We’re wrapping up another semester at UTK, and our history faculty (both current and emeritus) has been making headlines.
With all the brouhaha over the $20 bill, Jacksonian scholar Dan Feller has been in the news quite a bit lately (like here, for example). A few days ago he talked to NPR about the tumultuous presidential election of 1824 and how it helped make our modern party system.
Stephen Ash, author of a book about the bloody racial episode in Memphis in 1866, lent his expertise to another recent NPR story, this one about an effort to erect a state historical marker dedicated to the massacre and paid for by the local chapter of the NAACP. The Tennessee Historical Commission, which oversees the state markers program, approved text for the signage that referred to the massacre as a “race riot.” Historians and members of the community objected to the phrasing, so the NAACP decided to erect its own signage rather than go through the THC program. Personally, I much prefer the language on the NAACP’s private marker. In this case, I think the phrase “race riot” carries connotations that would obfuscate what happened in 1866, whereas “massacre” more accurately conveys the nature of the actual event.
Julie Reed, who taught one of my all-time favorite grad courses, has a new book out. She examines the Cherokee Nation’s social welfare efforts during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and their influence on U.S. government policy.
Finally, Shannen Dee Williams, whose seminar I had the privilege of taking this past semester, has been appointed to the Organization of American Historians’ Distinguished Lectureship Program.
We’ve got fantastic professors. I’m lucky to get to learn from these folks!
A few items worthy of note as we ring in 2014.
- This list of New Year resolutions for Kentuckians includes a few history-related things to do, including some sites that every citizen of the Bluegrass State should visit. I’ll add one more assignment for Kentuckians in 2014: If you haven’t already, read either Thomas Clark’s classic history of the state or the more recent volume by Lowell Harrison and James Klotter.
- Speaking of knowing your local history, all you folks in Winston-Salem should get acquainted with your town’s Rev War namesake.
- We’re getting a new statue of Sam Houston here in Tennessee, where he made a name for himself before heading off to Texas. There’s also a new Civil War Trails marker going up in Maynardville, just down the road from my neck of the woods.
- Zachary Keck argues that Americans’ fondness for revolutions is misplaced, and stems partly from our own revolutionary beginnings. But he also claims that the American Revolution wasn’t all that revolutionary, because it didn’t upset the status quo. Keck notes that most revolutions don’t create stable, free societies; real progress is due more to evolution than revolution. But should we consider the democratization of the nineteenth century to be an effect of the American Revolution or an example of gradual evolution? Gordon Wood took the long view of the Revolution as a process that turned America away from the hierarchical, colonial past and toward the democratic, egalitarian nineteenth century. Taken as a discrete event which ended in the 1780s, though, the Revolution seems more limited in scope. I guess it all depends on your perspective.
- By far the year’s most popular post here at Past in the Present was a 2012 item about an off-color anecdote told by Abraham Lincoln which made its way into Spielberg’s film.
- I’d like to pick a best American history book of 2013, but most of the books I read this year had already been in circulation for a while. People have been writing history books for a lot longer than I’ve been reading them, so I spend most of my reading time trying to catch up with backlisted titles. As for the best American history book I read in 2013, I’d probably go with Rachel Klein’s Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808.
- High point of 2013 for me? Under any other circumstances, visiting the Freedom Trail, Lexington and Concord would be impossible to top, but…
This isn’t really a major news item, but it hits pretty close to home for me. Somebody apparently tried to steal the state historical marker for Harrow School in Cumberland Gap. Rev. A.A. Myers founded the school as one of the Appalachian missionary efforts that sprang up throughout the region in the late nineteenth century. Harrow eventually expanded to become Lincoln Memorial University.
This is turning out to be a distressingly common problem here in the Volunteer State. Guys, next time you have to take down a historical marker for road work, put the darn thing back where you found it.
Out of the realm of online punditry comes this tirade from Debbie Schlussel over the placing of a historical marker at the parking garage where Deep Throat met with Bob Woodward. She doesn’t think the spot is worth it.
“It’s just not important, nor is it history, even in the most elastic use of the word,” she writes, thus establishing once and for all the fact that the downfall of a sitting U.S. president really isn’t that big of a deal.
After all, it “contributed nothing to America and the survival of the West.” See, you can’t interpret or commemorate historical events without glorifying them, so the only aspects of the past we should be marking are the ones that elevate our collective sense of general worthiness. We seem to be having a hard time keeping that straight, don’t we?