Monthly Archives: December 2010

Nice blog! Which way to the weird Glenn Beck rock?

“I have always found revisiting my novels painful work,” wrote Larry McMurtry in the Foreword to a collection of his essays, “and the novels, after all, are the marriages and great loves of one’s imagination.  In comparison, the columns and articles which follow are quick tricks and one-night stands, the offspring of opportunity rather than passion.”

If an essay is a one-night stand, then a blog post must be something quite ephemeral and tawdry indeed.  Perhaps it’s a drunken French kiss in a back alley, if we were to extend McMurtry’s metaphor.

Such an insubstantial format probably doesn’t merit much of importance, which is why it seems fitting that my most-visited post of 2010 wasn’t one of my lengthy meditations on the nature of historical memory, nor one of my carefully composed site reviews, nor one of my periodic reflections on the historiographical state of a given subject.

No, the post that got the most traffic (by far) in 2010 was an irritable rant on Glenn Beck and the Bat Creek Stone.  In fact, I continue to get irate comments on that post from readers who take my skepticism toward an obscure Tennessee artifact very, very personally.

Oh, well.  I suppose that if you’re going to go Googling for historical information, it’s best that you do it for something like spurious archaeological finds rather than more substantial topics like the origins of the American Revolution.  For the latter, you’re better off reading a book, anyway.

I wish all my readers, both frequent and occasional, a happy and prosperous 2011.  I hope you’ll continue to make this blog one of your regular online stops, no matter what brings you here, and whether you agree with these unsolicited observations about history or not.

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Collections with legs

Why is the New York Times taking notice of a dispute between a library director and trustees in the small hamlet of Little Falls, NY?  Perhaps the library’s surprisingly mobile collection has something to do with it:

“A 13-star flag and an invitation toAbraham Lincoln’s inaugural ball should never have been put up for auction, argued the director, Marietta Phillips.”

Most institutions have to cull their collections from time to time, but said flag may have adorned Washington’s headquarters at Newburgh.  Might’ve been a good idea to hang onto that one.

“And she was also bothered, she said, that trustees sometimes took artifacts home, for good reason, perhaps, but without anyone’s bothering to note it on her sign-out sheet at the circulation desk.”

Oh my.

The notion of trustees carting items off without so much as initialing a form is, to put it mildly, distressing.  This isn’t a field where you’re encouraged to take your work home with you.

Maybe the fact that these folks were shedding themselves of some of their more significant holdings isn’t such a bad thing after all.

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Filed under Museums and Historic Sites

Historic sites going wireless

The always-stimulating Mysteries and Conundrums blog has a post that’s well worth reading for anybody interested in historic site interpretation.  John Hennessy looks into the near future at what wireless devices might bring to public history.

Some NPS sites are already taking advantage of the ubiquity of cell phones to incorporate them into their educational efforts, as I’ve noted here before.  It’s a handy, unobtrusive way to do an audio tour.  Now that wireless devices capable of handling images and video are becoming almost as common as basic phones, visitors can also access pictures, maps, movies, GPS, and any number of other types of information, all while standing on a battlefield.

Hennessy notes one implication of all this that I hadn’t considered.  As people find that there are opportunities to generate such material for visitors to access (sometimes for a profit), the NPS and other preservation/interpretation agencies “will be in the position of having to compete for our visitors’ attention, even when they are physically within spaces we manage.”

Imagine ten or twenty visitors standing at a tour stop, each one with a wireless device, accessing completely different types of information from independent sources.  Some of these sources won’t be as reliable as others, of course, which is cause for some concern.  But the possibilities of a scenario like this are still pretty exciting.

Visitors bring their own needs to a site—some people need basic orientation, while others will want more in-depth coverage.  If each visitor has access to whatever information they want while they are at the site, then they can tailor their own interpretation to their level of knowledge and interest.

Personally, one of the things that excites me the most is the possibility of mixing GPS with visual and audio data.  If you had a handheld device capable of both taking a GPS reading and pulling up images, text, or audio information keyed to particular locations, then you could have as many tour stops as you wanted, each one packed with reams of information, and the device could access all this automatically.  You could even orient it to the direction the visitor was facing.  And it wouldn’t require any intrusion into the landscape of the site at all, since the information would be transmitted invisibly through the air and into a visitor’s iPhone, iPad, or whatever.

Check out the Civil War Augmented Reality Project to see some of what might be possible.

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A coded message from the siege of Vicksburg

…has just been discovered and cracked.  It didn’t get through to Pemberton, and wouldn’t have made any difference if it had, but it’s still a pretty cool story.

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Everything I need to know about American history, I learned from anti-Catholic conspiracy theories

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you THE TRUTH AT LAST!

Tobias Lear, personal secretary to George Washington, was an assassin in the employ of the nefarious Jesuit Order who poisoned the Father of our Country, and Thomas Jefferson was probably in on it!

As President, Jefferson used his office to promote Jesuit infiltration of the United States!

George III was a Jesuit puppet, and his invasion of the colonies to suppress the rebellion was in reality the result of a scheme to eradicate Protestantism!

Those countless hours I spent as a grad student, trying to learn what made the Revolution tick…and it was all for naught.  All for naught.

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Filed under American Revolution, History and Memory

If you thought Civil War interpretation and preservation was a headache

…then thank your lucky stars you’re not trying to run an Indian wars site.  Observe the numerous obstacles faced by the folks at Little Bighorn, where politics of both the conventional and cultural varieties collide with the usual challenges of historic site management to create a perfect storm of frustration.

Hat tip to Larry Cebula for this one.

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

Whose mountain is it, anyway?

Here’s a minor but nevertheless troubling dilemma for those of us interested in the Battle of King’s Mountain.  To apostrophe or not to apostrophe?  There seems to be no formal consensus on whether it’s “King’s Mountain” or “Kings Mountain.”

The slopes of King's Mountain, SC. Photo by yours truly

I had always used “King’s” without giving it too much thought until a reviewer for a piece I’d submitted suggested that “Kings” was in fact the proper usage.  After looking over some early accounts, I found enough apostrophes to convince me that “King’s” was legit, so I just left it in.  Maybe it was the wrong call.

A lot of primary sources leave the apostrophe in, but not all of them do.  Whig veteran James Collins called the battle “King’s Mountain” in an autobiography published many years later.  So did Banastre Tarleton in his book on the campaigns in the South.  Some veterans’ pension accounts include the apostrophe, but others omit it.  Likewise for contemporary manuscripts found in private correspondence.

Early historians and antiquarians seemed to prefer “King’s” to “Kings.”  The most detailed study of the battle is Lyman Draper’s King’s Mountain and its Heroes, published in 1881.  Draper employed the apostrophe throughout, as did his friend J. G. M. Ramsey in Annals of Tennessee.

As far as more recent authorities go, it seems to be a toss-up.  John Pancake and John Buchanan both use “King’s,” but NPS literature doesn’t.  Robert Dunkerly, who was the ranger in charge of the site, used “Kings” for his published collection of eyewitness accounts.

Adding to the confusion, the ridge on which the battle took place isn’t the only mountain in the area to bear the name.  A much larger prominence within Crowders Mountain State Park, to the northwest of the battleground, is called “King’s Pinnacle.”  It’s part of a mountain range, of which the battlefield ridge itself is a small spur.

Draper evidently considered the whole range to be one big geographical feature, and claimed that both it and nearby King’s Creek got their names from a settler named King.

King's Pinnacle, NC. From the website of Friends of Crowders Mountain

Since Draper was notoriously indefatigable in tracking down local traditions, this is probably what the folks who were living in the area during the late nineteenth century believed to be the name’s true origin, but that’s not to say that their opinion was the correct one.  Other sources claim that “King’s Pinnacle” got its name from a rock formation, so it’s possible (though very unlikely) that the big mountain’s name is unrelated to the name of the battlefield ridge and creek.

It gets even more confusing.  While searching for an online map, I ran across references to King’s Pinnacle as “Kings Pinnacle” and King’s Creek as “Kings Creek.”  This could very well initiate my long-anticipated descent into madness.

I say we have a referendum of Rev War buffs and local residents to settle this once and for all, because my head hurts.  I’ll be lobbying for “King’s,” just because if I start thinking about all those possibly-superfluous apostrophes in my master’s thesis, it’ll bug the living daylights out of me.

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