Paul Ryan proposes eliminating the NEH

Not cutting it, mind you, but doing away with it entirely.

It’s hard to overstate how important the National Endowment for the Humanities is to historical education and preservation in this country. It provides critical help to small museums, historical societies, archives, researchers, and documentary filmmakers.

If you’ve ever visited a history exhibit, used an archive or historical society to research your family background, or watched a historical documentary, there’s a good chance you’ve benefited from NEH support.

And the NEH budget accounts for barely a drop in the ocean of federal expenditures. Cutting it would have very little impact on overall government spending, but would drastically affect those institutions that benefit from it. In short, it’s a terrible idea.

I say again: Russell Kirk defined a conservative as “a person who endeavors to conserve the best in our traditions and our institutions,” and noted that conservatives believe the past to be “a great storehouse of wisdom.” If we can’t spare even a small portion of our public funds for history and culture, then what is it we’re trying to conserve?

Hat tip: John Fea

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Back to the books

Well, it’s official.  I’m headed back to grad school this fall as a Ph.D. student at the University of Tennessee.  Time to put my nose to the grindstone and get that terminal degree.

6 Comments

Filed under Graduate School

Avenger ancestry

The guy who plays Captain America can claim patriotic ancestors going all the way back to the Revolutionary War, according to Ancestry.com. Morgan Cryer, a South Carolinian whose pension application you can read here, was his fifth great-granduncle.

Hey, maybe Robert Downey, Jr. is descended from John Ericsson.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution

History and prehistory in the City of Angels

If you find yourself visiting southern California and you’d like a good crash course in the area’s history, let me recommend a visit to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Most of us associate natural history museums with fossils and taxidermy, but the NHMLAC also has an exhibit called “Becoming Los Angeles,” which covers L.A.’s story from the arrival of the Spanish up to the present. It opened last year.

I’m not that familiar with the history of California, so this exhibit was an education for me. The section on the Spanish mission system is especially interesting; it explains the impact of European colonization on both the land and the people. The arrival of domestic cattle, for example, dramatically impacted southern California’s vegetation. Cows ate up the grasses that were native to the area while depositing foreign seeds in their dung. Hence the slogan emblazoned on souvenirs in the museum’s gift shop: Cow poop changed L.A.!

Becoming Los Angeles features some pretty neat artifacts. Here’s the table on which the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed in 1847, ending hostilities in the Mexican-American War in California. Of course, the war didn’t officially end until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the following year.

IMG_0966

The exhibit also covers more recent history, including the city’s role in WWII and the birth of the local aviation and entertainment industries. Here’s another historically significant piece of furniture: Walt Disney’s animation stand, used to make the first Mickey Mouse cartoons.

IMG_0967

Other objects on display include Spanish crucifixes from the colonial era, Indian tools, and one of Charlie Chaplin’s costumes.

But hey…I didn’t go to L.A. to see history exhibits. I was off the clock. You guys know where this is headed, right?

If you like tyrannosaurs, you’re in luck. There are more T. rex mounts at the NHMLAC than you can shake a severed goat leg at. One of them is facing off against a Triceratops in the foyer.

IMG_0939

More tyrannosaur skeletons are in the main dinosaur exhibit. This is a really cool mount, because it’s the only place in the world where you can see three T. rexes of different ages posed together in a growth series. At two years old, this is the youngest known T. rex specimen.

IMG_0956

The second tyrannosaur is a twenty-foot adolescent. T. rex grew remarkably fast in its early teens, packing on up to 1.5 tons per year.

IMG_0952

And here’s the third animal, close to full size.

IMG_0959

Mamenchisaurus, a long-necked sauropod from China, dominates the first dinosaur gallery.

IMG_0948

Another Triceratops.

IMG_0941

Carnotaurus, the bulldog-faced meat-eater from Argentina. On a related note, on my last night in town my friends took me to an Argentine restaurant. Best thing about L.A. is the variety of dining options.

IMG_0950

A hadrosaur skull. The horny part of the “duckbill” is really visible on this specimen.

IMG_0951

Allosaurus vs Stegosaurus. I do love a good Allosaurus skeleton. The Denver Museum of Natural History has a very similar mount.

IMG_0960

An ornithomimid. I think it’s Struthiomimus, but I don’t remember exactly.

IMG_0963

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for the La Brea Tar Pits, but the NHMLAC does have quite a few specimens from the site, like this saber-toothed cat.

IMG_0965

And while we’re on the subject of all things prehistoric, the grand finale of my L.A. trip was a pilgrimage to the original Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studious Hollywood.

IMG_0971

I was wearing a t-shirt from the Jurassic Park River Adventure at Universal Orlando, and some of the ride operators at the Hollywood version asked me which one was better. As a connoisseur of all things JP, I feel eminently qualified to address this question, so here goes.

In terms of the rides themselves, it’s pretty much a toss-up. The Hollywood version has a couple of neat outdoor effects that are absent in Orlando, an additional (albeit brief) encounter with the T. rex, and better-looking sauropods in the opening scene. On the other hand, I think the Florida ride seems a bit less rushed, which means much better pacing, a more coherent story, and a more effective build-up of suspense. For these reasons, I have a slight personal preference for Orlando’s version, but you can’t go wrong with either one.

Looking beyond the boat ride to the overall Jurassic Park experience, Orlando has one big advantage in that Universal had room to build an entire Isla Nublar there, complete with a replica of the visitor center, more dino-themed dining and shopping establishments, and some other attractions besides the main boat ride. But Hollywood still has plenty to offer. On the studio tram tour, you’ll see vehicles used in The Lost World and the water tank used to film the final Spinosaurus attack in JPIII. The die-hard fan should visit both parks—Hollywood because it’s steeped in the history of the franchise, Orlando because you can immerse yourself in the movie’s fictional universe. (Assuming, of course, you can ignore that darned Harry Potter castle looming above the treeline. Zoning laws, people. Zoning laws.)

And that’s a wrap. Back to business as usual.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gratuitous Dinosaur Posts, Museums and Historic Sites

Shocking new revelations that state governments are supporting museums

My fellow Tennesseans, we now have irrefutable evidence that a minuscule portion of your tax money is going to private museums, historic sites, and other cultural institutions.  DUN DUN DUNNN!!

Noting the attendance at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the writer of the article linked above asks, “If the museum and other attractions are seemingly doing well, why then, do they need taxpayer money?”  But then, after citing evidence provided by the Chattanooga History Center showing that their visitors are economically beneficial to the community, he claims that the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center is located in a small community where the “economic development argument may not work,” and describes the museum’s low visitation and financial struggles.

So your museum doesn’t deserve public support if business is booming, and it doesn’t deserve public support unless business is booming.  I confess that I don’t find this line of argument persuasive.

I’m also irked that the article describes the institutions receiving these funds as “tourist attractions.”  The Chattanooga History Center and Alex Haley’s home do indeed attract tourists, but referring to these historic and cultural institutions as “tourist attractions” conveys the impression that this is equivalent to giving taxpayer-funded grants to Six Flags or a miniature golf course.

Russell Kirk defined a conservative as “a person who endeavors to conserve the best in our traditions and our institutions,” and noted that conservatives believe the past to be “a great storehouse of wisdom.”  If we can’t spare even a small portion of our public funds for history and culture, then what is it we’re trying to conserve?

Leave a comment

Filed under Museums and Historic Sites, Tennessee History

West Coast priorities

I’m in Los Angeles this week, so maybe I’ll set aside some time to broaden my perspective of early American history by visiting a few Spanish colonial sites.

Or maybe not.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

2014 Lincoln Symposium at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum

Cross-posted to the blog of the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum (ALLM) will host Lincoln scholars from around the country for the 2014 Lincoln Symposium April 4-5, 2014, in Harrogate, Tenn.

Entitled “Lincoln and the War,” the symposium will address issues facing Lincoln during his administration as a war president. Featured speakers include Warren Greer, director of Kentucky’s Lincoln Heritage Trail Alliance, Dr. Anne Marshall, professor of history at Mississippi State University; Dr. Brian McKnight, professor of history at University of Virginia at Wise; Dr. Daniel Stowell, director and editor of The Abraham Lincoln Papers; and Frank J. Williams, retired chief justice of Rhode Island Supreme Court.

The program will open with a banquet featuring McKnight as the keynote speaker on Friday evening. Saturday will open with a continental breakfast followed by the four remaining speakers and a panel discussion to close the symposium. Each speaker will discuss a different aspect of the Civil War and how Lincoln managed it.

Registration for the symposium is open. The cost to attend the entire program is $60, or $25 for the Friday banquet and $35 for the full-day session on Saturday. For more information or to register, contact Program and Tourism Director Carol Campbell at 423.869.6439.

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum is located on the historic campus of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. Housing one of the top five Lincoln and Civil War private collections in the world, the Museum is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about this and other programs at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, call 423-869-6235.

Leave a comment

Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War