ETHS goes into the trenches and in search of Sgt. York

I highly recommend you visit In the Footsteps of Sergeant York, the new special exhibit from the Museum of the American Military Experience at the East Tennessee Historical Society.  It strikes a neat balance between an intimate portrait of York himself and a broader examination of Tennesseans’ mobilization in the Great War as a whole, and takes you from York’s rural Fentress County home…

…to the trenches of the Western Front.

The exhibition also chronicles the Sergeant York Discovery Expedition’s use of GIS and archaeology to pinpoint the precise location of his famous attack at Hill 223 near Chatel-Chéhéry.  (You may recall that the Tennessee State Museum’s Military Branch hosted this part of the exhibit a few years ago, although ETHS has augmented it with additional material.)  The machine gun below is reportedly one of the weapons York captured, while the rounds in front of the helmet are among the artifacts the SYDE recovered from the battleground.

Fire from the machine gun nest York took out cut down six of his comrades, and artifacts excavated from their original burial site are also on display.

As fascinating as the Chatel-Chéhéry items are, though, the object that struck me the most is this canteen carried by Fred O. Stone.  Like my great-grandfather, he was a Claiborne County, TN native who graduated from Lincoln Memorial University’s old medical school in Knoxville.

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Another year, another existential threat to museums and libraries

Well, here we are again, facing another federal budget proposal that would stamp out the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

NEH Senior Deputy Chairman Jon Parrish Peede said the agency will continue to work as the budget debates begins. Since it was created in 1965, the NEH has awarded more than $5.6 billion in grants that supported books, movies and museum exhibitions, among other cultural projects.

In a statement, IMLS director Kathryn K. Matthews said her agency is the primary source of federal funding for museums and libraries.

“Without IMLS funding for museums and libraries, it would be more difficult for many people to gain access to the internet, continue their education, learn critical research skills, and find employment,” Matthews said.

Laura Lott, president and chief executive of the American Alliance of Museums, blasted the “continued threats” to the cultural agencies that support the work of her membership.

“Today, the White House doubled down on its appalling request to eliminate key agencies that help museums nationwide serve their communities. These continued threats only reaffirm how critical our ongoing advocacy efforts will be in 2018,” she said. “President Trump’s last round of misguided cuts has already been rejected by committees on both sides of Capitol Hill. The museum field must now work with its bipartisan allies in Congress to ensure this reckless proposal meets the same fate.”

I can’t overstate how disastrous the crippling and loss of NEH and IMLS would be to museums, libraries, and archives.  As I said the last time this came up, if you’ve ever visited a museum or historic site, looked into your own genealogy, conducted any historical research, or watched a historical documentary, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve directly benefited from these agencies.  And taken together, their funding makes up a mere drop in the bucket of the overall federal budget.

Please contact your representative.

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First hero and Sevierville namesake

A lot of folks who visit Marble Springs from outside the area ask us, “Is this the guy SEE-ver-ville is named after?”

Sevierville is indeed named for John Sevier, who defeated a contingent of Cherokee warriors near the future townsite at Boyd’s Creek in December 1780.  And if you’re going to be in the Smokies this year, swing by the Sevierville Visitor Center and check out their new exhibit on the city’s namesake, John Sevier: Tennessee’s First Hero.  (The title might sound familiar.)

Marble Springs loaned some items from our collection for this project.  Since there are a lot of artifacts we don’t usually keep on public display, this is a great opportunity to see a few of the things we’ve acquired and dug out of the ground over the years.

And guys, it’s pronounced like “severe.”  Not SEE-ver.

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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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