A Student of History

July 31, 2006

Academics vs. military service

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 2:19 pm

In a recent National Review column on-line, John Noonan argues that a military-service gap has not been a part of US military service, but perhaps will be soon.  He refers to the “contention that poor men are forced to fight rich men’s wars.” Noonan denies the claim for past US conflicts: “While a service gap between the rich and the poor may have actually existed during the French Revolution or the final days of the Russian czars, it has never been a prominent feature of American history.” 

However, he thinks that a new trend is emerging on campuses.

As the top tier of American academia grows increasingly hostile toward the military and military service, the service gap may go from fiction to fact. As the antiwar movement has grown, so have so-called “counter-recruitment” campaigns, designed to strip the military of the legal right to recruit on campuses. There is hypocrisy here, as the same activist element that specializes in counter-recruitment also spends a great deal of time bemoaning the supposed service gap. On the one hand, these activists want to blame the wealthy for exploiting the poor to serve as cannon fodder in today’s wars. On the other hand, they seek to ensure that as many affluent young people are kept out of the military as possible.  

For the rest of this column, click here.

July 29, 2006

Old Bible Almost Trashed

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 7:45 pm

From AOL news, a story about what can be found in the garbage (in Va.):

Electrician Michael Hoskins is not averse to browsing when he drops off trash at the Route 41 dump bin, and a recent visit rewarded his curiosity. Hoskins said he discovered a 188-year-old King James Bible. Now he’s fending off offers approaching $1,000 for the find.  A photo of one page is here:

While otherwise intact, the Bible appeared to have fire damage and had watermarks on some of its inner pages. The sheepskin-covered book was printed in Pittsburgh in 1818 and, according to Hoskins’ research, is one of less than half dozen copies in existence.

More history paved over-in NYC

Filed under: Historic Preservation,Ireland — John Maass @ 7:32 pm

A historic pre-Civil War church in NYC is being demolished to make room for high-priced housing.  According to the Village Voice, St. Brigid’s Church is set to be wrecked unless a last minute appeal is granted.  

A local committee to save the church has a website, from which the following is taken:

St. Brigid’s has been standing since December 1849, and is one of the first religious structures Patrick Keely, a self-taught architect, and an Irish immigrant, designed. Built by shipwrights, it is also known as the Famine Church because most of its original parishioners were Irish displaced by the Great Famine.  The rich history of St. Brigid’s begins in the 1840s, with the increased influx of Irish immigrants escaping the Great Famine. Many settled in the area then known as the Dry Dock District (stretching east-west from the East River to Avenue B and north-south from Houston to 12th Street), and found employment as laborers at the East River Shipyards. When a temporary chapel at East 4th Street soon proved inadequate, plans were made to build a new church on the corner of 8th Street and Avenue B, dedicated to “the Mary of Gael,” St. Brigid, and designed to serve the burgeoning Irish-American community.

The choice of architect for St. Brigid’s was Patrick Keely, an up-and-coming Catholic Church architect. Born in County Tipperary in 1816, Keely emigrated to the U.S. at age 25 and settled in the Williamsburgh section of Brooklyn, where he worked as a carpenter. Because Keely’s formal training in architecture is undocumented, it is believed he learned design and construction from his father, a builder. After completing an altar and reredos (altar screen) for St. James Pro-Cathedral and going on to build St. Peter and Paul’s Church in Brooklyn in 1846.

Keely’s services became highly sought after, ushering in a “new era in Catholic building,” to serve growing immigrant communities. At his death in 1896, Keely was said to have built over 600 churches and religious edifices, stretching north to Canada, south to South Carolina and west to Iowa. Locally, one can see examples of Keely’s work at St. Francis Xavier on 16th Street and Mary, Star of the Sea on Court Street in Brooklyn, among others; major works elsewhere include Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany.

St. Brigid’s may in fact be the oldest Keely church still standing. Its corner stone was laid on September 10th, 1848, and construction was completed in a somewhat astonishing fifteen months. Designed in the Carpenter’s Gothic style, the building is without transepts or apse (that is to say, it is rectilinear rather than crossshaped), and features a nave (center seating area) flanked by a north and south aisle, each with a second-story seating gallery fronted by elaborate wainscoting. The vaulted ceiling above the nave is said to have been fashioned by shipbuilders as an upside-down boat; and indeed, one student of architecture sees this theory borne out in the “extraordinary flattening of the nave vaulting,” which resembles the hull of a ship. Sculpted faces that abut the corbels supporting the roof are said to honor the shipwrights who built the church.

The stations of the cross were purchased in Paris in the 1870s, and one source lists them as the work of Théophile-Narcisse Chauvel, a French painter and printmaker active during that time. The statue of St. Brigid was made by an unnamed Munich artist and installed in 1884. Also during that decade, a new floor of Georgia pine was laid; the church’s ceilings and walls were “frescoed in light colors by A. Ertle [sometimes seen as “E. Ertle”], the church decorator”; carved ash pews from the G. Faulhaber factory in Cleveland were put in; and the aisles raised five inches for better sight-lines.

The stained glass windows, imported from Bavaria, were also installed at that time, and a carved marble and Caen stone altar built by Theiss & Janssen was made to replace the wooden altar; an original wooden altar holding the blessed sacrament is still to be seen at the east end of the north aisle. The stations were restored at that time, and new chandeliers added. Throughout the church interior are numerous reminders of the church’s Irish immigrant roots, with windows and plaques dedicated in memory of its 19th century parishioners and rectors. Also in the church is a magnificent organ, with the original Keely organ case and intricately stenciled organ pipes, and the towering five-pinnacle reredos, which was carved by Keely himself.

The exterior of St. Brigid’s, though adapted over time, still bears much of its original architectural integrity. Its two steeples were removed after 1962 due to maintenance and safety concerns, and the building was stuccoed perhaps around that time. The original Gothic-revival fence is intact.

The fortunes of St. Brigid’s have risen and fallen over the years. In its most robust days the parish ranked as high as third in the diocese in providing funds toward the building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As the Irish population on the east side declined, St. Brigid’s served newer immigrant populations, such as Slavs and especially Italians during the late 19th century and, mid/late 20th century onward, the growing Latino community.

During the Depression, Sunday mass attendance was documented at a mere 350 people, and the total revenue of the parish fell to about $60 a week. The number of parishioners later increased under the care of a new rector, and in 1951 there were more baptisms at St. Brigid’s than in any year since 1890. Such vicissitudes may be important to keep in mind when assessing the current state of the parish – which, given the right care and tending, could once again become a beacon for those who keep the faith.

July 26, 2006

Irish equivalent to the Dead Sea Scrolls

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 4:49 pm

From the Associated Press, via HNN:

Irish archaeologists Tuesday heralded the discovery of an ancient book of psalms by a construction worker who spotted something while driving the shovel of his backhoe into a bog.

The approximately 20-page book has been dated to the years 800-1000. Trinity College manuscripts expert Bernard Meehan said it was the first discovery of an Irish early medieval document in two centuries.

“This is really a miracle find,” said Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum of Ireland, which has the book stored in refrigeration and facing years of painstaking analysis before being put on public display.

“There’s two sets of odds that make this discovery really way out. First of all, it’s unlikely that something this fragile could survive buried in a bog at all, and then for it to be unearthed and spotted before it was destroyed is incalculably more amazing.”

The BBC has several pictures of this, including the one below, here.

The full story is here.

From the National Museum in Ireland, we get this web article:

In discovery terms this Irish equivalent to the Dead Sea Scrolls is being hailed by the Museum’s experts as the greatest find ever from a European bog. Fragments of what appear to be an ancient Psalter or Book of Psalms were uncovered by a bulldozer in a bog in the south Midlands. It is impossible to say how the manuscript ended up in the bog. It may have been lost in transit or dumped after a raid, possibly more than a thousand to twelve hundred years ago.

The Director of the National Museum of Ireland, Dr Pat Wallace, commented that “it is not so much the fragments themselves, but what they represent, that is of such staggering importance. In my wildest hopes, I could only have dreamed of a discovery as fragile and rare as this. It testifies to the incredible richness of the Early Christian civilisation of this island and to the greatness of ancient Ireland.”

Congratulating the Museum on the discovery, the promptness of its report, and the action of the finders, the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, John O’ Donoghue TD, said “this most fortunate of discoveries testifies to the high achievements of our Early Christian civilisation and to the responsibility of the present generation in the preservation of our unparalleled legacy from the past”. He wished the Museum well in the conservation of the manuscript and looked forward to its display in the Early Christian gallery of the Museum where it will have a fitting place alongside the Ardagh chalice and the Derrynaflan paten.

Extensive fragments of what appear to be an Irish Early Christian Psalter, written on vellum, were recovered from the bog last Thursday. The manuscript was brought to the National Museum’s conservation laboratory on Friday by the Director (Pat Wallace), the Keeper of Irish Antiquities (Eamonn Kelly), and the Head of Conservation (Rolly Read). The pages appear to be those of a slim, large format book with a wraparound vellum or leather cover from which the book block has slipped.

Raghnall Ó Floinn, Head of Collections at the Museum, estimates that there are about 45 letters per line and a maximum of 40 lines per page. While part of Psalm 83 is legible, the extent to which other Psalms or additional texts are preserved will only be determined by painstaking work by a team of invited experts probably operating over a long time in the Museum laboratory.

Dr Bernard Meehan, Head of Manuscripts at TCD, has seen the discovery and has been invited to advise on the context and background of the manuscript, its production, and its time. He reckons that this is the first discovery of an Irish Early Medieval manuscript in two centuries. Initial impressions place the composition date of the manuscript at about 800 AD. How soon after this date it was lost we may never know.

July 24, 2006

Sun brings archaeologists to Ireland

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 3:03 am

Due to the recent spell of good weather a small excavation site just outside Rooskey has been occupied by a large group of archaeologists.

The archaeological investigations on the raised bog site started last year due to the advanced works for the new Dromod-Rooskey by-pass but the site has seen a flurry of activity in the last few weeks as the weather has been perfect for bog excavation.
A variety of tractways has been found that are similar to those found in an excavation that occurred in Corlea, Co Longford and items dating back to the Iron Age have been examined.

The NRA believe that the bog which is a rich source of historical preservation has remains of life from 1700 BC to 400 AD and evidence from this era will uncover details of life and customs in the Iron Age and details on woodlands and the state of the environment at that time.
Investigations will also detail the development of the bog over hundreds of years.

Over 80 archaeologists are on the site (approx 25m x 120m) every day as archaeologists have come from all over Europe and include many nationalities.

The site excavation is due to be completed by the end of August and after all recovered items are examined the NRA will publish the results and hold a local exhibition to explain to locals and media what they have discovered and it’s historical and present significant.

Source: http://www.leitrimtoday.net/

July 22, 2006

Testing the limits of academic free speech…

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 8:31 pm

A teacher at the Univ. of Wisconsion-Madison is now under some scrutiny with the state assembly of Wisconsin for what he has said.  According to a CNN story, Kevin Barrett is set to teach a course this fall on Islam, but assemblymen are outraged that he has publicly stated his assertions that the US was behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

U.W.-Madison Provost Pat Farrell launched a review after Barrett spoke last month on a talk show about his views that the terrorist attacks were the result of a government conspiracy to spark war in the Middle East. After the review, Farrell said Barrett was a qualified instructor who can present his views as one perspective on the attacks.

Barrett says he thinks Vice President Dick Chenney was behind the orchestration of the attacks.  As is often the case, the legislatores are saying that this kind kind of thing is not to be tolerated at a school paid for by tax dollars.  But is this the line in the sand, whether or not state money is involved?  Does this mean that if Barrett said this at a private college he would be OK, according to the state government?  I think Barrett’s idea is preposterous, but should he be fired for it?

Sounds like the case of Ward Churchill, who wrote that the people killed at the WTC on 9/11 were little Eichmanns, a key planner of the Holocaust during WWII.  But, Churchill’s job security is under fire due to credentials problems which surfaced after he came under intense media scrutiny in the wake of his remarks, not for the remarks themselves.  Here, in Wisc., Barrett seems to be under a barrage of legistlative criticism due to the content of his words.  It is a difference to be sure…I prefer to err on the side of letting people say what they want to, as academics, unless there’s a compelling reason to take a stand otherwise–like issues of safety, for instance. Or when the statements are so egregiously wrong and designed to be inflamatory, such as deniers of the Holocaust. 

At HNN, there are a number of columns/articles written by professors with an astounding lack of objectivity, opinion pieces masquarading as knowledgeable conclusions of an historical bent without any real pretense of the historians having sifted through evidence carefully, presenting all of it, and making a painstaking analysis.  (One particularly absurd example is here.) I say, let them show their inability to do objective, accurate historical analysis in full view of the public, so that readers may see what they are doing.  But don;t prevent them from doing it…..

July 19, 2006


Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 3:14 pm

I just finished James Chace’s 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs, which of course is about these 4 men and the presidential election of that year. 

Overall, I enjoyed it. The prose is quite good, and we get detailed biographies of all four men, although that of Taft I found to be the weakest. Chace tells us that Taft really just wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice, but due to an overbearing and unusually ambitious wife, he allowed himself to be nominated (and elected in 1908) for the Presidency by the GOP. This seems to me to be overly simplistic and one-dimensional, and I would like to have encountered a better handling of Taft.

Chase’s depiction of Debs is much better, quite sympathetic really.  This is in stark contrast to a rather unsympathetic portrait of Woodrow Wilson, who comes off as a self-righteous political opportunist who could never leave his southern bigotry behind.

What put me off however is the book’s subtitle: “The Election that Changed the Country.”  This is sloppy historical work–ALL elections change the country, one way or another.  I suspect this device was the idea of the publisher, eager to convince browswers in Barnes & Noble that 1912 was unique. 

Click here to reduce the cover image

By the way, one may purchase the book for only $5.99 here.


The author died in 2004. He Chace, an influential historian and foreign policy analyst whose work was shaped by his youthful experiences in France and was known for its literary grace, died Oct. 8 of a heart attack at 72. He was in Paris, where he was conducting research on what would have been his 10th book, a biography of the Marquis de Lafayette. He lived in New York. His full obituary is here.

“Daughter” of Christ???

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 3:26 am

I only take up this story due to its unusual lack of credibility, and for grins.  The fact that USA Today covered it is telling as well.

Is the world ready for a book and an author more controversial than Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code? Meet Kathleen McGowan, novelist and self-proclaimed descendant of a union between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. McGowan, who says she is from the “sacred bloodline” Brown made famous in his mega-selling novel, says she’s ready to cope with people who think she’s crazy or a heretic. 

I suppose if you can’t write a nutty best seller, you can be a nut instead.

“Daughter” of Christ???

Preservationists buy land from Civil War battle

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 12:19 am

This from WAVY.com: Preservationists have bought a piece of land in the Shenandoah Valley that was the site of a Civil War battle — to protect the property from development.The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation bought 100 acres in the Toms Brook area, about 25 miles southwest of Winchester. Acquisition of the property will present significant management challenges and opportunities for the Battlefields Foundation.  Its proximity to the town of Toms Brook offers the opportunity to provide substantial green space to town residents.  Likewise, adjacency to the county farm and park could enable a variety of public uses that are compatible with the preservation of the battlefield.  Like much of the rest of the county, the Toms Brook area offers splendid views of the nearby Massanutten Mountain and both Jordon Run and Toms Brook drain into the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The rest of the brief copyrighted piece is here.For more on the The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation go here, and for more details on the Tom’s Brook aquisition, go here.

A central part of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation’s mission is to preserve Civil War battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, both directly and by enabling landowners and local organizations to do so. Exploring the rich legacy of the Valley’s Civil War heritage is only possible with the protection of its historic places.  The Battlefields Foundation’s land and easement acquisition efforts concentrate on the ten battlefields named by Congress in the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District and Commission Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-333). These battlefields, listed in the table below, include more than 21,000 acres of core battlefield that retain historic integrity, largely because they are still in active farm and forest uses. Less than ten percent of this essential resource is protected from development that would destroy its historic value.


During its first year, the Battlefields Foundation protected three parcels totaling 68 acres at Cross Keys, Fisher’s Hill, and Third Winchester, all through fee simple purchase from willing sellers. The Foundation also helped local groups acquire the Mansion House at McDowell and Fort Collier in Winchester and is currently working with the owners of nine properties at six battlefields who want to protect their land. These projects will protect an additional 948 acres of land using fee simple acquisition and conservation easements.

In addition, the Battlefields Foundation has helped our partners raise $550,000 from local governments and $3.5 million from the state to match federal funds in the effort to help preserve battlefields such as Cedar Creek and First and Second Kernstown. The Battlefields Foundation has also leveraged considerable investments from partnering organizations. For every dollar from the Foundation, its partners have contributed eight dollars to preserve and interpret Civil War resources in the National Historic District.

The Battlefields Foundation’s conservation efforts use voluntary measures that protect farm and forest land from conversion to more intensive commercial, industrial, and residential uses. The Battlefields Foundation neither has nor seeks condemnation authority. Instead, it pursues policies that aid private landowners who face development pressure to maintain their land in rural uses.

July 17, 2006

More on Hill of Tara

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 1:23 am

In follow up to a previous post on the Hill of Tara, there is an article here about more recent developments:

Protestors who have been camping on the Hill of Tara since the Summer Solstice on June 21, have been ordered to leave by the Office of Public Works (OPW), according to protest group TaraWatch.

The protestors are trying to highlight opposition to the M3 motorway that will pass through the Tara archaeological complex, in the Tara / Skryne Valley.

The rest of the column is here.

July 16, 2006

Review of Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 2:36 am

I just finished reading Gordon Wood’s very new book Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different. Wood is the author of 2 early US History classics, The Creation of theAmericanRepublic, and The Radicalism of the American Revolution.  He has also written a very nice concise history of the American Revolution, and a biography of Ben Franklin which I did not read.  He is a professor in the early stages of retirement at Brown University.

This book is an essay collection, with most of the chapters having been published elsewhere and some time ago, although the one of Madison is recent as is Franklin.  Wood also gives us Jefferson, Washington, Paine, Adams, Burr and Hamilton.  The chapter on Burr, which I found to be the best, is used as a counterweight to the other founders, since he failed to live up to the republican selflessness of the other giants.  Another heavyweight of colonial history, Ed Morgan, has also published an essay collection of early works (in Morgan’s case, old book reviews) so this may be a trend as the elder statesmen and stateswomen of the field begin to bow out into retirement.  Its helpful for grad students studying for their exams, to be sure.

Despite some glowing reviews, such as that in the Washington Post of 28 May 2006, I found the book to be, well, a bit “light.”  In fact it struck me more than anything else as breezy and inexpert.  There are far too many superlatives of almost every character Wood discusses.  For example, we get this: “Washington was truly a great man and the greatest president we ever had.” [31] Really?  While this may indeed be true, it may not be, and for a well-respected historian to come out with such an unqualified verdict that of course can in no way be measured or adjudicated strikes me as more than a bit amateurish.  We also hear that Franklin was “the greatest diplomat America has ever had.” [86]  Again, how do we measure or evaluate Franklin in such a light as to declare him “the greatest”?  Is Wood even qualified to render such a judgment in light of the fact that he is not a diplomatic historian, especially in modern U.S. history?  What about Seward, Marshall, or Kissinger?  A few pages later we read that Franklin was second only to Washington in importance as far as founders go. [90]  Such a conclusion is not only the antithesis of empirical analysis but by “rating” the founders, Wood comes across sounding like he is writing for USA Today (I can almost see the headline: “Top 10 Founders of All Time—Pg. F1!)  

In the chapter on John Adams we read that “no one read more or thought about the law more than John Adams.”  I won’t belabor my point any more other than to say that these kind of blanket statements are unverifiable in their very scope, and might be refuted by examples of different founders made by other historians—or even Wood himself!  For instance, we get on page 179 that “no one was more attuned to the hopes and promise of the Enlightenment than Adams.”  However, on page 101 we already read that it was Thomas Jefferson, not
Adams, who was “at the head of the American Enlightenment.”  Which one is it?  Wood seems to have gotten so carried away with superlatives, he has forgotten which ones he has assigned to which founder.

Wood also makes what I consider to be some questionable judgments when he writes about each founder, and this could come from writing about each separately. In his chapter on Jefferson, which is actually quite well done as far as his treatment of how TJ has been handled by historians over the years, Wood claims that Jefferson “hated the obsessive moneymaking, the proliferating banks, and the liberal capitalistic world that emerged in the northern states in the early nineteenth century, but no one in America did more to bring that world about.” [100] Perhaps this is just hyperbole written for effect (a flaw in its own right but part of another discussion), but given the immense, widely acknowledged influence Alexander Hamilton had on the nation’s finances during this time, Wood’s claim is jarring to all knowledgeable readers, and frankly, not something one would expect from such an accomplished senior historian of early America.

Finally, two major conceptual/organizational problems with Revolutionary Characters serve to ultimately make the book unsatisfactory.  First, the book is pitched (see the dust jacket especially) as a study of what made these giants of early
America different from us.  In fact, what comes across is that they were different from each other, and from English aristocrats (a point Wood does make on pg. 12), but hardly different from modern American folks at all.  Washington strove for glory, respect and greatness by determination and persistence; Jefferson preached one set of values and lived by another; Franklin was much more about himself than what contemporary ideals of republicanism dictated was proper—are these flaws and human traits really so different than what we see today in our leaders, or in ourselves?  No, which makes the book’s claim to have some specific wisdom about the Founders misleading, with the possible exception of
Washington’s extraordinary standard of integrity.  My second observation is that Wood includes only one major military figure.  The Revolution had to be secured by a war after all, yet Wood includes only one soldier (Hamilton was not a significant military leader during the war, nor was Burr—neither were generals.)  Given that the war itself, and not Common Sense or John Adams musings, secured the liberties of Americans, it is more than a bit surprising that only one military leader is included in this collection. 

I’d recommend Joe Ellis’ Founding Brothers instead of Wood’s book.

July 14, 2006

What’s in a name?

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 4:01 am

In a very tidy example of how the present seeks to shape the past, we get this:

The United Nations has agreed to rename Auschwitz concentration camp to stress that Nazi Germans, not Poles, were responsible for the world’s most notorious death camp, Poland’s Culture Ministry said on Wednesday.  “Auschwitz Concentration Camp”, a U.N. heritage site, will be renamed “the Former Nazi German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz”, the ministry of culture said in a statement.

In this case, I see the Poles’ point of view.  There is nothing I have read to show that Poles were involved in the death camps as far as thier operation, so the desire to be untainted seems to be a logical one.  But why does Poland need to get the UN’s OK on this?

The rest of the brief article is here.

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