A Student of History

July 14, 2006

A longhouse has been unearthed at a Schoharie Valley site

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 3:47 am

The remains of at least one longhouse have been unearthed at a Schoharie Valley excavation site (New York state, USA) that professional archaeologists have called one of the most important in the state. Located on a terrace overlooking the Schoharie Creek, the excavation – named the Pethick Site – has so far uncovered more than 80,000 artifacts. The site even drew dozens of amateur archaeologists and curious townspeople midway through the eight-week dig as word spread of the chance to experience firsthand a professional archaeological excavation.
     The site – in its third year of excavation – is run as a field school through cooperative effort by the University at Albany department of anthropology and the Division of Research and Collections at the New York State Museum. “This is probably the most significant excavation I’ve ever been a part of,” said Sean Rafferty, site co-director and assistant professor. Rafferty directed a previous excavation about a half-mile away from the current site and has participated in other digs throughout his career. “It still amazes me that we found one of the most prolific sites in the state completely by chance.”
     In 2004, the field school was denied access to a site, called Smith-Holloway, a stone’s throw away from Pethick. But, after that denial, a local archaeology enthusiast, Carleton Smith of Central Bridge, led the team to an open field where he had uncovered numerous artifacts.
Shovel test pits were dug, yielding rich archaeological deposits. And the Pethick site was born.
     The field school program trains undergraduate and postgraduate students in the techniques of professional archaeology. For eight weeks, students learn the basics of archaeological field work, laboratory processing and artifact analysis. Those who complete the work are then able to seek jobs at private or public contract archaeology firms throughout the country.
     “We discovered a pitted stone, scraper, projectile point and part of a drill so far today,” said UAlbany senior Joshua Porter of Latham. “We’ve been slowly excavating a fire pit on top of a storage pit, which is a pretty impressive find.” Newly discovered artifacts and their carbon dating indicate that people have inhabited the site since the Early Archaic Period, dating to as early as 8,000 BCE Mounting evidence indicates it has been continuously occupied since at least 3,000 BCE.
     The occupants of the Schoharie Valley at that time are generally believed to be the ancestors of modern Iroquois cultures, including the Mohawk.
Numerous artifacts from that period have been recovered, including countless chipped stone waste flakes called chert, a byproduct of stone tool manufacture; projectile points, including Brewerton side-notched, Meadowood and Levanna; animal bone; seeds; and pottery chards. Many hearths, fire-cracked rock deposits, storage pits and pieces of pottery patterns have also been documented. Preliminary analysis suggests the presence of numerous house outlines and at least one longhouse.
     The daylong event was planned and executed by UAlbany graduate students Steve Moragne and Jamie Moore to generate public interest in archaeology. They were surprised by the number of people who attended and their interest in the history of the Schoharie Valley.
“Local people often have a better idea of site locations and what types of material can be found. Our current excavation is a perfect example of the public and archaeologists working together, which I hope will continue in the future,” Rafferty said.
     For more information on the site in the Schoharie Valley and future excavations, go to http://www.albany.edu or http://www.oce.nysed.gov.

Source: Times Union (10 July 2006)

July 12, 2006

History defies a just-the-facts approach…

Filed under: The Academy,What is History? — John Maass @ 11:54 pm


Historian Mary Beth Norton has an opinion column that was in the NYT and carried by a number of other papers, including the Raleigh News & Observer.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

As a historian, I love facts. I especially love facts about early America, the subject I have researched, taught and written about for more than 40 years. The Florida Legislature would seem to share my enthusiasm. An education law it recently enacted insists, “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed” and “shall be viewed as knowable, teachable and testable.” The statute places particular importance on the facts of the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted by the Second Continental Congress two days after its vote for independence on July 2, 1776. Yet the wording of the law befuddles me. Facts mean little or nothing without being interpreted — another word for “constructed.” All historians know that facts never speak for themselves.

Norton is right to question Florida’s law, in that most of history is what we have constructed, or at least, what some have constructed and others believe.  This is what the Whig interpretation of history was about for years.  Or how we set up conflicts and wars as set pieces, or presidential elections as being man vs. man, and not about issues, tensions, and movements.  One need read only To Rule the Waves, by Arthur Herman, to have an example of how a historian can distort huge historical events into “constructs” of one man vs. one man, or to overemphasize certain historical forces rather than examine and engage with the whole picture. 

Norton concludes that “Under the guise of returning to a factual teaching of history in the state’s schools, Florida’s legislators have mandated an ahistorical construction that paradoxically distorts the very facts they purport to revere.”  However, Matthew Franck takes Norton to task for her attack on Florida’s attempts to “get to the facts” approach in a National Review article.  He writes that “Norton actually proves the Floridians’ point, and proves herself quite silly, by working so hard to show that certain interpretations of American history are better or more reasonable or more true to the facts than others. Not that her interpretation is better. But in her clear conviction that an argument can persuade someone to adopt one “construction” of history as better or truer (or even just more useful) than another, Norton shows just the kind of respect for facts that too many of her colleagues have abandoned and that the Florida legislature is concerned to preserve.”  Leave it to the NR to keep its eyes on what the academy is doing, although this effort goes too far too often….

For other articles on the Florida issue with history teaching, click here and here.

Jamestown 400

Filed under: Historic Places,The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 12:00 pm

Expanding JamestownSounds like an auto race!

Seriously:  As Jamestown nears its 400th birthday, more and more will be forthcoming from the state of virginia and historians about the history of this event, and activities designed to bring the attention of the public to it.  In the Richmond Times-Dispatch, one finds an article in this genre entitled “Va. Indians will journey to England: Tribes to discuss their past from Jamestown in the 1600s to today.”

In the English city where Pocahontas died nearly 400 years ago, Virginia Indians will show this week that their culture is still very much alive.”We want to let folks know that we’re not some museum pieces,” said Stephen Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy tribe and a leader of a 54-member delegation representing the state’s eight recognized tribes. “We’re alive and vibrant.”

The Indian group is scheduled to fly to England on Wednesday for a week of cultural demonstrations, scholarly discussions and ceremonies centered in the Kent County town of Gravesend. The event is linked to next year’s commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

Gravesend, on the Thames River southeast of London, is where the Indian princess Pocahontas died in 1617 and was buried after beginning her return voyage from a visit to England as wife of Jamestown settler John Rolfe.  Government officials in Kent have led efforts to hold Jamestown commemorative events in England, and have raised private donations covering most of the estimated $160,000 cost of the Indian visit.

“We thought it would be a good idea, given the Pocahontas connections, and it grew from there,” said Alex King, deputy leader of the Kent County Council and chairman of the Jamestown UK Foundation. “It’s really quite a special event.” The visit was originally planned as an add-on to the Virginia Indian arts-and-crafts festival to be held as part of an annual Gravesend event known as Big Day Out. But discussions between the British Jamestown committee, the federal Jamestown commission in Williamsburg and the Indians led to a more ambitious agenda.


It will be interesting to see if the English will be interested in this event, as we will be here in the states.

Some in S.C. think there’s something rotten with Denmark

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 5:07 am

In an article from Cox News service, there’s some debate over the alleged Denmark Vesey slave conspiracy, in S.C. in 1822.  The piece begins:

There’s no likeness of him, no record of a word he wrote or said directly, no marked grave. The slave rebellion he allegedly plotted — which would’ve been the largest in U.S. history — was scotched before it happened. Some historians believe there was no plot — that the insurrection said to have called for the murder of every white in Charleston was concocted by white leaders for political advantage.

What isn’t disputed: Denmark Vesey, a freed slave, was hanged in 1822 with 34 co-conspirators. It’s believed to be the largest set of executions ordered by a U.S. court.  Scholars regard Vesey as a precursor both to the Civil War and the civil rights movement, but he is among the most divisive figures most Southerners have never heard of. Here, many blacks exalt him as a freedom fighter, while some whites condemn him as a terrorist.

The problem is that there’s an ongoing effort to erect a public monument to Vesey in Charleston, “a decade-long odyssey, with only a fraction of the $200,000 needed raised so far.”  those who know how these things play out should not be surprised that there’s plenty of opposition to it. 

[Denmark Vesey house]

The photo is of Vesey’s house in Charleston.  The rest of the article is here.   A PBS sight gives this info on DV:

On May 30, 1822, George Wilson, “a favourite and confidential slave” informed his master of a planned insurrection that involved thousands of free and enslaved blacks who lived in and around Charleston.

Charleston authorities subsequently uncovered evidence of the most extensive black insurrection in American history, planned for July, 1822. The city’s suppression of the African Church, which boasted a membership of over three thousand in 1820, provided the catalyst for revolt; Denmark Vesey began using his position as a respected free man and Methodist leader to organize other free and enslaved blacks. Among Vesey’s co-conspirators was Gullah Jack Pritchard, an African priest from Mozambique. Monday Gell, another of his lieutenants, wrote two letters to the president of Santo Domingo seeking support for the insurrection.

Once the plot was betrayed, Charleston officials moved quickly to arrest and question the leaders. Following a lengthy trial, Vesey and thirty-six others were hanged. On the day of Vesey’s execution, state militia and federal troops had to be called out to contain a demonstration by black supporters. Despite arrests and beatings, many blacks defied authorities by wearing mourning black as they witnessed the executions of the chief co-conspirators.

In August of 1822, the City Council authorized J. Hamilton, the city’s Intendant (Mayor) to publish an account of Vesey’s rebellion. Hamilton prefaced his account by noting,

“I have not been insensible…as to what it might be politic either to publish or suppress….I have deemed a full publication … as the most judicious course …. there can be no harm in the salutary inculcation of one lesson, among a certain portion of our population, that there is nothing they are bad enough to do, that we are not powerful enough to punish.”

Hamilton’s “Account” was sold for 25 cents, with a “discount by the hundred.”

July 10, 2006

Va. governor exonerates convicted witch

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 8:44 pm

The Witch of Pungo is no longer a witch. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine on Monday exonerated Grace Sherwood, who 300 years ago became Virginia’s only woman convicted as a witch tried by water.  “I am pleased to officially restore the good name of Grace Sherwood,” Kaine wrote in a letter Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf read aloud before a re-enactment of Sherwood’s being dropped into the river.


July 5, 2006

History Paved Over, Again–Ireland (continued)

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 4:37 am


In follow up to a continued look at how Ireland is neglecting its past, here is more about the Hill of Tara and the road to go in nearby that will detract from the site’s heritage:

Hearing Date for Hill of Tara M3 case postponed

The setting of a hearing date in the Hill of Tara / M3 motorway case was postponed by the Irish Chief Justice, the Hon. Mr. Justice John Murray. He said he will set a hearing date after written submissions were received by The Attorney General, The Minister for the Environment, Meath County Council, and the National Roads Authority, due on 24th July.  Gerard Hogan, SC, Counsel for the Appellant, Mr. Vincent Salafia, asked for an early hearing date to be set, since he had given undertakings in the High Court that he would do so. Chief Justice Murray questioned whether there was any urgency in the case, since there is no injunction in place and no stoppage of works. Counsel for Meath County Council argued that there as a ‘considerable shadow’ hanging over the project in relation to the public private partnership contract, which cannot be signed until the matter is through the courts.

Source: TaraWatch Press Release (29 June 2006) via The Stone Pages.

For my related post, go here please.

July 4, 2006

For your Fourth of July reading…

Filed under: New books,Wars — John Maass @ 8:16 pm

George Will’s 7/4/2006 column is his take on what appears to be (as I have yet to read it) an interesting book, “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War” by Nathaniel Philbrick.  Since it is a short column, I will only include a short passage, but recommend it to all.  However, I am not sure if all will draw the saqme conclusions Will does….

For your Fourth of July reading, open a mind-opening book about an immensely important American war concerning which you may know next to nothing. King Philip’s War, the central event in a bestseller that is one of this summer’s publishing surprises, left a lasting imprint on America.

Like so many authors today, Philbrick has his own website for the book, here.  An extract:

From the perilous ocean crossing to the shared bounty of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim settlement of New England has become enshrined as our most sacred national myth. Yet, as bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick reveals in his spellbinding new book, the true story of the Pilgrims is much more than the well-known tale of piety and sacrifice; it is a fifty-five-year epic that is at once tragic, heroic, exhilarating, and profound.The Mayflower’s religious refugees arrived in Plymouth Harbor during a period of crisis for Native Americans as disease spread by European fishermen devastated their populations. Initially the two groups—the Wampanoags, led by the charismatic and calculating chief Massasoit, and the Pilgrims, whose pugnacious military officer Miles Standish was barely five feet tall—maintained a fragile working relationship. But within decades, New England would erupt into King Philip’s War, a savagely bloody conflict that nearly wiped out English colonists and natives alike and forever altering the face of the fledgling colonies and the country that would grow from them.With towering figures like William Bradford, Massosit, Squanto and the distinctly American hero Benjamin Church at the center of his narrative, Philbrick has fashioned a fresh and compelling portrait of the dawn of American history—a history dominated right from the start by issues of race, violence, and religion.

Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower

What will be interesting to see iis how he differs inhis interpretation of King Philip’s War with Jill Lepore, whose book In The Name of War is a largely literary, unsatisfying cultural history with an emphasis on memory of the conflict.  It suffers from the disability non-military historians have trying to write about military events (though the reverse is often true as well.)

Will’s conclusion of Mayflower

So began the harnessing, for the general good, of the fact that human beings are moved, usually and powerfully, by self-interest. So began the unleashing of American energies through freedom — voluntarism rather than coercion. So began America.

Why the Whiskey Rebellion Is Worth Recalling Now

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 11:43 am


At the History News Network there is an article entitled “Why the Whiskey Rebellion Is Worth Recalling Now,” here.  It is by the author of a new book on this topic, which frankly I found to be something of a disappointment.  It smacks of being too dramatic, written not by an historian but a journalist who creates a set piece drama building to a crescendo which of course, as in most cases like this, becomes inevitable.  The writing style is too breezy for me.  I am more of a fan of Thomas Slaughter’s book on the Whiskey Rebellion.  However, the HNN piece makes for interesting reading.  It starts out:

The conflict in Iraq has inspired a strange-bedfellow alliance, opposing the Bush administration’s war policy with bold words about peace, liberty, and American history. Antiwar.com, a forum embracing right-wing libertarians, leftist doves and many in between — it claims 100,000 visitors a day — describes as “paramount” a relationship between freedom and non-intervention, which, it says, “helped forge the foundation of this nation.”

That view of founding history, explicitly drawn from classic America-first isolationism, ignores strong tendencies toward militarism and authoritarianism in the founding itself — tendencies that throw a genuinely revealing light, and possibly also a distressing one, on our current debates about war and freedom.

Of course, the author (William Hogeland) refers to the WR.  Hogeland has a much longer article on this topic at LewRockwell.com, a libertarian web, in which he writes:

Still, the rebellion and its suppression were not ultimately about booze. They were about the nature and purpose of federal taxation, about government involvement in finance and monetary policy, and about the relationship between democratic republicanism and markets. (Hence their longstanding interest for libertarians.) The “whiskey rebels” had a nuanced grasp of such issues. So did Alexander Hamilton. Modern historians of the founding and federal eras, however, as well as many biographers of Hamilton and Washington, tend not to. In large part they’ve treated the rebellion as a chaotic overreaction, by rural enthusiasts of drinking and abominators of domestic taxation, to a duty that placed new costs on the consumption of a beloved beverage.

Reading both articles will save one the time of the whole book of Hogeland’s, which I recommend.  Hogeland has a website too on this subject. However, in fairness to Mr. Hogeland, there’s a lot of praise for the book including these blurbs:

“From the Pennsylvania frontier to Alexander Hamilton’s maneuverings at the highest levels of government, Hogeland tells a good tale. … renderings of Washington and Hamilton, as well as local figures, make the great men seem all too human.”
–Jon Meacham, author of American Gospel; Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A great read — and an intelligent, insightful, and bold look at an overlooked but vital incident in American history.”
–Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row

“This is the most compelling and dramatically rendered story of the Whiskey Rebellion ever written. It is so riveting that one almost imagines being on the Pennsylvania frontier when the benighted farmers resisted the federal government and tried to cope with the huge army sent west to bludgeon them into submission. Hogeland unravels complex economic issues, shifting political ideologies, and legal maneuverings with uncommon skill, and he has brought to life in beautifully polished prose a cast of characters: insurgent farmers wearing blackface, religious mystics, radical intellectuals, stiff-necked financiers, land speculators, and — of course — Hamilton, Washington, and other iconic figures of the revolutionary era who heaped wrath on the hardscrabble inheritors of revolutionary radicalism. Every American who values the history of how liberty and authority have stood in dynamic tension throughout the last three centuries should read this luminous book.”
— Gary Nash, Professor Emeritus of History, UCLA; Director, National Center for History in the Schools

“Captures the drama, danger and importance of the period.”
Pittsburgh Sunday Post-Gazette

“A fast-paced , blow-by-blow account … judicious, spirited, lucid … a perceptive parable about the pursuit of political plans no matter what the cost to the nation’s unity.”
Publishers Weekly

“Vigorous, revealing… invites critical reconsideration of a founding father or two.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Important history, carefully researched and written with verve. … Vivid, lively, colorful.”

“Provocative … he knows how to tell an exciting story.”

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