Monthly Archives: July 2010

Franklin lost and found

Just a few years ago, all indications were that the battlefield at Franklin, TN was a paved-over, built-up goner.  Now it’s a battlefield park that keeps getting bigger and bigger.  These folks can make miracles happen. 

Right now they’re trying to make a few more.  Let’s help them out.  Civil War News has more info.

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Filed under Civil War, Historic Preservation

Let’s cast a Lincoln movie!

When I was in high school my friend Dustin and I were devout readers of a magazine called Wizard, which was devoted to the comic book industry.  One of the regular features was “Casting Call,” where the editors would take some unfilmed comic book property and come up with their own dream cast for a hypothetical movie based on it.

Bear in mind that this was back in the nineties, before the wave of superhero flicks that followed the success of Spider-Man.  These little two-page daydreams were about all we had to go on, unless you counted Joel Schumacher’s miserable Batman sequels.  (And we didn’t.)  Besides, they were just plan fun.  You could see how the magazine’s picks stacked up with your own and compare notes with other people.

So let’s have a little fun of our own.  Since Spielberg’s long-delayed Team of Rivals adaptation is on the back-burner, I say we take a page from Wizard and cast our own darn Lincoln movie.  Take that, Hollywood.

Of course, the first big hurdle to making a Lincoln movie is finding somebody to play Lincoln himself.  His face is both distinctive and widely recognizable.  His image is so familiar that audiences wouldn’t buy anybody who didn’t bear a close resemblance.  Anthony Hopkins was convincing enough in Nixon without looking the part, but that approach won’t work for the guy on the $5 bill.

Liam Neeson was Spielberg’s pick.  I can see that working; he’s tall, he’s got the proper facial architecture, and he’s a fine actor.  My only concern is that Neeson might be a little too “polished” to play Lincoln.  This is a guy who pronounced “chairman” as “cheerman,” and read while lying prone on the floor.

Sam Shepard might not be a bad alternate.  He has some Lincolnesque facial features, he can speak with a natural twang, and his voice moves up into those higher registers remembered by people who heard Lincoln speak.  He’s old for the part, but he doesn’t really look any more aged than Lincoln did by late ’64.

Sam Waterston has an established reputation as Lincoln, but I’d rather see him as William H. Seward.  Their profiles are pretty similar. 

I think Bernard Hill, who played the doctor in The Ghost and the Darkness and the captain in Titanic, bears a resemblance to Gideon Welles.  Or is it just the white beard he wears in all his movies that’s throwing me off?

Spielberg supposedly wanted Sally Field to play Mary Todd Lincoln, but I never could see that working.  She’s too cute and perky to be Mary.  My first choice would be Mare Winningham.  They favor each other a little in the face, although Lord knows Mare Winningham is a lot more attractive.  Plus, she’s had practice playing a neurotic wife in Wyatt Earp.

Russell Crowe would make a killer Grant.  He’s got that steely gaze and determined set of the jaw.  Put Jon Voight in a fat suit, and you’ve got your Winfield Scott.  I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of a good McClellan, but so far I haven’t come up with anybody.

If you wanted do a young Lincoln movie instead of a Civil War era one, I think Casey Affleck could pull it off, maybe with Bryce Dallas Howard as Ann Rutledge.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far.  Now it’s your turn to critique my picks and chime in with your own suggestions.  Then all we have to do is scrape together some cash, find a director, and watch all the studio execs come begging.  Fame and fortune await.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, History and Memory

Dueling Wilderness letters

While visiting a link for another news story I ran across a pair of letters to the editor of Fredericksburg’s paper regarding the continuing Wilderness Walmart debate.

About a week ago came this missive from a Wal-Mart supporter: “I’d like the outsiders and so-called preservationists with money who are controlling what goes on with the Walmart-Wilderness situation [Right, sister—historic preservation groups have Fredericksburg firmly in their iron grip] to stop trying to push their weight around.”

Walmart—champion of the little guy and bastion of local interests.

She also complained that congested traffic makes it hard for her to get out and shop, as if a new superstore isn’t going to add to that problem rather than alleviate it.

So this week somebody called her out.  “Ms. Gatto writes about ‘outsiders.’  Walmart is made up of outsiders. Rob Walton, Walmart chairman, was born in Oklahoma and lives in Arkansas. CEO Eduardo Castro-Wright was born and raised in Ecuador. They are the ones doing the pushing. We are just pushing back.” 

Madam, you’ve just been served.

One other thing about that first letter that irritated me was this inane statement: “If you really want to get technical, Lake of the Woods and the strip malls are all built near battlefield ground, and people don’t seem to mind.” 

This argument (if you want to dignify it by calling it an argument) pops up with distressing frequency in anti-preservation rhetoric.  Some developer comes along and builds near historic ground, despite protests from preservationists.  Then later developers and their short-sighted supporters use the blight that’s already there as an excuse to build more, more, more.  It’s like telling somebody that they might as well take up smoking because they’ve already got respiratory problems.

If the writer is so concerned about outsiders meddling in community affairs, then she needs to take a look at the research that’s been conducted into the impact of chain stores on local businesses and payrolls.  Then she can ask herself if she’s really on the right side of this one.

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Listening to details

I’m reading Stephen Brumwell’s excellent Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763.  One of his chapters deals with the unique challenges of campaigning in the New World: rugged terrain, severe weather…and insects.  Lots and lots of insects. 

I usually don’t think much about insects when I read military history, but to a lot of eighteenth-century British soldiers who crossed the Atlantic, they were an inescapable and ubiquitous fact of life.  This is the sort of thing that wouldn’t occur to you unless you read accounts from people who were there and experienced it.  One of the strengths of Brumwell’s book is his intensive research in first-person accounts, and in fact it’s surprising to see how abundant and rich the primary material from these soldiers is.

This outstanding use of primary sources reminded me of another fine book I read several years ago called City Behind a Fence: Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 1942-1946, by Charles W. Johnson and Charles O. Jackson.  Oak Ridge was a town that sprang up out of nowhere, built solely as a home for the effort to create the radioactive material used in the first atomic weapons.  Because the city was built so quickly, there was a lot of mud everywhere, a fact that early residents remembered in great detail.  Again, this was an aspect of the historical experience that probably would have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the fact that it was so prominent in the reminiscences of early residents, so the authors gave it the emphasis it deserved.

This is one of the reasons it’s important to be receptive to primary sources.  By “being receptive” I don’t just mean consulting them; I mean listening to them as well as asking questions of them.  We can get so caught up in framing our questions properly that we miss the things they’re telling us that we don’t even think to ask.  These two otherwise unrelated books are both well worth reading, partly because of the questions the authors asked but also because they remembered to listen.

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Missing the point on Washington and the Bible

Last time I argued that in his book George Washington’s Sacred Fire, Peter Lillback occasionally sees meanings in Washington’s writings that aren’t there.  In other words, he commits a fallacy that scholars of the Bible call eisegesis—reading meanings into a text, rather than extracting the original meaning out of it.  He finds allusions to Scripture where I think Washington didn’t necessarily intend to make them.

Washington did quote or reference Scripture with some frequency, of course, as Lillback correctly points out.  And he also correctly points out that his favorite allusion was to the image of the “vine and fig tree.”  In the Old Testament this phrase connotes peace, comfort, and safety.  In 1 Kings 4:25, it’s part of the description of Israel’s prosperity in the days of Solomon’s reign: “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.”  It’s also in 2 Kings 18 and Isaiah 36, when the Assyrians besieging Jerusalem try to convince the inhabitants to surrender, “and then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree,” until the time comes for their deportation.

Most notably, the image of vine and fig tree appears in Micah chapter 4, as part of a vision of the restoration of Jerusalem:

1But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.

 2And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

 3And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

 4But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.

 5For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.

Micah 4:4 was, according to Lillback, Washington’s favorite verse, and it’s hard to argue with him.  Here’s just a small sample of Washingtonian references to this passage.

Washington by Gilbert Stuart, from Wikimedia Commons

Washington to Charles Thomson (Jan. 22, 1784): “…I shall soon be enabled, I expect, to discharge that duty on which Nature and inclination have a call; and shall be ready afterwards to welcome my friends to the shadow of this Vine and Fig tree; where I hope it is unnecessary to add, I should be exceedingly happy to see you, and any of my late Masters, now representatives.”

Washington to John Quincy Adams (June 25, 1797): “I am now, as you supposed the case would be when you then wrote, seated under my Vine and Fig-tree; where, while I am permitted to enjoy the shade of it, my vows will be continually offered for the welfare and prosperity of our country; and for the support, ease and honor of the Gentleman to whom the Administration of its concerns are entrusted.”

Washington to Oliver Wolcott, Jr. (May 15, 1797): “If to these I could now and then meet the friends I esteem, it would fill the measuse and add zest to my enjoyments but if ever this happens it must be under my own Vine and Fig tree as I do not think it probable that I shall go beyond the radius of 20 miles from them.”

Washington to Landon Carter (October 17, 1796): “A few months more will put an end to my political existence and place me in the shades of Mount Vernon under my Vine and Fig Tree; where at all times I should be glad to see you.”

Washington to Charles C. Pinckney (June 24, 1797): “As for myself I am now seated in the shade of my Vine and Fig tree, and altho’ I look with regret on many transactions which do not comport with my ideas, I shall, notwithstanding “view them in the calm lights of mild philosophy”, persuaded, if any great crisis should occur, to require it, that the good sense and Spirit of the Major part of the people of this country, will direct them properly.”

Washington to Sarah Cary Fairfax (May 16, 1798): “Worn out in a manner by the toils of my past labour, I am again seated under my Vine and Fig tree, and wish I could add that, there are none to make us affraid; but those whom we have been accustomed to call our good friends and Allies, are endeavouring, if not to make us affraid, yet to despoil us of our property; and are provoking us to Acts of self-defence, which may lead to War.”

There are a couple dozen more, but you get the idea.  Now, what I find interesting about this is the fact that Washington’s use of the “vine and fig tree” motif is quite radically different from Micah’s.  Micah used it to describe a time in the “last days” when God would set things right, when Jerusalem would be restored to its rightful place and the nations’ proper relationships with each other and with the Lord would be established.  It’s a classic instance of an Old Testament restoration oracle.

Washington uses it in a more everyday sense.  He doesn’t refer to Kingdom Come; he just wants to go home to Mt. Vernon and stay there, away from the stresses of military command or political office.  Lillback catches the Micah reference, but equally important here is the way Washington uses it to express the Cincinnatus ideal of the savior of the nation who hangs up his sword and heads back to the farm when his job is done. 

I’m not denying that Washington got the image from the Bible.  In fact, I’m quite certain that this is a conscious invocation of Scripture.  I don’t, however, think there’s anything specifically religious about the invocation.  It serves him as a figure of speech as much as anything else, and in this respect he’s not at all unusual.

In fact, the entire enterprise of trying to use biblical quotations or allusions to bolster the case for some historical figure’s religious beliefs seems dubious to me.  The Bible was such an important cultural touchstone that even deists could quote it with ease.  (For the record, I don’t think Washington was a strict deist.)

Lillback’s least convincing attempt to use this tactic is in the same chapter that deals with the vine and fig tree motif.  Lillback notes a couple of instances in which Washington made humorous references to the Bible, such as a letter written to Annis Boudinot Stockton in 1783, and then makes the incredible contention that there is something distinctly Christian about this theological humor.  Washington knows the Bible and Christian tradition well enough to kid about it, and therefore he must have had some intimate familiarity with it.  “His humor avoids derision,” Lillback states, “but still evokes a smile.” 

I don’t mind telling you that this treatment of Washington’s words seems remarkably cavalier, and even a bit sloppy.  How anyone could believe that allusions to such a well-known text as the Bible serve as a reliable indicator of personal faith is entirely beyond me.  If Lillback ever decides to take a crack at Lincoln, that other famous American who never made a formal profession of faith but nevertheless steeped his words in Scripture, he’ll have a field day.

There’s a considerable amount of irony to all this.  Lillback has tried to use Washington’s use of the Bible to build up his case that he was a Christian, and he’s become an intellectual darling of those who argue that the Bible played a critical role in America’s founding era.  I think there’s a sense in which Lillback has unintentionally understated the Bible’s prominent place in early America. 

He has assumed that since Washington quoted it, he must have had the same relationship to it that all orthodox Christians share.  The truth is probably even more remarkable.  The Bible was ingrained so deeply in the American mind that even a nominal churchgoer like Washington, whose Christian faith was and is a matter of dispute, was culturally hardwired to sprinkle it liberally throughout his writings.

If Lillback wants to make the case for a Christian America, he might more profitably explain why a guy like Washington could quote Micah in his letters and assume that his correspondents would catch the reference, as they undoubtedly did.  Whether or not he was a Christian, he lived in a young nation that had already steeped in the Bible for so long that it was virtually saturated in it.

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Did George Washington believe in original sin?

Since each copy of Peter Lillback’s book George Washington’s Sacred Fire is about the same size as a Kenmore refrigerator, I haven’t read the entire thing.  What I have read has left me unimpressed, particularly the section on Washington’s relationship with the Bible. 

It seems to me that this material contains very basic errors in interpretation.  Lillback reads far too much into the evidence he cites.  To borrow a couple of terms from Biblical studies, what we have in Lillback’s book is not exegesis of Washington’s writings, but eisegesis.  Whereas the exegete finds the meaning in the text and interprets it, eisegesis is reading one’s own viewpoint into the text.  Lillback’s book bristles with excerpts from Washington’s writings, but he finds meanings in those excerpts that aren’t really there. 

To take an example, Lillback flatly states that “George Washington believed in the biblical doctrine of original sin.”  Now, when we’re talking about the doctrine of original sin, we’re talking about something more than a belief that humans are fallible or even thoroughly evil.  The doctrine is not just a belief about human nature, but a theological explanation of why humans are they way they are.  

“Original sin” refers to the corruption of humanity resulting from the Fall of Man in Eden.  Various theologians have formulated the concept in different ways.  Some argue that humans are totally depraved as a result of primordial sin, while others that the Fall merely gave humans a propensity to sin.  Some believe that mankind inherited Adam’s guilt as well as his sinful nature, while others hold that his descendants merely inherited his tendency to do evil.  But in all these cases, the doctrine of original sin involves an explanation of human nature that relies somehow on the primordial transgression in the Garden of Eden.  To believe that mankind is flawed or evil is neither specifically Christian nor religious.  A belief in original sin is not merely a belief in human depravity, but a belief about the reason for it. 

Lillback makes a convincing case that Washington had a low view of human nature, which of course is hardly new information.  He cites a number of excerpts from Washington’s own writings, one of them from a letter sent to Lund Washington on December 17, 1778 in which the general said, “I see so many instances of the rascallity of Mankind, that I am almost out of conceit of my own species; and am convinced that the only way to make men honest, is to prevent their being otherwise, by tying them firmly to the accomplishmt. of their contracts.”  

Washington by Peale, from Wikimedia Commons

It’s worth noting  that Washington’s concern here is as much practical as metaphysical.  Taken by itself, the statement comes across as an almost dogmatic formulation about human depravity.  In reality, Washington’s main point here is not about human nature, but his irritation at people who try to weasel their way out of a deal.  Here’s the statement embedded within its surrounding text.  I apologize for the length of the excerpt, but there is simply no other way to appreciate the sentence’s role in the letter: 

I observe what you say in your Letter of the 2d. Instt. respecting specting [sic] the measurement of Marshalls land. I have already, in a letter about the last of November, given you full directions on this head, and in the one from Elizabethtown desired you to fix the quantity at 500 Acres, to save trouble; but to get it lower if you can, as, from Memory, I think the number of Acres less than that; but could tell almost to a certainty if I could have recourse to my Papers; however, I again repeat, that I had rather fix it at that quantity than let the matter lie open, or run the hazard of disputing with him about bounds. In short, than to delay a moment; for as I have mentioned to you in some former letters, I shall not be in the least surprized to hear that he has hit upon some expedient (if in consequence of his Sale he has not made purchases wch. he may be equally desirous of fulfiling) to get off his bargain with you; for when he comes to find that a barrel of Corn which usually sold for 10/ well now fetch £ 5 and so with respect to other Articles, he will soon discover that the great (nominal) price which he got for his land, is, in fact, nothing, comparitively speaking; for by the simple rule of preportion, he ought to have got £ 20 at least; as I would, in the best times of money, have given him 50/. or more for his land by the Acre. but this under the rose. We need not open his, or the eyes of others to these matters, if they do not already see them. This leads me to say, that I am afraid Jack Custis, in spite of all the admonition and advice I gave him against selling faster than he bought, is making a ruinous hand of his Estate; and if he has not closed his bargains beyond the possibility of a caval, I shall not be much surprized to hear of his having trouble with the Alexanders; notwithstanding your opinion of Bobs disposition to fulfil engagements. Jack will have made a delightful hand of it, should the money continue to depreciate as it has lately done, having Sold his own land in a manner for a Song, and be flung in his purchases of the Alexanders. If this should be the case, it will be only adding to the many proofs we dayly see of the folly of leaving bargains unbound by solemn covenants. I see so many instances of the rascallity of Mankind, that I am almost out of conceit of my own species; and am convinced that the only way to make men honest, is to prevent their being otherwise, by tying them firmly to the accomplishmt. of their contracts. 

Washington’s aim here was not to issue a decree about human depravity, but to remind his recipient how important it was to lock down business transactions with solid agreements. 

Still, whatever the context, Washington is undeniably expressing an extremely pessimistic appraisal of human nature.  What he is not doing is appealing to the doctrine of original sin in order to account for it.  He doesn’t mention a primordial Fall or inherited depravity.  He simply states that you can’t trust people, and that when you’re doing business with them you have to take that fact into account. 

Lillback also quotes a lengthy report submitted to a committee of Congress in 1778.  Here Washington argues (as he argued often during the war) that it is necessary to create incentives to convince men to commit to lengthy terms of service in the army, since expecting them to do so without reward is naive: “It is vain to exclaim against the depravity of human nature on this account; the fact is so, the experience of every age and nation has proved it and we must in a great measure, change the constitution of man, before we can make it otherwise. No institution, not built on the presumptive truth of these maxims can succeed.” 

At first glance, this quote is a little more tantalizing.  Washington even uses the term “depravity,” with all its connotations of Calvinist anthropology.  But once again, this statement that human nature is deeply flawed does not invoke any specifically Christian explanations for why it is flawed.  Nowhere does Washington connect his belief in human corruption to the original act of sin in the Garden of Eden.  He merely states that the corruption exists. 

Finally, Lillback cites a letter from December 1782: “The most hardened villain, altho’ he Sins without remorse, wishes to cloak his iniquity, if possible, under specious appearances; but when character is no more, he bids defiance to the opinions of Mankind, and is under no other restraint than that of the Law, and the punishments it inflicts.” 

In other words, a man will try to hide his wrongdoing to preserve his reputation, but when that’s no longer a factor, “when character is no more,” the only thing that will make him think twice is “the Law, and the punishments it inflicts.”  All this is textbook thinking for a Revolutionary officer.  You can find similar sentiments about the importance of reputation in the letters of countless eighteenth-century aspiring gentlemen.

Once again, there is nothing in the passage that specifically relates to the doctrine of original sin.  What we have is another observation about human nature with no reference to a primordial Fall or a specifically inherited propensity for evil. 

In short, I think that in his attempt to paint Washington as a believer in original sin, Lillback is leaning on a very thin reed.  He convincingly and correctly demonstrates that Washington believed in human depravity—but we’ve known this about him for quite some time.  Lillback never ties these remarks to the specific theological assumptions that the doctrine of original sin demands.  By this measure, anyone who placed little stock in mankind could theoretically qualify as a believer in original sin, whether he believed in the Edenic Fall or not.  A disillusionment with mankind is an important corollary of a belief in original sin, but they’re not the same thing. 

Of course, we can find numerous instances in Washington’s writings where there are clear and unmistakable references to Biblical passages.  In a future installment we’ll have a look at the way Lillback handles these references.

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Wanna hear something ironic?

Out of Philadelphia comes a news story so bass-ackwards that it belongs in The Onion.  Dimitri Rotov has the details over at Civil War Memory.

The Olympia, veteran vessel of the Spanish-American and First World Wars and the oldest steel warship still sitting on top of the water anywhere in the world, is at the Independence Seaport Museum.  The Olympia was Dewey’s flagship at Manila Bay; he was standing on her decks when he gave the order, “You may fire when ready, Gridley.”  She also happens to be the ship that brought home the remains of America’s WWI unknown soldier. 

Dewey and the crew of the Olympia at the Battle of Manila Bay. From Wikimedia Commons

Now, the ideal culmination of any effort to locate and preserve some historic vessel is to raise the wreck, conserve it in a lab, and then put in on display where you can interpret it for the public.  Olympia never went to the bottom of the ocean.  She sailed home to acclaim and ended up as a museum.  No sinking, no salvage.  So far so good.

The problem is that the Independence Seaport Museum can’t afford the upkeep anymore, so they’re looking to dispose of her.  Here’s the money quote:  “‘Another option would be scrapping Olympia,’ said James McLane, interim president of the museum, which owns the ship and is adjacent to it at Penn’s Landing. ‘But the Navy has told us that ‘reefing’ is better because it would allow divers to go down on it and would preserve Olympia.'”

“Reefing” basically means towing it out to sea and then sending it down to Davy Jones’s locker, where it would be inaccessible to everybody except for scuba divers and fish, subject to the very same kind of deterioration that’s causing the Monitor and the Titanic to crumble to pieces.  

I’m not trying to criticize the museum.  Lots of museums are in a bind.  If they don’t have the funds, then they don’t have the funds, and scrapping the ship wouldn’t do anybody any more benefit than reefing it.  But the irony here is just absolutely sickening.  We spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to raise historic ships from the bottom of the sea, get them afloat, and turn them into exhibits, and now here we have a historic ship that’s already afloat and on exhibit, and it might end up at the bottom of the sea.  Unbelievable.

There is, fortunately, a group of people dedicated to keeping Olympia afloat, and I urge you to visit their website.  Please consider a donation to this organization, or at least sign their online petition.

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Reenacting on the set and onscreen Indians

I just stumbled across something that’s pretty interesting.  It’s from an old site, but as they used to say over at NBC, “if you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.”

It’s a website devoted to Last of the Mohicans, with an essay by living historian Mark A. Baker on his experiences as an advisor and extra on the set of the movie.  He’s the guy who instructed Daniel Day-Lewis in the fine art of reloading a muzzleloader while running.  I’m always seeing “historical consultants” listed in film credits, and I thought this was a neat little glimpse into what that entails.

The site also has an interview with AIM activist Russell Means, who made his acting debut in LOTM as Chingachgook.  In the interview, he states that there is no record of Indians having tortured or burned anybody, so I’m guessing he’s not particularly well read when it comes to Native American history (e.g., the execution by both torture and burning of Col. William Crawford in 1782, the execution by burning of Samuel Moore and attempted burning of Lydia Bean by the Cherokee in 1776, the Iroquois practice of torturing war captives, etc.).

Means also told the interviewer that the best Indian movie—and you might want to sit down for this one—is Pocahontas.

This flabbergasted me, since I regard Pocahontas as one of the least historically-accurate movies in recent memory.  Here, let’s watch a short clip and then break it down to see if we can find anything that doesn’t ring authentic:

I noticed a couple of issues right off the bat.

  1. The appearance of the characters indicated a very low regard for historical detail.  Pocahontas was depicted as, at the least, an older teenager, and perhaps as a young adult, as opposed to the child she would have been at the time of her initial contact with John Smith.  Furthermore, her clothing did not match contemporary descriptions and illustrations of early seventeenth-century indigeous persons from eastern Virginia.  Smith lacked any facial hair, in marked contrast to the most well-known portrait of him, and his apparel seems far too modern.
  2. A tree talked.
  3. And sang.

But of course these could be minor quibbles. 

Anyway, I really like LOTM.  It’s an evocative depiction of eighteenth-century frontier America, the battle sequences are awesome, and Wes Studi makes for one scary son of a gun.  If you’re a fan of the film or if you’re into the French and Indian War, then check out the site.

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Two Civil War undertakings of note

I just received messages from some folks who are working on two different Civil War-related projects, both of which are worthy of your attention. 

First up is a symposium scheduled for this October at Pamplin Historical Park, an innovative and acclaimed public history institution in Petersburg, VA.  The focus will be the 1860 election and the coming of the war, and they’ve got a fantastic slate of presenters lined up: George Rable, William Freehling, Elizabeth Varon, Gary Ecelbarger, Russell McClintock, Joseph Dawson, and A. Wilson Greene.  Check out the site’s Special Events page for more info and a reservation form, or give them a call at (804)861-2408.

Next comes a fantastic and ambitious undertaking of which I was previously unaware, an effort to utilize technology in conjunction with historic landscapes more fully and creatively than ever before.  It’s called The Civil War Augmented Reality Project.  They’ve set up a blog, which you’ll now find added to my own blogroll and which I recommend other history bloggers add to theirs.  Here’s a YouTube video that will give you an idea of how it’ll work:

Here’s the information they sent along to me, with some additional details:

This message is from a group of history educators in Pennsylvania who have developed a Civil War project that is in the process of raising a modest amount of money to build prototypes for gathering additional partners.
Our project, the Civil War Augmented Reality Project, is intended to enhance the experiences of visitors to Civil War sites. It is also intended to increase attendance and revenue for historic sites by offering both “high” and “low” tech experiences to best reach the majority of the population.
We feel that our project is fulfilling a need that educators, park workers, technology enthusiasts, and Civil War enthusiasts have discussed in the past: How can historic sites both raise public interest in their institutions though technology, and not alienate the non-technical history fans?
We have worked hard on the answer, and are interested in promoting our creative solutions.
We would like to make clear that the project is not intended solely for Pennsylvania. It is our hope that the project will expand to other venues, as we feel that we have the ability to use our ideas to enhance the experiences of all Americans at historic sites.

If you have a chance, please check out our blog:
http://acwarproject.wordpress.com/

And our fun, Civil-War flavored funding campaign on Kickstarter:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jmummert/the-civil-war-augmented-reality-project

If you think that our project has merit, we would be delighted if you could help spread the word, and mention it in your blog.

Here are a few other links of interest regarding our project:

A recent newspaper article:
http://www.ydr.com/ci_15435690

Other recent blog posts:
http://electricarchaeologist.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/civil-war-augmented-reality-project/
http://www.yorkblog.com/yorktownsquare/2010/07/linked-in-with-neat-york-count-48.html

Our Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Civil-War-Augmented-Reality-Project/126003620773256

Our Twitter account page:
http://twitter.com/ACWAR_Project

Thanks very much for considering us!

The Civil War Augmented Reality Project
Jeff Mummert- Hershey High School and York College of Pennsylvania
Art Titzel- Hershey Middle School
Jay Vasellas- Red Lion Area High School and York College of Pennsylvania

Needless to say, I think this is pretty darn cool.  Integrating technology into a public history setting is no easy task; you’ve got to balance the desire to reach people who are tech-savvy with the need to accommodate those who aren’t.  Furthermore, you’ve got to make sure that the technology in question is actually the most effective medium to convey the information, or it becomes nothing more than an expensive gimmick.  I think these guys are on exactly the right track.  They’ve figured out how to exploit the available technology to enhance the visitor’s experience in a way that would be impossible with any other medium, and to do so in a way that meets the needs of many potential audiences.  Head over to their blog and check it out.

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Filed under Civil War, Historic Preservation, Museums and Historic Sites

New Rev War books

Here are two new books of note from Westholme Publishing.  First up is a new study of the complex and controversial Battle of Monmouth.  Tip of the hat to J. L. Bell for this one.  (Where does he find all these nifty links?)

Next is Dark and Bloody Ground: The American Revolution Along the Southern Frontier, which sounds right up my alley.  Looks like I’m going to have to clear a priority spot on my reading list.

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Filed under American Revolution, Historiography