Monthly Archives: May 2009

Return of the electric map?

Check out this story posted at Eric Wittenberg’s blog about an effort to relocate Gettysburg’s Electric Map to a site near its old home.  I’d like to see it up and running again, simply for the sake of nostalgia.  I think the question is whether the map would be enough of a draw to anchor an entire museum.  I suspect it would be, since it’s got quite a history of its own.

As much as I love the exhibits in the new Visitor Center, I do miss the opportunity to see the whole battle play out at once that the map provided.  I know it was badly outdated, and I understand that space was a factor in leaving it out of the new facility.  Still, I wish the new exhibits included an updated version.  Cowpens National Battlefield has a smaller and more up-to-date map presentation; I think it uses fiber-optic lights instead of electric bulbs, so it has a much cleaner look and operates more smoothly.  The Electric Map was well past its prime, but I think the basic concept remains the most effective way to illustrate the ebb and flow of a battle.

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Filed under Civil War, Museums and Historic Sites

Tannenbaum feeling the pinch

A reader has informed me, via a comment to my review of Greensboro’s wonderful Tannenbaum Historic Park, that this facility is now open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays only.  I headed over to the park’s website, and unfortunately it’s true.

It confirms what I’ve known by experience for several years now.  If you work for a historic site or museum that’s part of a government entity or university, get ready for trouble when it’s time for budget cuts.  That series of concentric circles on your chest, my friend, is what we call a target—and bureaucrats everywhere are polishing their rifles.

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Close to home

I got a real shock when I read a new post  over at the fantastic Posterity Project blog today.  The Tennessee Preservation Trust has released its list of the state’s most endangered sites, and one of them is the Graham-Kivette House in Tazewell.  This ca. 1810 home is by far the oldest house in the area, and it’s just a stone’s throw from the house where I grew up.

In fact, I have some vivid personal memories of the place.  I think its last owner was John Kivette, who was Claiborne County’s historian and a good friend of my dad’s.  When I was a kid I used to sit in one of the house’s downstairs rooms, underneath one of those massive fireplace mantels, while the two of them pored over archival material and chatted about local history and the Civil War.  I’ve driven past the house thousands of times since then.  I’ll probably be doing so again tonight.

Whenever these “most threatened” lists come out I always read them with a sort of vague, general concern.  When it’s a place you know firsthand, it’s more like a punch to the stomach.  I knew the house was a significant local landmark, but I had no idea I’d ever see it on a statewide list, or that it was in such precarious shape.

I’ve always said that all history is “local history” for somebody.  It turns out “somebody” includes me, too.

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Filed under Historic Preservation, Museums and Historic Sites, Tennessee History

My report card

Last night I finished grading final exams, averaged all my scores, and posted my final grades.  But I’ve still got one more grade to assign, and that’s for me.  Here’s how I’d evaluate my performance as an instructor over the past semester.

  • I desperately need to be more of a tyrant.  I included the standard dire warnings in my syllabi about the possible consequences of frequent absences and late work, but I was too much of a softie to follow through with the cold, indifferent, retributive sense of justice that these things require.  Next fall, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy, or at least Mr. Not Quite as Nice as I Have Been.
  • My love-hate relationship with PowerPoint is a continual source of irritation.  Students tell me they like it.  To me, it’s a considerable pain in the hindquarters.  As a simple and effective way to include the necessary maps, illustrations, and key terms, it’s fine.  But one needs to know where to draw the line.  Slides are for things you can’t convey by speaking.  Everything else should be in my lecture outlines and in the students’ notes, not up on some screen where it’s reduced to simplistic bullet points and sentence fragments.  It makes your class meetings too inflexible, reduces spontaneous interaction with students, and tends to lead to less effective listening.  They’re so intent on copyng down the information from those blasted slides that they don’t actually hear what you’re saying.  No more outline slides next time.
  • Apparently I’m very loud.  Everybody in my family is, so I come by it honestly.  My volume was a subject of conversation when I ate lunch with a couple of friends yesterday.  One of them took a class across the hall from where I’ve been teaching World History II.  The intervening distance and two closed doors failed to keep his class from being subjected to my oratorical projections.  He gave me a taste of what it’s been like.  “TODAY I’M GOING TO TELL YOU ABOUT GANDHI,” he bellowed across the table.  Perhaps I need to make an adjustment.
  • What do you do to improve retention in your survey courses?  I’m becoming convinced that you include more of the fluff that no self-respecting historian wants cluttering up his work.  Anecdotes and human-interest stories aren’t just ways to liven things up.  They’re also handles that students can get their hands around and hang onto.
  • On a related note, I’ve been trying too hard to be comprehensive.  You can explain imperialism just as well by looking at India, Africa, and Latin America as you can by hitting all three of those along with the Pacific Islands, Central Asia, Indochina, etc.  My new motto is going to be “depth, not breadth.”
  • For a long time I’ve wanted to design a course on the American Revolution.  This semester I finally did it, and there’s a lot that I’ll do differently next time.  I need to spend more time on constitution-making in the states and on administrative issues in the Congress at an earlier point in the course, as a way of establishing a more thorough context for the push toward a stronger national government in the 1780′s.  I think my use of Middlekauff’s Glorious Cause as a core text caused me to make the class too narrative-driven.

In all honesty, I think I’d probably give myself a C+, or possibly a generous B- for this semester.  I got the job done, but I’m still far short of the history profs I had who got me interested in this stuff in the first place.

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Blogging the Wilderness Wal-Mart

I was looking at a comment to my last post and noticed that WordPress had automatically generated a link to an interesting site.  It’s a blog devoted to the Wilderness Wal-Mart controversy, with handy links and information on what’s at stake.  Check it out.

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Filed under Civil War, Historic Preservation, History on the Web, Museums and Historic Sites