Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Rev War movie on the Oneida Indians is headed your way

…based on the book Forgotten Allies by Joseph Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin.  The cool part is that the Oneida Nation is doing it themselves.  They decided that a movie would be a good way to get this part of their story out there, so they’re putting up the $10 million for the film themselves.  Here are the details.

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Filed under American Revolution, History and Memory

Your guide to a proper reenacting death

…courtesy of the Post.  It ain’t as easy as it used to be: “‘The audience member today is sophisticated enough to know when a shot should have scored a casualty, and when no one falls, it can be met with laughter from the audience,’ Treco said. ‘Just as in Hollywood, the suspension of disbelief. . . is the overall goal.'”

By the way, you may notice that I’ve added a “Reenacting” category to the blog.  I used to file items of this sort under “Civil War,” “American Revolution,” or my purposefully vague “History and Memory” category.  With the Sesquicentennial underway, I figured we’d be seeing more living history material popping up in the news, so it seemed like a good time to adjust.  I’m going to try to add all my earlier reenacting-related posts to this category, too, but of course I may miss a few.

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Filed under Civil War, History and Memory, Reenacting

Psychic commenters

An irate reader sent a number of nasty e-mails to Gordon Belt, claiming that he was out to tarnish John Sevier’s reputation.  This surprised me, because I’ve been following Gordon’s fine series of posts on Sevier, and for the life of me I can’t recall a single instance in which he’s said anything particularly derogatory about Nolichucky Jack.

Sevier possessed an undeniable personal courage, he was a skilled practitioner of partisan warfare, his contributions to the American victory in the Revolution were substantial, his role in the founding of Tennessee was the equal of anyone else’s, and the respect he earned as a leader of men (and one didn’t become a leader of men on the frontier unless one earned a good deal of respect) indicates a level of charisma rare in any time or place.  But he was a human being.  He put on his pants (or knee breeches, I suppose) one leg at a time like the rest of us.  The John Sevier you’ll find in Gordon’s posts is neither a marble demigod nor a scoundrel.  He’s a fascinating and complex character, and all indications are that this is basically what the historical John Sevier was.

But what really surprised me was the fact that Gordon’s correspondent accused him of using history to promote an “ideological agenda.”  Mind-reading of this sort—assuming that someone presenting an argument with which you disagree must be doing so for sinister reasons—is all too common in the blogosphere.  If you’re blogging, sooner or later you can expect to have somebody attempt to gaze into your soul and reveal some nefarious motive of which you yourself were unaware.  It’s happened to me a few times.  I once wrote a post about the accuracy of a children’s book about the Civil War set not too far from my hometown, and one lady subsequently informed me that I had a “progressive presentism agenda,” based solely on the fact that I mentioned two other bloggers.  I kid you not.

One of the problems with this instant online mind-reading is the fact that most people aren’t cut out to be psychics.  The lady I just referred to, for example, managed to get my political inclinations completely wrong, which sort of torpedoes the whole ideological motive thing.  You’re not likely to try to further a progressive agenda when you don’t put much stock in progressivism.

The other problem is that it doesn’t address the actual argument being presented.  Let’s pretend for a moment that I am a “presentist progressive,” and that my motive for discussing the use of regional geography and history in a kids’ book was to further some agenda. Would it have any bearing on the accuracy of my statements about the details in the book?  The question of whether or not I’m a flaming liberal doesn’t affect whether or not I was correct in stating that Fern Lake didn’t exist in 1863, or that there really is a cave near the saddle of Cumberland Gap.

Motive and bias can indeed affect interpretation, but these aren’t matters of interpretation. They’re matters of simple fact, and a fact is a fact regardless of who’s stating it.  Accusations of underlying motive aren’t helpful in such cases.  It reminds me of something Orwell wrote about Communist propaganda during the Spanish Civil War: “It is as though in the middle of a chess tournament one competitor should suddenly begin screaming that the other is guilty of arson or bigamy.  The point that is really at issue remains untouched.”


Filed under American Revolution, History and Memory, History on the Web, Tennessee History

Yet another scandal involving alleged archival shenanigans

This one involves author and collector Barry Landau.  He and an accomplice named Jason Savedoff allegedly—allegedly, mind you—tried to steal millions of dollars’ worth of material from the Maryland Historical Society.  The Baltimore Sun has the details.

Here’s the really bad news:

Though [MHS President Burt] Kummerow said the society has been growing, it remains short on funds and staff. That puts it in a potentially vulnerable position as it allows access to its collection of 7 million documents contained within its library.

[Joseph M.] Coale, the former board member for the Maryland Historic Trust, said he doesn’t believe archives will be able to continue to allow access to original documents. “They don’t have the staff to do it, especially nowadays with societies more or less operating with skeleton crews,” he said.

But Kummerow says his staff is also not in a financial position to digitize its archives or provide photocopies of the volumes of material researchers may want to see.

Great.  Just great.

You know those signs in department store restrooms telling you that shoplifting messes with everybody, because it forces the store to jack up their prices?

Innocent until proven guilty…but if proven guilty, then under the jail with them.  Under the freaking jail.


Filed under Uncategorized

Better taxation without representation

If you’ve been following the news out of Minnesota, then you’re probably aware that Gov. Mark Dayton wanted to raise taxes on the state’s wealthiest citizens in order to alleviate a deficit.  Republicans in the legislature balked at the tax increase, so now Minnesota’s government has ground to a halt.

In a public announcement, Gov. Dayton invoked the causes of the American Revolution.  Sort of.

It is significant that this shutdown will begin on the 4th of July weekend.  On that date, we celebrate our independence.  It also reminds us that there are causes and principles worth struggling for – worth even suffering temporary hardships to achieve. 

Our American Revolution was very much about fair and just taxes, where the middle-class was over-taxed while the very rich went tax-free.  In the absence of fair taxes, the basic services people relied upon for their health and well-being were denied them.

So the Sons of Liberty were burning effigies because of a lack of government involvement in their lives, while super-wealthy Whigs like George Washington and John Hancock were demanding to pay more taxes than they were already.  Is that about right?

I’m glad a Democrat has finally put his historical foot in his mouth, because now I can get some nasty comments from liberals instead of Glenn Beck minions.  It’ll be a refreshing change.


Filed under American Revolution, History and Memory

Monuments–the cure for what ails you

I ran across yet another story about an effort to build a national monument commemorating a forgotten group—in this case, black soldiers of the Revolutionary War.  Some folks are trying to drum up support for a memorial in Washington, D.C., along with the estimated $14 million it’ll take to construct it.

This is another one of those cases where I’m torn between my support for the ends and my qualms about the means.  I’m all for imprinting the Revolution on the national psyche and emphasizing the contributions of black Americans to that struggle.  Yet I can’t help but wonder whether a monument is the best way to go about doing it.  If you can raise $14 million for a memorial, then is it feasible to raise the same amount for, say, a museum and research center where people can learn about—and not just commemorate—these men?  Or to endow a book or dissertation prize to encourage research about them?

One supporter of the monument stresses the need to help people understand the past, and claims that the project might even help contribute to racial reconciliation.  I think it’s important to keep in mind that monuments have severe interpretive limitations. There’s only so much information you can convey with a piece of public sculpture, other than the fact that the thing being commemorated existed.  I hope a monument to black Rev War soldiers would remind Americans of the sacrifices these men made, but I suspect that this would be about all it could do.

I don’t say any of this to belittle the effort to create the memorial.  In fact, I’d like to see the thing completed; if any group deserves a national monument, surely it would be these men who put it all on the line on behalf of ideals whose benefits they couldn’t fully enjoy simply because of their skin color.  But I hope that this effort, and others like it, doesn’t get us thinking that monuments will accomplish the difficult work of teaching history or the even more difficult work of exorcising our collective demons.

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No more Rebel uniforms for Xbox Live users

Not even video gamers can escape the heritage wars:

Microsoft removed a Confederate soldier’s uniform and cap from an Xbox Live avatar items collection, following complaints from users about what the symbols represent.

The gray uniform and cap, recognizably symbols of the American Confederacy, went on sale in an “American History” collection that featured Revolutionary War-era garb, fireworks, and an Abe Lincoln stovepipe hat and beard.

Incidentally, two British army Revolutionary War items, a redcoat uniform and cap, also were removed.

But he’s so darn cute!  

Image from Kotaku

If you were standing behind the stone wall at Cemetery Ridge and this little guy came charging at you, wouldn’t you be tempted to pat him on the head and give him a big hug?

Wonder why they pulled the Redcoat gear.  Maybe somebody from Boston or the Carolina upcountry sent a strongly-worded letter.

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Filed under Civil War, History and Memory

Women in the ranks, Thor on the battlefield, and a tour guide in the palm of your hand

The AP covers the trials and tribulations of the female Civil War reenactor in an interesting article:

A century and a half ago, women weren’t allowed into military service; masquerading as men was the only way in for those who weren’t satisfied with supporting the war effort from home or following their husbands’ military units around. As the country marks the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States, some female re-enactors still cling to secrecy — not just for historical accuracy but because uniformed women aren’t always welcome in the male-dominated hobby.

My personal opinion is that a few women in disguise aren’t a big deal when we’ve got hordes of hefty, middle-aged privates in the ranks.

In any case, a recent incident at Gettysburg suggests that living historians should stop worrying about gender roles and start worrying about divine wrath.

In other Civil War news, iPhone users will now be able to enjoy a handheld, GPS-enabled guided tour of the Manassas battlefield, complete with audio and video.

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Filed under Civil War, History and Memory, Reenacting

“He’s a guy who has a hat”

I really, really hope this kid was playing it up for the camera.

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Filed under History and Memory

The legacy of the Declaration of Independence

…is the subject of this meditation from historian Gordon Wood, which is well worth reading.

Hat tip to The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

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