Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hope you weren’t planning on doing research at the Georgia State Archives

As of November 1, the Georgia State Archives are closed to the public.  Open access hours aren’t being reduced, mind you—they’re being eliminated entirely.  You’ll need an appointment to use a state’s main archival repository.  Appointments will be limited, of course, based on the availability of the remaining staff.

I don’t know the ins and outs of Georgia’s fiscal situation, but I’d imagine $30 million would go a long way toward helping the public servants at the archives keep their jobs.  That’s the amount Delta Airlines got in tax breaks authorized by Gov. Nathan Deal last year.  Two weeks after Deal signed off on that, he and his wife received preferred customer benefits from Delta worth some $8,000 consisting of “free upgrades when seats are available, Sky Club membership, bonus miles, priority check-in and boarding, fee waivers and more,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  A spokesman called the perks a “contribution to the state of Georgia.”  Deal will only utilize his seat upgrades and priority check-in while traveling on official business, you see.  Georgians who are unable to access their public records can thus take comfort in knowing that the governor’s check-in at the Delta counter has been expedited.


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Bluegrass history on your smartphone

Check this out:

The Explore Kentucky History app connects historical markers, related items in the Historical Society’s collections and user-submitted images and stories to points of interest on a map. The information is then grouped together into tours, with a Civil War-themed tour the first available.

As of today, it’s available on iTunes.  I just installed it on my iPhone, and it’s awesome.  (And free!)  If you’re interested in the history of the Bluegrass State or the Civil War, you’re going to love it.

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Were you thinking about reading Barton’s Jefferson book?

Looks like you waited too late.  The publisher has decided to pull it from the shelves.  (Hat tip: American Creation.)

Why they didn’t get somebody to vet the text more carefully before printing and marketing it is entirely beyond me.  I’m guessing Barton will self-publish it through WallBuilders, as he did with his earlier books.

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Talk is still cheap

Ex-gov. Ed Rendell of PA wants to remind you how important it is that we be able to learn from our history, despite the fact that he’s the last person in the world who has any business telling you that.

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Paper trails

Lately I’d been having some trouble logging into my work e-mail, and when I called the tech guys they discovered that in the process of some changes to the system my entire account had accidentally been deleted.  They were able to set up a new one for me, but all my old messages, both incoming and outgoing, vanished into whatever ethereal realm is reserved for defunct e-mail accounts.

It’s no great loss as far as posterity is concerned, since most of these e-mails dealt with mundane matters—students  apologizing for missed classes, reminders that I needed to submit paperwork, and so on.  But it got me thinking about a question that I ponder from time to time.  What is the advent of electronic communication going to mean historians of the future who will be trying to study us?

For some scholars, it probably won’t mean much at all.  Modern bureaucracies still generate reams of paperwork.  As organizations both public and private have grown and become more complex in the last 130 years or so, they’ve churned out mountains of internal documentation.  When historians write about the presidencies of Bush and Obama a century from now, they’ll have plenty of written evidence to handle.  Many organizations archive the documents they generate electronically; some of them, in fact, are required by law to do so.

The difference, I think, will involve unofficial, personal communication.  For biographers, personal letters are an indispensable tool.  Even historians writing about public events rely on personal documentation to gather information.    My own graduate research about King’s Mountain involved reading a lot of personal letters.  Until comparatively recently, it wasn’t uncommon for ordinary people to leave behind a cache of letters and other personal papers.

But what about now?  Speaking for myself, I’ve sent and received plenty of personal e-mails, but as for hard copies, I’ve got nothing but birthday cards and the occasional cover letter.  Since personal e-mail accounts are hidden behind passwords and subject to deletion, will historians of the future will be able to access the correspondence of ordinary folks like you and I?

Of course, hard copies aren’t immune to time, either.  The great Tennessee historian J.G.M. Ramsey accumulated a treasure trove of documents about the eighteenth-century frontier, some of which he used to prepare his massive book on the Volunteer State’s early days.  Unfortunately for future students of Tennessee history, Ramsey was an ardent Confederate, so when a Unionist firebrand torched his home, his remarkable archive went up in smoke.  One advantage of electronic documents is that they’re easy to back up.

Maybe future historians looking to document the lives of everyday Americans will just have to use different sources.  Instead of reading caches of family letters, they’ll pore over home videos.  Or perhaps they’ll have access to some sort of archived social media, in which case we’re not going to come off all that well…

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Putting a face on Benjamin Cleveland

Some folks in Cleveland, TN have commissioned a portrait of the town’s namesake, Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Cleveland of North Carolina.  Don Troiani will be doing the painting.  The 300-lb. Cleveland commanded the Wilkes County militia at King’s Mountain and persecuted backcountry Tories with a zeal bordering on fanaticism.  As far as I know, there aren’t any contemporary likenesses of him, so this will be the first attempt at an accurate depiction.

My favorite anecdote about Benjamin Cleveland involves the capture of two horse thieves.  Cleveland hanged one and then offered the other a choice—he could either join his partner at the end of a rope or take a case knife, cut off his own ears, and never show his face in that neck of the woods again.  The guy took the knife, sharpened it on a brick, gritted his teeth, and set to work.  To quote the Joker in The Dark Knight, “Even to a guy like me, that’s cold.”

Speaking of the Carolinas, renowned Palmetto State historian Walter Edgar is retiring.  He’s a guy who takes public history as seriously as he takes scholarship, so here’s hoping he keeps writing and speaking.

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Brief change of topic

I’m going to go a little outside the bounds of my usual shenanigans here, but I ran across something on one of the non-historical blogs I read, and being a sucker for little kids, I had to share it with you.  I think it’ll be well worth your attention.

This is Harper.  She’s almost five, and she lives in Eastern Europe.

She has some extremely serious (as in potentially life-threatening) health issues, and she doesn’t have a family of her own, at least not yet.

I say “not yet,” because there’s an American family that’s been trying to adopt a child from her neck of the woods for quite some time, and they were thrilled to find out that she was available.  The thing is, international adoption isn’t cheap.

That’s where we come in.  A 501c3 organization called Reece’s Rainbow provides grants for families adopting special needs kids from overseas.  They’ve set up an account to help this family with the costs of bringing their little girl home.  It’s tax deductible, and you can donate via PayPal or by sending a check.

Oh, and once you donate, you can also enter to win some great books and other stuff thanks to a giveaway being organized by the Ironic Catholic blog (details here.)

So if you’ve got a little money to spare, even if it’s just ten or twenty bucks, click on the Reece’s Rainbow link to send a check or make a PayPal donation.  There are plenty of other kids listed on the site, too, and I encourage you to check them out and pitch in wherever you can.

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Breaking up is hard to do

Robert Massie has a new piece on how biographers cope with coming to the end of their books.

You don’t want the subject to die; you don’t want to lose the friend you have made, the companion you are accustomed to, and perhaps you also don’t want to see the whole cast of supporting characters, and the historical and cultural environment in which they all lived, vanish with them.

Nevertheless, the end must come. When that happens, how does a biographer feel? Exhausted? Relieved? Euphoric? At long last, a person of leisure? Or something different. Wistful, sad, bereaved? You were with the subject every day. Now this companion has departed and left you behind. He or she has concluded the time shared with you. That part of your life is over.

So many biographers develop an affinity for the subjects of their investigation that I used to be a little suspicious of the genre.  But lately I’m inclined to think that this affinity is part of the special insight the biographer has acquired during the course of his or her research.  Rather than the biographer losing objectivity and becoming blind to a subject’s faults, maybe it’s the reader who stands to benefit from the biographer’s appreciation of the subject’s finer qualities.

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Dirt flying

Gordon Belt recently directed my attention an online petition directed against Spike TV’s upcoming reality series about artifact hunting. You can read it (and sign it, if you so desire) by clicking here.  There’s also a petition in support of the show, hoping that the program will “correct the false impression that relic hunting is unethical.”

Coincidentally, the president of the Society for American Archaeology is protesting a similar show which is about to premiere on the National Geographic Channel, and has written a letter of complaint to the National Geographic Society’s CEO.  Critics of this show have an online petition, too.

Personally, I’m not opposed to relic hunting on principle, at least within reasonable limits.  If somebody wants to take a metal detector and look for Minié balls or buttons on private land, that’s fine with me, as long as they have the landowner’s permission and the site isn’t particularly significant.

From Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to historically sensitive ground, that’s another matter.  Battlefields, the sites of prison camps and hospitals, burial sites, and things of that sort are best left to the pros, even if the land in question belongs to private parties who don’t object to relic hunting.  In archaeology, context is everything.  Indeed, the information about an artifact’s context is as valuable as the artifact itself.

Since the shows haven’t aired, I don’t know what sort of digging we’re dealing with.  If we’re talking about sites and finds that merit a systematic approach, I’d rather see them left alone than get picked over by relic hunters, even if a full-scale excavation in the near future is unlikely.

If this sounds snotty, let me point out that when it comes to archaeology, I’m not a professional, either.  History and archaeology are two completely disciplines, with their own separate methodologies, programs of study, professional associations, publications, and so on.  Historians and archaeologists draw frequently on one another’s expertise, of course, but even a terminal degree in history won’t prepare you to run a large-scale excavation.

A few years ago, I got the chance to work with a professional team of archaeologists for a few days, when they came to campus to do some shovel tests for a survey of the area.  It was fun and interesting, and I learned quite a bit, but by no means am I under the impression that I’m competent to interpret a site just because they showed me how to classify soil samples and screen for artifacts.

If it turns out these shows are promoting irresponsible behavior, then I’ll add my voice to the chorus of protest.  Until then, I’m going to wait and see what they’re digging up and where they’re doing it.


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Reach out and touch someone

Me, to be specific.

Up until now, I haven’t made my e-mail address available here on the blog, mainly to avoid having my inbox filled with incoherent rants in case I posted something that set somebody off.

Lately, though, folks have started getting in touch with me about speaking engagements and various other things that they’d probably prefer to handle through e-mail, but since they had no address, they’ve had to leave a comment here on the blog.  So I’ve decided to set up a new e-mail account and post it on the “About the Blog” page for anybody who’d like to contact me. The address is

Truth be told, I needed a new e-mail address anyway.  The one I’ve used since high school is both difficult to spell and embarrassingly geeky, so I’m going to try to phase it out.  It didn’t occur to me when I was a teenager that someday I’d actually have to put that Hotmail handle on a résumé.  Come to think of it, I wonder how many potential jobs it’s cost me already.  Oh, well.  What’s done is done.

Since I mentioned speaking engagements, let me add that I’ve done quite a few public lectures, presentations, and seminars for historical societies, museums, and so on, and I’m always happy to do more.  So feel free to contact me if you’d like me to come and talk about the American Revolution, colonial history, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, regional history, museums, preservation, or the past in general.

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