Check this out, frontier historians:
Aficionados of Daniel Boone may recall a 1992 biography of the frontiersman written by John Mack Faragher, professor emeritus of history at Yale University. For that milestone study, Faragher, my former adviser, conducted research throughout Kentucky and the broader region, spending months digging in archives held at the Filson and Kentucky historical societies, among others. In so doing, the author consulted hundreds of sources, taking nearly 5,000 notes comprised of 350,000 words.
These annotations are now available online via the “Digitizing Daniel Boone” project here. As the compiler of this resource, I believe this will be a “boon” to Kentuckians and to historians alike, for two reasons.
First, Faragher’s meticulous notes (the word-count equivalent of nearly four books) shine a bright light on the state and region’s archival holdings. Have an ancestor among the early settlers or indigenous peoples of the region? You can conduct a full-text search within the historian’s files. Users can also run reports based on keywords and people. This allows one to peer into the author’s mind between primary-source research and the crafting of paragraphs, to witness the first layer of historical interpretation.
Until now, the public typically could access only the source materials, on the one hand, and the published text, on the other. This has obscured the vast majority of historical work, like the nitty gritty of taking notes and organizing them into themes and eventually chapters. Now, we can better understand exactly how a historian went from consulting the files of missionaries, officials, and 19th-century historians like Lyman Draper to synthesizing them into a narrative. Equally important, we can better identify silences and the ways that the scholar’s perspective leaves some actors on the margins of history.
It’s pretty darn handy. Faragher transcribed a lot of material from the Draper Collection of Manuscripts and other sources, and it’s a lot easier to access this stuff online than it is to locate it in a repository and then grapple with microfilm.
Because the database basically consists of Faragher’s own research notes, it’s a bit like looking over his shoulder as he works on his Boone book. I would’ve loved to have had access to something like this before starting my dissertation, so that I could’ve had a glimpse at how an accomplished historian went about organizing material for a major project.
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.)
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.
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.