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29 August 2009

Facebook 101

In the past week, I have built a chain of big box stores and a 5-star resort and casino. I also have stolen over a billion dollars from business rivals and killed more than one hundred. I have become a successful developer with a penchant for violence.

They call it social networking.

For the past week, on Facebook, I have spent a few five-minute blocks of idleness playing Mafia Wars.

Worth Another Look

[Roland Barthes'] researches into the structure of narrative have granted him a conviction (or a reprieve), a conviction that all telling modified what is being told, so that what the linguists call the message is a parameter of its performance. Indeed, his conviction of reading is that what is told is always the telling. And this he does not arraign, he celebrates.
Richard Howard, "A Note on S/Z," xi

Patriots and Peoples is not a news blog, but an archive of articles concerning history (and occasionally current events). I offer this author's guide to those posts that deserve to live beyond the day they were written. Read a few. Make some comments. Join a conversation.

Conquest and Subjugation

Why is the English language the dominant tongue in North America?

"Superior European Technology"
Everyone knows that Europeans arrived in the Americas with technology that astounded the natives, except that it's a lie, or, at best, barely true in PolitiFact's sense of the term. The American indigenes were astounded at the noise and destructive power, and they sought a few firearms of their own. But guns were far from superior to bows and arrows--each had their merits.

"November 29: This Day in History"
Massacres and video games. No, this post addresses neither the addictive Facebook game, Slotmania, nor Cabela's "Big Game Hunter" for the Wii. November 29 is remembered as the day the first commercial video game was announced, one of the most horrific massacres of Indians, and a massacre of settlers by Indians that helped a territory gain statehood.

"The Burning of the Boats"
I learned in my first college history class how Hernan Cortés burned his ships to assure success in the effort to conquer Mexico. It's an old story from Spain, as Tariq, the Muslim conqueror of Spain in the eight century did the same on the point of land that now bears his name--Gibraltar (Tariq's rock). In the case of Cortés, this legend is false.

Infectious Disease and Human History

Errors of fact and interpretation concerning the depopulation of the Americas as Europeans clawed their way ashore led me to purchase a book and begin writing about it. But, then, maybe what I perceive as errors reveals what I have yet to learn. Self-questioning and questioning of a text that challenged the synthesis I learned in graduate school prompted the beginning of this blog. Consequently, many of my best posts address elements of guns, germs, and steel (as Jared Diamond puts it).

"Death in Jamestown"
The death tolls in thrillers concerning plagues are paltry compared to what actually happened to the English settlers in Jamestown through the first several years. That they died is well-known, at least among historians. What killed them is less clear, and the most common explanation is probably wrong. This article exhibits fine primary and secondary research, and is among my most popular entries.

"Origins of Malaria"
At the beginning of "civilization," or the neolithic revolution in Africa, malaria began to infect human populations. From that moment on, the most civilized were the most ill at least until twentieth century sanitation and medicine.

"Depopulation and Demography: A Patriot's History Bibliography"
This post is a gateway. It contains an annotated bibliography of the sources listed in A Patriot's History concerned with pre-Columbian demography. When I discuss a specific source in greater detail, there is a link. The authors of A Patriot's History claim to challenge the conventional wisdom of other historians regarding disease. Their challenge is found wanting due to a preponderance of errors.

"America was not a disease-free paradise"
The title of this post comes from a sentence in "Eden", a chapter in Shepherd Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (1999). The sentence is quoted in Schweikart and Allen, A Patriot's History of the United States (2004) as adornment. Krech's research does not inform the narrative offered by these ideologically driven historians. They cite his work to make it look as though they have explored the best work on the topic of disease, but they invest the meaning of his words with their own irresponsible distortions.

"Depopulation: Ubelaker's Low Estimate"
No one knows how many people lived in the Americas in 1500, nor for centuries after. Thus, the efforts to estimate the aboriginal population of the Americas is fraught with controversy. This post offers a careful reading of the lowest credible estimate, and how the authors of A Patriot's History of the United States manipulate the data to minimize the effects of disease. This post is one example of reading a text through careful scrutiny of footnotes.

American Presidents, American Identities

"Madison on Human Nature"
My most popular post was written party to commemorate the 500th birthday of John Calvin by reconsidering his influence on American leaders and institutions of power.

"Washington, Adams, Jesus"
The United States is a Christian nation! That's what a lot of people say. One of the proof texts is the exemplary life and Calvinist heritage of our second President, John Adams. This post initiates my entry into this debate.

"President Polk and the National Honor"
Polk expanded the geographical size of the United States more than any predecessor save Jefferson. This post is a study of his political rhetoric that generates curiosity: what other President might I have been thinking about while exploring Polk's sense of honor?

In "Pioneers, Laborers, Slaves," I offer a historical perspective as grounds for critique of some of the rhetoric in President Obama's inaugural address. "Booker T Washington's White House Dinner" (among my most popular posts) elucidates the controversy that Senator John McCain chose to highlight in honor of Barack Obama's historic achievement during his concession speech at the end of the election of 2008.

Teaching and Learning

"Reflective Thinking, Teaching and Learning"
While thinking of undergraduate education, take a look at these musings concerning pedagogy of my professors as teachers, and of my teaching as a professor. Is that chiasmus self-critique? Read and judge.

This list will grow, and possibly change, as I reread all that I have written here. I'm open to suggestions.

24 August 2009

Fresh Roasted Martian Coffee

I rarely agree with my Representative in Congress. We do not share the same political commitments, nor the same priorities. Even so, she is among my "friends" on Facebook. As a consequence, I saw the update when she spoke at the ribbon cutting for the opening of the North Spokane Corridor, the first drivable leg of the North-South Freeway first proposed in 1946. She (or a staffer) posted a photo on TwitPic, and her Facebook page offered a link.

There are plenty of reasons to question new freeway construction, such as the role it plays in the development of sprawl. I tend to think the construction is too little, too late as far as relieving congestion, but the project offers the opportunity to raise some other questions of my Congresswoman. So, I asked a question of her through this social networking site, although I'm skeptical that she will respond.
Cathy, what are you doing to make certain the project gets completed while there is still petroleum on the planet, and to support the development of vehicles that run on other fuels so the new freeway connecting I-90 to Wandermere will not have been an egregious waste of taxpayer money?
In the ensuing conversation with other "friends" of Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, others had questions too.
Garlan Cutler: I was not there but I hope you reminded the folks that, President Obama's mandated health care reform, He will make it work. . Seniors Citizens at 68 years of age will be mandated to CHECK OUT OF MEDICARE to reduce the growth in cost of END-OF-LIFE HEALTH CARE SPENDING. If you are still around at age 70 you will be mandated to CHECK OUT OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM, that is all the longer that he is guaranteeing you to live.
There should be no doubt that Representative McMorris Rodgers opposes H.R. 3200, as well as nearly everything else President Obama favors. Her constituents, by and large, believe that Obama's central goal is to render the United States of America a socialist state, particularly with respect to health care. She supports these constituents well.

Garlan Cutler is preaching to the choir, as they say. I did not argue with this nonsense. But others took up the mantle. One "friend" of Representative Rodgers told Cutler that he was "sadly misinformed." Another stated, "[s]ome liar has scared you to death"; medicare is safe. Cutler read these efforts to console, and responded with a clear summary of history.
Garlan Cutler: Just look that the history of the world governments and read between the lines and dont be fooled
There's not much to respond to. there. History, as one legal scholar put it so well, "is a protean activist useful for legitimating a predetermined result." If history itself can prove anything, how will anyone be able to pin down what is read "between the lines"?

In the responses to Representative Rodgers' "status," the health care debate was temporarily suspended to allot space for a question directed at yours truly.
Mike Hen: James, do you really think that we will run out of oil? Are you familiar with the new reserves found in Brasil? Are you familiar with the seeps in California or the Gulf of California? Do you really think the project will take a couple of hundred years?
I replied, but without much specificity as the comments went into a second day. My creed with respect to the oil reserves is this: whether they will run out is not a question; there is a question of when. Will I live to see their exhaustion? Petroleum, I had learned in my youth, derives from dead organic matter--brontosaurus and tyrannosaurus rex and their social network--compressed for millions of years. Oil is mined from the earth; it is not renewable.

I added my own lesson from history, with a bit of future projection thrown in, and a smiley.
The world that oil wrought was the twentieth century. That the twenty-first will differ in the main is crystal clear--just look into the ball ;-).
Mike Hen continued with questions and more links; my belief in dinosaur origins was put to the test.
Mike Hen: James, perhaps you'd like to comment on this. There are a number of theories out there that might lead to a reduced concern for the future. One of the considerations is that the atmosphere of Titan is chock full of the organics that are being talked about here. Nature in the raw as it were.
First, I attacked the source, calling WorldNet Daily less than credible, but acknowledged that the story, if true, could lead to revisions of my theory. Then added some practical concerns: I'm not ready to pay for spaceships through a tax on my Chevron Card.
Mike, thanks for the links, although it would be nice to see a source more credible than WorldNet Daily for the possibilities that science might need to significantly revise our understanding of how crude oil is formed. As for tapping reserves in outer space, the consequences for prices at the gas pump seem likely to be unpopular.

Still, it's something to think about.
Then, I did some web surfing, and came up with a science site that corroborated the WND story, albeit with the skepticism endemic to scientists. The LiveScience article also enriched my volcabulary with some new terms that I immediately put to use.
[I]t is a science source rather than an opinion oriented "news" source. According to LiveScience, abiogenic petroleum likely requires thousands of years, just as biogenic petroleum.
Hen thanked me--the civility of our discourse might serve as a model for some of those in Congress--and he continued the interrogation.
Mike Hen: James, an interesting article. The main thing that I came away from it with is 'we don't know how it's done or how long it takes.' It seems the scenario is not quite as bleak as you originally painted it.

BTW, do you have any energy sources that can handle the current requirement without disrupting today's society? If not then I'll have to stick with the current source and I believe that others will reconsider their earlier stand on the green revolution.

BTW 2, I looked at the author not the media presenter, in the WND story. I have no affinity for WND and considered the story in terms of the author's quals.

BTW 3, [;)] Boy do I wish we could drill on Titan, and maybe vacation on Mars.
Enough of my flights of fantasy! Have a good one.
I imagine sitting in a Starbucks on Mars, continuing this conversation with another as unpersuaded by my arguments as I am of his.
Mike, we seem to view the world, especially the past and future, from substantially different perspectives. I do not see the complete depletion of petroleum as "bleak," nor societal change as disruptive. Society has never been static. To say that the twentieth century was petroleum centered and that the twenty-first likely will not have been so when we are dead and it is history is not to paint a bleak picture of the future, but to imagine possibilities--I'll warrant that drilling on Titan is also imagining possibilities, as is sipping fresh roasted Martian coffee!*

My original question to Representative Rodgers might be rephrased thus: Are you pursuing legislation that is not rooted in static notions of twentieth century realities as normative for our future? I hope not, although I fear that such is precisely the case.
That's where I left it this morning, except that I pasted the whole conversation into this space with a brief headnote.

My title deserves more. The original post is embarrassing.

This afternoon, I rewrote the blog post. Being the archivist that I am, I preserved the original in a post with a date nearly two years ago. Blogger's editing quirks permit a few liberties that I'm beginning to explore. Follow the hyperlink to my archive of the original post if you wish to make fun of my copy and paste laziness.


Addenda 25 August 2009

Last night, Mike Hen added a final note to our conversation. It's clear that we have some agreement regarding our disagreement, and some shared values and perspectives, despite seemingly adverse political priorities.
James, I'll accept your analysis on our viewpoints as accurate, although I'm not against a change in energy sources in the slightest. What I am against is change that would damage our society in any way.

The lure of the uncertain future is best answered on an individual basis with little change, in society, being felt until it has been vetted by forerunners.

Again I ask, what can you put in my tank tomorrow so that I can get to work. Twenty years in the future is well past the point that I'm willing to wait in order to keep from losing my present job.

I'll also agree that the only thing that is constant is change, the only thing we're quibbling about is the speed.
Thanks Mike. I enjoyed the exchange.


*The link to this coffee company was added after I Googled "Martian coffee" and found my blog on page two. This coffee company was next in their list. Their correction to some misconceptions concerning The War of the Worlds deserves a visit.

22 August 2009

Paleontology of Delusion

And so it goes, and so it goes. And the book says, "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us."
Magnolia (1999)
When I watched Magnolia, I thought the narrator was referring to a book by William Faulkner, and that perhaps the narrator or writer had the quote incorrect.

I watched Magnolia in 2001 or thereabouts after it came out on video, shortly after making reading Faulkner a priority. I had read the usual "Barn Burning" and "A Rose for Emily" in high school or college. In graduate school, one professor assigned Sanctuary (1931), and an assigned text in a literary criticism class demanded familiarity with Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Moreover, Calvin Martin's The American Indian and the Problem of History (1987) drove me into "The Bear," and from there into Go Down, Moses (1942). For the most part, however, I remained egregiously ignorant of Faulkner. I passed up a seminar called Southern Literature because I was appalled that two-thirds of the texts were by one author.

In 2000 I selected Go Down, Moses as one of the texts I would teach in my introductory literature class (yep, I'm nuts), and decided it was time to begin washing away my ignorance of twentieth-century America's greatest writer.

Despite my ignorance, I have been familiar for many years with the sentiment that the past has its own ideas about when we can leave it behind, and that this idea could be attributed as a line from Faulkner. Requiem for Nun (1951) remains on my "to read" list, rather than among the dozen or so texts that I've perused. Even so, for many years I have quoted, and misquoted, and have heard others quote and misquote the line: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."


Google knows everything

A few days ago, on my Facebook page, I placed the line from Magnolia next to Faulkner's, which had been in the "about me" box for awhile. Last night, I posted the movie line as "my status". This morning I discovered how my status update failed as communication when a friend mistook it as a statement of my psychological journey, rather than what I intended: a fishing expedition to locate Paul Thomas Anderson's source. Anderson wrote and directed Magnolia.

Searching for the quote, "We may be through with the past," via Google produces pages and pages of references to Magnolia. Often I stop there. If the fish won't rise to the surface, I can do something else. Indeed I stopped fishing several times, before returning anew. After wading through perhaps five pages, I found The Internet Movie Database's Magnolia trivia. The note references The Natural History of Nonsense (1946) by Bergan Evans as the source of the line. Evans' book also is the source for the idea that it could rain frogs.

My belief that it was an instance of Faulkner misquoted proved incorrect. The Natural History of Nonsense precedes Requiem for a Nun. Perhaps Evans' book is Faulkner's source for Gavin Stevens' memorable line?

The first chapter, "Adam's Navel," begins:
We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us. Ideas of the Stone Age exist side by side with the latest scientific thought. Only a fraction of mankind has emerged from the Dark Ages, and in the most lucid brains, as Logan Pearsall Smith has said, we come upon "nests of woolly caterpillars." Seemingly sane men entrust their wealth to stargazers and their health to witch doctors.
Evans, The Natural History of Nonsense, 5
Before this chapter begins, the text offers several quotable epigrams in the front-matter. The Preface, for instance:
This book is a contribution to the natural history of nonsense. It is a study in the paleontology of delusion. It is an antibody for all who are allergic to Stardust. It is a manual of chiropody for feet of clay.
Evans, The Natural History of Nonsense, vii

21 August 2009

History is the Memory of States

In the opening chapter of A People's History of the United States (1980), Howard Zinn explains his bias. His history examines case studies of the downtrodden—African Americans, laborers, women, anti-war activists—rather than constructing a narrative that covers the breadth of the main events in American history. In a critical paragraph, he marks clearly his disagreement with Henry Kissinger.
"History is the memory of states," wrote Henry Kissinger in his first book, A World Restored, in which he proceeded to tell the history of nineteenth-century Europe from the viewpoint of the leaders of Austria and England, ignoring the millions who suffered from those statesmen's policies. From his standpoint, the "peace" that Europe had before the French Revolution was "restored" by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory workers in England, farmers in France, colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everywhere except in the upper classes, it was a world of conquest, violence, hunger, exploitation—a world not restored but disintegrated.
Zinn, A People's History, 9-10
Does Zinn accurately represent the views of those he cites? Does he quote accurately? Out of context? Here are the two paragraphs in which the sentence appears.
A physical law is an explanation and not a description, and history teaches by analogy, not identity. This means that the lessons of history are never automatic, that they can be apprehended only by a standard which admits the significance of a range of experience, that the answers we obtain will never be better than the questions we pose. No profound conclusions were drawn in the natural sciences before the significance of sensory experience was admitted by what was essentially a moral act. No significant conclusions are possible in the study of foreign affairs—the study of states acting as units—without an awareness of the historical context. For societies exist in time more than in space. At any given moment a state is but a collection of individuals, as positivist scholars have never wearied of pointing out. But it achieves identity through the consciousness of a common history. This is the only "experience" nations have, their only possibility of learning from themselves. History is the memory of states.

To be sure, states tend to be forgetful. It is not often that nations learn from the past, even rarer that they draw the correct conclusions from it. For the lessons of historical experience, as of personal experience, are contingent. They teach the consequences of certain actions, but they cannot force a recognition of comparable situations. An individual may have experienced that a hot stove burns but, when confronted with a metallic object of a certain size, he must decide from case to case whether it is in fact a stove before his knowledge will prove useful. A people may be aware of the probable consequences of a revolutionary situation. But its knowledge will be empty if it cannot recognize a revolutionary situation. There is this difference between physical and historical knowledge, however: each generation is permitted only one effort of abstraction; it can attempt only one interpretation and a single experiment, for it is its own subject. This is the challenge of history and its tragedy; it is the shape "destiny" assumes on the earth. And its solution, even its recognition, is perhaps the most difficult task of statesmanship.
Henry A. Kissinger, A World Restored: Europe after Napoleon: The Politics of Conservatism in a Revolutionary Age (1964 [1957]), 331-332 [emphasis added]
From this brief passage, it seems that Kissinger's statement has to do with the nature of diplomatic history, and does not exclude the sort of cultural history Zinn favors. It may be true that Kissinger's text does not address the experiences of the suffering masses, but what does such an orientation do to the subfield of diplomatic history? Kissinger's book, it must be remembered, started as a doctoral dissertation at Harvard. His professors were not expecting a dissertation on social history.

20 August 2009

Washington, Adams, Jesus

Jesus is benevolence personified, an example for all men.
John Adams
How significant was Christianity to the American Revolution? To the Constitutional Convention, and to the Constitution? How significant were Christianity and Biblical precepts to the practice of government by members of the revolutionary generation?

These questions concerning the influence of Jesus Christ in America derive from broader questions.

What principles of philosophy were central to the ideas of government embraced by the men that wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, and that governed the the incipient nation that emerged? Who influenced the Founders, as we have come to call this group of men? How did they derive our system of government from their influences?

Entire careers are built on these historical questions. Historians pursue answers; politicians embrace or denounce their interpretations; pundits proclaim their conclusions.

A Patriot's History of the United States (2004) by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen offers:
Many of his biographers trumpeted Washington's faith, and a famous painting captures the colonial general praying in a snowy wood, but if Washington had any personal belief in Jesus Christ, he kept it well hidden. Like Franklin, Washington tended toward Deism, a general belief in a detached and impersonal God who plays no role in human affairs.
Schweikart and Allen, 130
Washington's successor as President brought a different faith into the Executive office (our standard metonymy, the White House, becomes available for the first time in the administration of Thomas Jefferson).
A brilliant attorney, patriot organizer, and Revolutionary diplomat, Adams exuded all the doctrinal religion missing in Washington, to the point of being pious to a fault. ... Adams brought a sense of the sacred to government that Washington lacked, placing before the nation an unwavering moral compass that refused compromise.
Schweikart and Allen, 131
There is a tendency to use labels among some who inquire into the faith of the men that wrote our founding documents and that served in the government thus established. John Adams was a Christian, and a Calvinist at that. Benjamin Franklin was a Deist. Thomas Jefferson was a Theist, or perhaps an Atheist, according to Abigail Adams and others that wish to embrace, condemn, or mourn his philosophy. These labels become points of contention; questioning their accuracy foments debate that drives scholars back into the archive, their place of refuge.

These labels illuminate and obfuscate. They might shed light on the beliefs of a man or woman. Although John Adams may have wavered in his faith during his later years, his wife Abigail remained devout. There is no question that James Madison considered a career in the ministry. That his family was Episcopal,* but sent him to a Presbyterian college is easily established. The influence of John Calvin's idea of total depravity upon Madison's concepts of government is less clear and open to debate.

John Adams was the child of New England Puritanism. He was "pious to a fault," Schweikart and Allen explain. His devout faith or his abrasive personality isolated him among his peers at the Second Continental Congress. The Declaration of Independence was his idea, but it would have been rejected if he proposed it. Some delegates voted against whatever Adams put forth. In order to circumvent this animosity, Adams worked behind the scenes, prompting other men to put forth his ideas as if they were their own.

Some historians consider John Adams the worst President in U.S. history, surpassed in infamy only by George W. Bush (stay with me conservative readers, please--assessments of Bush are not yet history). Schweikart and Allen, although they do not shrink from assessing his failures, credit him with "establishing the presidency as a moral, as well as a political, position" (131). Richard Nixon was a crook; Jimmy Carter was a morally grounded incompetent; George W. Bush was born again; William Jefferson Clinton was a morally bankrupt philanderer. All these assertions, whether accurate or not, stand on the foundation of John Adams' moral leadership, upon the rock of his faith.


Researching Patriots

When I read A Patriots History of the United States, or most any other book for that matter, I tease the text with a set of mundane questions concerning scholarship.

How accurate are the contentions? What supporting evidence is presented? Do they accurately represent the views of those they cite? Do they quote accurately? Out of context? Who agrees with them? Who disagrees? How does this contention compare to assertions of other historians? Where does their ideology illuminate their subject? Where does it obscure?

What did John Adams have to say for himself? What did he say about his religious faith, about God, about Jesus?

The Online Library of Liberty has digitized and rendered searchable the ten volume The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author (1856), edited by Charles Francis Adams. This text seems a good enough place to begin, so I entered God into the search box only to learn that search terms must have at least four letters. Jesus was more productive. The name of Jesus appears twenty-eight times in these ten volumes.

The scattered references to Jesus across Adams' writing vary in their focus, but appear in the author's autobiography, as well as his letters. There is one instance in a critically important text for considering his philosophy of government in the years leading up to the Revolution: "A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law" (1865). Of those that settled America, and their resistance to residual feudalism, Adams offered:
They knew that government was a plain, simple, intelligible thing, founded in nature and reason, and quite comprehensible by common sense. They detested all the base services and servile dependencies of the feudal system. They knew that no such unworthy dependencies took place in the ancient seats of liberty, the republics of Greece and Rome; and they thought all such slavish subordinations were equally inconsistent with the constitution of human nature and that religious liberty with which Jesus had made them free.
The Works of John Adams, vol 3, 454
This passage does not speak to Adams' personal faith, but it demonstrates part of his understanding of the faith of his forebears.

We learn more of a personal nature from a batch of letters to several friends, including Thomas Jefferson. During the winter 1816-1817 Adams' reading included Origine de tous les Cultes, ou la Réligion Universelle (The Origin of All Worships) by Charles François Dupuis, published in twelve volumes in 1795 and in an abridged version in 1798. Adams, if I read his letters correctly, first read the twelve volumes, then borrowed Jefferson's copy of the abridgment and read that.

Dupuis rejected the notion of revelation, even comparing Jesus to a ghost.
We shall therefore not investigate, whether the Christian religion is a revealed religion. None but dunces will believe in revealed ideas and in ghosts. The philosophy of our days has made too much progress, in order to be obliged to enter into a dissertation on the communications of the Deity with man, excepting those, which are made by the light of reason and by the contemplation of Nature.
Charles François Dupuis, The Origin of All Religious Worship (1872 [1798]), 216
Adams did not agree with Dupuis, but confessed that he lacked the time or knowledge of the world's mythologies to write the necessary rejoinder. He did consider Dupuis more stimulating than his other reading that winter. He told Jefferson that Dupuis offered more novelty.
I must acknowledge, however, that I have found in Dupuis more ideas that were new to me, than in all the others. My conclusion from all of them is universal toleration. Is there any work extant so well calculated to discredit corruptions and impostures in religion as Dupuis?
Adams to Jefferson, 12 December 1816
The lessons he derives include both the need for purification of Christianity and tolerance of beliefs. Dupuis does not persuade him of his thesis that Christianity derives from ancient worship of the sun, but the text provokes inquiry into "superstition and fraud" that weave themselves into Christian faith. Adams letter two days after Christmas 1816 to Francis Adrian van der Kemp sums up the major themes, and provides the text for my epigraph above.
Jesus is benevolence personified, an example for all men. Dupuis has made no alteration in my opinions of the Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, which I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and of the heart. ...

How could that nation preserve its creed among the monstrous theologies of all the other nations of the earth? Revelation, you will say, and especial Providence; and I will not contradict you, for I cannot say with Dupuis that a revelation is impossible or improbable.

Christianity, you will say, was a fresh revelation. I will not deny this. As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? How has it happened that all the fine arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, statuary, music, poetry, and oratory, have been prostituted, from the creation of the world, to the sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud?
John Adams to F. A. Vanderkemp, 27 December 1816
Searching for Jesus in the writings of John Adams does not fully answer the question, but it provides a framework for inquisitive reading.



*This word is employed in John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (1987), 94 ff. However, for the time leading up to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church in America remained Anglican. The creation of the Episcopal denomination is part of the process of separation from England. In the context above, the word Episcopal strikes me as anachronistic. On the other hand, calling Madison Anglican might connote questions concerning his patriotism. See "Calvin and the Constitution" for more concerning Eidsmoe's views of Madison, and some links concerning Calvin's influence.


Addendum:

Jonathan Rowe also quotes from Adams letter to F.A. van der Kemp in a post for American Creation that is cross-posted on his own blog.

18 August 2009

A Patriot's Blog: Larry Schweikart

Just a quick note to observe that Larry Schweikart has a blog: A Patriot's History of the United States.

His blog states that it is "the official blogspot of 'A Patriot's History of the United States'." Mine is critique.

17 August 2009

The Creative Impulse

Near the end of the fourth narrator's story in Wedding Song (1984)* by Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006), the pressures of life and love have created a sense of resentment against the still living woman whose death forms part of the center of the reflections by all four of the novel's narrators. Abbas Karam Younis recognizes his creative impulse as a manifestation of evil.
The days passed by, my agony increased, and some satanic power enabled me to give form to my innermost desire: sitting at the typewriter, I was suddenly overcome with a longing for freedom, for my lost humanity, and for dissipated creativity. How could the prisoner break his chains? I pictured a world, a righteous world, with no sin, no bonds, no social obligations; a world throbbing with creativity, innovation, and thought, nothing else; a world of dedicated solitude, without father, mother, wife, or child; a world where a man could travel lightly, immersed in art alone.
Mahfouz, 159-160
The creative drive in Abbas Younis leads him away from the community of others, away from responsibility, yet he struggles to imagine this world as one of righteousness. Of course, this world of fantasy cannot sustain him.

More than a century earlier on another continent in a letter for posterity, rather than in the guise of fiction, we see another community providing distractions that interfere with the impulse to write. In this case, the writing deigns to reflect accurately that community. George Catlin (1796-1872) is best known as a painter of Indians, but his letters remain a treasure trove of first-hand observation. I access them through the paper-bound George Catlin, North American Indians, edited by Peter Matthiessen (1989).
Epistles from such a strange place as this, where I have no desk to write from, or mail to send them by, are hastily scribbled off in my notebook, ... the only place where I can satisfactorily make these entries is in the shade of some sequestered tree, to which I occasionally resort, or more often from my bed (from which I am now writing), enclosed by a sort of curtains made of the skins of elks or buffaloes, completely encompassing me, where I am reclining on a sacking-bottom, made of the buffalo's hide; making my entries and notes of the incidents of the past day, amidst the roar and unintelligible din of savage conviviality that is going on under the same roof, and under my own eye, whenever I feel disposed to apply it to a small aperture which brings at once the whole interior and all its inmates within my view.
Catlin, 193
With the party continuing in Black Moccasin's lodge, where Catlin is a guest, he retreats behind some animal hides for solitude. In this solitude, he records those observations--even those made through a peep-hole--that would become a principal source for historians of the American west.

The scene in Black Moccasin's tipi conjures an image from the cover of a collection of essays, Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus (1986). The cover shows Stephen Tyler at work writing during fieldwork in India in 1963. Editor Clifford highlights some ambiguity in the scene.
The ethnographer is absorbed in writing--taking dictation? fleshing out an interpretation? recording an important observation? dashing off a poem? Hunched over in the heat, he has draped a wet cloth over his glasses. His expression is obscured. An interlocutor looks over his shoulder--with boredom? patience? amusement? In this image the ethnographer hovers at the edge of the frame--faceless, almost extraterrestrial, a hand that writes.
Clifford, "Introduction: Partial Truths," in Writing Culture, 1
In all three scenes--character in a novel, ethnographer or painter in the field--writing demands solitude. In all three, the impulse towards creative work as an individual enterprise is highlighted and rendered problematic. Solitude requires freedom from responsibilities, from society.


Individualism and Nation

Conservatism, we are told, "assumes the existence of an objective moral order." Abbas Karam Younis imagined such a world, but his longing for solitude, for the individualism demanded by his creative impulse, violated his sense of the "objective moral order." His sense of moral order diverges from one offered by Frank S. Meyer (1909-1972) in The Conservative Mainstream (1969).
Within the limits of an objective moral order, the primary reference of conservative political and social thought and action is to the individual person. There may be among some conservatives a greater emphasis upon freedom and rights, as among others a greater emphasis upon duties and responsibilities; but, whichever the emphasis, conservative thought is shot through and through with concern for the person.
Meyer, The Conservative Mainstream, 14.
Meyers asserts that there are "objective standards for human conduct," but these standards lead one to be suspicious of assertions that we bear responsibility for one another. Conservatism "rejects the ideological concept of associations of human beings as collective entities" (15), but it does not reject the concept of the nation. Rather, American conservatives devote themselves to a "firm American patriotism" (15).

In the logical development of ethical commitments first to family, from family to tribe, and from tribe to nation, Meyer's conservatism appears to reject only the tribe. His "objective standards" embrace commitment to family and to nation, but they reject as collectivist the intermediate step. Meyer almost certainly disagreed with Catlin's assessment that North American indigenes are "by nature, a kind and hospitable people" (7), for he saw their tribal orientation as communist.

Does Meyer's prescription for ethical individualism fail as did that of Abbas Younis? At the end of Wedding Song, Abbas has the solitude he craved, and as a consequence, he has lost his creativity.



*First published in Arabic as Afrah al-Qubbah (1981). The English edition was translated by Olive E. Kenny; edited and revised by Mursi Saad El Din and John Rodenbeck.

15 August 2009

Woodstock Memories

I remember Woodstock. These memories filter through intervening scenes, perspectives, and mentalités. I'm more a child of the Seventies than the Sixties and missed the festival at Max Yasgur's farm forty years ago. I was too young.

My memories of Woodstock are second hand experiences animated through Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (The Director's Cut) (1997), The '60s (1999), and the study of history. Woodstock and the Sixties first presented themselves in my study of history through Professor Leroy Ashby's lectures in U.S. History, 1941 to present (the course covered a forty year period when I took it).

Ashby's innovative lectures brought history to life. His narratives were supplemented with clips from such music as Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner," Country Joe and the Fish, and maybe Eric Burden and the The Animals or Joan Baez. I lack his song list, but attempted to reproduce his style a few years ago while teaching a course called Recent American History. My list of "protest music" included "Okie from Muskogee" by Merle Haggard, Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," and Phil Ochs' "I Ain't Marching Anymore." I should have presented Frank Zappa's "Plastic People" alongside "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield as springboards for reflection upon the so-called riots on Sunset Strip. Seeing these demonstrations protesting the closing of Pandora's Box through the contrasting lenses of these two songs (one of which was performed in Monterey 1967), students might develop some critical historical questions for exploring the youth movement of the Sixties that Woodstock has come to symbolize.

Woodstock serves as the denouement for the fractured family sub-plot in The '60s. The Herlihy family at the heart of the film includes three typical children. Katie (Julia Stiles) gets pregnant as a teenager and follows her lover to San Francisco, where his feeble, "bummer," is offered when she needs cash in order to buy medicine for their sick baby, cash that he just spent on drugs. Through this film, we see the dark side of the Summer of Love. Michael's (Josh Hamilton) Catholic idealism carries him into the civil rights movement, the Pentagon siege, and into constant struggle with a rival suitor for the heart of a woman. She begins to consider Michael again after the rival dies in a self-created blast as a member of the Weather Underground. Brian (Jerry O'Connell) joins the Marines and goes to Vietnam. Through a deus ex machina (some movie critics use the term flaw) the divergent paths of all three siblings converge upon Woodstock where they find each other after several years apart. They return together to their parents in Chicago and enjoy a happy reunion, and start the process of healing.

Such is the hope found in the memories of Woodstock that many celebrate today.

Last weekend, The New York Times got the scoop on the anniversary and published assessments of Woodstock's legacy from such writers as Ishmael Reed, Rick Perlstein (whose Facebook alert put me onto this article), James Miller, Joan Hoff, and others. Miller called the festival a pseudo-event. Others, too, have been critical.


Freedom from Responsibility

A tone of moral censure underscores the narrative of the Sixties in A Patriot's History of the United States (2004) by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen.
Rock music reaffirmed the sexual and drug revolutions at every turn. By 1970, although still exceptionally popular, neither the Beatles nor their bad-boy counterparts, the Rolling Stones, had the aura of hipness, having ceded that to rising new and more radical groups whose music carried deeper drug overtones.
Schweikart and Allen, 703
For these authors, hipness was rebellion against authority. The music industry cashed in on this rebellion with the Woodstock festival. The authors of A Patriot's History omit stories of how the mega-concert became free as the crowds overwhelmed any semblance of security, and the promoters took a bath. But, they mention the full-length film--Woodstock (1970)--that followed the event and that continues to bring profits through several anniversary editions.

Schweikart and Allen cite one critical source for their brief discussion of the music festival: David Dalton, "Finally, the Shocking Truth about Woodstock Can Be Told, or Kill It Before It Clones Itself," The Gadfly (August 1999); their citation also mentions conversations with Dalton by one of the two authors, presumably Schweikart as he started his career in a band. From Dalton they offer the observation that at Woodstock drugs "ceased being tools for experience ... and became a means of crowd control" (704).

The authors of A Patriot's History emphasize the drugs and sex, the garbage left behind, and the commercialization of the music. They frame Woodstock between the sexual revolution and the mayhem in Hollywood perpetrated by Charles Manson's followers the week prior to the festival. They do not inquire into the motivations of the organizers nor the experiences of the participants.


People's Histories

Neither A People's History of the United States (1980) by Howard Zinn nor Paul Johnson's A History of the American People (1998) mention the Woodstock Festival. Even so, Zinn's three chapters on the Sixties emphasizing the Civil Rights Movement; protest against the American presence in Vietnam, and the crimes of Richard Nixon; and the emergence of Red Power, Black Power, Chicano nationalism, and woman's liberation all seem to suggest a broadly positive assessment. Even so, Zinn might object to the ways the youth movement was exploited by corporate America. Schweikart and Allen note how "peace, love and rock-n-roll" became an advertising slogan not only for Woodstock, but for other products.

Johnson's one indexed reference to drugs credits popular music with fomenting the spread of drug culture. From 1920s jazz, swing and bop in the 1930s and 1940s, ...
There followed 1950s cool, hard bop, soul jazz, rock in the 1960s, and in the 1970s blends of jazz and rock dominated by electronic instruments. And all the time pop music was crowding in the phantasmagoria of commercial music geared to the taste of countless millions of easily manipulated but increasingly affluent young people. And from the worlds of jazz and pop, the drug habit spread to the masses as the most accelerated form of downward mobility of all.
Johnson, 706
Johnson repeats this theme of downward mobility in his discussion of Gangsta Rap, where he segues into expressing his affinity for the arguments in Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (1987) and Roger Kimball, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted our Higher Education (1991). It's clear that his views of Woodstock would not deviate far from those of Schweikart and Allen.


Addendum (24 August 2009):
Earlier this morning, Larry Schweikart posted "Woodstock at 40 ... er, wait, is it 40 already?" on his blog A Patriot's History of the United States. In the second sentence, he calls Rush Limbaugh his mentor, or he imagines Rush Limbaugh as the mentor for his imaginary reader that he is quoting--the syntax of his parenthetical statement lacks some precision on this point. He then suggests that he and Rush share a love of the music of Woodstock, and that he has seen the film something like twenty times. He repeats and emphasizes David Dalton's assertion that at Woodstock drugs became a means for "crowd control".

14 August 2009

Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance

Thanks to Pam Wilson, curator of "Indigenous Cinema and Visual Language(s): Why Should We Be Teaching These Films?" at In Media Res, I learned this morning that a terrific film is available through the Internet Archive.

Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance is an Alanis Obomsawin documentary film about a confrontation between Mohawks and the Canadian government in 1990. The confrontation resulted from plans to build a housing development and expand a golf course on Mohawk land, but the roots go back to Jacques Cartier's claim of this land for France in 1535.

The trailer is on YouTube.



When this film was available for some viewings in 1993-1994 on my campus, conversations about Native issues put sovereignty at the center.

13 August 2009

Reflective Thinking, Teaching and Learning

"Am I a professor? Then what will I say today? But if I am a teacher, what will they do today?"
Lendol Calder, 1370
The New Social Studies of the 1960s aimed to transform classrooms that had been conduits for the transmission of knowledge into agents of cultural change. Looking back from the standpoint of 1992, Byron Massialas summarized the prospects of teaching through inquiry.
Through a proper classroom environment and teaching method, students of virtually any age could be involved in reflection and critical thinking. Springboards from any of the traditional social sciences and history could be introduced into the classroom to create interest and reflective thinking about social events.
Massialas, "Retrospect and Prospect," 121
His use of springboard as metaphor for the value of history, sociology, geography, economics, and other disciplines all serving something higher called Social Studies merits more examination than I can give it here.

Although the reform movement began with consideration of social-political contexts and psychological factors affecting students, Massialas tells us, many teachers embracing this reform movement emphasized "the structure of knowledge of the organized disciplines" (121). Historians, for example, failed to see that their disciplinary knowledge and processes were means to another end, a place to start but not the map. History dominated the curriculum that Massialas and his associates sought to transform into Social Studies. They conducted empirical studies of classroom practices that "confirmed the idea that a social-issues, rather than a traditionally chronological, curriculum is more in tune with the demands of modern society" (122).

The New Social Studies Movement ended by the mid-1970s; that is, it ended before I took a course in Social Studies teaching methods from a historian.


Undergraduate Education

O. Gene Clanton espoused some of the ideals of this now defunct reform movement. He advocated inquiry-based teaching of history in his methods class as theory. and his practice seemed to reflect this theory. Clanton had been my professor two years earlier for the second half of the American history survey: U.S. History, 1877 to present. In that class, he structured our classroom practices around what he called an inquiry approach. He divided the class of sixty or so into two groups; his teaching assistant took the other half. We then sat in a circle and talked about the documents--primary sources, mostly texts--that followed each narrative chapter in Richard N. Current, American History: A Survey, vol 2.

Clanton's teaching of history was refreshing and liberating. But it was not the method of inquiry-based reflective thinking and learning espoused by Massialas and his colleagues. Clanton did most of the talking.

In Inquiry in Social Studies (1966), Massialas and C. Benjamin Cox make the point that a discussion technique does not necessarily alter the method of classroom as conduit.
[T]he teacher assumes the role of expositor of knowledge while his students act as recipients. The materials at hand are the sources of knowledge and the major task involved is most easily described as the process of transmitting finished knowledge from source to recipient. The techniques utilized in this transmission, whether lecture, discussion, student reporting, or film projection do not differentiate the method itself. If the intent is to inform students of some already organized system of predetermined knowledge, the method is expository.
Massialas and Cox, 62
Paulo Friere calls this expository method the banking concept of education. The teacher (subject) narrates to passive receptacles or listening objects (students).
Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat.
Friere, 53
The alternative sought through the New Social Studies was concept based, student centered, and focused on contemporary problems. The teacher was to manage and coordinate, rather than dispense, the construction of knowledge. In my education courses, the professors used the term facilitate.
The materials at hand are at once the sources of promising springboards or hypotheses and the compilations of factual evidence required to support or refute these hypotheses. The students in this case become participants in the process of reorganizing this knowledge around new centers of attention and interest. The learning situation is characterized by the seeking, discovering, reorganizing, and testing of knowledge.
Massialas and Cox, 62
This movement towards inquiry based teaching in social studies ran aground. When I was in college, several history professors dismissed it as a fad of the Sixties. Even so, to the extent that it was part of other educational developments that favored student centered education, it echoes through much of educational theory today, if not the practice of teaching. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that prescriptions for developing reflective thinking in high school and middle school social studies classrooms anticipate recent calls for rethinking the history survey in college classrooms.


Teaching and Learning

Checking e-mail in class is rude and immature, but it is also a predictable response to a worn-out pedagogy that no longer has a place in the history survey.
Lendol Calder, 1360
In his essay, "Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey," Lendol Calder seeks ways to empower students as the agents of their own learning. He refers to a label Sam Wineburg used in conversation with him: the attic theory. Wineburg's attic theory of cognition resembles Friere's banking concept, or what Massilas and Cox call expository teaching.
As it happens, people do not collect facts the way homeowners collect furniture, storing pieces for use at a later time. ... Facts are not like furniture at all; they are more like dry ice, disappearing at room temperature.
Calder, 1361
Calder points out that covering a subject means not only going the length, but also connotes concealment. Historians, he alleges are quite adept at covering up, or "hiding what it means to be good at history" (1363). Like Wineburg in his book Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (2001), Calder attempts to identify the peculiar signature of the practice of history. He seeks to introduce to his students six "cognitive habits: questioning, connecting, sourcing, making inferences, considering alternate perspectives, and recognizing limits to one's knowledge" (1364).

Calder's process in his course on American history since 1945 is particularly relevant to Patriots and Peoples (this blog). His course divides into six units; each goes through a three stage process. Film clips are used
to create an environment so rich in information and so charged with interesting problems that students who are inert in the face of lectures and textbooks will be stirred to ask a few historical questions. After the film awakens their capacity for wonder, I then send students out to do what historically minded people do: follow a question that takes them beyond what they already know.
Calder, 1364
In the second stage, the class examines primary documents. Entry to class requires a ticket: a three to five page essay on questions formulated by the student (inspired by the film), and using the documents as evidence. One gets the sense that Calder is looking for questions that are focused on the time and place of the United States in the past half-century or so, rather than broad universal questions of the sort favored by the New Social Studies reformers.
A generalization, in order to have wide applicability, must not refer to a specific event, period, or region. A more reliable and useful generalization would be one which, if formulated as a theory, can apply to all times and places.
Massialas and Cox, 333
After formulating their own questions, and answering them through analysis of prescribed documents, the students are prepared to read the work of professional historians. Calder uses Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States and Paul Johnson, A History of the American People. Johnson's work is stronger, that is, less polemical than Schweikart and Allen's A Patriot's History of the United States.


Theorie und Praxis

As a student in high school and college, I craved the rare opportunities to talk back, to argue with the professor, and to get expert guidance in my own self-directed study of the past and its relevance to the present. On the other hand, I would have felt cheated in a course concerned with the late-nineteenth century if the author of Kansas Populism: Ideas and Men (1969) and Populism: The Humane Preference in America, 1890-1900 (1991) should have considered it his place to be silent while my peers and I constructed our knowledge from William Jennings Bryan's Cross of Gold speech. It was good that the doctor in class was a teacher, but he needed to be a professor, too.

As a teacher, I remember that Clanton's practice did not quite match his theory. Nor does my own practice of PowerPoint based presentations interspersed with focused discussion quite match my theory tersely expressed in the title of Carl Becker's classic article, "Everyman His Own Historian." I follow Clanton in looking for balance between making useful deposits and facilitating student management of their investments.


Works Cited

Becker, Carl. "Everyman His Own Historian." American Historical Review (January 1932): 221-236.

Calder, Lendol. "Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey." The Journal of American History (March 2006): 1358-1370.

Clanton, O. Gene. Kansas Populism: Ideas and Men. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1969.

________. Populism: The Humane Preference in America, 1890-1900. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991.

Friere, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans by Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continum, 1993.

Johnson, Paul. A History of the American People. New York: HarperPerennial, 1998.

Massialas, Byron G. "The 'New Social Studies'--Retrospect and Prospect." The Social Studies (May/June 1992): 120-124.

Massialas, Byron G., and C. Benjamin Cox. Inquiry in Social Studies. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.

Schweikart, Larry, and Michael Allen. A Patriot's History of the United States: From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror. New York: Sentinel, 2004.

Wineburg, Sam. Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001.

Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States, 1492 - Present. New York: HarperCollins, 1980.

12 August 2009

A Firmer Grasp

Historians know more about the events of the past than the people who lived through them.
Naturally, we can see events in proper perspective; we know a period better than the active participants in it because we see its results, and because events disclose their real significance by what they produce, and the products can be seen only by those who come afterward and look back ... even of movements, motive, and incident, we often have a firmer grasp than did the men [and women] that were part of what we study.
Andrew Cunningham McLaughlin, "Introduction," xi*
McLaughlin offers a primer on the sources preferred by historians.
It is commonly said that unconscious sources are the best; that is to say, not chronicles written with express purpose to hand down opinions and knowledge of events to succeeding generations, but materials prepared without reference to future times. ... [A]ny diary, especially one written faithfully for one's own eye without the future reader continually in mind, artificial though it be, is necessarily of great value in letting us see the man [or woman] that writes and in giving us a view of passing events as he [or she] sees them.
McLaughlin, xii
Diaries and other records kept for personal recollection are preferable to those manufactured for posterity. Diaries written for revelation will contain deception, but there is less motivation to deceive oneself.


The Light of Limited Experience

President James K. Polk's diary is particularly useful because it "does not appear to have been written with the expectation that it would be conned by future historians" (xiii). Moreover, Polk was "peculiarly simple in his make-up" (xiii); he was not devious in his writing.
[H]e moved straight ahead with unusual directness, following his course unflinchingly, guided by the light of a limited experience and often led by a prejudice or a partisan antipathy which one can fairly easily detect.
McLaughlin, xiii-xiv
Polk, according to McLaughlin, is easy to read and shallow, and was thus incapable of guile.
By nature he was too simple, too plainly lacking in wide sympathy, too narrow in his emotions, too straightly hemmed in by education and practices of life, to become the prey of conflicting impulses.
McLaughlin, xiv
McLaughlin mentions other sources concerned with the period of Polk's presidency, including Thomas Hart Benton, Thirty Years' View; or, History of the Working of the American Government for Thirty Years, from 1820 to 1850 (1856). But we know what Benton could not know because Polk's diary reveals things about which "benton was sometimes in the dark or was but shrewdly guessing at what we know to be the fact" (xii).

We can see the Polk Administration more clearly than Benton because we have Polk's own account. We can understand Polk's actions better than the President himself because we see their effects, and because we are sophisticated enough to see through his prejudices.



*McLaughlin, Andrew Cunningham. "Introduction" to The Diary of James K. Polk During his Presidency, 1845 to 1849. Milo Milton Quaife, ed. Volume I. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co, 1910.

11 August 2009

The Place of Democracy

A third place must be within walking distance from home, a place where one feels valued as more than a faceless consumer, where socializing, loitering and lingering are recognized as social assets, not commercial liabilities, where conversation and camaraderie prevail, where status and pretension have no place and where the hot political issues and the latest football scores gain equal attention.
Roberta Brandes Gratz, New York Times Book Review
A third place, as Ray Oldenberg defines it, may be a tavern or coffee house, a beauty parlor or general store, a diner or soda fountain. All these places where neighbors gather are essential to democratic society.

Instead we have today well planned and orchestrated "town hall" meetings that are fracturing as the disenfranchised--who want exactly the same thing as the most powerful lobbies in Washington DC--speak up out of turn, heckle, and yell, and generally create a disturbance. Ray Oldenberg, author of The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How they Get You Through the Day (1989), might suggest that the eruption of these protests stems from the same trends that gave us the mortgage crisis. Oldenberg's target is magadevelopment projects "promoted erroneously as community revitalizers" (Gratz). One thinks of Applebee's, billed as "your neighborhood bar and grill," and often planned as an integral piece of suburban development projects that "stifle democratic socializing and foster instead separation, isolation and alienation" (Gratz).


Serendipity

I have not read Oldenberg's book, but my memory of this book review has been stirred at least once every year in the past twenty years. Two weeks ago I found my old and tattered copy of "The Saloons of a Free People," New York Times Book Review (24 December 1989), 2. After writing about the taverns of graduate school and discussions of The Journal of John Woolman in a graduate seminar (see "The Greek Chorus"), I unpacked, sorted, and threw away almost the entire contents of an old file of miscellany left over from a rushed packing of things that seemed important at the time during a previous move. In that file were some notes from my reading of Woolman right next to this book review. I found the juxtaposition serendipitous.

The day I read that review remains clear in my mind. My siblings and I had gathered with our children and parents for the Christmas holiday at a time-share condo lent to my mother by one of her co-workers. The condo was on an island in south Puget Sound. We had been told to bring apples because the deer would eat them out of our hands. My youngest brother was able to get one deer to take the apple out of his mouth. I had to leave the gathering for a few hours on Christmas Eve to return my children to their mother in Seattle. On the return trip, I took the Bremerton Ferry back to the west side of the Sound. I recall feeling a sense of tranquility that night as the ferry pulled away from Seattle--tranquility was rare enough in the wake of my divorce to be memorable. On Christmas morning I enjoyed a quiet walk on the beach.

Perhaps this book review caught my eye because the coffee houses and taverns of graduate school were a little slice of paradise. They were not places of tranquility, but conflict. The conflict was much cherished and cemented me to my peers. We lived to argue politics and aesthetics, philosophy and current events. We watched the horrors of the San Francisco earthquake that fall on the television in The Cavern; there we argued about President Bush's invasion of Panama to depose Manuel Noriega, speculating about the significance of Bush's old CIA connections; and we continued our debates from the class where we read William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation, selections from Cotton Mather's Magnalia, John Woolman's and Benjamin Franklin's autobiographies, the Declaration of Independence, and other seventeenth and eighteenth century texts.

After the holiday with my family, I met up with Daggy and Wang in Seattle's U-District for a two day drive south to San Francisco, where the three of us were joining thousands of history professors and graduate students at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Because the United States was at war, I draped a US flag over the back seat of my Dodge Aries. This patriotic icon enlivened the discussions with Daggy (a German student studying here) and Wang (from China and hoping to remain in the US after graduate school). "I just don't understand you Americans and your flag," Daggy stated more than once.

I bought some books at the conference, and a bunch more when the spring semester started in January. The review of Oldenberg's book got filed away so I would not forget it. Yesterday, I finally ordered the book for $2 plus shipping from one of those megadiscount stores with warehouses in Seattle, Atlanta, Portland. The book may prove dated after these twenty years, but I plan to read The Great Good Place.


Un-American Activities
I think town hall meetings are as American as apple pie. ... They [protesters] had a right to express themselves. I wished that we'd have had a little bit more opportunity to discuss things before they started to boo. But they're all kind of performance art and they're all kind of opportunities of guerrilla theater to affect political issues and to make an impression, and I felt like it was a good discourse.
Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), Quoted in "In the Crosshairs of Un-American Town Hall Protests"

Thanks to a poor choice of words by San Francisco's Representative in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in USA Today, the focus of health care reform has degenerated into polls and pundits concerned with the merits of protest. FOX News host Greta Van Susteren led off her interview of Representative Cohen with a question that has nothing to do with health care. She asked about the protests rather than the bill. When he managed to squeeze in some comments regarding the substance of the bill, and the protesters objections to things that are not in it, she asked whether he had read the whole text. Then, she interrupted his answer.
There was an anti-government individual who is an activist who circulated petitions on the e-mail to encourage people to come and to be concerned about some of the myths, the ideas that Congress had opted out, which is not true, that abortion was part of this, which is not true, that there would be -- seniors would be hurt by a diminution in health care, which is not true, that there would be euthanasia, which is not true. But all these things were used to get people out and people came there with those things in mind. And that's what they wanted to cheer and jeer about.
Cohen, "Crosshairs"
Van Susteren asked about the text's length, whether the Congressman had read it, and seemed disappointed that he had. She shifted to his understanding--revealing her own difficulties with a complex bill--so she could interject her argument that laws should be simple and short.
You know, smart people can write things so the rest of us can understand it. And here's the problem. If it is so complicated, the people down the road who are going to have to implement it, you know, that's going to be even a bigger nightmare and they're not going to get it right unless you guys write a bill that's very plain and very easy to understand so we can all understand it. I actually believe you can if you want to.
Greta Van Susteren, "Crosshairs"
Cohen was prepared and hit back with another talking point of the Right: activist judges. If a bill eschews technical language, it empowers the courts to interpret the imprecision of simple language. That's not something Van Susteren and her colleagues at FOX News want to endorse.

That might be how it plays in coffee houses too.

06 August 2009

Polk: The Diary of a President

As is true for perhaps ten percent of my books, I know neither when nor how I acquired Polk: The Diary of a President, 1845-1849 (1968 [1929]), edited by Allan Nevins. It has been on my shelf for quite a few years, perhaps since graduate school. Aside from providing an index that I glanced at once or twice to confirm some fact, its purpose on my shelf has served principally as an abode for the congregation of dust.

Earlier this week I pulled it down with intent of reading it through. It begins with a report of a meeting that took place 26 August 1845.
The President again called up the Oregon question. He remarked that he had at different times communicated to the several members of the Cabinet, the settled decision to which his mind had come. He proceeded briefly to repeat his decision, in substance as follows, viz., that Mr. Bucanan's note in reply to Mr. Pakenham should assert and enforce our right to the whole Oregon territory from 42° to 54° 40’ North Latitude; that he should distinctly state that the proposition which had been made to compromise on the 49th paralel of North Latitude had been made, first in deference to what had been done by our predecessors, and second with anxious desire to preserve peace between the two countries.
Polk, 1-2
Before I get to the questions that drew me towards this diary--questions concerned, in part, with Pacific Northwest history, including the oft-repeated error that "Fifty-four Forty or Fight" was Polk's campaign slogan,*--I stumble upon the voice. Why is Polk writing in the third person? Did he write the meeting summary, or did he have a secretary keep notes of the meeting that he later transcribed into his diary?

Allan Nevins' notes to the text do not address these questions.

This text was published in 1929 as an abridgment of the four volume edition edited by Milo Milton Quaife (1910). My copy is a 1968 paperback reprint. Google has digitized Stanford University library's copy of volume I of Quaife's edition. The editor's preface offers some help in the first sentence: "The considerations which induced Polk to keep a diary are sufficiently set forth by the President himself in the entry for August 26, 1846" (vii). The entry for that date is in volume II, but Nevins reproduced it.
Twelve months ago this day, a very important conversation took place in Cabinet between myself and Mr. Buchanan on the Oregon question. This conversation was of so important a character, that I deemed it proper on the same evening to reduce the substance of it to writing for the purpose of retaining it more distinctly in my memory. This I did on separate sheets. It was this circumstance which first suggested to me the idea, if not the necessity, of keeping a journal or diary of events and transactions which might occur during my Presidency.
Polk, 141.
Polk at least claims to have done the writing.

Citations

Nevins, Allan, ed. Polk: The Diary of a President, 1845-1849. New York: Capricorn Books, 1968 [1929]. Cited as Polk.

Quaife, Milo Milton, ed. The Diary of James K. Polk During his Presidency, 1845 to 1849, Volume I. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co, 1910.


Notes

*The phrase, "Fifty-four Forty or Fight," originated with Senator William Allen (Ohio), who later served as that state's governor. I have yet to see primary evidence indicating that the slogan was deployed in the campaign of 1844, although it clearly was prominent in the newspapers by 1846. In the mid-1980s, when I taught Washington State History in my student teaching, I checked several secondary sources to contest the claim in the students' textbook that the phrase was Polk's campaign slogan. I observed then that secondary sources more closely grounded in primary sources did not put forth this notion, but that tertiary sources rooted in secondary works often did. Thirty years of occasional examination of the issue has not altered that initial assessment. The most trustworthy secondary sources claim that Polk's campaign slogan was "reoccupation of Oregon and re-annexation of Texas," which is the language found in the Democratic Party Platform of 1844.
Resolved, That our title to the whole of the Territory of Oregon is clear and unquestionable; that no portion of the same ought to be ceded to England or any other power, and that the reoccupation of Oregon and the re-annexation of Texas at the earliest practicable period are great American measures, which this Convention recommends to the cordial support of the Democracy of the Union.
Democratic Party Platform of 1844
, The American Presidency Project

05 August 2009

Blogging and Academia

Wait--You think people actually read the archives of blogs? I think most readers think of a blog as being only as good as its most recent post.
GayProf at "Does blogging hurt or help an academic career?" Historiann
I hope people read blog archives, or I'm wasting my time. Except that I'm not.

On the one hand, my blog is designed around its archive. I'm slowly working through an old, classic, ideologically oriented survey of American history--A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn--alongside a much newer, ideologically motivated, and almost entirely ignored within academia, survey of American history--A Patriot's History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen. If and when I ever finish these two books, Patriots and Peoples will have become a comprehensive resource for students of American history.

My blog started as a notebook, and it serves that purpose. The more I write, the easier writing becomes. My academic writing had become almost non-existent due to more than a decade of part-time teaching supported, in part, with income from an entirely non-academic avocation. However, being the way I am, even that has an academic aspect. One of my high school friends was complaining about that--or laughing at me--after he asked a question about the history of chess the other night, and then said, "don't answer that." "James can never say yes or no, but must give us a lecture," Brett noted. This personality quirk observed by the kid that used to poke me in the back with his pencil in George Chalich's U.S. History class more than thirty years ago reveals that my long-windedness to make a simple point is not a consequence of graduate school, but its cause.

I started blogging because any writing stimulates more writing, especially when that writing attracts one or two readers. If I'm not writing, I get depressed.

I'm not struggling with the tenure and promotion questions, and the place of blogging within, that is the focus of much of the conversation at Center of Gravitas and Historiann. My career in academia is hanging by a thread, and proceeds course to course, each with a separate contract. If I get good teaching evaluations, another contract comes along. Fail once, and I'm slinging tacos at some fast food outlet in your town. Adjuncts don't have the pleasure of worrying over blogging in the annual review. Even so, the issues Historiann and GayProf raise about blogging and academic work are central to both. Both of their blogs reveal the scholar's mind even in stories of fishing trips or Facebook. Not that such writing necessarily meets the terms of service or scholarship as understood by university promotion and review committees. But the tremendous output of both these bloggers merits some consideration as a worthy endeavor for professors. Other blogs, such as Larry Cebula's Northwest History, appear central in their focus and content to the author's professional work. The possibility that such a blog could be credited in promotion decisions should be kept open. Not all blogging is the same.

03 August 2009

Eliza Farnham's Millennial Vision

Two religious traditions are pervasive in American culture. The evangelical tradition is the spiritual; civil religion, the political. These two traditions interrelate in complex ways; sometimes in competition, they also draw power from and build one another. In Life in Prairie Land (1846) by Eliza W. Farnham these traditions interact to create a vision we might call evangelical nationalism.

Farnham ends Part I of her work with a narrative of spiritual renewal that provides a framework for understanding the millennial vision at the end of the book. She holds forth her sister as an exemplary moral character; to the extent that she follows this moral leadership, the book's structure conforms to the pattern of conversion narratives, albeit conversion as secular as it is religious.

The voice of Mary is presented as a sermon from her death bed; it is a testimonial of her life of faith. Mary reads her own life as a text:
Those were dark volumes to be opened by gay-hearted girls, that we learned to read during those seven years: gloomy commentaries on the world in which we were left to make our way to happiness or ruin.
Farnham, 148
In Mary's reading, the world is hostile, full of "tempters ... spreading their diabolical nets" (149). Her happiness results from having been blessed by God with a good mother, among other things. She testifies to the experience of God as a kind parent; it was her discovery that she could approach her "Maker as a tender father and friend" (150) who carried her through her trials. Mary characterizes her spiritual transformation as "newly awakened sentiment" (150), then turns to the climax of her sermon: evaluating Eliza Farnham's need for a similar experience.

The transition from her reading of her own experience to reading the experience of her sister employs the disarming pronoun "they".
Most young persons think their enjoyment of life will be diminished by an allegiance to the laws of christianity, but I think they are in error. Mine was infinitely increased! I wished everyone to feel as I did.
Farnham, 150
Turning then to a more personal evaluation of Farnham's need, she describes the views of her sister as those of an atheist, but in a manner that releases Farnham from full responsibility. Farnham is presented in her youth as having been changed passively by life in a "moral wilderness ... away from everything but the tyranny of a selfish, passionate woman ... [and] that woman an Atheist" (150). Having escaped this woman, however, Eliza began "to seek the education and mental culture which should have been the work of earlier years" (151).

The second half of the sermon is a defense of the American West as an Eden, with a landscape that is always feminine. But in this Eden life is hard because of unregenerate man:
I feel that the responsibility of my early death rests on human beings ... [whose] repeated transgressions of His law have placed it out of my reach to be happy and useful.
Farnham, 157
Following the death of sister Mary and her sermon was the death also of the Farnham child and attempts at consolation by the pastor. From books lent by the pastor, Farnham, "found nothing of the peace and resignation which I had often seen others manifest under similar afflictions" (167). Even so, she experienced an awakening of her spirit, "a new set of faculties was called into action" (167).

The consolation to which her sister testified was now hers. Mary's sermon forms part of the text of the conversion narrative of Eliza Farnham, and Mary's experience becomes descriptive of Farnham's experience. Farnham, however, occupies a marginal place within the evangelical tradition. Hers is not the testimony of repentance from sin and salvation in Christ.
But the comfort which I found was no miraculous shining forth of anything external to myself; it was no overflowing fountain which poured itself out, independent of my own state of mind; such as many seem to have found, but simply a more exalted action of some powers which I had always possessed, and a partial subduing of others. ... I found no power superior to my own mind.
Farnham, 168
Her consolation was not one of personal redemption; it was the feeling "that there were infinite love and infinite pity in the divine Mind" (168). Theologically, she is much more in tune with Ralph Waldo Emerson than with traditional evangelical piety; in contrast to Emerson, however, she emphasizes affections and feminine virtues.

Life in Prairie Land as a whole forms a larger conversion narrative theologically compatible with Emerson's "Nature" (1836). The entirety of Eliza Farnham's experience in the West culminates in a religious vision of nationalist expansion in the final chapter. In reading this experience, Eliza again follows the lead of her sister Mary.

Farnham surveys the history of settlement in the West, identifying five distinct groups of inhabitants, and assessing the moral relationship of each to the land. In her mind the pattern is one of moral progression culminating in a society "free from want, from oppression, from ignorance, from fear" (268)!

Originally inhabiting the prairie was a group that Farnham encountered only through traces: she describes Indians through burial grounds and legends. Within Edenic nature lived the noble savage who simply vanishes when the land comes under cultivation. Their successors, the first EuroAmerican settlers, had much in common with the Indians. Coming from Kentucky and Virginia, these settlers had lived with, fought with, and married Indians. White in color, they were primitive in nature, according to Farnham. They applied "only partial industry" (266) to cultivation of the land.

These first settlers were pushed out by a more industrious group. These built loftier cabins and added fences and barns. This group was characterized by constant industry and determination to reap the potential of the land. However, when the land began to become crowded, they moved on, settling other regions. They sold their lots to Yankees.

The fourth group of inhabitants becomes the "permanent population" (267). They replace the cabins with "stately houses" (267). From their stock emerge the fifth and final group: inhabitants of the future. These are not new immigrants; they are those whose cultivation of the land is reciprocated in the awakening of their moral faculties by the sublime features of the land.

These future inhabitants will learn to read the land, and their experience upon it, as Farnham outlines. In her view, the land itself contains
so much to stimulate the nobler faculties and gratify the senses; so much that is calculated to induce a high state of physical development and fine perceptions of the beautiful, the grand, and the true.
Farnham, 268
As Eliza Farnham bids farewell to the prairie, she echoes her sister in greeting the millennium. Nature in the West, according to Mary, is "in her loveliest and benignest aspect" (54). In contemplating the mystery of the irresistible charm of the land, she concludes:
It is the mystery of the mighty Future which lies before a country possessing resources like ours. To bear a part in developing this, seems to me equally calculated to stimulate and gratify our noblest powers.
Farnham, 55
Evangelical concern for the future enables Farnham to publish her narrative. Her writing, often accepted by historians as a primary source concerning the settlement of the West, is as much prescriptive as descriptive. The text is a document of the ideology of manifest destiny at the very moment when that term was coming into being.

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