Monthly Archives: July 2011

Browsing won’t be the same

Borders bookstores are not long for this world.  I’m very sad to see it happen.

Shelf for shelf, the Borders store near West Town Mall in Knoxville, TN has the finest history selection of any general bookstore I’ve ever visited. I think every major historical time period, place, and subject is covered there, from Mesopotamia to the War on Terror. Along with releases from the big commercial publishers, I can always find an excellent assortment of titles from academic and independent presses.  The Civil War books alone take up an entire section of ceiling-to-floor shelves and spill over to part of another bookcase.

On a number of occasions I’ve spent two hours or more there; in fact, my family used to drop me off at Borders and then come back to pick me up after shopping all over half of the city.  Whenever I want to kill a lot of time in Knoxville in blissful contentment or do some seriously hedonistic splurging, there’s never been any question about where I’ll go to do it.  But I suppose now there will be.

As much I like the selection and prices I can get from online book retailers, there’s no substitute for being able to scan the shelves. I’m a physical book person.  I don’t own a Kindle or any other type of e-reader, and I never will.  When I browse for books I want the same things I want when I read them.  I want to pick them up and feel their heft, and I want to appreciate the grain and color of the paper.  Above all, I want to riffle through the pages and savor that smell.

There are plenty of other big bookstores, of course.  In fact, West Knoxville has three others of comparable size within a mile or two of the very one I’m discussing.  And these days it’s not very fashionable to lament the downfall of an enormous franchise anyway, so I guess this post would probably be more politically correct if I mourned the loss of some small, independent bookshop.  But that Borders was my store, and being a history buff and book lover won’t be the same once it’s closed.

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Nothing says cultural legitimacy like pro wrestling

The folks at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum are either really creative or really desperate:

Springfield’s favorite son, whose skill as a wrestler has been recognized by induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Hall of Outstanding Americans, may never have donned sequins or worn his stovepipe hat into the squared circle, but the museum that bears his name is promoting itself with a pro wrestling ticket giveaway.

“We’re always looking for ways to tie in popular culture and Abraham Lincoln,” said Dave Blanchette, spokesman for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

A pro wrestling connection isn’t the only non-traditional promotion the non-traditional ALPM has employed in its efforts to attract people who aren’t regular museum-goers. Springfield’s 6-year-old museum and other presidential museums are always looking for ways to increase attendance by drawing new customers.

The ALPM is giving away one pair of tickets each day starting Monday through July 30 to the  WWE Presents RAW World Tour show July 31 at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.

Um.  Okay.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Museums and Historic Sites

That’s how they roll in the Old Dominion

Virginia will debut its 18-wheel rolling Civil War exhibit at the Bull Run sesquicentennial.  It’s a “high-tech immersive experience” that will “convey the bewildering sense of chaos experienced by soldiers.”  That’s the plan, anyway.  I’m more skeptical of that sort of thing than I used to be.

Maybe they should’ve bought a normal 18-wheeler, piled people into the back, and then driven the thing over an embankment.  I guarantee that’ll convey a bewildering sense of chaos.

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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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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.”

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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.

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