Thursday, December 31, 2015

Tilting at Windmills, Vol. 1, No. 20

I would like to take this time to wish everyone a Happy New Year! Please be responsible this evening and enjoy 2016. I am looking forward to a very interesting year and hope to pick up some of the things I have had to put on the back burner due to time requirements. Don't worry, I plan to continue my Art of Teaching History section, but with everything going on had to postpone the development of that thread until I could get caught up with thing. Hopefully that will be moving forward soon!

See you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum, Vol. 1, No. 26

Nash, Gary B., Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn. History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. xiv + 320 ppg.

            The culture wars of history are fascinating. Unfortunately, they are still with us. How we interpret the past will always be a matter of contention as the juxtaposition between memory and reality collide. Unfortunately, the way American politics work conflicts with the actual intelligent development of national standards and all levels of education. The culture wars of history go back many years, but the battle in the 90s was particularly nasty just like it is today. The sad thing is that the culture wars appear to be completely political in nature with little factual basis to them. 

            Gary Nash and Charlotte Crabtree (she passed away in 2006) were the lead developers overseeing the creation of the National History Standards in the late 1980s and 1990s. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), an organization then led by Lynne Cheney, wife of future vice president Richard Cheney, they and others developed a solid set of standards for use in K-12. By the time the standards were ready for release, Lynne Cheney had left the NEH and entered the political arena as a conservative Republican. As a result, Cheney would attack the standards, Nash, Crabtree, the historians and educator working on the project and anyone or anything involved with it via mass media. 

            Nash and Crabtree show in this book how the standards were created, why they were created, and who was involved in them. They also show how Lynne Cheney supported the work up until she left for politics. In the process, Nash and Crabtree thoroughly debunk the smear campaign waged by conservative media. In fact, they expose the entire affair as nothing more than a political maneuver by conservatives jockeying for votes by playing on the fears of Americans.  The process of creating the standards was begun by Republicans who wanted a set of national history standards. There were no problems until Cheney entered politics and used the work to further her own image and standing on the national stage. 

            This book does a wonderful job in exposing the hypocrisy of the entire assault by Cheney and her clique including conservative media who were desperate for anything to present to their audiences in order to generate ratings. The talking points of those assaults are examined and easily rebutted in the book. Most of the time, it is painfully obvious that the people slamming the standards had not read them and were instead relying on someone else’s opinions. 
            Unfortunately, the same people are bringing up the same issues today. That makes this book particularly relevant. The arguments are the same, but this time involves Common Core or the new AP History course. Reading this book can help intelligent people rebut the distortions generated by those who wish to perpetuate the myth of American Exceptionalism. It is worth noting that all of the academic historical organizations in the US reject the conservative talking points. Why is it that people with degrees in history and careers spanning decades involving meticulous research into the many aspects of American History are derided and ridiculed by a group of people who often lack a college degree, or of the few that do have one, none of them are in history? 

That alone should indicate what is really going on in this discussion. Also, note how many of the detractors are either politicians or media figures that use the discussions to generate ratings. Once you examine the standards and the issues, it is painfully obvious that Nash, Crabtree, and Dunn are correct and that this book exposes the conservative attacks as nothing more than political rhetoric. With that in mind this book gets four stars. I reserve five stars for truly great books and four for very good books.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

According to Jim, Vol. 1, No. 20

As we celebrate Christmas with our family and friends, let us also remember those who in the past and present could not because they were preoccupied with military service. Every year since 1775 an American soldier, sailor, or Marine has been away from home on duty somewhere in the service of this nation. One of the most famous Christmas events took place in 1776 when General George Washington launched his surprise attack across the Delaware River and probably saved the fledgling nation after losing so many battles against the British.

Another famous Christmas season when our troops were at war took place in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, an event my grandfather took place in as an infantryman in Co. K, 405th INF Regiment, 102nd "Ozark" Infantry Division. The division occupied the lines as other units, mainly armor, were shifted south for the main battle. During the Christmas holiday they were engaged in daily combat with the Wehrmacht units on the lines as the Germans were trying to pin down as many Allied troops as they could to keep them away from the main battle. The 102nd spoiled their goal by spreading out along the line and holding what had been held by four divisions.

 There have been other wars, conflicts, and "military actions" which have kept our military service members in harm's way since the founding of this nation. Even during peace, our service members are away from home. So please take time this holiday season to say thanks to them and offer a prayer for their safety while also remembering those who have served somewhere on Christmas Day since 1775.

While we're at it, remember those who will be on duty serving us as police officers, fire fighters, ambulance crews, hospital employees of all kinds, and all the men and women who will be on duty in some capacity this holiday. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well.

Have a Merry Christmas and God Bless!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum, Vol 1, No. 25

Martin, George R.R. A Dance with Dragons. New York: Bantam Books, 2011. 1126 ppg.

            The fifth volume in the massive series, A Song of Ice and Fire, checks in at 1126 pages and five years late in its publication. George R.R. Martin has reached incredible heights in the slow paced writing style matched by few authors. Granted, the books are good, but the long period between releases is approaching unrealistic proportions. Also, the length of these books could clearly be cut down so that two or even three books could be released in that time span. That may or may not be up to him, but to the publishing company. For that matter the first five volumes could easily be ten to twelve separate works.

            In any event, you have to admit Martin can spin a tale. I have to admit I’m hooked. There is something about the epic struggle between the factions of the realm in Westeros, the Stark family’s survivors, and the struggle for the hand of a queen in Esteros that compels me to keep reading. The pages are filled with violence, but character development is unparalleled in Martin’s books. These are not simple one dimensional characters created to fill roles, but people who change their minds and even their beliefs over time. Some are locked into their beliefs such as those who oppose Jon Snow and murder him while others are willing to open themselves to new ideas. In any event, the people are what drive the action of these books and I like many of you will read all the way to the last page of the series to find out what happens to them.

            As of this writing, the HBO series, Game of Thrones, which is derived from the books has reached the point where the next season goes beyond what Martin has written. I don’t think this will spoil the books because there are many differences between the two already. I hoped it would spur Martin to write faster, but if anything it may have slowed him down. This book had plenty of action in it, but I notice that HBO cut out a lot of it as well as what took place in Feast For Crows and plunged forward. That makes me wonder just how much of these books is extraneous to the overall storyline. Yet, I would not want to miss out on discovering the fate of any character, even the minor ones. 

            For me, this was the weakest of the five books. I am not particularly enamored of Danerys and feel that her tale could have been condensed as too that of Jon Snow and the Wall. As much attention as has been paid to these two characters and their struggles, it makes one wonder just how important they are to the overall story. This volume was practically devoted to them. It is pretty clear that Martin knows how to flesh out his world. He has been called the American Tolkien and it seems he is doing what Tolkien did, that of revealing every detail of the world and leaving no stone unturned. 

            All in all, the book is a good read, but I just dislike the long release periods between them. I think that has the potential to lose fans and since it is very likely the HBO show will end before the seventh and alleged last volume of the book series, Martin may find himself loosing readers who lose interest between books now that they find the answers they want on screen. Again, that is entirely Martin’s choice. Other than that, I still recommend the series. It is well written and character driven. It is definitely not for children and should not be considered Young Adult by any stretch of the imagination. It is realistic high fantasy with the gutters and dregs of society brought into the light. Some say it is too real, but let’s face it, the medieval era was no era of chivalry. 

            So if you are interested in a series that packs raw fantasy with realism and just enough magic to remain believable while at the same time making everything mysterious, this is the series for you. One thing seems clear from Martin’s writing so far. The real struggle for the world is going to take place in the North along the wall. Winter is no longer coming. It is here and I think the next volume in the series is going to shock everything in the Seven Kingdoms when long ignored tales of fiction turn out to be very vividly and deadly fact. So if you haven’t read the series as of yet, now is the time to get started. You only have 5200 or so pages to read before you make it to the end as of now!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

History...Yesterday in the Present, No. 13

How Thomas Paine’s other pamphlet saved the Revolution

The publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense caused a sensation in early 1776 as it explained the need for freedom. But it was a second series of pamphlets published on December 19 of that year that inspire a huge American military victory.
theAmericanCrisis“These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph,” said Paine in The American Crisis, a new pamphlet that appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal.

Four days later, like a modern day football coach seeking to inspire his team, General George Washington had Paine’s words read out loud to his troops at McKonkey’s Ferry on the Delaware River. Paine had written the words during the army’s retreat from New York.
The army’s commanders read the words to a force that include John Marshall,  Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe and Aaron Burr.

Washington was literally at a crossroads. His opponent, General Howe, had offered pardons to local residents, and the re-enlistment period was ending for the volunteers in his army.
An inspired Washington and his troops, who adopted the motto “Victory or Death,” crossed the Delaware River during a Nor’easter on Christmas Day and routed the Hessian garrison at Trenton.
The much-needed victory galvanized the Revolutionary forces and the Continental Congress. Troops decided to enlist again as Washington’s forces won a second battle at Trenton and a key engagement at Princeton.

While American Crisis did much to inspire the troops, its fame was nowhere near that of Common Sense, which was the first viral mass communications event in America
The first version of Common Sense went viral, in the current sense of the word, when it hit the cobblestone streets here on January 9, 1776.

Common Sense sold 120,000 copies in its first three months, and by the end of the Revolution, 500,000 copies were sold. The estimated population of the Colonies (excluding its African-American and Native American populations) was 2.5 million.
So about 20 percent of colonists owned a copy of the revolutionary booklet. In current-day sales, that would amount to sales of 60 million, not including overseas sales.
Link: Read Common Sense

In the case of Common Sense, the publicity was literally word of mouth, since people would buy the pamphlet and shout the words on street corners and inside taverns for the illiterate to hear.
Paine was born and raised in England, and he had been in Philadelphia for little more than a year, after getting a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin.
He published Common Sense anonymously, and its simple words made the case for the Colonies’ separation from England, in no uncertain terms.

In his later years, Paine would become a controversial figure because of his writings on religion and his role in the French revolution; only a handful of people attended his funeral in 1809.
President Thomas Jefferson had permitted Paine to return from France in his final years, and wrote about the author in 1821.
“No writer has exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style, in perspicuity of expression, happiness of elucidation, and in simple and unassuming language,” Jefferson said. “ In this he may be compared with Dr. Franklin; and indeed his Common Sense was, for awhile, believed to have been written by Dr. Franklin, and published under the borrowed name of Paine, who had come over with him from England.”

Thursday, December 17, 2015

History...Yesterday in the Present

New Orleans votes to remove Confederate, Civil War monuments

NOLA mayor wants to replace Robert E. Lee statue

NOLA mayor wants to replace Robert E. Lee statue 03:25

Story highlights

  • The city's mayor says the vote was "a courageous decision"
  • New Orleans City Council votes 6-1 to remove three statues and one obelisk
  • A majority of council members introduced the proposal at the mayor's request
(CNN)A large crowd broke into cheers Thursday after the New Orleans City Council voted to remove four monuments to the Confederacy from prominent places in the city.
The 6-1 vote means officials will take down statues of Gens. Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. An obelisk dedicated to the Battle of Liberty Place will also go.
It's one of the strongest gestures yet by an American city to remove symbols of Confederate history, following a trend in many Southern states to take down the Confederate battle flag.
Historic societies in the 300-year-old city supported the removal of the monuments, and the proposal was introduced by a majority of City Council members.
New Orleans' mayor wants Confederate monuments removed

New Orleans' mayor wants Confederate monuments removed 02:21
Mayor Mitch Landrieu described the move as a "courageous decision to turn a page on our divisive past and chart the course for a more inclusive future."
Council member Nadine Ramsey said New Orleans needed to stop living "underneath the shadows" of monuments to people who supported slavery.
"We need not honor these individuals and moments from the past that do not meet our standards of decency, equality and nondiscrimination," she said.
Council member Stacy Head cast the only vote against taking down the monuments, saying the action would create more division and not solve the city's real problems.
"It will not improve the socioeconomic balance of the city," she said. "If it would make the city more color blind, if it would create more balance, I would sacrifice almost any physical object to get us to that point."

Charleston slayings were a tipping point

Landrieu said the church slayings in Charleston, South Carolina, moved him to take action.
He'd been thinking about having the symbols of the Confederacy removed for about a year, when a white gunman in South Carolina massacred black worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal on June 17. Dylann Roof, the shooter, venerated the Confederate battle flag. And soon after the shooting, calls to remove it from that state's Capitol grounds intensified.
A week later, Landrieu announced the planned ordinance.
He addressed the City Council on Thursday, saying that New Orleans has many monuments, but he wanted these four removed because they are the most important.
"This is the right thing to do at the right time," Landrieu said.
"As we approach the Tricentennial, New Orleanians have the power and the right to correct historical wrongs and move the City forward. The ties that bind us together as a city are stronger than what keeps us apart," he said, according to a City Hall news release.

Monuments called 'nuisances'

The ordinance approved by the council declares the Confederate monuments "nuisances" and called for them to be removed. The statues are unconstitutional, said the proposed ordinance marked Calendar No. 31,082.
"They honor, praise, or foster ideologies which are in conflict with the requirements of equal protection for citizens as provided by the constitution and laws of the United States, the state, or the laws of the city and suggests the supremacy of one ethnic, religious, or racial group over another."

Monument supporters say it's not about race

In July, the city called for 60 days of public meetings to review the proposed ordinance.
Landrieu requested the vote to banish specters of racism. But opponents of the plan steered away from any racial argument.
Keeping the figures of the Confederacy was not about preserving racial injustice, they said, but about honoring figures who fought to protect the city.
New Orleans, which was the largest city in the Confederacy, fell to Union forces in 1862 and was under federal occupation beyond the Civil War's end in 1865.

No place for Lee

One prominent artist who wanted the figures gone also skirted the issue of race. Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, who is African-American, said that Lee in particular had no historic place in the city.
"This symbolic place in our city should represent a great New Orleanian, or it should be an open space that represents our latest prevail and how people helped us, not a person who had nothing to do with our city and who indeed fought against the United States of America and lost," Marsalis told CNN affiliate WDSU.
Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard was a Louisiana native, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis lived in New Orleans after the war and died there.

Statue has stood since 1884

Lee's statue stands 60 feet high atop a neoclassical column at what was christened Lee Circle in his honor. It was originally called Tivoli Circle. Most Mardi Gras parades snake right past it.
Lee faces north, looking in the direction of his former enemy, and has stood there since 1884, the history department at the University of New Orleans says. Both Davis and Beauregard attended the monument's dedication.
Their statues were erected in the 1910s.
A fourth monument, probably the most contentious, will also be taken down.
The monument to the Battle of Liberty Place commemorates an uprising in 1874 of the White League against federal forces and police in an attempt to overthrow racially integrated governance put in place during Reconstruction.
Former mayors, including Landrieu's father, Moon Landrieu, have attempted to have this monument removed or altered.
When asked what would happen to the removed monuments, Landrieu suggested a park that would reflect the complete history of the city, from before the American Revolution to the present. That park, he said, would be a place where "history can be remembered and not revered."
He said city leaders should consider forming a commission to decide what to do about other monuments.
Council President Jason Williams said, "After a long and thoughtful debate on this issue, I am pleased that we have reached a conclusion. Thank you to all citizens who have participated and made your voices heard during this process. We all may have differing perspectives, but share a common love and concern for the City of New Orleans."