Monthly Archives: January 2018

February happenings at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum

February is usually a big month at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum.  Here are a few events we’ve got planned for the next few weeks, and admission is free to every single one.

  • Thursday, Feb. 1 is the fifth installment of our free lecture and discussion series Of the People, By the People, For the People, which uses Lincoln’s writings as a springboard for thinking about citizenship and the Constitution.
  • Ever wanted to see some of the stuff we don’t keep on display?  Feb. 3 is a rare chance to get a glimpse inside the vault, with special presentations every half hour starting at 1:00 p.m.  Our archivist will be showing off a few of the many items that aren’t on permanent exhibit, and we’ll give you a peek behind the scenes to see how we preserve our manuscript collections and get a close-up look at some of our most precious and delicate artifacts.
  • To celebrate Black History Month, we’re hosting a weekly film series devoted to dramatizations of African American history.  We’ll be kicking things off with The Help on Tuesday, Feb. 6, followed on successive Tuesday nights by Lincoln, Loving, and To Kill a Mockingbird.  The screenings are free, and we’ll be serving up popcorn.
  • Interested in learning more about online history resources?  On Thursday, Feb. 8 we’ll help you find your way around UNC’s Documenting the American South database at our monthly Community Digital History Workshop.  DocSouth is a gold mine; I’ve made extensive use of it over the years.  If you’re a teacher, researcher, or genealogist who’s just getting started in historical databases, this session will come in quite handy.
  • The Feb. 13 installment of our monthly Tad’s Tots program for kids ages 0-5 will spotlight the Underground Railroad.
  • President’s Day weekend is, as you might imagine, a pretty big deal for us.  On Friday, Feb. 16 at 6:00 p.m., Dr. Jason Silverman will lecture on Lincoln and nineteenth-century immigration, the subject of his 2015 book.  We’ll have copies available for signing.
  • On Saturday, Feb. 17 you can join us as we belatedly celebrate Lincoln’s birthday with cake, kids’ activities, and a look back at LMU’s connection to the film Abe Lincoln in Illinois.
  • Even if you can’t make one of our events, February is still a great time to visit, because we offer free weekend admission all month.

If you’d like more info about any of these events, give us a call at (423) 869-6235, contact our Program Director by phone at (423) 869-6607, or shoot her an email at natalie.sweet@LMUnet.edu.

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Governor’s proposed budget would kill University Press of Kentucky

Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget eliminates state funding for the University Press of Kentucky.  If this goes through, the press will shut down after 75 years of exemplary publishing.

That would be especially devastating for Appalachian history, since UPK is one of the most important publishers in the field.  Civil War and Southern history would take quite a hit, too.  But this goes beyond historiography, since UPK is an indispensable resource for anyone interested in state and regional topics as a whole, as as Tom Eblen explains:

Thomas D. Clark, the legendary Kentucky historian, helped start UPK in 1943. Since then, it has published 2,100 books that have sold 4.6 million copies in 40 countries. Currently, about 85 percent of its sales are books in print and 15 percent are e-books.

While scholarly publishing is part of UPK’s mission, Salisbury has increased the focus on important books about Kentucky and Appalachia that will sell well in the region but don’t have the kind of national audience mass-market publishers require.

Among them: The Kentucky Encyclopedia, the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, Atlas of Kentucky, The Complete Guide to Kentucky State Parks and countless books of Kentucky history, biography, literature and explorations of the state’s culture, politics, food, bourbon, plants, animals and trees.

UPK publishes contemporary Kentucky writers, such as Crystal Wilkinson and Bobbie Ann Mason, and has kept in print works by famous Kentucky authors of the past, such as Robert Penn Warren, Jesse Stuart, James Still and Janice Holt Giles.

Upcoming publications include a cultural history of Elkhorn Creek by former state poet laureate Richard Taylor; a comprehensive guide to Kentucky reptiles and amphibians; a book about the UK basketball team’s 1978 championship season; and a book about Kentucky Senators by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

As a publishing partner with the U.S. Army, UPK publishes a lot of military history. Several of its titles have made the Army Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List.

Now would be a good time to start contacting lawmakers in the Bluegrass State, folks.

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The home as the center of history

I’ve been reading Richard White’s The Republic for Which It Stands, and it’s as good as you’d expect a volume in the Oxford History of the United States by a scholar of White’s caliber to be.

One of the themes he returns to again and again is the importance of “home”—the independent, male-headed household—as a driving force in American history during the late nineteenth century.  The home and the values associated with it, White claims, “provided the frame in which ordinary nineteenth-century Americans understood their own lives, the economy, and the national goals of Reconstruction in the South and West.”  It links together a lot of seemingly disparate trends and events from the end of the Civil War to the turn of the twentieth century.

The desire to propagate independent households helped form the basis for free labor ideology.  Reconstruction was an effort to extend the benefits of the home to African Americans, and those Americans who resisted Reconstruction invoked the need to defend white homes to justify racism.  Labor reformers claimed that rapacious capitalism threatened the stability and integrity of households.  And in the West, some white Americans attempted to use the idealized, male-headed home as a template for Indian acculturation, while others sought to displace or exterminate those same Indians because of the threat they posed to settlers trying to establish their own independent households.  It might not be too much to say that Americans of that era either embraced or rejected any given thing to the same degree that it nurtured or threatened the propagation and protection of independent, male-headed homes.

By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

What strikes me about White’s centering of late nineteenth-century American history on the home is that the same framework applies to the backcountry and frontier of a century earlier, my own area of special interest.  As Honor Sachs has demonstrated in Home Rule, and as Richard Maxwell Brown has argued in his work on the “homesteading ethic,” the history of the settlement and development of the eighteenth-century West is, to a considerable degree, a story of Americans’ desire to obtain and secure a competency in the form of an independent, male-headed household.

As much as historians like to talk about change over time, the idealization of the home has been a pretty consistent—and persistent—force over the past couple hundred years.  Indeed, you can see the same emphasis on the household ideal playing out across a lot of culture war battlegrounds in our own day.  But precisely because these ideals are so ubiquitous and ingrained, we risk overlooking their explanatory power, even though they might come as close as anything else to providing something like a unified theory of American history.

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Book ’em

If you’re interested in the history of TV and film, McFarland Books has a new biography of Hawaii Five-O‘s Jack Lord coming out this year.

Not the sort of thing I usually post about, of course, but I’m plugging it here for two reasons.  First, Jack Lord actually does have a connection to the American Revolution.  One of his early roles was John Fry, the protagonist of Colonial Williamsburg’s orientation film Story of a Patriot, which has been running daily for sixty years.  (In fact, it’s had the longest continual run of any motion picture in American history.)

Second, I’m a big fan of the author, because she happens to be my mom.

Here’s some more info from the publisher:

Before his rise to superstardom portraying Detective Steve McGarrett on the long-running police drama Hawaii Five-O, Jack Lord was already a dedicated and versatile performer on Broadway, in film and on television.

His range of roles included a Virginia gentleman planter in Colonial Williamsburg (The Story of a Patriot), CIA agent Felix Leiter in the first James Bond movie (Dr. No) and the title character in the cult classic rodeo TV series Stoney Burke. Lord’s career culminated in twelve seasons on Hawaii Five-O, where his creative control of the series left an indelible fingerprint on every aspect of its production.

This book, the first to draw on Lord’s massive personal archive, gives a behind-the-scenes look into the life and work of a TV legend.

And they’re not kidding about that massive personal archive.  Mom was able to get access to a huge trove of Lord’s papers—letters, scripts, memos, photographs, clippings—along with rare recordings of early performances and interviews.  She also spent some time at Colonial Williamsburg’s archives digging up information on the making of Story of a Patriot, which turned out to be quite an interesting tale in its own right.

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Military history and the art of setting up an argument

I’m revising a draft of the first chapter of my dissertation, and one of the things I need to work on is clearly and concisely articulating from the outset what I’m trying to do in that chapter and how.  It’s a matter of putting into practice the old adage that you have to tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em before you actually do it.  In my first chapter draft I didn’t do this nearly as effectively as I should have.

Since the goal of any work of historical scholarship is to make an original contribution to what we know—or an intervention into a conversation about what we think we know—writers of history have to state what it is they’re bringing to the table.  In grant applications and paper proposals it’s the difference between life and death, but it’s important when sitting down to complete the actual project, too.  Ironically, some of the best models I’ve found of setting up a book-length historical argument come from a genre that a lot of academic historians dismiss: military history that focuses on campaigns, battles, strategy, tactics, and leadership.

Take, for example, Scott Bowden and Bill Ward’s Last Chance for Victory: Robert E. Lee and the Gettysburg Campaign.  It’s a hefty book, more than 600 pages and very closely argued.  But it only takes about four of those pages for Bowden and Ward to explain what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and why.  Let me note that I’m not necessarily saying I agree with the authors’ conclusions regarding Lee’s generalship in the invasion of Pennsylvania.  I’m just saying that the way they set up their book’s purpose, organization, and methodology is as clear and concise as you’re likely to find in a work of historical scholarship.

Another example is Joseph L. Harsh’s Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862.  In ten pages, Harsh explains how attention to Antietam has waxed and waned over the years, why the campaign matters, the approaches earlier writers have taken, and how his own approach corrects some important interpretive problems.

Maybe Antietam and Gettysburg have been the subject of so much writing over the years that these authors had to be especially conscientious about explaining what they were doing and why.  Or maybe this genre just lends itself especially well to explicit argumentation because it involves questions of contingency and individual responsibility.  Whatever the reason, those of us looking for examples for our own projects could do a lot worse.

By Captain James Hope (d.1892) (Hope Paintings at nps.gov) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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