Category Archives: History and Memory

Sound unbelievable?

I went to a bookstore yesterday and found a volume in the history section that seemed—to put it mildly—a bit out-of-place. It was Our Occulted History: Do the Global Elite Conceal Ancient Aliens? by Jim Marrs. I didn’t have time to read the whole thing, of course, but the gist of it seemed to be that, yes, the global elite do indeed conceal ancient aliens. And I wouldn’t put it past them; it’s just the sort of thing that darned global elite would do.

Before you dismiss this as so much pseudohistorical horseflop, take note of this passage from the dust jacket:

Our Occulted History overturns conventional knowledge and beliefs, presenting compelling evidence that the earth once hosted prehistoric civilizations using technologies that very well may have surpassed our own. Sound unbelievable? Just a few hundred years ago, so was the concept that the earth revolved around the sun.

That, my friends, is a stroke of genius. It might be the single most effective defense of a historical thesis I’ve ever heard, because it’s impossible to refute.

They might attack your sources, challenge your interpretation, or question your credentials, but try as they might, they can’t deny that no matter how ludicrous your proposition may be, just a few hundred years ago the concept that the earth revolved around the sun sounded unbelievable, too.

Try it for yourself. It works with any historical assertion.

Tens of thousands of black soldiers fought for the Confederacy. Sound unbelievable? Just a few hundred years ago, so was the concept that the earth revolved around the sun.

Rutherford B. Hayes was impervious to bullets. Sound unbelievable? Just a few hundred years ago, so was the concept that the earth revolved around the sun.

America entered WWI because Woodrow Wilson made a secret alliance with Tsarist Russia, Cobra Commander, and a disembodied brain entity from the planet Zorbog. Sound unbelievable? Just a few hundred years ago, so was the concept that the earth revolved around the sun.

Come to think of it, this approach is useful in any number of situations. It essentially renders evidence, argumentation, and even perception itself superfluous.

“It’s not what you think, honey. I was just taking a nap here in our bed, and suddenly a rift in the space-time continuum opens and out falls this undressed woman. Sound unbelievable? Well, just a few hundred years ago, so was the concept that the earth revolved around the sun.”

“No, I did get the paperwork turned in on time. See, ever since the time of Charlemagne, my bloodline has been at war with a secret order of warlock vampires, and I spotted one of them going through my filing cabinet this morning. Sound unbelievable? Hey, just a few hundred years ago, so was the concept that the earth revolved around the sun.”

This is going to make all our lives so much easier.

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Southern Lincolns abound

The Old Dominion has embraced Honest Abe, at least according to this article.

The writer claims that Tredegar’s sculpture of Lincoln and Tad is “the only statue of Lincoln in the South, where many people still refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.”  I must beg to differ.  In fact, if you visit my alma mater here in East Tennessee, you’ll find three of them: a standing Lincoln at the main entrance, a copy of Paul Manship’s larger-than-life “Hoosier Youth” in the museum atrium, and a depiction of Lincoln as a lawyer in front of the library.

There’s also a Lincoln statue at the state capitol in West Virginia, and Kentucky has more Honest Abes than you can shake a stick at.

One more quibble.  I’ve lived in the South for more than thirty years, and I’ve only heard one person refer to the Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression.”  The guy who said it was a reenactor; ironically, I was at an event in a state that never joined the Confederacy.  Most of my fellow southerners aren’t nursing a grudge over a war that ended before their great-grandparents were born.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, History and Memory

Your name in lights

If you’re one of those lovably eccentric wackos who finds learning about humanity’s collective heritage to be worthwhile, you could be the next Honey Boo Boo:

Are you a curious person, and obsessed with history? Can you recite facts inside and out, and name-drop (and even date-drop) with the best of them? Do your friends at trivia night, dare we say it, label you as the history buff? Maybe you’re not a full-blown “buff” but if you like history and get psyched at the idea of even visiting a museum, or actually read those placards on your tour, then we want to meet you…virtually for now though.

Send us a video (YouTube, Vimeo, iPhone…whatever! Just send it to us) of you around your house, your office, your family, your town. Let us know what makes you interesting, and why your brains (and mug) should be featured on a history based reality TV show for all to see. On that note, email a photo too, and everyone of all ages is welcome to apply.

People who actually read exhibit placards!  How delightfully zany!

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Is the Gadsden flag too hot to handle?

The city of New Rochelle, NY has confiscated a Gadsden flag that flew outside a local armory due to “unspecified complaints” to the city manager and a request by the city council.  This happened just after the city manager told a group of veterans the flag could remain in place.  The situation is reminiscent of last year’s brouhaha over the Gadsden flags at Gettysburg.

As many commentators have pointed out, the Confederate battle flag is a symbol with multiple meanings because of the various groups that have appropriated it over the years.  Depending on the context, it can stand the Confederacy, the South in general, rebelliousness, racism, segregation, or the “redneck” stereotype.  If you’re going to display the CBF, you have to keep this multiplicity of meanings in mind; the meaning you intend to convey might not be the same one understood by the people who exposed to it.

In the case of the Gadsden flag, though, I think the case is a little different.  The Tea Party adopted the Gadsden flag, but unlike the CBF, the Gadsden flag hasn’t been stewing in its more modern political connotations for decades.  It remains primarily a symbol of the Revolution and America’s commitment to liberty and self-defense, and for that reason I don’t see anything wrong with flying it outside an armory.  But that’s just my opinion.

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The Lincoln screed checklist

This guy’s got all his ducks in a row.

Reference to the USSR?  Check.  Use of the felicitously vague label “progressive”?  Check.  War attributed to tariffs?  Check.  The Greeley letter quoted in blissful ignorance of the chronology surrounding the decision for emancipation? Check.  Quote from the Charleston debate?  Check.  Lerone Bennett citation?  Check.

Bonus points for conflating the slavery debate as the cause of the war with abolition as a Union war aim from the get-go…”Moreover, if, according to the progressive version of history, abolition of slavery was the cause of the Civil War, why didn’t Lincoln free the slaves right off the bat?”

…and for overlooking the wee matter of the Battle of Antietam: “Why did he wait for many months — and do it only when the war took a bad turn for the Union, and, more important, when the superpowers of the day, Great Britain and France, were about to recognize the Confederacy and come to its aid?”

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Support a Civil War film project

I just got this message from a filmmaker named Alexander Fofonoff:

I am in my last year at NYU Tisch for film, and about to embark on my thesis film. It is a 19th century post civil war period piece that deals with how returning soldiers dealt with not only the transition from war to peace, but a national transition, how to accept half the country that’s been considered an enemy for the last four years, and what price is paid for that acceptance.

I recently launched an indiegogo campaign, in an attempt to have my project crowd-funded (small donations from a lot of people).

You can get more information at the film’s WordPress site, and make a contribution toward the production at Indiegogo.

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What’s offensive about tomahawks?

Last month a new Canadian basketball team announced that they’d be calling themselves the Ottawa TomaHawks (with a capital “h”).  The name wasn’t a reference to the weapon, but to a two-handed dunk.  Critics argued that the name demeaned Native Americans, and the franchise dropped it only a day after making the announcement.

I can understand why the word “tomahawk” might be considered offensive, since it connotes the old stereotype of Indians as warlike, murderous savages.  Still, tomahawks weren’t a strictly Indian instrument.  In fact, the tomahawk is a perfect symbol of the fusion of Old and New World elements that characterized colonial America.  Both the word and the weapon itself are of Indian origin, but the metal-headed tomahawks you see in pictures, movies, and museum displays weren’t available until European technology arrived in the Americas.  Both whites and Indians alike made use of them, and killing wasn’t the only thing they were doing with them, since metal-headed axes were common trade items. It’s a Native American instrument altered by Europeans and used by both Indians and whites as a weapon, tool, and commercial product.

When I see a tomahawk in a museum or at a reenactment, I don’t think about warlike Indians; I think about how two cultures encountered each other in the Americas, and how both changed in the process.

But if a substantial number of people of Indian descent found the team’s name offensive, then changing it was the right thing to do.  It’s not always about political correctness; sometimes it’s just a matter of basic consideration for the feelings of others.  Common decency shouldn’t have to be a political issue.

War club and tomahawk on display at Yale’s Peabody Museum, from Wikimedia Commons

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Miscellany

  • If you’re within driving distance of Nashville, don’t forget about the special exhibition of the original Emancipation Proclamation at the Tennessee State Museum, Feb. 12-18.  Viewing hours are limited and lines may be long, so click here to learn how to make advance reservations.  Some time slots are already full.
  • Hey, speaking of Lincoln, did you know that in addition to leading a Marxist war effort, he was also an “unscrupulous fascist“?  A sneaky devil, that Lincoln.
  • Here’s an interesting history of the sites associated with Lincoln’s early life.
  • Thoughts from East Tennessee on the importance of family heirlooms.
  • There’s another proposed state law to prevent people from fiddling with or renaming monuments.  This one is right here in Tennessee.
  • Some info on the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Chattanooga Campaign.
  • Mt. Vernon has acquired an original painting by Benjamin Latrobe.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Appalachian History, Civil War, History and Memory, Museums and Historic Sites, Tennessee History

Rep. Joe Courtney makes a mountain out of a molehill

I can understand why he’d be miffed that Lincoln wrongly depicts representatives from his state voting against the Thirteenth Amendment, but sending a letter to Spielberg asking him to fix it in time for the DVD release is going a little overboard.

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Historical-looking faces are getting harder to find

Filmmakers are finding it difficult to cast period movies because people are so darn pretty these days. Check it out:

Historical movies such as Steven Spielberg‘s “Lincoln” have placed a greater premium on authenticity in recent years, with on-set researchers ensuring that costumes, production design and language accurately reflect the age. Filmmakers, however, have a more difficult time making sure the contemporary appearance of their casts doesn’t strain a movie’s credibility.…

Teeth whitening, plastic surgery, body piercings, weight training, healthful eating and yoga have made it a challenge to find the perfect period performer. Add the unforgiving nature of high-definition video on which more movies are made and seen and the emergence of visually savvy audiences, and you often have a recipe for historical dissonance.

Hey, I’ve got a terrible complexion, crowded lower teeth, and no muscle tone whatsoever.  I could make a killing as an extra.

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