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It’s getting harder and harder

…to distinguish between satirical news stories about The History Channel and actual news stories about The History Channel.

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Have a history-loaded Christmas

Maybe a vintage Thomas Nast cartoon will help you get in the holiday spirit.

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More good news

The Georgia State Archives won’t be closing after all.  This is shaping up to be a pretty good Christmas for all us history buffs.

Oh, and the world didn’t end yesterday.  So there’s that, too.

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Take a tour of Kentucky’s War of 1812

The War of 1812 tour is now available on the Kentucky Historical Society’s Explore KY History app.  If you haven’t downloaded this thing, let me once again recommend it to you.  Most Americans probably associate the War of 1812 with the Chesapeake or the Gulf of Mexico, but Kentucky suffered more casualties in that conflict than all the other states combined.

Gov. Isaac Shelby as painted by Matthew Jouett, from the Kentucky Historical Society’s Hall of Governors via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most notable Kentucky vets was Isaac Shelby, who became the state’s first governor in 1792 and then ran for the same post twenty years later.  Shelby didn’t throw his hat into the ring until less than a month before the 1812 gubernatorial election, and he was more than sixty years old.

He won handily anyway, partly because he’d already made a name for himself during the Rev War and Kentuckians were gearing up for another confrontation with England. (Shelby had led a regiment at King’s Mountain; in fact, he was one of the primary architects of the expedition that defeated Ferguson’s Tories.)  In the summer of 1813 he took the field himself at the head of 3,500 volunteers who fought at the Battle of the Thames, thus seeing action in both of America’s wars with Britain.

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Bummer

Today is the anniversary of an event that is familiar to students of American religious history, one which has come to be called the “Great Disappointment.”

No, not that one.  I mean the Great Disappointment of 1844, in which, contrary to the expectations of thousands of Millerites, the world did not come to an end.  You’d think people who build their reputations on a painstaking study of Scripture would eventually get around to reading Matthew 24:36, but it’s one of the most widely ignored verses in the Bible, right up there with Matt. 5:44, Matt. 5:281 Cor. 6:7, and the last part of Leviticus 19:19.

On a different note, if you’d like information about a battlefield preservation opportunity, click here.

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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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