do it they get fired.  Like Carmen Segarra.

Monday, September 22, 2014

For the First Day of Fall, A Little Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow (2013) Fox, first season, first four episodes.  I dunno about this show.

New Berne, North Carolina
Would that be because it’s obvious that instead of New York this is North Carolina?  Spanish Moss in the cemetery’s a dead give-away.

Maybe because at this point it looks a like a Monster of the Week show? Those MOW’s were detraction and distraction from the elements for which I, at least, re-watched BtVS multiple times.

Princess Isabella of France was 3 years old during Wallace's actions. No, they were never married, much less had children.
Or is it because it takes such liberties with historical reality? At this point Sleepy Hollow may as well be Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter – in which vampires are responsible for slavery, rather than human greed and power drive. However, for someone like me who is an historian I see the consequences of pretending history is different than it was, “just for fun” – for example: Scotland’s voters invoking secession based on watching Braveheart – which lacks even a shred of historical fact or reality, including the wardrobe, geographical distance and who is who and who is married to whom in Edward I’s reign.* To make things even more ridiculous, the so-called serious news media, like NPR's "All Things Considered," interviewed the script writer and director of this fantasy film for insights into how the vote might go.  That's the best you guys could come up with?  It's not only them, of course -- in the run-up to the vote, lines from Braveheart were quoted all over the internet by those who were supporters of secession.

What I do like about Sleepy Hollow is its anti-Whedonish racial diversity that was present in these first episodes. In that sense it’s a little reminiscent of the first two seasons of Lost Girl, which were a lot of fun.  So far, though, Sleepy Hollow feels more predicatable than fun.  If, however, the relationship between Crane and Abbie develops into a nuanced professional, shared mission loyalty and friendship, that would be promising.  If, however, the writers start pushing it into sexual romance tension – ho-frackin’-hum.

Should I keep watching this?


*  It’s hilarious that many of those who insist women in had no roles of consequence in medieval centuries, thus most women in the middle ages are whores, invoke a (fictitious, at least in chronology, marriage and galloping alone around the country-side to meet her rebel lover, while wearing not even a shawl for modesty or protection against the damp chill) princess from Braveheart to prove the reality of another equally fictitious, non-historical fantasy.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

1635 Decima

El V's decided how to open his performance bit tonight at Danny Rivera's concert: with a decima, from La vida es sueño, by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, widely regarded as the greatest playwright ofSpain's el siglo de oro.  Decimas are still sung in Puerto Rico. 

He's accompanying his performance by playing his classical Ramírez, the same guitar he bought as a young classical guitar and vihuela student in Spain, with the help of Segovia.

The guitar was already a recognizable instrument in Spain by this time of the 17th century, via the vihuela and the gittern.

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?  As had, not coincidentally, the trade in slaving Native Americans to the Caribbean, as the population of many of the tribes that had extensive contact with the Europeans in the territory collapsed.

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.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

So Under The Gun I Can Hardly Think

Yet, thinking is exactly what I am under the gun to be doing, supposedly because I can think, and fact check and do all those things.

To make everything more complicated in the 90 degree heat and the stupendous humidity, when I settle in to do today's quota of pages, the primary library I use, for no reason, locked out my log-in, declaring either i.d. or password was fraudulent, or maybe both.  Reset password, still I am not a user the system recognizes as legitimate.

I phone and am told stupid stuff by someone who doesn't know how things work. I go to two different places (it's a huge research facility with special collections in different locations) -- the first one is closed on Saturdays, though it was open on Saturdays last month --  and am instantly re-legitimized manually, thereby learn that I have materials from ILL waiting -- but at another library elsewhere.

The upshot is, I spent over three hours out in the sun and humidity that I should have used for fact checking and so on and so forth.  Plus another hour + prior to noon, doing the usual Saturday errands, hoping to be finished before it hit 90, though it was already 90, but I didn't know that.

And -- it's Fall Fashion Week! Every female college student with the least pretension to a career in Fashion is in the City.  (So then, how come all the bar - restaurants are packed and nobody's in the designers' stores -- yes, I live where every designer has a loss leader flagship store.)  Bumper to bumper traffic for some reason -- even at 10 AM -- on Houston.  And many tourists with melting down screaming children who are not enjoying their MILFs shopping til they drop for themselves.

I came home, soaked from head to toe -- mentioned, didn't I, the humidity? Drank over a quart of water at one go. Then I gave thanks to the Great Air Conditioner for our reliable, sturdy little unit which keeps our (small) place a cool cave.

All of us sometimes have days like this.  It really could be worse.  O yes, easily, a whole lot worse.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Economist Magazine's Reviewer's Feelings Hurt By Book About Slavery and Capitalism

White slave owners and traders are pictured as victimizers and enslaved people as victimized!  This is advocacy not history, shrills anonymous reviewer of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist.

I have read the book. The title is perfect
because the whole story is still not told.
Though most of what is in his book is in
The American Slave Coast, there's a
great deal more in TASC -- but then
TASC is much longer and covers the
entire period of legal slavery in the U.S.
Each book focuses on different aspects of 
of slavery and capitalism in the U.S.

In the wake of Ta-Nehisi Coates tweets about it, The Economist felt it necessary to apologize and withdraw the review:

Apology: In our review of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward Baptist, we said: “Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains.” There has been widespread criticism of this, and rightly so. Slavery was an evil system, in which the great majority of victims were blacks, and the great majority of whites involved in slavery were willing participants and beneficiaries of that evil. We regret having published this and apologise for having done so. We have therefore withdrawn the review, but in the interests of transparency the text remains available only on this special page and appears below.

And here it is, and how typically ignorant it is. This anonymous person even drags up that very disproved "fact" that slaves were not badly treated because they were too valuable to be mistreated. That this is mendacious is proved with every account of slavery one reads.  More important than a slave's value were two other parts of a slave society: profit, and in the case of U.S. southern slavery in particular, white supremacy of the "black" body -- though as the generations rolled on the general lightening of the enslaved population became ever more noticeable.

[ " “FOR sale: a coloured girl, of very superior qualifications…a bright mulatto, fine figure, straight, black hair, and very black eyes; very neat and cleanly in her dress and person.” Such accounts of people being marketed like livestock punctuate Edward Baptist’s grim history of the business of slavery.

Although the import of African slaves into the United States was stopped in 1807, the country’s internal slave trade continued to prosper and expand for a long time afterwards. Right up until the outbreak of the civil war in 1861, the American-born children and grandchildren of enslaved Africans were bought cheap in Virginia and Maryland to be sold dear in private deals and public auctions to cotton planters in the deep South.

Tall men commanded higher prices than short ones. Women went for less than men. The best bids were for men aged 18 to 25 and for women aged 15 to 22. One slave recalled buyers passing up and down the lines at a Virginia slave auction, asking, “What can you do? Are you a good cook? Seamstress? Dairy maid?” and to the men, “Can you plough? Are you a blacksmith?” Slaves who gave surly answers risked a whipping from their masters

Raw cotton was America’s most valuable export. It was grown and picked by black slaves. So Mr Baptist, an historian at Cornell University, is not being especially contentious when he says that America owed much of its early growth to the foreign exchange, cheaper raw materials and expanding markets provided by a slave-produced commodity. But he overstates his case when he dismisses “the traditional explanations” for America’s success: its individualistic culture, Puritanism, the lure of open land and high wages, Yankee ingenuity and government policies. 

ake, for example, the astonishing increases he cites in both cotton productivity and cotton production. In 1860 a typical slave picked at least three times as much cotton a day as in 1800. In the 1850s cotton production in the southern states doubled to 4m bales and satisfied two-thirds of world consumption. By 1860 the four wealthiest states in the United States, ranked in terms of wealth per white person, were all southern: South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia.

Mr Baptist cites the testimony of a few slaves to support his view that these rises in productivity were achieved by pickers being driven to work ever harder by a system of “calibrated pain”. The complication here was noted by Hugh Thomas in 1997 in his definitive history, “The Slave Trade”; an historian cannot know whether these few spokesmen adequately speak for all. 

Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century. Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their “hands” ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy. " ]

By the way, Lord Thomas concentrates his studies on colonial Caribbean and South American slavery, which are his areas and eras of expertise.  He is by no means an expert on the history of the southern U.S. slave society, which differed so much in so many ways from that further south of us, and particularly from the colonies with French and Spanish imperiums' legal systems and codes.

What I can't figure out though, is why The Economist even allowed this review to run at all? Surely they're brighter than this and better informed than this? Except, surely, they knew something like this would appear in the review since they chose whoever-it-was to review it.  It's so convenient for The Economist and its writers to not have by-lines, and not to have ever allowed them, as far as I know.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Many Battles of Atlanta

Thanks to AH and his blog, which provided the link to The Bitter Southerner blog and this story, "The Many Battles of Atlanta."

On July 21st, 2012 the author, Fletcher Moore, and a photographer, Brett Falcon, hiked the 20 mile route taken by General Hardee 148 years ago -- to make this story:
One-hundred-fifty years ago next month, some 25,000 ill-fed, ill-dressed men issued from wood and earth fortifications around the perimeter of what is now downtown Atlanta. Their aim was to sneak around the edge of a sizable Federal army and slay them all from behind. The effort entailed a 15-mile march through the dark of night, in the smothering July heat, down dusty paths and through a trackless wilderness.
General Johnston was replaced by General Hood as defender of Atlanta against Sherman. The objective was this:
After a failed attack on the Federals as they crossed Peachtree Creek north of Atlanta, Hood drew his troops into the city's inner defensive lines, in the hopes of getting Sherman to stick his neck out. Sherman arguably did just that, sending McPherson due west from the Decatur area along a route roughly corresponding to I-20. At nightfall on July 21, McPherson's 35,000 men were arrayed in a north-south line, from somewhere near the intersection of I-20 and Moreland Avenue to the vicinity of Little Five Points, with a reserve division (around 12,000 men) encamped in modern Candler Park.
Major General James B. McPherson, killed at the Battle of Atlanta on July 22nd, 1864.
Seeing his opportunity, Hood ordered one of his corps commanders, Gen. William J. Hardee, to march his men along a hook-shaped route, south, then east, then back north, seeking to fall undetected upon the left flank and rear of McPherson's army. The march was to be performed under cover of night, aiming to recreate Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s similar maneuver at Chancellorsville the year before, which had produced a stunning victory. Audacious as Hood’s idea may have been, however, Hardee’s march was beset with unexpected obstacles, and the troops were not in a position to attack until past noon the following day, by which time McPherson had sniffed out the plan and sent his reserve to meet them. While the Confederates enjoyed some initial success, the offensive ultimately failed, and subsequently the Confederate position in Atlanta began to slowly unravel, culminating in a fiery retreat some six weeks later.
It was Hardee's route I aimed to duplicate.
Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Sherman's columns in Atlanta.

The stories told by Fletcher Moore of General Hardee and Hood are not those of Gone With the Wind. The final paragraph telling the final fate of this Atlanta is chilling for the same reason that are those of Columbia and Richmond chilling, when the CSA falls, and the armies and government desert:
As I trudge through East Atlanta and drop myself on a bus bench to await my ride home, I can't help but think of the one detail of the battle that seems to escape the attention of those who identify with the “lost cause”: When Hood finally gave up the ghost and fled the city, it was he who lit the first match that burned Atlanta to the ground.
General Sherman
Yet, to this day, the "sons-of-bitches invading Yankees who wouldn't leave us alone" are blamed for the burning of these cities.

The photos that go with this "Bitter Southerner" piece are fascinating and one wishes for more of them.

Reading Wednesday: The American Slave Coast + Memoirs of A Fox-Hunting Man, Tuchman, Faulkner & Willam Alexander Percy

This is the week of the final read-through, revisions, fact-checking, etc. of The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry.  This is adding to the current seasonal dissonance created first by the hottest weather of the entire summer, because, while this week is the start of everything new for so many as classes resume here in NYC in every level from pre-K to university, we are finishing a multi-year project. Or, at least, finishing this aspect of the project -- we're working on a presentation of some of the material complete with musicians, singers and other readers ....

Yesterday was the first real scorcher of this year, with temps in the high 90's as well as very high humidity. The copy shop to which I took the thumb drive to print out, yet again, the first chapters of TASC, had a line out into the street of anxious NYU kids, purchasing the spiral bound class packets that their professors had put together and the copy center had xeroxed and assembled, to be paid for with NYU's own cash card, which each student presumably is issued (NYU has its own currency, i.e. on that card).

I was so glad to not be a student, teaching or, worst of all -- a freshman!

It was very hot and stuffy in that little Asian-owned copy shop, the only one left in the neighborhood, staffed by brilliant young Asian girls -- who, by now, must as sick of seeing me come in with that thumb drive to have these pages once again printed out, as I am about doing it. It will be interesting to see, when we add up all the expenses for doing this book, how much we've spent on copying the drafts over the years.  The first year, of course, we didn't spend any money ourselves, since we could copy at the Center in C'town.

This was in every way a very expensive book to write,* even if we don't add in the cost of the extensive travel research we did, including going to England. Still, though some of the travel costs were off-set by paying gigs, this was no small sum. There is also the payment for permission to use certain illustrations -- as well as having again to re-purchase Photo Shop (though now Photo Shop no longer sells the program at all -- it only rents) to process our own photos and to restore the very poor quality of period newspaper advertisements and other illustrations.

Just the cost of living while doing this book, which has increased every few months -- well, that's why it's taken so long. There wasn't much time to just work on the book. There was all the other work taken on to support ourselves in the meantime.

All the while, even now, we keep learning more history instrumental to the founding causes as to why the Southern United States, of all the New World economies that included slavery, was the only one to be a slave society, its economy based on womb enslaved into perpetuity. It wasn't an accident by any means.The intention and the perspective which allow such an inhumane blindness to humanity and civil rights was embedded in the founding fathers of the Southern states even before the first settlements of Virginia and Carolina were founded.

As back home in Britain, their thinking was formed so much by their handling of their Irish plantations, so they expanded this immediately to enslavement for profit (as opposed to labor per se) of the natives. The native tribes, of course, as the African peoples in Africa, were in perpetual rivalry and conflict with each other, so they were ready at all times to betray each other and sell each other to the Carolinians, who were assiduous and methodical in collecting slaves from the natives and selling to the Caribbean colonies.

As always, reading of the brutality of our nation's founding centuries, it's quite a dissonance to switch the heart of British civility, as with Siegfried Sassoon's first volume of changed-names memoir of growing up into and out of World War I.  I began reading Memoirs of A Fox-Hunting Man, in the fall of 2011. I'd had the book on my shelves for years already. I was provoked finally into reading it by my experiences with the Eastern Shore fox hunting clubs.  However, the sheer uselessness of the narrator, Sassoon's fictionalized Sherston-self, as a callow, blind and selfish boy and youth (his own characterization of his younger self), and his entire class-ridden culture on the threshold of WWI, provoked

impatience, while the tiny font and skinny trim of my Faber and Faber paperback, and my worsening vision, provoked annoyance -- so, I put it down. Over the years I would read a chapter every few months, but never making any real progress with the work. However, re-reading / listening to audio versions of Barbara Tuckman's The Proud Tower and The Guns of August, made the last half of the Memoir so interesting -- or maybe he was old enough now? children and adolescents aren't generally very interesting reading for me -- I finished it over the weekend.

As well, I kept thinking of  Sassoon's Memoirs while this spring reading the history of Faulkner's and William Alexander Percy's Mississippi -- Mississippi with which I found myself so involved this year, historically, geographically, politically and culturally.  Both Americans, Faulker and Percy, both aristos in their worlds as much as Sassoon was in his, had very different wars than Sassoon -- yet, for all three of them, their wars were shaped by their being embedded in their world's ruling classes, where everyone knows everyone or at least their uncles and aunts, and make the path clear for these nephews, cousins, school friends' sons. So there are many parallels. While Faulkner never wrote a memoir of his war, he did return to it constantly in his fiction and his (fictionalized) presentations of himself.  Percy did as well, in his poetry, though not so much, and more so in his own memoir,

Lanterns on the Levee.

Picking up Memoirs of A Fox-Hunting Man last week, this time I found it fascinating and finished it in a few nights reading.  The war looms every more largely in the second half, until finally, slowly, o so slowly, the real thing comes, and finally, Sassoon is taken by war, months after he joins up. He loses the men whom he loves, who may well have been his lovers. Whether or not they were physical lovers doesn't matter to us. In any case, the various loves in their various way, were were profound and complete. Finally, the war devours him, ending, for him at least, forever, the very England of the golden days of following the hounds in comaraderie of class, prosperity and family.  The blinders of class and comfort through which Sherston had so happily seen nothing of the world but his own very narrow matters, have been shattered forever, with the shattering of his health and his youth.

The second volume in The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston is Memoirs of 

An Infantry Officer, the third, when he's in hospital and treatment for shell shock,

is titled Sherston's Progress.


* During the course of the years (beginning in September, 2010) working to create The American Slave Coast, el V and I both used up two computers. We're finishing it, both us on computer 3 -- though yes, both of us initially, began with machines that were unstable in the way computers warn you that necessary replacement looms.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Proposal: Fairy Tale or Potter? Walworth Castle Birds of Prey Center, County Durham

In Northeast Yorkshire, County Durham, is the Walworth Castle.

[ "Walworth’s an honest-to-God castle, dating back 800 years, with a huge Norman tower. You can spend the night in that tower: Walworth is a Best Western hotel, the most atmospheric Best Western you’ve ever seen, with suits of armor and a dungeon. The rooms are, however, aggressively modern, with WiFi and flat-screen TVs." ]

The castle dates back to the 16th century (according to wiki, while the Castle's promotional materials says it dates back 800 years, so I am confused; the castle's architecture does say "older than the 1500's").  These days its marketed as a wedding center. However, Walworth is a place that bird lovers and historians will also enjoy visiting, as it is home to the

Walworth Castle Birds of Prey Center.  The visitor can watch the trained birds in flying displays, go hawking herself or, if in love, combine birds and romance:

[  " . . . the falconers will take you out for a day of hunting rabbits up on the moors. Or they can stage a once-in-a-lifetime experience: A few days before my visit, Tori got one of her trained owls to fly down carrying a diamond in a fancy little bag while a guy proposed to his girlfriend beneath an oak tree." ]

When reading that it's difficult not to visualize Harry Potter's Hedwig (who was a Great Snowy).

Full story about the Birds of Prey Center here.  The 16 photos of the slide show at the top of the article are worth viewing; some are magnificent.