GDP: Jurassic jacket

USA Today just published an interview with Chip Kidd, longtime book cover designer for Knopf.  Asked to name his biggest career high, he replied, “‘Jurassic Park.’  That will be the first line of my obituary, and I’m extremely proud of that.”

I don’t blame him.  It’s one of the most iconic logos of all time.

And it’s based on one of history’s most influential dinosaur displays: the old T. rex mount at the American Museum of Natural History.

The AMNH dismantled the skeleton in the nineties and re-mounted it in a more anatomically correct posture.  By then, the old reconstruction had inspired so many books, paintings, movies, and toys that it stamped an indelible image in the minds of generations of dino aficionados.  Even for people who never saw the skeleton in person, that was simply what a T. rex looked like.

Kidd’s 2012 TED Talk has more info on his Jurassic Park cover.  (The whole thing’s engaging, but you can skip to 4:27 for the Jurassic bit.)

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Two Rev War books from Ian Saberton

Ian Saberton released two new Rev War books this year.  You might be familiar with Saberton’s six-volume edition of Cornwallis papers, a tremendous boon to those of us interested in the Southern Campaigns.

First up is The American Revolutionary War in the South: A Re-Evaluation from a British Perspective in the Light of the Cornwallis Papers:

Relying principally on Ian Saberton’s edition of The Cornwallis Papers: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Theatre of the American Revolutionary War, 6 vols (Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 2010), this work opens with an essay containing a groundbreaking critique of British strategy during the momentous and decisive campaigns that terminated in Cornwallis’s capitulation at Yorktown and the consolidation of American independence. The essay begins by analysing the critical mistakes that led the British to disaster and ends, conversely by describing how they might have achieved a lasting measure of success. The remaining essays address certain characters and events in or connected to the war.

The second book is a biography of George Hanger, who commanded Tarleton’s Legion at Charlotte while Tarleton himself was sick.

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Filed under American Revolution, Historiography

A new acquisition from the ALLM’s backyard

My phone rang during a day off from work this summer.  Something turned up during a road excavation on campus, just a few minutes’ walk from the museum, and they wanted me to take a look at it.  Now it’s part of our collection.  Here’s what happened:

Believe it or not, this isn’t our first rodeo with Civil War ordnance.  Years ago, when I was still an undergrad at LMU, a water line project uncovered a whole cache of explosive shells right across from the museum’s parking lot.  Some of them got drilled, disarmed, and added to our collection; an EOD team from Ft. Campbell detonated the rest in a vacant field at the rear of campus.

It’s not surprising that Civil War artifacts turn up at LMU from time to time.  We’re just a stone’s throw from Cumberland Gap, a critical invasion route that changed hands four times.  In fact, the contest for this strategic region is why we have a college named for Lincoln in East Tennessee—and one of the best private Lincoln/CivilWar collections anywhere.  Right now we’re planning an exhibit on LMU’s origins and early history, where we’ll have the mortar round on permanent display.

Oh, and if you happen to run across any Civil War artillery rounds in the wild, let the experts handle it.  This stuff is lethal.

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Filed under Appalachian History, Civil War, Tennessee History

Forthcoming books of note

As if our TBR stacks aren’t high enough.

Next month we’re getting a biography of Daniel Morgan by Albert Louis Zambone.  It’s about time for a fresh look at the Old Wagoner.  (Don Higginbotham’s life of Morgan first appeared way back in 1961.)

Stanley D.M. Carpenter of the Naval War College has a new book on Cornwallis and the Southern Campaign coming out in February.  Looks like the focus is on the failures and miscalculations that led to British defeat:

Distinguished scholar of military strategy Stanley D. M. Carpenter outlines the British strategic and operational objectives, devoting particular attention to the strategy of employing Southern Loyalists to help defeat Patriot forces, reestablish royal authority, and tamp down resurgent Patriot activity. Focusing on Cornwallis’s operations in the Carolinas and Virginia leading to the surrender at Yorktown in October 1781, Carpenter reveals the flaws in this approach, most notably a fatal misunderstanding of the nature of the war in the South and of the Loyalists’ support. Compounding this was the strategic incoherence of seeking a conventional war against a brilliant, unconventional opponent, and doing so amidst a breakdown in the unity of command.

This emphasis on British failures, miscalculations, and infighting is interesting, because it marks something of a historiographic reversal.  Redcoat commanders and strategists have been getting more favorable treatment in some recent studies, most notably Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s Men Who Lost America.

The first volume of Rick Atkinson’s Rev War trilogy hits stores in May.  I haven’t read his World War II series, but I’ve heard good things about it.  I’ll be particularly interested to see whether he deals with some of the more obscure campaigns.

And finally, David McCullough is heading into the Old Northwest.  And it looks like he’s…well, going full-on David McCullough:

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough rediscovers an important and dramatic chapter in the American story—the settling of the Northwest Territory by dauntless pioneers who overcame incredible hardships to build a community based on ideals that would come to define our country.

As part of the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain recognized the new United States of America, Britain ceded the land that comprised the immense Northwest Territory, a wilderness empire northwest of the Ohio River containing the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler was instrumental in opening this vast territory to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. Included in the Northwest Ordinance were three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. In 1788 the first band of pioneers set out from New England for the Northwest Territory under the leadership of Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam. They settled in what is now Marietta on the banks of the Ohio River.

McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler’s son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect, and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. They and their families created a town in a primeval wilderness, while coping with such frontier realities as floods, fires, wolves and bears, no roads or bridges, no guarantees of any sort, all the while negotiating a contentious and sometimes hostile relationship with the native people. Like so many of McCullough’s subjects, they let no obstacle deter or defeat them.

Drawn in great part from a rare and all-but-unknown collection of diaries and letters by the key figures, The Pioneers is a uniquely American story of people whose ambition and courage led them to remarkable accomplishments. This is a revelatory and quintessentially American story, written with David McCullough’s signature narrative energy.

On Twitter, a lot of historians have noted the Turner-esque vibe here.  But what this reminds me of isn’t Turner and the first generation of American professional historians; it’s the filiopiety of Lyman Draper and those other avocational antiquarians who chronicled the trans-Appalachian West.  It isn’t so much a rehashing of a worn-out historiography, but rather a blithe disregard of historiography altogether.  And I really hope he’s not including free universal education and the prohibition of slavery among the “ideals that would come to define our country.”  Those two ideals still had a long way to go in the late eighteenth century.

Of course, you don’t review any book based on its dust jacket copy, let alone a book that isn’t published yet.  At the very least, though, Simon and Schuster’s marketing department isn’t making McCullough’s job any easier.

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Filed under American Revolution, Historiography

Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum hosting symposium on faith in Lincoln’s America Nov. 16

Join scholars of American religion on Friday, November 16, 2018, at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, Tennessee, as they discuss faith in Lincoln’s America at this year’s Lincoln Symposium and Kincaid Lecture. Speakers include Dr. Thomas Kidd, Dr. Terrie Aamodt, and Dr. Luke Harlow.

The cost of the event to the public is $30.00 (covers lectures and luncheon).  Students, faculty, and staff of Lincoln Memorial University may attend all sessions free of charge; lunch for LMU community members is $10.00 and requires registration.

Registration is required for all who wish to attend, whether a student, faculty, or community member. To register, please email natalie.sweet@lmunet.edu by November 13, 2018.

Schedule
8:30am -9:00am: Registration, The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum

9:00am: Dr. Terrie Aamodt: “When Religion Goes to War: The Apocalyptic Imagination and the Civil War”

10:00am: 15 Minute Break

10:15am: Dr. Luke Harlow, “Religion and the Meaning of Civil War Emancipation”

11:15am: 15 Minute Break

11:30am: 2018 Kincaid Lecture, Dr. Thomas Kidd: “The Enigma of Benjamin Franklin’s Faith”

12:30pm: Luncheon, Cumberland Gap Convention Center

2:00pm: Roundtable Q&A with Speakers and Book Signing

Copies of each author’s book will be available for purchase and signing at the event.

Speaker biographies:

Thomas Kidd is the Associate Director of the Institute for Studies of Religion, and the James Vardaman Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University. He is the author or editor of twelve books. Recent works include Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2017), American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths (Yale University Press, 2016), Baptists in America: A History (with Barry Hankins, Oxford University Press, 2015), and George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2014). He has written for outlets including the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Kidd blogs at “Evangelical History” at The Gospel Coalition website.

Terrie Dopp Aamodt is professor of History and English at Walla Walla University. Her own roots in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley informed her doctoral work in American and New England Studies at Boston University. Her revised dissertation, Righteous Armies, Holy Cause: Apocalyptic Imagery and the Civil War, was published by Mercer University Press in 2002. She has explored relationships between religion and visual culture in topics ranging from the American Shakers to the House of David barnstorming baseball teams, which pioneered racial integration in the sport during the 1920s and 30s. She has led several Civil War tours of the Virginia theater for college credit, including a bicycle tour. Current interests include the memorialization of the Civil War in the Northwest and investigation of photographs, magazine illustrations, and other images of Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era in an extension of her earlier work on the Civil War. She is exploring and comparing the trajectories of the Bloody Shirt and Lost Cause responses to the war.

Luke Harlow is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is a historian of religion, race, and politics in the era of the American Civil War, and his published work includes Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830–1880, which received a Kentucky History Award. He is currently writing Faith in the Institutions of the Republic: Lydia Maria Child in Civil War and Reconstruction, a book focused on one of the most famous abolitionists and writers of the nineteenth century. This project explores the relationship between northern antislavery reformers and politicians, and raises questions about the moral foundations of democratic republicanism in the age of emancipation.

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“There’s no important human information being imparted…”

If you’re a Batman fan, you probably know that Alan Moore’s graphic novel The Killing Joke is one of the definitive works in the canon.  (And if you’re not a Batman fan, I just told you.)

Via ign.com

Surprisingly, Moore himself isn’t a fan of TKJ.  Here’s what he told one interviewer (from The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, p. 123):

The Killing Joke is a story about Batman and the Joker; it isn’t about anything that you’re ever going to encounter in real life, because Batman and the Joker are not like any human beings that have ever lived. So there’s no important human information being imparted….It was just about a couple of licensed DC characters that didn’t really relate to the real world in any way.

And from another interview, in which Moore compared TKJ unfavorably to some of his other work:

But at the end of the day, Watchmen was something to do with power, V for Vendetta was about fascism and anarchy, The Killing Joke was just about Batman and the Joker – and Batman and the Joker are not really symbols of anything that are real, in the real world, they’re just two comic book characters.

So Moore’s issue is that Watchmen and V for Vendetta touch on deeper themes and speak to the human condition, whereas The Killing Joke isn’t “about” anything except Batman and the Joker.  I’m not sure I agree with thatI think TKJ raises some interesting and provocative questions about madness and depravity, grappling with the senselessness of the world, and that old saying whereby those who fight monsters risk becoming monsters themselves.

But The Killing Joke‘s profundity or lack thereof is a topic for another time.  What struck me about Moore’s comments is the implication that a work’s quality depends on it being “about” something deeper than its ostensible, immediate subject matter.

Maybe TKJ is “just” a Batman and Joker story, but it’s a superb Batman and Joker story, and one that’s had a lasting impact on the characters.  Isn’t it enough that for what it is, it’s one of the best?

I bring this up here on the blog because I think it bears on how we evaluate works of scholarly history.  Some monographs are “about” more than what their Library of Congress sub-headings would indicate.

Take Ron Eller’s excellent book Uneven Ground: Appalachia Since 1945, for example.  As its subtitle indicates, it’s partly a regional history of the postwar era.

Via kentuckypress.com

But it’s also a critique of the ways we think about progress and development. We tend to associate these ideals with economic growth. We assume that “development” itself is an intrinsic good. We trust that it’s a remedy for poverty. We don’t stop to consider whether poverty might be rooted in structures that benefit some people rather than others, whether the remedies we propose will reinforce these structures, or whether the end goal of “development” is even desirable for the targets of our good intentions. We don’t question our assumptions about what “progress” means.

Eller’s work has implications that are relevant to much more than Appalachian history. It’s applicable to much of the recent past beyond Appalachia or America, and raises important questions for the present and future, too.

Stephen King has said that when you’re writing a novel, story comes before theme.  You tell the story first, and then later you can go back and figure out what the implications are and whether you need to tease them out more. I suspect something along those lines is true for most historians whose projects take on big thematic implications.  You start out with an interest in a particular topic, you investigate it, and only then do you figure out what the broader implications are.

I’m still trying to work through whether my current project will have implications for anything besides the American Revolution or the early frontier. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. For now, at least, I’ll be satisfied if I just end up saying something worthwhile about the topic at hand.

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Filed under Appalachian History, Historiography, Research and Writing

The new Tennessee State Museum opens this week

Here’s the schedule for the grand opening, for you lucky dogs making the trip to Nashville.

And here’s a breakdown of the permanent exhibits:

  • Tennessee Time Tunnel, which seems to be a sort of port of entry to the other galleries, sort of like Main Street at the Magic Kingdom.
  • Natural History
  • First Peoples, from the end of the last Ice Age to 1760
  • Forging a Nation, from 1760 to 1860
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction
  • Change and Challenge, from 1870 through World War II
  • Tennessee Transforms, 1945 to the present

If it seems odd that the Civil War and Reconstruction get a whole gallery to themselves, bear in mind that the TSM’s Civil War collection is huge. And the old building’s exhibits didn’t include anything at all on much of the twentieth century, so it looks like we’ll be getting a much broader, fuller examination of the state’s history in this new setup.

Still, the prospect of covering the whole century between the Anglo-Cherokee War and Lincoln’s election as a single unit seems like quite an undertaking.  Of course, I’m partial to the period between the late 1760s and the collapse of the State of Franklin, so I wouldn’t want to see it get short shrift.  One thing I adored about the old TSM was its extensive treatment of the frontier.  The “Forging a Nation” gallery includes a Rev War exhibit, and I hope that means all those wonderful King’s Mountain relics are still on display.  Anyway, I can’t wait to get over there and see the new place for myself.

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Filed under Museums and Historic Sites, Tennessee History