". . . 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, November 29, 2014

This Shit Ain't Over!

The Absolute RIGHT Line of This Week That Is Almost Was.

George Clinton and P-Funk, to a huge, densely packed house, at least 2/3 African American of all generations (including the babies of GC's granddaughters who came long dancing with their mamas deep into the show):

"This shit ain't over!"

If anything that's what Ferguson showed this nation this week.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Freezing Last Night + Poussin - The National Gallery

Puddles left over from the nor'easter were forming a few crystals by the time we got home around midnight from the Film Forum where we and a couple of friends watched The National Gallery. But our bulging bags of leftovers sent home with us did not freeze, though they were cold.

The National Gallery was interesting enough that el V neither left nor complained, which never, or hardly, ever happens with him and movies. (We also found parts of it funny enough to laugh out loud, to the great bewilderment of the rest of the audience.  But then, we laughed all the way through Henry Adams's histories of the Jefferson and Madison administrations too.) That he el V was able to sit through so is because it's a documentary about the operation of the National Gallery of Art (London), not a dramatic, narrative fiction film.

Clearly, however, the word had come down from somewhere or other, as could be deciphered via the business meetings the camera attends, that the mission operative words for the NG  that year 2011 -2012 (the year of their blockbuster Leonard da Vinci show) was "narrative" and "storytelling." So the staff, tour guides and art historian lecturers constantly emphasized to the attendees, art students, tourists, school children etc., that art tells stories.  Alas, the stories the staff told them the art told were awful! -- and sometimes just stupid.

There's a Velázquez ("Jesus With Mary and Martha") about which the lecturer complacently intones the forefront women are to be 'read' as Mary and Martha -- when it's clear that Mary is with Jesus in another room.

What likely is actually going on in the foreground, as one will know who was brought up  female, which the lecturer certainly was not, to housekeeping, is the older woman chiding the younger kitchen maid that if she doesn't take care of the fish right now instead of pounding the garlic the fish are going to go bad. One can read this too, as the kitchen maid is also trying to listen to Jesus, but unlike Mary, the maid of a lower class, a worker in the household, is not allowed to listen. The lecturer ignored entirely that Velázquez tipica of the forefront scene opening via a mirror, a window, another painting, to an entirely other scene in the background with the other action with Mary listening to Jesus speak on the spiritual matters that he later tells Martha are "the best part" of leading one's life, rather than bustling about making dinner. (I've come to have sympathy for Martha over the years that I didn't have back when I was a young girl and obviously took Mary's part, because that's what I would have done ....)  Gads, I love Velázquez's work!

One wonders ... how a few of the staff, particularly the woman who was their publicity and marketing person, felt when they saw themselves after the film was finished. That woman -- if there was a villain in The National Gallery, it was her -- she really thought it would be great for them to be an endorsing sponsor of some huge sports event, though she couldn't ever articulate in what way being part of the world that is all about sneakers commercials would help bring positive awareness to the Gallery. Nor did she ever shut up, or listen -- and repeated herself endlessly. Anything she said, she said nineteen times at least without taking breath.

One also got the impression that everyone who is a Gallery expert art historian staff member, who is British, had the same training somewhere, because they all used their arms and hands in their presentations as if they were attempting to fly, constantly touched themselves everywhere. It was a relief to hear a voice that was American or German -- or even, I think, Geordie, as they didn't have these distracting and irritating mannerisms that ended up dominating their presentations rather than the information ,or the painting they were talking about, dominating. In contrast, the experts such as the restorers and so on, when they spoke, and they were as articulate as the art historians, when they used their hands, they were doing something real, with tools.

It was fun for me, because I'd been reading all about Poussin in Anthony Blunt: his lives (2001), that Poussin, and particularly his "The Triumph of Pan"

were among the arts works looked at. I loved understanding the snark the lecturer was making about Blunt -- if you knew that background, that Blunt, a commie spy exposed in 1979 by Thatcher, had made his art history career via Poussin, who was very poorly regarded until Blunt, with the help of better, German, experts, bootstrapped himself to social and professional success with his championship of Poussin. In fact, it was because Blunt was one of the Brits who managed to create the whole discipline of art history in England that I've been reading the book.

It was the varieties of intense knowledge and information that we hear described and witness going into restoration, cleaning, and so on, even putting up an exhibit, that were most fascinating. We also appreciated that the expert talking heads, particularly when they are witnessed talking with other experts from other subjects, such as musicology, for instance, how many ways art matters beyond "ART," to other creative and scholarly disciplines, such as history, archeology, fashion, religion, politics and even economics.

At one point, a lecturer to a school group of early teen kids, made a point of saying all this -- the National Gallery itself and the contents of its collections -- had been made possible by the founders' money made from the slave trade.  It was a short, quick disquisition, that made the important checks that making money from the slave trade didn't mean only by going to Africa, taking captives, and selling them in the New World: it was insurance, shipbuilding, supplying, money invested from plantations in the New World in English manufacturies and so on.  (Nobody did use the term capitalism though.)

The documentary also spends some time with all the many other activities that an art museum sponsors and nurtures.  There are art classes taught in touch and spoken word for those with vision impairments.  Art classes in drawing.  Poets, speaking their work. Musicians playing among art works.  Dancers, dancing in front of Titians, which were part of a series that supposedly are Titian's response to Ovid's Metamorphoses (which, like so many of that sort of performance left me scratching my head, wondering why that with that? what did it matter?) Yet, an art museum shouldn't be confined to what is hanging static in space, should it? So, why not?

The art with which we spend most of the film's running time is from the 16th and 17th centuries. So much so do we live in that, for us, now, timeless past of masterpieces, that, when close to the end, we see a small burst of late 19th century painting, they strike you with their full shock of the new and the modern. We've suddenly reentered our own world of the 21st century, which, far from being timeless, is imbued with the sense of time running out.

This is a video documentary: HBO is among the funders, as well as is participation of a large number of English and French television networks, and from the U.S., PBS and Sundance.

Video is the perfect means for working in an art museum, as the objects are already optimally lit for showing, so little or no lighting is needed for video shooting. Film, however, would demand lighting, and the lighting would burn out the objects. Art is concerned with light and angle and dimension and color as fundamental creative principles. Thus, The National Gallery is a gorgeous viewing experience, which is as it should be.

Tonight: George Clinton and P-Funk at B.B. King's.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving - Lincoln

One thinks of Lincoln and the Civil War at Thanksgiving.

Until only a few days ago I was ignorant of this poem.

"The Martyr"

GOOD Friday was the day
Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm--
When with yearning he was filled
To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conqueror, be kind;
But they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand:
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand.

He lieth in his blood--
The father in his face;
They have killed him, the Forgiver--
The Avenger takes his place,
The Avenger wisely stern,
Who in righteousness shall do
What the heavens call him to,
And the parricides remand;
For they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness,
And his blood is on their hand.

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand:
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand.

"The Martyr" was originally published in Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War. Herman Melville. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1866.

The poet's grief and bewilderment still weep and bleed in these lines.

Why did this happen?  Madness and hatred and evil the poet says.  Poets can use those terms, historians cannot.  Except when it comes to acts of violence such as presidential assassinations and school shootings -- then everyone from police to journalists to historians rush to say, "This is the act of a lone madman."

Yet before and during the war, as well as after, even historians such as Henry Adams characterized the secessionists as mad men, filled with evil, because the secessionists' hatred was so inexplicable to the rest of the country.

But if John Wilkes Booth was "merely" mad, then certainly were all the fire eating secessionists, including those plotting to burn down NYC, Chicago and other northern cities, and take them over then, with a coalition of northern Democrats and southern secessionists come down from their refuge in Canada back in the fall of 1864.

So, what drove all these people insane?  It could only be centuries of living in a society that was made of slavery and white supremacy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Favorite Line of the Week So Far

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

played to such enchanting effect by the enchanting Susan Hampshire.

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Glory Road and Gone With the Wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

General W.T. Sherman - Front Page News Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


vs. this:

You decide.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Egypt in 1862 -- Photographs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Coaly-Bay, The Black Stallion vs. My Little Pony

There are so many pop culture obsessions and interests about not only am I entirely ignorant, but don't even know exist.  Here is another one, "My Little Pony."  Is my ignorance due to not having little kids of my own and / or not having grown up on television? Our rural community's households didn't get connected for television until I was about eleven. As well, during summers the television frequently quit on us, and my parents refused to get it repaired until after school resumed.

I spent part of this morning in bemused reading of this essay in New York Magazine, by Lisa Miller: "How My Little Pony Became a Cult for Grown Men and Preteen Girls Alike."  It's very long by NY Mag's standard. 

A pull from the essay:

If you’ve heard of My Little Pony, you’ve probably also heard about “Bronies,” the zealous (and somewhat suspect) brotherhood of adult male fans. But to focus too closely on the Brony phenomenon is to wade in shallow water and pretend to know the ocean. My Little Pony is a worldview, and a way of life, for millions of non-creepy people who find the show entertaining and amusing, yes, but who also say it provides them with the personal guidance, moral ­lessons, and comforting perspective that previous generations used to find in places like church. Fans refer to the show itself — 91 episodes in four seasons, with a fifth to come in 2015 — as “the canon,” and over at Equestria Daily, the largest fan site, they participate in something like midrash, avidly hashing over references, meanings, and inconsistencies. But there’s also a whole world of apocrypha — art, video games, music, T-shirts, and fiction — created by fans and based loosely on the canon but jumping off in unorthodox directions. It’s not unusual to find online Pony versions of other cults: Super Mario Pony, Minecraft Pony, Dr. Who Pony, and, my favorite, My Little Game of Thronies.

This is what in the essay really grabbed me, and kept me reading to the end:

. . . . In the final moments of the premiere, Twilight’s glittering anime eyes widen as she realizes that the Elements of Harmony are right by her side, the five flesh-and-blood friends she has made with her mentor Celestia’s help. Applejack represents honesty; Rarity, generosity; Flutteryshy, kindness; Rainbow Dash, loyalty; and Pinkie Pie, laughter. Twilight herself possesses the magic that binds them together. In Equestria, this friendship is a superpower; it safeguards the world. And it is a superpower wielded entirely by females.

My daughter noticed when she was approximately 3 that adventure stories were for boys. Magical powers are bestowed upon certain special, deserving boys — Peter Pan, Peter Parker, Harry Potter — while other boys (Luke Skywalker, King Arthur, the boy-esque Bagginses) inherit potent tools that aid them in their fight for right. Some boy-heroes work alone (Superman, Spider-Man), others in teams (X-Men, Avengers); the girls, if they’re there at all, feel obligatory, ancillary, like sidekicks. But Lauren Faust’s career tracks closely with a sea change in entertainment for girls, starting with the makeover of the movie princess, who no longer cools her heels, locked up or asleep, as she attends to her prince, but outfights and outshoots her brothers (Brave), defies convention (Maleficent), heals the sick (Tangled), and copes with the existential consequences of supernatural gifts (Frozen). At this very moment, dissertations are being written (“Hermione Granger and the ­Heritage of Gender”) about the magical Muggle-born who bravely claims a place for girls in worlds — of wizards, of English boarding schools — that were formerly hostile to them, and Pixar is putting the finishing touches on Inside Out, to be released this summer, which unfolds inside a girl’s brain. The YA shelves are filled with girl vampires, girl warriors, girls who can fly, and orphaned sisters destined for greatness. There’s Wicked, of course. And for my money, the most exquisite indicator of the ascendancy of the underage superheroine is Broadway’s Matilda, a musical adaptation of a Roald Dahl tale, featuring a cranky, sensitive, brainy girl with a finely tuned sense of justice, who, when pushed past her limit, resembles the Hulk more than any little girl in the history of myth.

As a child and girl and young woman I was possessed by horses.  I read everything I could find about horses, looked at horse art and illustration, gazed for hours at horses in the pastures, played with horses, played horses, write stories about horses.  I fantasized long, arch stories featuring horses; while trapped in the very many boring conditions of my mundane life in the backseat of the car, a church pew, hoeing weeds in the garden, hanging clothes on the line, waiting to fall asleep, etc.

"Coaly-Bay The Outlaw Horse", one of my childhood's favorite
stories, in Volume 7 of The Animal Book (1938), by Ernest
Thompson Seton
. The story, with Seton's own illustrations,
can be read here

By-and-large my horse fantasy world was without human beings entirely, even without me.  I wasn't my visually impaired, clumsy, homely self, I was The Black, I was Coaly-Bay.

So, it seems, despite My Little Pony's world being called Equestria, this universe has little to nothing to do with horses as horses.

But maybe it has a lot to do with having power and agency?  However, judging by some of the comments responding to Miller's essay, a lot of people think it means quite the opposite -- a desire to never mature, grow up and take on adult responsibilities and deal with the global messes that we've created.

One might think too, that in this day and age, this --

Once upon a time, in a mythical, magical, distant past, Equestria was ruled by two sister pony princesses, one black and one white, hybrids of a supernatural kind — “alicorns,” my daughter whispered authoritatively. Celestia, the white princess, was in charge of the sun, and Luna, the black one, ­controlled the moon. The sisters reigned harmoniously until Luna began to notice that the ponies of Equestria frolicked and played under her big sister's watch, but under her own, they did nothing but sleep. Jealousy turned Luna into the monster Nightmare Moon, a villainess who threatened to plunge all of Equestria into perpetual darkness. To save Equestria, Celestia was forced to take a stand against her sister. Calling upon her most potent magic, she invoked the mysterious “Elements of ­Harmony” and cast a spell that banished Nightmare Moon to the moon.

making the goodie white and the baddie black is, at best, uncreative, at worst, a bad choice of character stereotyping for a world that is supposed to inculcate friendship, tolerance and happiness.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Reign Season 2 Episode 5 -- "Blood for Blood"

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, is one of history's Big Losers.  She was from a country that was too poor and too small to be a player, unless by chance someone took out her cousin, Queen Elizabeth.  For all her facility with languages she wasn't all that brilliant an intellect (unlike Elizabeth) and had the poverty of political instinct to match (while Elizabeth's political instinct bit all her rivals and enemies with the snap of a trap.  Worst of all, she was Catholic in a northern European milieu that had tipped Protestant.

Thus this preposterous series purportedly about her, is one of television Big Losers.

Preposterous, but not in a good way.

I suppose I'm going to be spending the rest of my life correcting the Young Who Don't Actually, You Know, Read History (or anything for that matter) who will insist otherwise because "I saw it on Reign" that King Francis did not lurve the protestants in his Kingdom of France. For that matter, neither did his wife, nor his mother. Francis and his mom began a long war of attrition upon the protestants that lasted through several reigns, including that of Louis XIV.

Kings of the day did not believe in religious tolerance -- see: King James Stuart I (a/k/a King James VI before he became king of both Scotland and England); he even persecuted protestants who were not his sort of protestant. Thus we got Plymouth Rock and, finally, Boston.  And the First Thanksgiving for one of our first founding myths.  History, slippery stuff.

Dresses are so much more interesting than that pesky history stuff!

What to wear when reading smut -- hey that's the word the writers wrote for the actors to spoke!

Authentic 16th century French wedding gown!
Who is taking odds on whether Reign's King Francis II lives to see another season?  He only reigned a year, historically speaking.  For that matter who is taking odds on whether Reign makes a season 3?

Though -- it could be mildly entertaining to watch how the writers attempt to deal with Louis, Prince of Condé, whom so far the audience can't figure why he's all over the Court and all up in everybody's biz and being confidential best bf to Queen Mary, and the Huguenot uprising.  They've already played so loose with the history that they're backed into a lot of corners, particularly via the religious situation.  Last season the Big Bad Supernatural Pagan Something-or-Other in the Woods -- and the hidden / lost daughter rather stood in for the protestants -- they even called the pagans heretics, which is ridiculous within the Church's categories.  This season they've brought in the dreaded word, "protestant," though, so far, not Huguenot.

Or if "Huguenot" has been uttered, I missed it, because, you know, it's all about the dresses!