MilitaryOnlineColleges.org has created a pretty handy list of 100 Civil War websites. It’s aimed at military personnel, but anybody interested in the Civil War should find plenty of useful stuff listed—databases, blogs (including this one), CWRTs, museums, and so on. Definitely worth checking out.
Category Archives: History on the Web
I’ve always been reluctant to join Twitter. I’m so long-winded that I never thought I’d be good at it. But when I contacted my advisor a few weeks ago to ask him about classes for my first semester as a doctoral student, he recommended I create a Twitter account and use it to keep up with what’s going on in my field.
So as of today, you can start following me @mlynch5396. It’ll be just like this, only in smaller doses.
A few items worthy of note as we ring in 2014.
- This list of New Year resolutions for Kentuckians includes a few history-related things to do, including some sites that every citizen of the Bluegrass State should visit. I’ll add one more assignment for Kentuckians in 2014: If you haven’t already, read either Thomas Clark’s classic history of the state or the more recent volume by Lowell Harrison and James Klotter.
- Speaking of knowing your local history, all you folks in Winston-Salem should get acquainted with your town’s Rev War namesake.
- We’re getting a new statue of Sam Houston here in Tennessee, where he made a name for himself before heading off to Texas. There’s also a new Civil War Trails marker going up in Maynardville, just down the road from my neck of the woods.
- Zachary Keck argues that Americans’ fondness for revolutions is misplaced, and stems partly from our own revolutionary beginnings. But he also claims that the American Revolution wasn’t all that revolutionary, because it didn’t upset the status quo. Keck notes that most revolutions don’t create stable, free societies; real progress is due more to evolution than revolution. But should we consider the democratization of the nineteenth century to be an effect of the American Revolution or an example of gradual evolution? Gordon Wood took the long view of the Revolution as a process that turned America away from the hierarchical, colonial past and toward the democratic, egalitarian nineteenth century. Taken as a discrete event which ended in the 1780s, though, the Revolution seems more limited in scope. I guess it all depends on your perspective.
- By far the year’s most popular post here at Past in the Present was a 2012 item about an off-color anecdote told by Abraham Lincoln which made its way into Spielberg’s film.
- I’d like to pick a best American history book of 2013, but most of the books I read this year had already been in circulation for a while. People have been writing history books for a lot longer than I’ve been reading them, so I spend most of my reading time trying to catch up with backlisted titles. As for the best American history book I read in 2013, I’d probably go with Rachel Klein’s Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808.
- High point of 2013 for me? Under any other circumstances, visiting the Freedom Trail, Lexington and Concord would be impossible to top, but…
Brief digression on the origins of the NAACP thrown in for good measure. This church is about an hour from my hometown. Maybe a field trip is in order.
I award this fellow two facepalms: one for propagating ludicrous pseudohistory, and another for wasting his pulpit to do so.
By the way, if you’re looking for Internet conspiracy theory horseflop at its very best, Google “Abraham Lincoln Rothschilds.” This site in particular is a masterpiece of unintentional hilarity. Apparently Lincoln was Jewish, he fathered twins with a German ruler’s illegitimate daughter, and Mary Todd killed her own husband and pinned the murder on Booth, who was also her drug pusher. Good times.
Annnnnnd the top ten search terms which brought people to this site in 2012 were…
- bat creek stone
- descendants of famous people
- mary surratt movie
- past in the present
- mary elizabeth winstead
- gettysburg visitor center controversy [Still?]
- colonial schoolhouse
- history apps
- lincoln ethan allen story
- sotos syndrome [Go figure.]
The recent bumper crop of Lincoln movies has obviously helped bump up my traffic, especially in the past few weeks. In fact, of the top twelve search terms of the past month, seven involve some combination of “Lincoln” and “Ethan Allen,” so that scene in Spielberg’s movie that I got such a kick out of must have made an impression on a lot of other people, too.
When I was a kid, a friend of mine and I had a weekly ritual. When the school day ended, we made a mad, hell-for-leather dash across a four-lane highway to a small grocery store so we could check out the new comic books.
I never followed any particular titles consistently; I just grabbed whatever looked interesting off the rack. But comics storytelling is cumulative. Story arcs can span multiple issues, and continuity often extends across many different titles in elaborate, self-contained fictional universes. If you only pick up occasional issues here and there, it’s sort of like trying to start watching a soap opera in the middle of the season. For undisciplined readers like me, things could get a little confusing.
Continuity can make life tough for comic writers and editors, especially when you consider that some characters have been around for decades, accumulating intricate backstories in the same way that shipwrecks accumulate colonies of marine organisms. When this complicated web of internal mythology becomes problematic, comic creators use “retconning,” the retroactive alteration of in-story continuity.
Retcons usually take the form of a deus ex machina-like plot device that discards whatever aspects of the mythology are inconvenient and harmonizes between conflicting details. Thus when DC Comics decided to restore Hal Jordan of the Green Lantern Corps to its roster of heroes after Jordan lost his marbles, went on a cosmic killing spree, and died, it was a fairly simple matter to resurrect him and attribute his homicidal tendencies to possession by a cosmic entity.
Likewise, when the head honchos at Marvel decided that single underdog Spider-Man was preferable to responsibly married Spider-Man, they had only to put Peter Parker’s Aunt May in the path of a bullet. Next thing you know, Spidey and his wife made a deal with the demonic villain Mephisto, who spared the old gal’s life in exchange for the Parkers’ agreement to allow him to undo history so that their marriage had never taken place.
By the time Marvel decided to make Spider-Man a bachelor again, I was no longer a regular reader of comics, so I found out about it only when the same friend with whom I used to run across the road to buy comics told me. But even to an ex-reader like me, the news packed a wallop. Die-hard fans were even more upset. One reviewer called it “infuriating and downright disrespectful to anyone who has come to love Spider-Man comics over the years.” And little wonder. This one editorial decision erased over two decades’ worth of character development, sweeping it aside as though it had never happened with apparent disregard for the emotional investment of thousands of readers.
Also…well, Spider-Man’s wife was hot.
One of the reasons pseudohistory irritates me is because those who propagate it are practicing a similar form of cheap, lazy retconning when it comes to the past. The problem isn’t that somebody is proposing something new; that’s an integral part of the process of doing history, and we laud historians who make original contributions when those contributions hold explanatory power. The difference is that responsible scholars craft their interpretations to take account of the preponderance of the evidence, whereas pseudohistorians just set that evidence aside. They toss reams of primary source material and conscientious scholarship out the window like so much inconvenient backstory, while using out-of-context quotations and unsubstantiated anecdotes to the same ends as the deus ex machina plot device.
By ignoring a whole lot over here and adding a few bits over there, practitioners of bad history whip up a whole new self-contained continuity suited to their own preferences. They ignore all our evidence about the Founders’ religious inclinations based on a few spurious quotes, and disregard mountains of contemporary documentation about the Confederacy in favor of a few fabricated stories of black Rebel soldiers. It’s a distressingly cavalier approach to the business of understanding the past.
Granted, it’s a lot easier to play havoc with history in this manner than it is to try to make sense of all the evidence at hand, just as it’s easier to cut the Gordian knot of a character’s backstory with a lousy plot trick than it is to build on a mythology that’s been developed over years of storytelling. But there is such a thing as a responsibility to the truth; indeed, it’s the most basic responsibility of anyone who wants to do history. If your need for a past that validates your own inclinations overrides that sense of responsibility, don’t blame historians when they give you the cold shoulder.
It’s a source of both surprise and amusement to me that the post on the Bat Creek Stone continues to get passionate comments almost two years after it went up. Whenever I glance at the search terms that bring people to the blog, “Bat Creek Stone” is invariably near the top of the list. I can understand that, since it’s a pretty obscure topic and thus there are only so many places on the Interwebs a Google search will take you. But the fact that people continue to post replies is unusual, since this blog gets very modest traffic and it’s rare for any of my posts to generate more than a few comments.
I’m also surprised at the diversity of these reactions. Some people take issue with specific points, while others just seem irate that I was critical of Glenn Beck. Some readers want to use the post as an opportunity to make a case for pre-Columbian contact in general, or for the validity of Mormonism.
I’m not qualified to make a case for or against the Bat Creek Stone. I’m neither an archaeologist nor a linguist. But I have a real problem with a public figure like Beck taking it upon himself to educate his audience about the past and making such a mess of it. Getting one’s facts straight is the first responsibility of the public historian. When it comes to the Bat Creek Stone, it simply won’t do to present it as an undisputed artifact. That’s what Beck did.
I’m not complaining about the reaction the post has gotten, mind you. Far from it. I wish readers would pitch in like this all the time. I just think it’s interesting that of all the subjects we toss around here, this is the one people want to discuss the most.