30 November 2007

Conservative Country?

Satire: The sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own. Jonathan Swift
First Box

Rock music is for liberals, and Country is for conservatives. We all know that, and it helps us understand why no one we knew listened to Country in the 1970s, but some of our friends started doing so secretly in the 1980s and more overtly in the 1990s every time Billy opened his fly.

The Box Inside

The recent Country Music Awards was one of the dullest shows on record, perhaps because they've retreated from airing their politics after the flap over the Country "Southern Rock Tribute" during the Grammys of 2005. See Jeanne Fury's review or the complete line up if you've forgotten. Thrasher's Wheat--a Neil Young fan's blog--offers a bit of useful history challenging the assumptions that erupted in controversy.

And Inside That Box...

In 2005, Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" earned Best Male Country Vocal Performance. This song is on the same album that includes "Back When," with catchy lyrics that seem upon first hearing to be making fun of street slang, often associated with Black America, while celebrating icons of rural whiteness: "A fried bologna sandwich / With mayo and tomato."

...Another Box

Of course, there's plenty of God-talk in "Live Like You Were Dying," in many of the songs performed at this year's awards, in the thank you speeches, and so on. God-talk, we all know, is conservative because Jesus (if he were alive today and living in America) would vote for Ron Paul or Mitt Romney. Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics, has another view about God-talk and politics, if not about the ideology of Country music.

A Razor Along the Seam

"Back When" is not so simple. The lines, "Sittin' round the table / Don't happen much anymore," are conservative only in the most generic sense, and could just as well be taken as a veiled reference to Joy Harjo's poem "Perhaps the World Ends Here" as to anything else. I'll leave for another day my discussion of McGraw's first hit, "Indian Outlaw," and what it says about stereotypes and making a travesty of history. The heart of "Back When" is a celebration of radio that wasn't as broken down by genres and styles as today: "I had my favorite stations / The ones that played them all." Likewise, Lynyrd Skynyrd's allegedly racist song celebrates a mix of styles: "Now muscle shoals has got the swampers / And they’ve been known to pick a song or two." Imagine Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, and GZA on the same station and you get the idea, but for now Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) is the closest we'll get to that.

Looking at Cardboard, and the Cut on my Hand

There are conservatives who think they own Country music to be sure, and some of them, such as Jake Easton, harassed the Dixie Chicks after they had the courage to say something intelligent about Texas patriotism and the invasion of Iraq. The longer Bush stays in office, however, the more often folks who listen to Country say they've always liked the Dixie Chicks.

The Jewel Inside

The roots of Country music go way back: back to a time when Country was indistinguishable from Folk, back to a time when Woody Guthrie was writing songs that everyone in America knows. The Country Music Hall of Fame, the Country Music Awards, and Country music fans everywhere may not yet acknowledge all of their history, but Peter La Chapelle thinks they should, as he argues in his essay "Is Country Music Inherently Conservative?" at the History News Network.

[Postscript 18 December 2007: As a few gentle readers missed the gist of "Conservative Country?" in light of expectations created by the Blog Focus, I've added an epigraph and section headings as a roadmap of sorts.]

29 November 2007

"Say warning. Live without warning"

When I created this post, originally, it carried a readability rating that embedded an image from another site. That image transmuted into something nefarious. Now, this entry from my first month of blogging is the holding cell for other things.

The title, a lyric from Green Day refers here to the warning that my writing is not for the minimally literate. Now, perhaps, it takes on new meaning. Beware what you embed from the sites of others.

I should write books. Print is stable.

24 August 2009

"Fresh Roasted Martian Coffee" (original draft)

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.

I asked a question of my Representative 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?
IMHO, the ensuing conversation with other "friends" of Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers was interesting, so I'm pasting it here with a few tiny edits to accommodate formatting differences between Facebook and Blogger.
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.

Valerie Brady Rongey
Garlan, you are sadly misinformed, hope you do some more reading to get the reality of health care for all.

Sheri Engelken
Garlan: Some liar has scared you to death. Not to worry. There'll still be medicare. The tough part will be living to 65 to be eligible for it if there is no health care reform and costs of insurance & care continue to spiral.

Garlan Cutler
Just look that the history of the world governments and read between the lines and dont be fooled

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?

Earl Hand
Valerie - I have read and checked it out and it is a disaster waiting to happen not just for seniors but all of America.

James Stripes
Mike, There is no question that we will run out of oil. It is a finite resource of unknown quantity, but not renewable. We can find new reserves, and develop technologies for extending existing ones, but the earth will not create more during the span of humanity's tenure on the planet. There no question of whether, but there are plenty of questions concerning when.

The world that oil wrought was the twentieth century. That twenty-first will differ in the main is crystal clear--just look into the ball ;-).

The North-South freeway meets the needs of Spokane in the 1970s, and it remains a long way from completion, especially since it is not yet fully funded. Even so, it will relieve congestion and serve usefully if completed in the next decade. I think Rep. Rodgers' views on government create ambiguities in her profession of support both for the freeway, and for the transportation nexus it serves.

Ginger Edmonds
Garlan, check out Gayle Ann's link to Louisiana Gun...pretty graphic.

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.

James Stripes
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.

James Stripes seems more balanced than WorldNet Daily, and it 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.

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.

James Stripes
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.

November 29: This Day in History

Every day merits celebration or remembrance. Throughout the year, each day marks the birthday of someone’s hero, and the anniversary of some momentous achievement or tragic event. Today, 29 November 2007, marks the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations vote to partition Palestine. On this day in 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The first Army-Navy football game took place on this day in 1890—Navy slaughtered Army 24-0. In 1948, Verdi’s Otello became the first opera to be televised. Atari announced Pong, the first commercially marketed home video game in 1972—marking in the opinion of some the ruin of all future youth of America.

Today marks the birth of Christian Doppler (1803), C.S. Lewis (1898), Madeleine L'Engle (1918), Gary Shandling (1949), and many others. Lists are available at Brainy History, Celebrity Link, Wikipedia, . . . .

29 November is the Feast Day of St. Saturninus, Bishop of Toulouse, martyred on this day in 257. He labored as a missionary to the Gauls with some success. He frequently walked past a pagan altar where on this day his opponents seized him, tied him by the feet to a bull they were planning to sacrifice, and watched him dragged to his death.

American West

Today marks the anniversary of two singularly tragic events in the history of the American West: the killing of missionary physician Marcus Whitman, his wife Narcissa, and eleven others by members of the Cayuse tribe (1847), and the day-long slaughter of Cheyenne and Arapaho children, women, and men by two regiments of Colorado Volunteers under the leadership of Colonel John Chivington (1864). Collective memory of both events is managed, in part, by the National Park Service’s administration of the Whitman Mission National Historic Site and the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. These two events highlight different aspects of the nineteenth century transformation of the American West. Each marks a significant episode in a larger story of settlement and cross-cultural relations, and each has been elevated as a symbolic moment in particular narratives.

Whitman Massacre 1847

Missionaries Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding and their husbands, Marcus Whitman and Henry Spalding, crossed the vast expanse of the West on their way to the Oregon Country in 1836. Their journey, motivated in part by the publication of the so-called Flathead Delegation’s quest for the source of Anglo-American sacred power, made these two the first white women to cross the Rocky Mountains. Also Henry Spalding’s stubborn attachment to his wagon, even after it was reduced to a cart, made it the first set of wheels to roll over much of the route that would become the Oregon Trail. Perhaps the next major episode in the development of the nascent Oregon Trail was the first organized wagon train along the route—the Bartleson-Bidwell Party’s journey in 1841. Among those traveling with Bidwell were the Jesuits Pierre Jean De Smet, Gregory Mengarini, and Nicholas Point. The party split at Soda Springs (in present day Idaho) with some heading into the Pacific Northwest and others to California. The Jesuits went north into Montana, where they established missions that eventually prospered and grew across western Montana and northern Idaho. The oldest building in Idaho, the Cataldo Mission, is one of several lasting results of the work of De Smet and company.

The Pacific Northwest developed as a site of rapidly expanding Christian missions beginning with the arrival of Methodist Jason Lee in 1834 and the Jesuits Francis Norbert Blanchet and Modeste Demers four years later. Before the arrival of non-Indian missionaries, Indians of the Interior Pacific Northwest gave ear to the preaching of Spokane Garry and other sons of headmen that had been sent away to Red River to receive Christian instruction, then returned as Native missionaries to their own and neighboring tribes. The fur trading companies employed missionized mixedbloods from the east and offered Euro-American (or Euro-Canadian) curriculum and catechism to youths whose parents were willing to send them away.

When the Whitmans and Spaldings arrived, the ground had been well prepared for their arrival. Nevertheless, they found the task difficult and wrought with cultural conflicts. These missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM—the Oregon Country was yet foreign to the United States) believed that a transformation of Indian lifeways from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture was a necessary prerequisite to the development of serious and lasting Christian faith. They struggled with the physical deprivations, loneliness, and cultural conflict of frontier conditions and made slow progress. They battled with Native beliefs, on the one hand, and Catholic competition, on the other. Some of those in the mission service had deep personal conflicts with their brethren.

Reports of their difficulties made their way through letters and rumor to the east. When in 1842 Elijah White—the first United States official to be appointed for Oregon—arrived, he brought a letter from the ABCFM ordering consolidations and closings of their missions in the region. Although Spalding at Lapwai and Whitman at Waiilatpu did not agree on every important matter, they agreed that their work should continue. Thus, Whitman returned to Boston and convinced the Board to rescind their order. He returned to Oregon in 1843 helping lead the largest single group of settlers to traverse the Oregon Trail through its entire history—a full thousand emigrants, plus or minus a dozen or so. Members of this Great Migration, as it has come to be known, benefited along the way both from his medical services, and from his knowledge of the route.

Back in Oregon conflicts with the Cayuse grew as Whitman’s emphasis seemed to shift toward aiding Euro-American settlers rather than ministering to the spiritual needs of Natives. Many Cayuse were upset that Whitman had never paid for the lands he claimed for his mission, but valued his own property enough that he put emetics in the watermelons to discourage theft.

Measles and Retribution

Traffic along the Oregon Trail grew year by year, and many of the pioneers stopped at Waiilatpu. Diseases came with the settlers, and in 1847 Whitman was busy attending to a measles epidemic. He administered medicines to many patients that recovered and many others that died. The Cayuse were less fortunate than the non-Indians, dying in greater proportions. Some of them thought that Whitman deliberately killed Indians while healing settlers.

On 29 November 1847, Marcus Whitman, his wife Narcissa, and eleven others were killed in an attack on the mission that had inside help. The bloody scene provoked the raising of a militia to hunt down the perpetrators, negotiations, battles, and finally surrender of the five who were allegedly responsible for the killings.

Cayuse tradition permitted the taking of the life of a shaman (or medicine man) if his patient died. Many have called foul because explanations of this tradition was denied as possible evidence through a series of rulings by the judge in Oregon City during the trial of those given up as Whitman’s executioners. On the other hand, they were tried only for the murder of Marcus Whitman; this tradition would have offered a feeble defense for their reputed slaughter of the other twelve who died on that day.

The effects of the massacre included the closing of all Protestant missions in the interior, alteration of the route of the Oregon Trail, and increased efforts of settlers in Oregon to push for territorial status within the United States. Hence, the Whitmans have become celebrated for their role in the cause of bringing civilization to the Pacific Northwest wilderness. On the other hand, the Cayuse defendants that were tried and hung, and perhaps the Cayuse as a whole, have been portrayed as martyrs to the advance of civilization.

Whitmans as Martyrs
A threat greater than the competition of the two arms of the Christian faith was about to come to Waiilatpu on Whitman’s return there. The Grim Reaper, the unhorser of the free-riding Cayuse Indians, had prepared measles for murder. Now he sharpened his scythe and rode a pale horse through the ‘place of the Rye Grass.’ In the annals of Pacific-Northwestern Indian-white relations few events were more singularly tragic than that of November 29, 1847.
Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, Indians of the Pacific Northwest (1981), 101.

Cayuse as Martyrs
[T]hese Cayuses were martyrs to a destiny too strong for them, to the Juggernaut of an incomprehensible civilization, before whose wheels they were compelled to prostrate themselves, to that relentless law, the survival of the fittest, before which, in spite of religion or science, we all in turn go down.
Frances Fuller Victor, as quoted in Ronald B. Lansing, Juggernaut: The Whitman Massacre Trial, 1850, (1993), 100.

Sand Creek Massacre 1864

The deeds at Sand Creek in 1864 are more widely known and narrated more frequently, in yesterday's CultureKitchen, for example. There also, the event took place in the context of a protracted struggle between Natives seeking to hang on to their lands and way of life, on the one hand, and growing numbers of immigrants seeking to bring their version of civilization to a particular part of the American West, on the other. There were battles and negotiations, destructions of property by Indians and whites alike, murders, and other depredations. While the Civil War raged in the east, calls went out in Colorado to raise a militia to fight Indians.

Once the militia was raised in Denver, they marched south to Fort Lyon, near present-day Lamar, Colorado. On the evening of 28 November 1864, two regiments numbering more than 700 men answered the call. They marched through the night nearly thirty miles north, and at dawn attacked a large village of Cheyenne and Arapaho. The fighting went on for seven hours. Less than a dozen soldiers were killed, and several dozen wounded, but they killed an estimated 150 or more Indians, injuring and displacing many more. They burned the Indian tipis, destroyed their food stores, and chased the survivors for miles. Some of the soldiers participated in some of the most unspeakable brutalities to be found anywhere in the annals of Indian-white relations.

Howard Zinn, A People’s History

Neither the Sand Creek Massacre, nor the Whitman Massacre can be found in the pages of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Indeed, Zinn is almost entirely silent on nearly all aspects of the history of the American West. Nor does he offer much of substance regarding the history of American Indians beyond one chapter devoted to Indian Removal during the Jackson era. Zinn’s work is disappointing on the matters before us today.

Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History

Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen offer more coverage than Zinn with respect to the Whitmans, Sand Creek, and Western American history generally. A Patriot’s History devotes the last few pages of one chapter to the development of Oregon, including a full paragraph on Jason Lee, Marcus Whitman, and De Smet (246). Even Elijah White gets mentioned. Unfortunately, they bring Lee to Oregon two years before he arrived, collapse the Whitman’s first migration into the second (one that Marcus took without Narcissa), and fail to bring the Jesuits into the Inland Northwest until after the Protestants leave. They do mention measles and its influence in the killing of the Whitmans.

The Sand Creek Massacre also gets a full paragraph in A Patriots History, including an explicit quote carried over from the work of Ray Allen Billington:

Indians “were scalped … their brains knocked out; the men used their knives, ripped open women, clubbed little children, knocked them in the head with their guns [and] mutilated their bodies in every sense of the word.” (A Patriot’s History, 408)

Schweikart and Allen get the date wrong, listing 28 November as the date of the attack, a date that Billington correctly gives in Westward Expansion for the departure of the soldiers from Fort Lyon. This sort of error is easy to make when note taking is too hasty, or when it is left in the hands of an inexperienced research assistant. Aside from this error, their text gives a fair account of the event at the beginning of a section concerned with Indian wars in the West.

From Columbus to Chivington

Frankly, I find disappointing and frustrating the accumulation of small errors of fact in A Patriot’s History, but am appalled that Zinn ignores Whitman and Sand Creek. A People’s History does a better job than A Patriot’s History regarding Columbus, but it fails miserably when we turn to the west and look at the histories of Indians and whites on the frontier. In my score keeping, A Patriot’s History wins a point today.

27 November 2007

Expanding the Footnote: Inventing the Flat Earth

Expanding the Footnote

Was the myth of a flat earth promulgated by liberals seeking to ridicule religion?

Rob and Cyndy Shearer intimate that it was, although not quite in those words. See the quote from their Homeschool World article in Footnote to “Columbus and the Flat Earth.” Jeffrey Burton Russell is more explicit:

…the falsehood about the spherical earth became a colorful and unforgettable part of a larger falsehood: the falsehood of the eternal war between science (good) and religion (bad) throughout Western history. This vast web of falsehood was invented and propagated by the influential historian John Draper (1811-1882) and many prestigious followers, such as Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the president of Cornell University, who made sure that the false account was perpetrated in texts, encyclopedias, and even allegedly serious scholarship, down to the present day. A lively current version of the lie can be found in Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers, found in any bookshop or library.
The Myth of the Flat Earth Summary
Russell continues by offering the explanation that Christian opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution motivated perpetrators of the falsehood:

The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism. The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful, if not elegant: "Look how stupid these Christians are. They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as those idiots who for at least a thousand years denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you get?"
The Myth of the Flat Earth Summary

Serendipity and Columbus

Umberto Eco repeats Russell’s claim, but first mentions controversy regarding the heliocentric hypothesis. The Church opposed Copernicus before Christians objected to Darwin. This conflict, too, may have been exaggerated, but Eco does not go into that. With respect to the shape of the earth, Eco discusses the fourth century Byzantine geographer Cosmas Indicopleustes, about whom Russell devotes a fair portion of Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians (1991). Eco cites other texts that dwell on Cosmas at some length, pointing out “the text of Cosmas, … was revealed to the Western world only in 1706, … No medieval author knew Cosmas, and his text was considered an authority of the ‘Dark Ages’ only after its English publication in 1897” (Serendipities: Language and Lunacy, 5).

Eco continues with a catalog of scholars including Ptolemy, Augustine, Dante, Thomas Aquinas and others that all knew the earth was round. His discussion leads up to the paragraph that expresses the heart of Serendipities: Language and Lunacy:

So what was the big argument all about in the time of Columbus? The sages of Salamanca had, in fact made calculations more precise than his, and they held that the earth, while assuredly round, was far more vast than the Genoese navigator believed, and therefore it was mad for him to attempt to circumnavigate it in order to reach the Orient by way of the Occident. Columbus, on the contrary, burning with a sacred fire, good navigator but bad astronomer, thought the earth smaller than it was. Naturally neither he nor the learned men of Salamanca suspected that between Europe and Asia there lay another continent. And so you see how complicated life is, and how fragile are the boundaries between truth and error, right and wrong. Though they were right, the sages of Salamanca were wrong; and Columbus, while he was wrong, pursued faithfully his error and proved to be right—thanks to serendipity.
Eco, Serendipities, 6-7.

Correcting Error

The Shearers show evidence that they might have read Russell’s text, although they do not cite it. Their narrative of the facts highlights points made by Russell and others: understanding the earth to be a sphere has a long lineage; Columbus erroneously estimated of the size of the earth; and the main elements of the myth of the dispute at Salamanca was concocted by Washington Irving in his historical fiction, The Voyages of Christopher Columbus. They refer their readers to Samuel Eliot Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea (1942) and the hagiography, George Grant’s The Last Crusader: The Untold Story of Christopher Columbus (1992).

The Shearer’s article begins with a composite of “howlers”—their term—that they have encountered over the years. Their composite is focused almost exclusively on the flat earth myth. James Loewen offers a more detailed composite in his detailed study of twelve representative textbooks, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (1995). I’ll quote only a portion of his collective textbook mythistory:

His adventures convinced him that the earth must be round and that the fabled riches of the East—spices and gold—could be had by sailing west, superseding the overland routes, which the Turks had closed off to commerce. … After an arduous journey of more than two months, during which his mutinous crew almost threw him overboard, Columbus discovered the West Indies on October 12, 1492.
Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, 44.

Loewen examines the errors of fact and of emphasis in extensive detail through his chapter, “1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus.” Textbooks, he argues, miss or deemphasize “advances in military technology,” “new forms of social technology,” “the pursuit of wealth,” a “proselytizing religion that rationalized conquest,” and recent successes “exploiting various island societies” facilitated by disease (33-35). Loewen’s key point: “The way American history textbooks treat Columbus reinforces the tendency not to think about the process of domination” (35).

Loewen suggests, “American culture has perpetuated the idea that Columbus was boldly forging ahead while everyone else, even his own crew, imagined the world was flat” (45). But he notes, of the twelve textbooks he studied, only The American Pageant (1991) “repeats this hoax” (46). On the other hand, it is also the only one of the twelve that mentions disease as a factor in the conquest.

The American Pageant has a new edition since the publication of Loewen’s book, as do many of the others. My son finds it dull, and his high school history teacher doesn’t like it either. Nevertheless, the 2002 edition no longer repeats the flat earth hoax, or at least modifies it slightly: “His superstitious sailors, fearful of venturing into the oceanic unknown, grew increasingly mutinous” (The American Pageant, 14).

Probably the only text that today’s high school students are reading that appears to perpetuate the myth is the troubling sentence in Schweikart and Allen, “But knowing intellectually that the earth is round and demonstrating it physically are two different things” (A Patriot’s History, 4). Of course, high school teachers are another matter, as are those teaching lower grades. It would require extensive time consuming investigation to survey myths that teachers might perpetrate or correct.

Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen list three principal sources for their narrative of Columbus, two tertiary sources, and one primary source. They list Oliver Perry Chitwood, A History of Colonial America, 3rd edition (1961)—the first edition dates from 1931; and Esmond Wright, The Search for Liberty: From Origins to Independence (1995). Wright’s book is cited several times throughout their first chapter. Facts carried forward from these tertiary sources are augmented by a few quotes lifted from a key primary source, The Journal of Christopher Columbus, trans. by Cecil Jane (1960).

Science and Religion

By his own account Columbus was a devout Christian. Legions of historical narratives since his death only rarely have questioned this devotion, and then most often by emphasizing his quest for wealth. Likewise, the sages of Salamanca were devout men concerned with orthodox Christianity and, presumably, the wealth of the Spanish Crown. Their dispute, such as it was, was not one of secular knowledge against religious knowledge; it was not one of medieval knowledge versus modern knowledge. It was a dispute regarding the size of the earth.

Accounts of this dispute rarely appear in school textbooks; nor does an account appear in A Patriot’s History. On the other hand, my representative “liberal artifact” from my own hand highlights this dispute, as does A People’s History.

We might ask who is best served by the creation of hostility between modern science (whether Copernican heliocentrism, Columbian geography, or Darwinian evolution) and biblical religion. John William Draper (1811-1882) had his reasons for fomenting this conflict. He was almost entirely ignored as he spent an hour reading his paper, “The Intellectual Development of Europe Considered with Reference to the Views of Mr Darwin” at Oxford in 1860. The crowd had gathered for the anticipated showdown between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley, which occurred after Draper sat down. Wilberforce’s speech, Huxley’s reply, and their subsequent exchange have become the stuff of legend.

The exact words, either of Wilberforce or Huxley, are now uncertain. Their effect is not. One lady fainted. The undergraduates cheered. Most of the audience applauded. To reply in such a vein to a Bishop, especially in his own diocese, was rare indeed. The Bishop himself sensed that Huxley had won the day and did not rise again.
Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page, Evolution: The Great Debate (1989), 103.

Of course, Draper went on to write History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874). His views were augmented by Andrew Dickson White, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). Russell mentions these two in his summary, and Eco disputes some of White’s analysis in Serendipities. The intellectual history of this myth, and its historiography, are the themes of Russell’s work. Of the two core American history texts that are my central concern here, Zinn’s A People’s History, published more than a decade prior to Russell’s text, better reflects its findings than Schweikart and Allen’s A Patriot’s History, published more than a decade after Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians.

26 November 2007

Footnote to Columbus and the Flat Earth


For an example of the portrayal of Columbus in textbooks a century ago, I look to D.H. Montgomery, The Leading Facts of American History (Boston: Ginn & Company, 1899).

Some excerpts:

1. Birth of Columbus; Ideas about the Earth; the "Sea of Darkness."--Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America, was born in Genoa, Italy, about the year 1436.
At that time the earth was generally supposed to be flat, to be much smaller than it actually is, and to be habitable on its upper side alone. (1)

4. What Land Columbus wished to reach; Marco Polo's Travels; First Motive of Columbus.

This book [Travels of Marco Polo] made a deep impression on the mind of Columbus, and later he constructed a map of the world, based in large measure on the geographical discoveries made by Polo. He burned with a desire to visit those marvellous Eastern lands, with which all intercourse, except that of commerce, had long practically ceased. His purpose, as he himself repeatedly tells us, was, first of all, that of a missionary, --he hoped to convert the Khan and his people to Christianity. If they rejected the religion he offered them, then, according to the ideas of the time, any Christian king might seize their possessions, and make slaves of them.
Such was one great object with Columbus in going to the Indies, as all Eastern Asia was then called. Throughout his career he never lost sight of this purpose. In fact, he came at length to believe that the Most High had specially chosen him as his instrument to carry the light of faith into the kingdoms of Oriental paganism. That motive, whether wise or not, inspired the great Genoese navigator with a certain enthusiasm and dignity of character which mark his course throughout. His life was not always blameless,-he shared many of the errors of his time,--but it was always noble. (4-6)

7. Plan of Columbus for reaching the Indies by sailing West.--But Columbus thought that he could improve on the king of Portugal's project. He felt certain that there was a shorter and better way of reaching the Indies than the track Diaz had marked out. The plan of the Genoese sailor was as daring as it was original. Instead of sailing east, or south and east, he proposed to sail directly west. He had, as he believed, three good and solid reasons for such an undertaking: First, in common with the best geographers of his day, Columbus was convinced that the earth was not flat, as most men supposed, but a globe. Secondly, he supposed this globe to be much smaller than it is, and the greater part to be land instead of water. Thirdly, as he knew nothing, and surmised nothing of the existence of the continent of America or of the Pacific Ocean, he imagined that the coast of Asia or the Indies was directly opposite Spain and the western coast of Europe. (8-9)

8. Columbus seeks and obtains the Assistance of Spain.--

At last Columbus, now fast sinking into poverty, received permission from the Spanish rulers to lay his plans before a committee or council. That body listened to his arguments with impatient incredulity. To them such a voyage "appeared as extravagant as it would at the present day to launch a balloon into space in quest of some distant star."
The council ridiculed the idea that the earth is round like a ball. If so, said they, then the rain and snow must fall upward on the other side,--the side opposite where we stand,--and men there must walk with their heads downward: that would be inconvenient, nay more, it would be impossible. Finally, they objected that in case the earth could be proved to be a globe, that very fact would render such a voyage as Columbus proposed a failure. For how, they asked of him, could your ships come back when they had advanced so far west as to begin to descend the curve of the earth? Could they turn about and sail up hill to Spain again? No answer that Columbus could make seemed satisfactory to the council. After much deliberation and vexatious delays they made their report to Ferdinand and Isabella, joint sovereigns of Spain. The report stated that the scheme was "vain and impracticable, and rested on grounds too weak to merit the support of the government." (10)


Immediately evident from these excerpts:
1. The religious and "patriotic" perspective of Schweikart of Allen is evident. In particular, it should be clear that Montgomery's emphasis on character, and his presumption that moral character is yoked to Christianity bears a strong resemblance to the views of Schweikart and Allen.
2. The myth of Columbus and the Flat Earth is promoted not by a liberal seeking to cast ridicule on religion, but quite the opposite. The claims to the contrary by the likes of Rob and Cyndy Shearer requires more evidence than they offer.

They suggest:

How all these misconceptions came to be repeated in numerous social studies texts is instructive. The idea of bigoted, superstitious, Bible-thumping churchmen opposed to Columbus is just too attractive to the modern mind. It's so much fun to picture Columbus as the young rebel, defying convention, defying the church, defying the unscientific primitive accounts of the Bible. It's all so convenient that it "simply must be true."
Homeschool World

I certainly see no evidence in Montgomery that he is attracted by an
"idea of bigoted, superstitious, Bible-thumping churchmen opposed to Columbus" for any purpose other than to stress the heroic character of the admiral of the ocean sea.

25 November 2007

Columbus and the Flat Earth

Many of us were taught in elementary school that Columbus sailed west to reach the East because he understood the earth to be a sphere in contrast to many others of his day. In this version of the story, the near mutiny that Columbus had to quell a few weeks into the voyage was rooted in the belief of his sailors that they would soon sail off the edge of the earth. This notion is easily disputed--even for those with bad textbooks and worse teachers--as soon as students gain access to Google,, and a few of the sites to which they offer a portal of access. Google "Columbus and flat earth" and nearly every site in the first page of hits affirms that such assertions are nonsense. A few of these sites blame "liberals," "evolutionists," and "the modern mind" for using the notion to present a caricature of faith-based knowledge and of religious adherents.

Patriot's and People's Histories

It thus comes as no surprise that Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, authors of A Patriot's History of the United States, assert, "He [Columbus] did not, as is popularly believed, originate the idea that the earth is round" (4). Unfortunately, they do not stop there. The two sentences that follow this clear declaration seem to undermine its truth:
As early as 1480, for example, he read works proclaiming the sphericity of the planet. But knowing intellectually that the earth is round and demonstrating it physically are two different things.
Schweikart and Allen,
Was Columbus seeking to demonstrate the proposition of a spherical earth to skeptics back in Spain? Readers might easily get that impression from Schweikart and Allen. The next paragraph mentions Columbus's "managerial skill" in quelling mutiny after they "passed the point where the sailors expected to find Japan" (4). On the other hand, at least the alleged fear of falling off the edge of the earth finds no support in their text. Their weak effort to contest the myth come closer to its perpetuation than most other survey texts.

Although the authors of A Patriot's History are a bit circumspect when commenting on the relationship between their text and Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, their title stimulates the urge to make comparisons. How does Zinn address the flat earth myth? other informed people of his time, he [Columbus] knew the world was round and he could sail west in order to get to the Far East.
Columbus would never have made it to Asia, which was thousands of miles farther away than he had calculated, imagining a smaller world. He would have been doomed by that great expanse of sea. But he was lucky.
Zinn, A People's History, 2.
A Question of Bias

Schweikart and Allen are clear and honest with respect to their agenda:
...we remain convinced that if the story of America's past is told fairly, the result cannot be anything but a deepened patriotism, a sense of awe at the obstacles overcome, the passion invested, the blood and tears spilled, and the nation that was built.
The reason so many academics miss the real history of America is that they assume that ideas don't matter and that there is no such thing as virtue.
It is not surprising, then, that so many left-wing historians miss the boat (and miss it, and miss it, and miss it to the point that they need a ferry schedule). They fail to understand what every colonial settler and every western pioneer understood: character was tied to liberty, and liberty to property. All three were needed for success, but character was the prerequisite because it put the law behind property agreements, and it set responsibility right next to liberty. And the surest way to ensure the presence of good character was to keep God at the center of one's life, community, and ultimately, nation.
Schweikart and Allen, A Patriot's History, xi-xxiii.
Who is more fair in their treatment of Columbus, Zinn or Schweikart and Allen? Which account is more accurate? Does a fair account prove to be an accurate one?

A Liberal Artifact (circa 1992)

Schweikart and Allen call to memory the Quincentennial celebrations and protests:
The five-hundred-year anniversary of Columbus's discovery was marked by unusual and strident controversy. Rising up to challenge the intrepid voyager's courage and vision--as well as the establishment of European civilization in the New World--was a crescendo of damnation, which posited that the Genoese navigator was a mass murderer akin to Adolf Hitler.
Schweikart and Allen,
Ward Churchill might have made a comparison along these lines, but he is hardly representative of the academy as a whole. Of course, in the early 1990s lots of things were said regarding Columbus and the impact of his journeys. In the cacophony of utterances were the ramblings of a graduate student at Obscure U:
Christopher Columbus was a tolerable geographer who knew, as did most educated people in his day, that the earth was round. He was also intensely interested in a particular academic debate (although his interest in the pursuit of gold was at least as important as his interest in the pursuit of knowledge; it is often argued that he was equally interested in the pursuit of souls). Experts disagreed as to the size of the earth. Columbus was among those who agreed with the smaller estimates; in fact, his estimate was almost the smallest anyone had ventured. As it turns out, his opponents were right. Because of his inaccurate calculations, when Columbus made landfall in what became known later as the Caribbean (another misnomer, resulting from a fear of cannibalism) approximately where he expected, he thought he was just east of India, Thus the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas have been labeled Indians ever since.
James Stripes, "An Introduction to the Cultural Word Wars," in Introduction to American Indian Studies Course Packet (Kinkos, 1992), 101.
This liberal artifact clearly puts forth a point of view at odds with the one in A Patriot's History, but consistent with A People's History. But it also bears striking consistency with the points made in the conservative Practical Homeschooling Magazine by Rob and Cyndy Shearer in 1998, available online. I hardly think that Schweikart and Allen include the likes of Practical Homeschooling Magazine in their lists of evidence of liberal bias in education.

21 November 2007

Thanksgiving in America

Roasting Fowl
There are many traditions that Americans will celebrate. Most are rooted in myth, but even these myths are rooted in history. A letter by Edward Winslow offers the best description of the feast celebrated by Pilgrims and Indians together that is memorialized in most people's image of the original event.
"Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted. And they went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor and upon the Captain and others."
Edward Winslow to _?_ 11 Dec 1621. As quoted in William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, notes by Samuel Eliot Morison, 1952.
There was a long process leading to the memory of this event as a holiday.

A Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln dated 3 October 1863, set forth a holiday the last Thursday of November. Two years earlier he had given government employees a holiday, 28 November 1861.

Prior to Lincoln's proclamation, George Washington declared 26 November 1789 as "A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer" in a decree signed 3 October 1789.

Before Washington, the Charlestown, Massachusetts town Council on 20 June 1676 set aside 29 June of the same year as "a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God."

The modern American holiday reflects a continuity that goes back to Lincoln's proclamation, although the roots are deeper.


Patriots' and Peoples' Histories

Blog Focus
I aim to record and publicize my questions, observations, and arguments stimulated through reading of Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen's A Patriot's History of the United States. This book has been uncritically praised by those that share its fundamental political perspectives, and superficially condemned by those that disagree with its biases.

At the same time, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States has received comparable treatment, but the parties are switched. Liberals praise it, while conservatives condemn it. Of course, Zinn's work has been in print for nearly three decades and has thus gathered considerably more commentary. I'm reading it again alongside A Patriot's History.

Both books are disappointing, and both have strengths that call for greater attention to the details of their strengths and weaknesses.

Through this weblog, I plan to offer ongoing analysis of Schweikart and Allen, on the one hand, and Zinn, on the other. Along the way, I will be required to broaden and deepen my already extensive reading in American history.

Other items of general historical interest may spawn text along the stream, particularly the convergence of history and politics (as when politicians dabble in history, usually to the detriment of accurate understanding). Some posts proceed from preparation work for courses that I teach: Pacific Northwest history and American Indian history.

It Starts with a Coupon
With a 30% off coupon burning through the denim, and the book(s) I sought out of stock, I went browsing. As a consequence I laid out a dozen bucks for a right-wing antithesis to Howard Zinn's marvelous diatribe.

I've spend the better part of one morning, as well as an hour or so the previous afternoon, reading the first ten pages or so of Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot's History of the United States: From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror (2004).

A long footnote purports to review the scholarship regarding aboriginal depopulation. Leaving aside its failure to mention William Denevan, Russell Thornton, and Jared Diamond, it cites one article and two books by reputable scholars that I'll need to examine before offering an assessment of the revisionist history offered in A Patriot's History. One book can be found in my city, and another a few miles away, but the nearest copy of the article appears to reside in Holland (not the dope smoking Netherlands, but a library in Pullman). A friend there is tracking down on my behalf Douglas Ubelaker, "North American Indian Population Size, A.D. 1500-1985," American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 77 (1988), 289-294.

Other Voices (Addendum)

Also see "Reader Response, Polls, Goals" (posted 18 March 2008).

Larry Schweikart, one of the authors of Patriot's, also has a blog. I started linking to it 18 August 2009.

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