30 September 2009

Getting it Right

Still working on an article that no one will ever read for an encyclopedia that no one will ever buy, I just came across a few marvelous articles on the Blackfeet Nation's newly designed website. Last week, the site had a modest welcome page and no links. Today, the site seems almost complete.

The writing about Blackfeet history is fresh, fervent, and perhaps well-described as Blackfeet Nationalist. Under "Our History," the site offers an article, "We Come From Right Here." I had to read this as quickly as possible because I've long known that the Piegan Blackfeet insist they have been in Montana 10,000 years, while most books state they were migrating southwest fresh from the Canadian Prairies about the time they fell into a fight with Lewis and Clark on the explorers' return from Oregon in 1806. Some of the history books put the Blackfeet in Montana a century or two before that.
But scholars write books and give lectures and huff and puff about times in which they never lived, worlds into which they never stepped foot, and languages they can never hear spoken by the ancients they study. As an example of how little is really known about Indians in the pre-Columbian period, experts can’t even agree if the population of the Americas was 8 million or 112 million. If they know so little that they can’t get within an order of magnitude of each other, why bother guessing about anything else?
"We Come From Right Here"
The link may change, and the text, too. The site is still under construction. Readers of this blog may know what I think of these population figures. If not, click the "depopulation" link below and read away.

26 September 2009

Errors of Fact

I'm not blogging much of late because I'm struggling to finish an overdue encyclopedia article that compresses all of Montana Indian history into sixty or so double-spaced typewritten pages. Along the way, I'm reading and rereading every book in my library that bears on the subject, probing the depths of the web, and working JSTOR for all it's worth.

The Error

This morning's coffee goes down with a few pages of light reading in The Lance and the Shield: the Life and Times of Sitting Bull (1993) by Robert M. Utley. It seems fair to say that no one knows more about the military history of the nineteenth century Western frontier than Utley. Indeed, the Western History Association's award for the best book each year concerned with the military history of the frontier is called the Robert M. Utley Book Award.

Imagine my dismay, then, when I read the following sentence:

In the summer of 1866 the army built three posts along the Bozeman Trail: Forts Reno, Phil Kearny, and C.F. Smith.
Utley, The Lance and the Shield, 71
In 1865, the U.S. Army sent General Patrick Edward Connor’s Powder River Expedition into northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana with hopes of pacifying the Indians who resented travel through their hunting lands. The expedition established Fort Connor in August 1865 (renamed Fort Reno in November 1865) on the upper Powder River in Wyoming, and then left the region.

Connor split his forces into an ambitious three-pronged assault to converge on the Powder River. His orders to his subordinates stated, “You will not receive overtures of peace or submission from Indians but will attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of age.”* General John Pope, upon learning of these orders, insisted that steps to countermand them be put immediately into action. The Army did not need more bad press of the sort generated in the wake of the brutal Sand Creek Massacre in southeast Colorado. Nevertheless, the expedition continued with Connor’s orders intact.

No friendly Indians were encountered during the campaign, and there were few significant engagements with hostiles. One band of Arapahos was attacked on the Tongue River, losing their winter food stores, clothing, and most of their horses. Several bands of Lakota—Hunkpapas, Blackfeet, Miniconjou, and Sans Arc—harassed Connor’s two eastern columns marching together up the Powder River. The soldiers were well armed and two thousand strong, but were on the verge of starvation, and suffering from the drought. A summer storm brought sudden cold and wet conditions, killing most of the Army’s mules. Further upriver, Oglala led by Red Cloud and Cheyenne led by Little Wolf continued the attacks.

The Army’s efforts seemed to embolden, rather than pacify the Sioux (mostly Lakota), Cheyenne, and Arapaho that had been wresting the area from the Crow, and attacking immigrants. Fort Reno became the first of three forts along the Bozeman Trail that aggravated the Lakota and Cheyenne.

The following summer, troops under the command of Col. Henry B. Carrington built Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming and Fort C.F. Smith on the Bighorn River in Montana.

If Utley can make such an error, anyone can. Of course, some writers make more errors than others. This sentence stands out in Utley's work because it is rare.

*H. D. Hampton, “The Powder River Expedition 1865,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 14 (Autumn 1964): 8-9.

14 September 2009

The Joker

I felt a sense of revulsion when I saw in the newspaper the image of Batman's Joker now covering Obama's face. My immediate sense was that this image carried a threat of violence against the President himself, and this sense was mixed up with the recognition of the old racist tradition of black-face from Vaudeville.

Threatening the President with harm? Racism?

I'm not certain.

Because of certain work obligations, I'm deferring the work I planned to do on President Bush the Elder's education program and his speech to school children in 1991. Meanwhile, I've been arguing on Facebook with a couple of aspiring members of Congress who were part of the Tea Party protest this past weekend, arguing about the size of the event, which looks from the films to be less than 200,000 if not close to the ABC estimate of 60,000 to 70,000. Certainly the crowd was no where near the two million they claim.

This evening they started attacking the Obama Administration for playing the so-called "race card." My quest for context led me to a stunning piece in the Boise Weekly, "Tea Party Inspired by Racial Fears" by Nathaniel Hoffman. Hoffman's summary of the motives of the crowd, as he sees it, may not be one hundred percent accurate, but it's an interesting perspective:
A few common themes unite the Tea Partiers, as far as I can tell: some evolving form of Christian patriotism, an aversion to paying taxes, fear of police with an equal and contradictory adoration of the law and the military, and a personal reading of the Constitution and Founding Fathers that borders on idolatry.
Hoffman, "Racial Fears"
Most of the rest of the article highlights ways that racism might at least appear to be an underlying issue. I'm not certain that Hoffman is correct, but it's food for thought.

07 September 2009

Benefits of History

You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free.
Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama Back to School Event, 2009

How does history teach critical thinking skills?

Obama, Bush, School Speeches

On 8 September 2009, President Barack Obama will address the nation's school children. Notification of this upcoming speech set off a storm of controversy; I highlighted some of the extreme rhetoric present in one online discussion site in "Say What? Obama and the Children." A more productive consequence of the firestorm was that it drove me, a historian, to look at another Presidential speech: President George Bush's 1991 address to students at Alice Deal Junior High (now called Alice Deal Middle School).

President Obama's speech is available on the White House website.

On 1 October 1991, President Bush addressed students in Cynthia Mostoller's classroom at Alice Deal Junior High in Washington DC. The message was broadcast live over CNN, PBS, the NBC radio network, and the now defunct Mutual Broadcasting System.

House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt criticized the speech, according to the Washington Post, "the Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students." The cost was $26,750. The Scripps Howard News Service called it the "Bush teach-in" and highlighted the political significance.
Bush's appearance was part of a White House effort to discredit Democratic charges that he has no domestic agenda by promoting the education goals he laid out for the nation six months ago.
"Bush Tells Children Stupidity is Not Cool," Scripps Howard News Service (2 October 1991)
The Baltimore Sun compared Bush's effort to the style of President Theodore Roosevelt, "the effect was part bully pulpit, part campaign ad" (quoted in The Volokh Conspiracy).

I'm in the process of writing something focused on the context of Bush's speech. Look for "Revolutionize American Education" later this week.

For clearheaded, rational analysis of why Obama's speech, as well as it's predecessors by President Reagan and President Bush should all be resisted, read Popehat's "Why I Oppose President Obama Speaking to the Nation's Schoolchildren."

Update, 8 September 2009

The Billings Gazette (Montana) has a video of local students' reactions.

06 September 2009

Rush Limbaugh

When I started following Rush Limbaugh, I was in One Way Books, a Christian bookstore, and the manager, a friend asked me to listen to a radio show, which he then turned on. As I recall it was one of those call-in shows that were popular in the 1980s. Folks would call in with comments, and the host would call them names (like stupid) and start attacking their views as uninformed or ignorant. During these verbal assaults, the mere mention of CNN, NBC, or the New York Times as anything other than leftist propaganda would make the caller's comments something that could be attacked because of its source.

I recall that his show was broadcast from Sacramento, but it may have been shortly after he moved to New York in 1988 that I first heard him.

Revolutionize American Education

On 1 October 1991, President George Bush addressed a classroom of students at Alice Deal Junior High in Washington DC (now called Alice Deal Middle School). He spoke in Cynthia Mostoller's classroom, but the message was broadcast live over CNN, PBS, the NBC radio network, and the now defunct Mutual Broadcasting System.

House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt criticized the speech, according to the Washington Post, "the Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students." The cost was $26,750. The Scripps Howard News Service called it the "Bush teach-in" and highlighted the political significance.
Bush's appearance was part of a White House effort to discredit Democratic charges that he has no domestic agenda by promoting the education goals he laid out for the nation six months ago.
"Bush Tells Children Stupidity is Not Cool," Scripps Howard News Service (2 October 1991)
The Baltimore Sun compared Bush's effort to the style of President Theodore Roosevelt, "the effect was part bully pulpit, part campaign ad" (quoted in The Volokh Conspiracy).

Six months earlier, in an address to the nation, President Bush had explained that funding for education has failed to improve our nation's schools.
Let's stop trying to measure progress in terms of money spent. We spend 33 percent more per pupil in 1991 than we did in 1981 -- 33 percent more in real, constant dollars. And I don't think there's a person anywhere, anywhere in the country, who would say that we've seen a 33-percent improvement in our schools' performance.
Bush, "Address to the Nation on the National Education Strategy," 18 April 1991
He offered an alternative to funding: revolution.
Dollar bills don't educate students. Education depends on committed communities, determined to be places where learning will flourish; committed teachers, free from the noneducational burdens; committed parents, determined to support excellence; committed students, excited about school and learning. To those who want to see real improvement in American education, I say: There will be no renaissance without revolution.
Bush, "Address to the Nation on the National Education Strategy," 18 April 1991
These addresses to the nation, and then to the nation's youth stemmed from warranted optimism concerning George Bush's hope to leave a legacy as the "Education President". In September of his first year in office, he convened an Education Summit with all fifty governors to set national education goals.
By the year 2000, every child must start school ready to learn.
The United States must increase the high school graduation rate to no less than 90 percent.
And we are going to make sure our schools' diplomas mean something. In critical subjects -- at the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades -- we must assess our students' performance.
By the year 2000, U.S. students must be first in the world in math and science achievement.
Every American adult must be a skilled, literate worker and citizen.
Every school must offer the kind of disciplined environment that makes it possible for our kids to learn. And every school in America must be drug-free.

04 September 2009

Say What? Obama and the Children

President Obama wants to address the nation. He wants his address broadcast in school classrooms.

The Associated Press: "Obama speech to students draws conservative ire"

This is communism.
Hell-NO! Sorry, but I just don't agree with you Mr. President. Socialist programs are what failure is made of, and you sir, are setting this country up for failure. I do not want you influencing my child with your "The Government will solve all your problems" attitude. I would rather have my child realize that it takes hard work and effort to achieve success in this country, and he won't learn that from any politician. I do not want him to rely on government handouts--those only lead to more dependency on other failed government programs.
This is Nazism.
Why not, Hitler did it
This violates the authority of parents.
His speech is NOT his decision to make. It is the parents choice. I already informed the school that my daughter is NOT to hear his garbage. I told her there will be problems if they show it. The teacher said she wasn't sure if she would show it or not. When I told her don't want her to show it she said i just reinforced her idea NOT to show it as it is up to the parents NOT the teachers.

More quotes from Facebook:
Schools are run by the state not the federal government. Obama needs to stick with where his jurisdiction lies. I will not let my children see this video. We are not a communist society...the president is not responsible for telling children what to learn in school, that is a parent's job.
I am not a NAZI like obamanation...I believe in FREEDOM and CHOICE...not HIS idea of what I need!!!
Regardless of potential socialism, we as parents should have a right to decide whtat our children see! I certainly do not want my child wondering "what the president wants from me". Most are right, the longer Obama is in office, the more I am reminded of Hitler and Stalin. May the Lord help us!
No way I want this guy pushing his socialist agenda in my school. You people are blind if you don't think he will. This man should ashamed of showing his face to the young people who soon will be paying for his screw up. All this guy is looking for is votes for reelection.
This is POLITICALLY motivated and that is why people are pissed! It is not the President trying to do anything for kid's. It's Political! It couldn't be at a worse time and the whole "MANDATORY" thing is ridiculous. Nobody is racist! Everybody needs to stop throwing the RACE CARD every chance they get. The guy is half white so shut up!!!!!!
Keep Gov. out of almost everything except Military and infrastructure.Keep children away from the Government so they will not be brain washed intothinking the Gov. is the answer to lifes problems.The Gov. taxes business out of existence and then wonders where all the jobs went.How many people work in a factory anymore,not many I bet,people used to but now we don't make anything because all of our stuff is made in China or the like country and we buy the cheap crap and think we are saving money.Does anyone remember when Walmart was buy America?Now it has changed to Chinamart.
Besides, why interrupt education just to say "stay in school, education is important, etc"?? The kids are in school!! Why make an excuse to tell them the obvious? Sorry, but that seems suspicious to me. I think he has other motives.
Why in the world would I let anyone give a speech to my children without my consent. I don't even let them watch Obama at home why would I allow it at school. David, not allowing my children to be given a speech to by him is not dumb electing a President that cares nothing for its people is dumb. And John, do you not know what Hitler did to the people of the world. Hmm what do you call driving our economy into the ground and taking from the common man trying to make a honest living to give to the lazy man waiting for a hand out. I wouldn't say its Hitler like but its not much better. Wrong is Wrong no matter how you spin it. I say we ALL PRAY thats what our schools need GOD.
The adults in this Country are screwed up enough right now, so now he wants to screw up my kids??? Hell no... They'll be absent that day at the beach...
I predict an upsurge in homeschooling.
Displaying 10 of 14090 posts.

Does that render the conservative response clear enough?. The comments are posted faster than I can read them. I read a page, advance to the next page (older), and I'm looking at one that was created after the one I just read because page one is now page four.

These comments are posted in response to a Facebook poll:

Should President Obama be allowed to do a nationwide address to school children without parental consent?

As of 10:17 am Pacific Time

Yes 41,046 (33.1%)
No 78,128 (63.0%)
I don't care 4,885 (3.9%)

Certainly, President Obama's plan to speak to school children is unprecedented. When President George Bush spoke, it was only to millions.

01 September 2009

What is History?

Notes from reading the first chapter of Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft (1953)

"How ... can one make of phenomena, having no other common character than that of being not contemporary with us, the matter of rational knowledge?" (Bloch, 22)

The word history applies to any study of change through time (Bloch, 23)

"In any study, seeking the origins of a human activity, there lurks the same danger of confusing ancestry with explanation." (Bloch, 27)

" the great despair of historians, men fail to change their vocabulary every time they change their customs." (Bloch, 28)

"...a historical phenomenon can never be understood apart from its moment in time." (Bloch, 29)

"Some, who consider that the most recent events are unsuitable for all really objective research just because they are recent, wish only to spare Clio's chastity from the profanation of present controversy....In truth, whoever lacks the strength, while seated at his desk, to rid his mind of the virus of the present may readily permit its poison to infiltrate even a commentary on the Iliad or the Ramayana." (Bloch, 31-32)

"It is therefore advisable to define the indisputable peculiarities of historical observation in terms which are both less ambiguous and more comprehensive."
"Its primary characteristic is the fact that knowledge of all human activities in the past, as well as of the greater part of those in the present, is, as Francois Simiand aptly phrased it, a knowledge of their tracks. Whether it is the bones immured in the Syrian fortifications, a word whose form or use reveals a custom, a narrative written by the witness of some scene, ancient or modern, what do we really mean by document, if it is not a 'track,' as it were--the mark, perceptible to the senses, which some phenomenon, in itself inaccessible, has left behind?" (Bloch, 45-46)

"...we have no other device for returning through time except that which operates in our minds with the materials provided by past generations." (Bloch, 47)

The past cannot change. "But the knowledge of the past is something progressive which is constantly transforming and perfecting itself." (Bloch, 48)

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