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.
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.
Every once in a while a major media outlet rolls out a story on poverty in Appalachia. A little while ago The Guardian took a crack at it. The result is pretty standard for the genre.
In fact, journalists have been making similar copy out of Appalachia since the nineteenth century. What sets these more recent examples apart is the emphasis on drug addiction and the decline of the coal industry. (I’ve always found it ironic that one of the stereotypes about Appalachia is the idea that it’s a primitive region where time stands still, when in fact it’s the ideas people have had about Appalachia that have remained remarkably consistent for over a hundred years.)
Poverty is a tough issue to deal with in any context, but addressing poverty in Appalachia is especially thorny. On the one hand, there are parts of Appalachia in which poverty is a very pervasive and systemic problem, one that bears talking about.
On the other hand, one problem that Appalachians of pretty much all socioeconomic backgrounds face is the prevalence of stereotypes. And one of the most common stereotypes about the region is the notion that it’s uniformly and singularly poverty-stricken. So by talking about the problem of Appalachian poverty, it’s easy to contribute to the problem of Appalachian stereotypes.
Furthermore, one of the reasons poverty in Appalachia is hard to address is the fact that many Americans simply tend to ignore what goes on in the region. And one of the reasons people ignore it is because they think it’s just a place full of incurably poor people. It’s quite a dilemma.
The only way out of it, I think, is to ensure that when we talk about poverty in Appalachia, we don’t let ourselves adopt the sort of despairing tone that too often characterizes these sorts of discussions, in which poverty is a problem too wide and too deep to try and fix. And, crucially, Americans must always remember that when they’re talking about poverty in Appalachia, they’re talking about their own fellow countrymen.
A few items relating to the Civil War and the ways we remember it caught my attention lately.
First up, when Pope Francis visits Philadelphia, he’ll be speaking behind the same podium Lincoln used to deliver the Gettysburg Address. Right now it’s at the city’s Union League for safekeeping.
By the way, the Union League is worth a visit if you’re ever in Philly. As Dimitri Rotov noted recently, it’s got a fine collection of Civil War art and memorabilia. I got to spend some time there a few years ago on a business trip (one of the perks of working for a Civil War museum is traveling to neat places for work), and it’s a fantastic building to wander around in if you’re a history buff.
Second item: an opera based on Cold Mountain just premiered in Santa Fe. Seems like a suitably operatic subject, but I doubt they’ve found a way to pull off the Battle of the Crater inside an auditorium.
Third, it looks like Jefferson Davis will be staying in the Kentucky Capitol for the foreseeable future. The state’s Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted to keep the Davis statue while adding some “educational context.” As I’ve said before, I think leaving historic monuments intact while providing some interpretation to put them in their context is the best course of action in these situations.
One thing that really surprised me about the Davis issue was the reaction among black Kentuckians. In one poll, they were pretty evenly split between support for keeping the statue (42%) and support for removing it (43%). The percentage of black Kentuckians in favor of keeping the statue was much lower than that for whites (75%), but still a lot higher than I would’ve expected.
Reflecting Kentucky’s Civil War divisions, the Davis statue shares the Capitol with a likeness of the state’s other wartime president, Abraham Lincoln.
The Kentucky Heritage Council is holding a pretty neat contest to celebrate National Historic Preservation Month.
In addition to the annual running of the Kentucky Derby, May is National Historic Preservation Month, and the goal is to highlight the many different kinds of historic places that Kentuckians feel at “home.”
“Historic places matter to Kentuckians. We want to invite people to share how and why they value Kentucky’s historic places, and build interest in the reuse and preservation of historic buildings,” said Craig Potts, KHC executive director and state historic preservation officer. “We want people to be able to tell their own story about how historic buildings and places make them feel.”
To enter, participants download the contest sign, found at http://www.heritage.ky.gov, or make their own; hold it in front of their favorite “Old Kentucky Home”; get a snapshot; then “like” the Heritage Council’s Facebook page at facebook/kyshpo and submit it to win – the only rule being, the site must be 50 years old or older. Participants will be asked to tell where the photo was taken, and why the place photographed is special.
Participants may submit one photo per Facebook account, but can vote once a day for their favorite photos. Posters are encouraged to share all their photos on social media using the hashtag #myoldkyhome and tweet their photos to @kyshpo.
The contest period began at noon (EDT) today and continues through midnight (EDT) Friday, May 23. The top five photos with the most “likes” will go into a random drawing to determine the winner, who will be announced during the last week of May. The grand-prize winner will receive an all-expense paid weekend in Bardstown, courtesy of the Bardstown-Nelson County Tourist & Convention Commission.
The prize package includes overnight accommodations at one of Bardstown’s historic bed and breakfast inns, a gift card for downtown dining or shopping, and admission for two adults to My Old Kentucky Home State Park/Federal Hill; The Stephen Foster Story (June 14-August 16, 2014); Civil War Museum of the Western Theater; a private tour of Wickland, the home of three governors, or a visit with the Spirits of Wickland; Heaven Hill Distilleries Bourbon Heritage Center; Barton 1792 Distillery; and Willett Distillery.
Federal Hill is a beautiful site, and if you haven’t been, this would be a good chance to win a free visit.
The historic place in Kentucky where I feel most at home is Cumberland Gap. (Well, it’s in three different states, but Kentucky is one of them.) I’m also partial to Lincoln’s birthplace, Fort Boonesborough, the Old Statehouse Historic District in Frankfort, the Midway Historic District, and Boone’s gravesite.
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…
- I can’t believe I forgot to mention this until now, but it’s time for John Sevier Days Living History Weekend at Marble Springs State Historic Site in Knoxville, TN. The action starts tomorrow and continues through Sunday—reenacting, demonstrations, food, and presentations on the Lost State of Franklin and King’s Mountain. It’ll be a blast, so stop by if you get the chance.
- While we’re talking about Marble Springs, let me also recommend a great way to support the site and get some nifty benefits for yourself. Join the Governor John Sevier Memorial Association and you’ll get free admission when you visit, discounts on gift shop items, access to special events, and more. Memberships start at just $25.
- Late September-early October is King’s Mountain season. If you can’t make it to Knoxville for the Marble Springs event, there’s another option for those of you in southwestern Virginia. On Sunday, Abingdon Muster Grounds is hosting Sharyn McCrumb, who will read from her new novel about the battle. They’ll also have living history demonstrations and the unveiling of a new painting of William Campbell, whose unit marched from Abingdon to Sycamore Shoals to meet the other Overmountain Men.
- Some Connecticut parents are quite understandably upset over a school function where students got a taste of slavery…including the racial slurs. What. Were. They. Thinking?
- Here’s a Rev War infographic from 1871.
- Some folks are working to preserve the area around Kettle Creek battlefield in Georgia.
- A supplementary AP history text is drawing criticism for the way it refers to the Second Amendment.
- Next time you’re driving through Shepherdsville, KY keep an eye out for the new John Hunt Morgan mural on an underpass along Old Preston Highway.