17 December 2009

Holiday Cheer

I've been neglecting my work on A Patriot's History of the United States and A People's History of the United States this fall due to preoccupation with other matters, but I have not entirely forgotten this blog. For my two or three loyal readers anxiously waiting for more output, I can offer only links to two tidbits of heart-warming cheer.

Bob Dylan's "Must be Santa" from YouTube (thanks to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz for sharing the link)

Rick Perlstein's "The 1960s, Refracted," published yesterday in The American Prospect.

29 November 2009

Cursed Hops

Ezra Meeker was a pioneer in developing the agriculture of Washington state, including the first hops. Today, there are no hops grown in western Washington, but the Yakima Valley grows more than 70% of US hops, and accounts for 1/4 of the world's production. See "Crop Profile for Hops in Washington" (1999).

Hops have one use: making beer. Not surprisingly, churches that were active in the movement advocating Prohibition celebrated the insect infestation that destroyed hops in western Washington in the late nineteenth century. A letter Ezra Meeker sent to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in September, 1895 reveals cultural and ideological faultlines. Meeker reprinted the letter in Ventures and Adventures of Ezra Meeker (1909).

To the Editor:
In this morning's reprt of the Methodist conference I notice under the heading "A Curse on the Hop Crop," that Preacher Hanson, of Puyallup, reported he had some good news from that great hop country--the hop crop, the main support of the people was a failure; the crop had been cursed by God. Whereupon Bishop Bowman said "Good" and from all over the room voices could be heard giving utterance to the fervent ejaculation, "Thank God."
For the edification of the reverend fathers and fervent brethren I wish to publish to them and to the world that I have beat God, for I have 500 acres of hops at Puyallup and Kent that are free from lice, the "curse of God," and that I believe it was the work of an emulsion of whale oil soap and quassie sprayed on the vines that thwarted God's purpose to "curse" me and others who exterminated the lice.
One is almost ready to ask if this is indeed the nineteenth century of enlightenment, to hear such utterances gravely made by men supposed to be expounders of that great religion of love as promulgated by the Great Teacher.
I want to recall to the memory of the Rev. Mr. Hanson that the church in which he has been preaching for a year past was built in great part by money contributed from gains of this business "Cursed by God." For myself I can inform him that, as a citizen of Puyallup, I contributed $400 to buy the ground upon which that edifice is built, every cent of which came from this same hop business "cursed by God." I would "thank God" if they would return the money and thus ease their guilty consciences.
Ezra Meeker
(Ventures and Adventures, 288-289)
Meeker points out that his hops failed nevertheless, and that he did not get back his $400.

09 November 2009

Thinking Historically with Adult Students

(This post began as a response to the first in a series concerning Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (2001) on John Fea's blog: The Way of Improvement Leads Home, "Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts--Part One.")

I teach adult students--minimum age is 25--in six week classes that usually meet twice per week for 3 1/2 hours (there's an option of once per week and two eight-hour Saturdays). I lecture too much in these classes. The lectures give me a sore throat, and are grueling endurance tests for the students, but they also stimulate innovative uses of PowerPoint.

A new class begins tonight: Pacific Northwest History. My usual first week lectures include a 42 slide presentation ("Inventing a Hinterland") and another 60 slide presentation ("Historiography and Colonization"). Both presentations offer up some gems, but can be deadly if I fail to engage the students in thinking historically.

I tend to get some mileage from images and text from George Vancouver's journal concerning some enigmatic poles. Vancouver died failing to comprehend their purpose, and I reveal the findings of ethnography only after considerable effort on the part of the students to comprehend their purpose from Vancouver's descriptions.

In the past, I have presented an extract from the pen of Captain James Cook as a photocopy with the title "hostilities expected":

During these visits they gave us no other trouble than to guard against their thievish tricks. In the morning of the 4th we had a serious alarm. Our party on shore, who were employed in cutting wood and getting water, observed that the natives all around them were arming themselves in the best manner they could, those who were not possessed of proper weapons preparing sticks and collecting stones. On hearing this I thought it prudent to arm also, but, being determined to act upon the defensive, I ordered our workmen to retreat to the rock upon which we had placed our observatories, leaving the natives in quiet possession of the ground. Our fears were ill- grounded. These hostile preparations were not directed against us, but against a body of their own countrymen, who were coming to fight them; and our friends of the sound, on observing our apprehensions, used their best endeavors to convince us that this was the case. We could see that they had people looking out on each point of the cove, and canoes frequently passed between them and the main body assembled near the ships. At length the adverse party, in about a dozen large canoes, appeared off the south point of the cove, when they stopped, and lay drawn up in a line of battle, a negotiation having commenced. Some people in canoes, in conducting the treaty, passed between the two parties, and there was some speaking on both sides. At length the difference, whatever it was, seemed to be compromised, but the strangers were not allowed to come alongside the ships, not to have any trade or intercourse with us. (Italics added)
James Cook, Captain Cook’s Voyages Round the World (1897), 427
It is a remarkable passage that should provoke a number of useful questions. I like to highlight the potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding. The novelty of Northwest Coast social and economic conventions, not yet understood by Cook and his crew (and probably not much understood at the end of their month in Nootka Sound) become evident in the expectations of attack when their "friends" are arming themselves against "strangers". Yet, Cook almost seems to comprehend that control of international trade was a central motivation for the threat of hostilities.

Even the name Nootka stems from misunderstanding. A separate handout has this passage alongside another from the same source. I label them "Nuu-chah-nulth orature".
So, the Chief told them to go out there again and see, you know. … They started making signs and they were talking and they were saying, ‘Nu-tka-icum.’ ‘Nu-tka- icum,’ they were saying. That means, ‘You go around the harbour [to find better anchorage].’ So Captain Cook said, ‘Oh. They’re telling us the name of this place is Nootka.’ That’s how Nootka got its name.
… But the Indian name is altogether different. …
We call white people ‘Muh-mul-ni’ because … they came in boats that looked high and strange to us, and muh-mul- ni means ‘houses on the water.’ Those people seemed to be in houses floating on the water.”
Mrs. Winnifred David, Sound Heritage, vol. 7 (1978); quoted in Ruth Kirk, Tradition and Change on the Northwest Coast (1986), 201
I generally try to get the students to frame some historical questions stemming from these passages. In place of their own questions, they usually leave with some of my generalizations about mutually beneficial trade and the failures on intercultural communication.

Tonight, students are receiving as photocopies the chapter in Cook's A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784) from which this passage is extracted. They are also receiving the Sound Heritage article "The Contact Period as Recorded by Indian Oral Traditions," edited by Barbara S. Erfrat and W.J. Langlois that was Ruth Kirk's source for the brief extracts in her book.

When we meet for the second time, Wednesday, I will expect that they have read these twenty-five pages and written half a dozen questions that require research to answer.

My plan tonight is to start with the questions:

1. What is history?
2. Why does history merit our attention?
3. What are the boundaries of the Pacific Northwest?

All of these questions are addressed to an extent in my PowerPoint presentations, which we may or may not get to.

30 September 2009

Getting it Right

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

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

26 September 2009

Errors of Fact

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

The Error

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 September 2009

The Joker

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

Threatening the President with harm? Racism?

I'm not certain.

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

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

07 September 2009

Benefits of History

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

How does history teach critical thinking skills?

Obama, Bush, School Speeches

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update, 8 September 2009

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

06 September 2009

Rush Limbaugh

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

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

Even then, it was clear that he was not worth my time.

Revolutionize American Education

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

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

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

04 September 2009

Say What? Obama and the Children

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

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

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

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

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

These comments are posted in response to a Facebook poll:

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

As of 10:17 am Pacific Time

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

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

01 September 2009

What is History?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 who 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.


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.

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