Friday, January 30, 2009

The Past is a Foreign Country: Civil War Documents



There is a danger in writing history, that one will portray the past in warm golden hues of nostalgia, or worse yet, that one will super-impose today’s norms and values on people long dead. It is prudent to recall that the past is like a foreign country, “they do things differently there.” What is not different, however, are the basic rhythms of life. The men and women who lived one hundred and fifty years ago possessed the same passions, strengths and weaknesses, and capacity for self-deception and rationalization that we possess today. It is only by turning to the letters, documents and speeches of the people who lived at the time that we have any hope in capturing the mind of the time. In these documents, the people of the time speak by themselves, for themselves. We are all creatures of the times in which we live and must justify ourselves to history as best we can.


My titles on Amazon

My titles at Barnes & Noble



The best reading experience on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Weddings in the Civil War

The dynamics of courtship and engagement changed with the coming of war. Social activities decreased and the number of eligible men, especially in the South, significantly decreased. Esther Alden expressed the attitude of young women in the South as the war progressed, "One looks at a man so differently when you think he may be killed tomorrow. Men whom up to this time I had thought dull and commonplace . . . seemed charming."





My titles on Amazon

My titles at Barnes & Noble



The best reading experience on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.

Victorian Weddings

Love, Sex and Marriage in Victorian America



Over the centuries, brides continued to dress in a manner befitting their social status—always in the height of fashion, with the richest, boldest materials money could buy. The poorest of brides wore their best church dress on their wedding day. The amount of material a wedding dress contained also was a reflection of the bride's social standing and indicated the extent of the family's wealth to wedding guests.

Brides have not always worn white for the marriage ceremony. In the 16th and 17th centuries for example, girls in their teens married in pale green, a sign of fertility. A mature girl in her twenties wore a brown dress, and older women even wore black.





My titles on Amazon

My titles at Barnes & Noble



The best reading experience on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.

Victorian Wedding Superstitions

Victorians had superstitions about being "lucky in love," even before the engagement was made. Victorian women would reject a suitor whose last name began with the same initial as hers. Hence the saying, "To change the name, but not the letter, is a change for the worse, and not the better." If the right suitor was found and the couple became engaged, all sorts of omens were considered for the big day. Wednesday was considered the luckiest day of the week. "Monday for wealth, Tuesday for health, Wednesday-the best day of all! Thursday for crosses, Friday for losses, Saturday-no luck at all.”

Love, Sex and Marriage in Victorian America










My titles on Amazon

My titles at Barnes & Noble



The best reading experience on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Review: Proud to Be an Okie: Cultural Politics and Country Music

Proud to Be an Okie: Cultural Politics, Country Music, and Migration to Southern California (American Crossroads)
by Peter La Chapelle
University of California Press;(April 3, 2007)

In 2003 the Dixie Chicks set off a firestorm by criticizing George W. Bush at the outset of the Iraq War. Playing in London at a time when a million anti-war protestors jammed the streets, singer Natalie Maines expressed “shame” that Bush was from her state of Texas. Later Maines argued, “We’ve never been a political band. It wasn’t a political statement. It was a joke to get laughs and entertain…and it did”. The comment did not entertain fans in America however. Sales slid. Country radio stations refused to play Dixie Chicks songs. Radio announcers denounced the “contempt” of the Dixie Chicks for the values of the country music listening audience. The entire Dixie Chicks episode highlights the question, “Can mass market performers express personal convictions that run counter to the expectations of the fans who buy their “brand”? The answer depends on whether you have a normative or pragmatic view of the world (things as they should be vs. things as they are). Artists should have the right of free speech, but as a practical matter, as one Republican Senator noted concerning the Dixie Chicks, “ Political statements have business consequences.”

These business consequences, in a time when the marketing and distribution system of the music industry is more important than the artist, can spell the difference between a product selling forty thousand copies and a product selling millions of copies. (La Chapelle, 206). Such was not always the case. In the 1930s radio was unevenly standardized allowing performers such as Woodie Guthrie and Maxine Crissman to sing about migrant abuses and engage in political and populist discourse. In this case, a liberal station owner, in a de-centralized distribution system, could allow what could be called niche marketing by Guthrie and Crissman .

As distribution became more centralized this flexibility vanished. Increasing use of the Top 40 playlist de-politicized country music. Restrictions were placed on what DJs could say on the air. Songs with controversial themes lost out as radio and television grew as hit makers (La Chappelle, 119-122). The career of Jean Shepard in the mid-1950s exemplifies the problem. Shepard wrote the song “Two Hoops and a Holler” railing against the gender double standard and concluding “Women ought to rule the world”. Disc jockeys, almost exclusively male during this period, did not give the song radio air time. Starved for public exposure, the song failed to place on the charts. Shepard correctly assessed the power realities and began featuring a more ambivalent assertiveness. Her career prospered. (La Chapelle, 175).

In 1965 Orange County’s Country Music Life advised aspiring musicians to think of themselves and their act as a commodity. In 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, Merle Haggard wrote “Okie from Muskogee”. Although Haggard had previously been praised by the Left, this song made him into a pro-war, anti-hippie conservative icon. The song sold millions of copies. Haggard remained relatively silent about his politics, only later admitting that the song, “Made me appear to be a person who was a lot more narrow-minded, possibly, than I really am.” (La Chapelle, 204).

As the internet offers the promise of a more decentralized system of distribution, it may be that performers will be able to more freely express personal views without facing devastating consequences. After all, fringe candidate Ron Paul raised four million dollars in one day on the internet. Until such time as distribution is decentralized, popular music idols, like constitutional monarchs, express their private convictions in public only at great peril.

My titles on Amazon

My titles on Barnes & Noble



The best reading experience on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.

Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit




The true impact of the Motown sound on the civil rights movement was probably an unintended consequence of Berry Gordy’s (founder of Motown Records) drive for profits. While white folk artists of the 1960s, such as Pete Seeger, stressed their “otherness” from middle class norms and values to galvanize a progressive core constituency, Gordy stressed the “sameness” of his artists in an attempt to crossover into white markets. “Strong ideas of bourgeois respectability shaped (the Motown) image” (Smith, 120).

Gordy stressed the creation of music that was, “simple, direct and emotional” with cross over potential. He established a factory like operation, complete with a “finishing school” that polished ghetto kid performers, and produced a consistent string of star performers and hits. Gordy’s emphasis on creating non-threatening performers made blacks and by inference the civil rights movement more palatable to whites. The scenario would play out like this: “I like the music, I like the performer, he/she isn’t so bad. I now have a cultural bridge (however narrow) to relate to other blacks. They aren’t so bad.” Whites begin to relate to blacks in terms of common humanity rather than stereotypes using the cultural bridge provided by the Motown sound. Television impresario Ed Sullivan summed it up when he said, “(The Negro performer) has become a welcome visitor, not only to the white adult, but to the white children, who will finally lay Jim Crow to rest.” (Smith, 132).

The civil rights struggle of the 1960s in some ways mirrored the civil rights struggle in the Reconstruction South following the Civil War. In Mobile, for example, African-American leaders were divided between the privileged black elites who had lived in the city before the War, and recently freed blacks migrating to the city after the War. The black elites were socially and politically moderate and allied with moderate whites. Recently emancipated ex-slaves from the country were more radical. This group was willing to take its demands to the streets and felt they would only get their rights by “making a bold stand.” In the Reconstruction South, the triumph of black militancy often led to white backlash and race warfare. Dr. King’s ability to negotiate a strategy of non-violent civil disobedience in an environment of black militants, white hardliners, and white moderate “fence sitters” was his genius. Arguably, the cultural amalgamation created by rock ‘n roll, coupled with King’s message of non-violent change (given urgency by Malcom X’s message of the possibility of violence) permitted the triumph of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

As Smith suggests, the triumph was not complete. Although avenues were created for black upward social mobility (as envisioned by Booker T. Washington), and although a black President (who had numerically more white supporters than black supporters) has been elected, a recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank, indicates that the divide between black and white wealth is so wide that achieving parity would take more than six hundred years at the current rate of change. Is black capitalism the answer? The career of Berry Gordy suggests that a black capitalist is a capitalist first, and black second. The marketplace is color and gender blind, which is beneficial to all, but capitalism is also amoral, driven by its own imperatives of economy and efficiency rather than equity and humanity. The good that capitalism does, as in the case of the nexus between the Motown sound and the civil rights movement, may be largely unintentional.

My titles on Amazon

My titles at Barnes & Noble



The best reading experience on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Slave Auction Block

Fueled by speculation, the total value of slave property across the South in 1860 was enormous compared to other sectors of the economy. It was nearly three times larger than the total amount of capital invested in manufacturing throughout the entire country, almost three times the amount invested in all railroads, and seven times the amount invested in all banks. It was three times the value of all livestock, twelve times the value of all farm implements and machinery and forty eight times larger than the total annual expenditures of the Federal government. Slave owning Virginians worried about the loss of this huge investment. Northerners, such as Ambert Remington of New York, foretold that, “…a man that owns ten, twenty, or thirty thousand dollars in slaves, ($150,000-$450,000 in current dollars) will not give them up without a struggle….”

The case of Hickory Hill is illustrative. Hickory Hill, owned by the Wickham family, was a 3,500 acre plantation located in central Hanover County, near Richmond, Virginia. The plantation practiced the most up to date agricultural methods. The most important pillar of the Wickhams’ financial security however, was the increasing value and number of slaves at Hickory Hill. In 1852 there were two hundred slaves valued at $70,000, an average of $350 each at Hickory Hill. In 1860 there were 275 slaves, averaging slightly more than $650 each, worth $180,000. In eight years the value of the Wickham’s slave property increased two and one half times. Low crop yields were not something the Wickhams had to worry about. If the Wickhams had to endure several consecutive years of crop failures, they could always sell some of their slaves. The Wickham family was not alone however, slave owning in Virginia was not only for wealthy planters, but was quite widespread.


The Slave Auction Block



Runaway Slaves in Virginia: available on Kindle



Who Were the Slaves of the Founding Fathers? : available on Kindle


My titles on Amazon

My titles at Barnes & Noble



The best reading experience on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pirate Treasure Uncovered

In 1984, professional treasure hunter Barry Clifford discovered the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah, the first pirate ship ever to be recovered with its hold brimming with treasure. “Separating the fact from the folklore became my challenge,” writes Barry Clifford, “My primary source of information were the accounts of Captain Cyprian Southack, the salvor dispatched in 1717 by Massachusetts Governor Samuel Shute to retrieve the Whydah’s treasure.”

Clifford has recovered a spectacular fortune in coins, ingots, jewelry, weapons and artifacts, many of which can be seen at the Whydah Pirate Museum in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. The total value of the treasure is estimated in excess of $400 million.



My titles on Amazon

My titles at Barnes & Noble



The best reading experience on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Top 5 Reasons to Study the History of America

By-line:
This post was contributed by Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject of a PhD. She invites your feedback at kellykilpatrick24@gmail.com

The story of the United States of America is one of the greatest success stories in world history thus far. From its humble beginnings to its current position as one of the main leading voices in the world, the history of the US is both rich and intriguing, while at the same time incredibly violent and, at times, astonishing. Learning more about the history of the US isn’t just for public school students; there are many different things out there to suit one’s interests—all you have to do is look for them.

Sheer Determination

The original settlers of the first colonies in the US were pioneers in the truest sense of the word. It is hard to believe that these people made it through the harsh winters without any real infrastructural support in an unknown land. The determination to stay and develop the lands they “discovered” is practically mythology in the annals of American history.

Learning Curve

Our nation is not very old; there are churches in Europe that are hundreds of years older than the US. This being said, there has been a significant learning curve in the leadership of this country over the years. From the travesty of slavery to the eradication of Native Americans, our leaders have made many mistakes in the past. The wounds suffered by the victims of these crimes of humanity and their heirs still run deep for many.

A Unique System

Our government is certainly one-of-a-kind. Though it is a democracy, there are so many intricacies when dealing with the inner workings of such a large and diverse country. The foundations for an extremely successful country are still being laid; our fledgling country has grown by leaps and bounds and is still learning how to best deal with certain problems and situations.

Innovation Station

The US has been ground zero for a number of some of the greatest—and most terrible—innovations and technologies in human history thus far. Technological advances abound, while our spirit of exploration has taken us beyond the borders of our atmosphere and into outer space. As the world continues to grow and change, count on the US to play a major role in the molding of the future.

The Future is Unwritten

If we look back just 125 years, we were still fighting Native Americans for territory. Sixty or so years ago, there still weren’t 50 states in our nation. While no one is expecting any drastic changes are foreseeable, history teaches us that nothing can stay the same and that often it repeats itself. Studying the history of the US can help us to make educated decisions when changes start to occur.

My titles on Amazon

My titles at Barnes & Noble



The best reading experience on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.