A Student of History

October 31, 2006

Gunther E. Rothenberg Seminar in Military History

Filed under: Wars — John Maass @ 9:45 pm

The Gunther E. Rothenberg Seminar in Military History is a tribute to Professor Rothenberg’s scholarship and dedication to the field of military history. High Point University is hosting the seminar whose theme in military history will change each year. Leading scholars have been invited to present their most recent research, and latest interpretations. Their papers will serve as a point of departure for extensive discussion and debate of the subject matter. The participant’s papers will be published annually in an edited anthology. The seminar is opened to the university community and the public. Students and scholars from across the country are encouraged to attend.Gunther E. Rothenberg was a world-renowned military historian. He authored scores of books and articles on a wide-range of military history with particular emphasis on the Habsburg Empire and the Napoleonic Wars. He was a Professor of History at Purdue University until his retirement in 1999 when he moved to Australia where until 2001 he was a Visiting Fellow at the School of Historical Studies at Monash University. From July 2001 until his death in April 2004, he was a Visiting Professorial Fellow in the School of History at the Australian Defense Force Academy.


“The Napoleonic Wars in a Global Context.”
Jeremy Black
Professor of History
University of Exeter

“Reform and Stability: Prussia’s Military Dialectic from Hubertusburg to Waterloo.”
Dennis Showalter
Professor of History
Colorado College

“Military Effectiveness in the Armies of 1813.”
Robert Epstein
Professor of History
School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and Staff College

“Napoleon as a Strategist.”
Charles Esdaile
Professor of History
University of Liverpool

Yale, JCC & Slavery

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 1:12 pm

In the Yale Daily News is a column about the legacy of slavery, increasingly being discussed not in the “Old South,” but in the halls fo the academy up North.

In one of the stained-glass windows in the Calhoun College dining hall, a black man and woman walk through a field, baskets of produce on their heads. Although no explicit description of the window’s contents is provided, the image it presents is unmistakable: this is John C. Calhoun‘s South Carolina, the produce in the basket is cotton, and the man and woman are slaves. Although the legacy of Yale’s connection to slavery may be tucked away in the corner of a dining hall, it is still a fact of history. While a Brown University committee recently completed a report detailing the University’s historical ties to slavery, Yale has not focused significant attention on its own ties since 2002, when the law school and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition teamed up on a conference entitled “Yale, New Haven and American Slavery.” While Yale has no current plans to undertake a report similar to Brown’s, some professors and students said they think the University should promote research on the issue.

Calhoun was a Yale graduate, and has left a very interesting debate there over slavery and how the North contributed to it.  More on this is here.  One interesting quote by a student:

“Not everything can be politically correct,” Mimi Jeffries ’07 said. “Especially since [Calhoun] is supposed to be historical. I think it goes along with the theme of reflecting the namesake of the college.”

Wow, they let one say that at Yale????

An Ice Age time capsule in MO

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 12:58 am

CNN has a nice story on what the article says is “an Ice Age time capsule sealed for thousands of years.”  Near Springfield, Missouri is a cave considered to be an extraordinary find. 

Remains in the cave date back at least 830,000 years and possibly over 1 million years. At some point at least 55,000 years ago, it was sealed by rocks and mud until a construction crew blasted a hole in one end while building a road in September 2001.

In one spot on the cave wall, Bear claw marks made at least 50,000 years ago by an extinct species of That animal are quite visible still, due to the soft walls.  A photo is at the website, here.  What has been found to date is amazing. 

“Just based on what was on the surface, the finds so far include mammoth and horse bones and beds clawed out of the clay by the short-faced bear, possibly while denning with cubs. Peccary tracks are the first proof that herds of the pig-like animals roamed in caves rather than just being dragged in by predators.”

There are tracks of large cats, possibly saber-toothed tigers or American lions. Foot-long shells of previously unknown turtle species stick out of a wall.

October 29, 2006

Kinsale, Va. church now 300 years old

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 7:43 pm

lo093006yeocomico1.jpg - (62006 Bytes)

According to the Diocese of Virginia, Yeocomico is the sixth oldest Anglican church in the state. Yeocomico is the fourth of those old churches with active congregations.   This Northern Neck Church is on the site of one of the earliest Christian places of worship in the New World. A wooden chapel was built in 1655 and replaced in 1706 by the present structure. Membership in the church included many of the early families of Virginia, including Washington, Lee, and Carter. The church is a National Historic Landmark, located off Route 606 near Hague, Va. Nomini Cliffs: The highest bluffs along the lower Potomac mark the stretch of Virginia shoreline from Nomini Creek to Pope’s Creek, where the Lees and Washingtons both had estates.

One unique architectural feature is a medieval feature called a wicket door. It may have been used in an earlier church on the site dating back to 1655.  The main door weighs 1,000 pounds and is large enough for three people abreast to walk through in good weather. Within it is the small wicket door just big enough for a single person to pass in bad weather.

For more, click here.

And, for a very nice NY Times column from 1999, which inludes details about a number of these local Anglican churches still standing, go here.

October 27, 2006

Battlefield Preservation Grants-2006

Filed under: Historic Preservation,Wars — John Maass @ 5:52 pm

Battlefield Preservation Grants for 2006 Announced

[Bushy Run]

National Park Service (NPS) Director Fran Mainella recently announced the award of $350,000 in grants to 11 groups working to protect and preserve historic American battlefields.

The grants are designed to help safeguard significant battlefield lands as symbols of national heritage and individual sacrifice. The funds will support a variety of projects at battle sites in Manassas, Unison, and Appomattox, VA, San Jacinto, TX, Fort Phil Kearny, WY, Bushy Run, PA, Two Bridges, NJ, Brown’s Mill, GA, Frenchtown, WA, northern Florida, and Peleliu in Palau.

The awards are administered by the NPS American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP), which promotes the preservation of noteworthy sites connected to wars on American soil. Since 1990, the ABPP and its partners have helped to protect and enhance more than 100 battlefields by co-sponsoring 306 projects in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

Educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, federal, state, local, and tribal governments are eligible to apply for the battlefield grants. Information about the individual grants and the ABPP is available at http://www.cr.nps.gov/hps/abpp/.

October 26, 2006

Wilson Library?

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 12:00 pm

Lifted directly from HNN, and the NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE

On 28 September 2006 the House of Representatives passed a bill “to authorize grants for contributions toward the establishment of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library” — legislation (H.R. 4846) introduced by Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and co-sponsored by eleven of his colleagues.   Photo of Congressman Bob GoodlatteThe bill in essence authorizes a future Congressional appropriation that directs the Archivist of the United States to contribute funds toward the establishment of a private presidential museum– the Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia which is owned by the Wilson Library Foundation. Specifically, the legislation “requires non-federal matching funds of at least double that of the grant” and stipulates that no grant funds can be used for the maintenance or operation of the library. In other words, while federal funds would be contributed, the library would not be made a part of the NARA administered, presidential library system. The legislation creates a precedent for what some would perhaps like to see a new NARA administered program of pass-through grants for private presidential libraries and museums.

However, in the floor debate prior to enactment of the bill, Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL), a member of the Government Reform committee that considered the measure stated, ” I want to make it clear that we are not establishing a precedent here…the Federal government simply does not have the resources to support all private Presidential libraries.” However, by enacting this legislation that is exactly what Congress is doing. Davis also expressed concern “that this grant would cut into the operating funds of the [National] Archives” a viewpoint shared by other members of the committee.

Woody Wilson

In part to address that latter concern, the bill as passed is slightly different from the version that was first introduced. The most significant difference is that the House-passed bill includes a provision that provides that the grant funds may be made “only from funds appropriated to the Archivist specifically for that purpose.” In other words, the bill sanctions a future appropriation earmark: National Archives officials declined to comment on the proposed legislative initiative.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration and possible action.   I am not a big WW at all, and the more one gets to know him, the less attractive he is (upper middle class Protestant sanctimony being WW’s chief character trait.)  However, from an historical point of view, this would be a good thing….

October 25, 2006

Faith and the Founders

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 5:15 pm

 From the National Review today, a piece by By Michael Novak & Jana Novak:

George Will is a very civilized man, and Brooke Allen, by all accounts from our friends, is a courteous and highly cultivated woman. Between them, they have generated another round of argument about the religion of the American Founders. We hope soon to have the pleasure of reading Allen’s new book, Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers, having only read her article in The Nation. What both writers say about the religion of six Founders (Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, and Washington) is within the bounds of 20th-century conventional wisdom.

There seems to be a lot of this kind of work recently.  Just try googling “founding fathers” and “religion,” and see what you get.  One site has a whole list of what Jefferson wrote on religion.  For example in 1816 he wrote “On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Were I to enter on that arena, I should only add an unit to the number of Bedlamites.”  One gets the impression that TJ sponsored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom so he could practice no form of it, not a certain brand of Christianity.  Or at least the (then) current version of it, for he noted a few years later that “The genuine and simple religion of Jesus will one day be restored: such as it was preached and practised by himself. Very soon after his death it became muffled up in mysteries, and has been ever since kept in concealment from the vulgar eye. To penetrate and dissipate these clouds of darkness, the general mind must be strengthened by education.”

A 1995 article by Steven Morris appears here, which refutes the claim that the founders were trying to set up a religious nation.  Unfortunately, Morris seeks first and foremost to attack the so-called “Christian right,” and his tone leaves me skeptical about his historical objectivity.

I think this site is interesting: Religious Affiliations of the Founding Fathers.  It notes that there are 204 unique individuals in the group we call “Founding Fathers.” These are the people who did one or more of the following:

– signed the Declaration of Independence
– signed the Articles of Confederation
– attended the Constitutional Convention of 1787
– signed the Constitution of the United States of America
– served as Senators in the First Federal Congress (1789-1791)
– served as U.S. Representatives in the First Federal Congress

Within this group, it identifies the religious affiliation of each one, and concludes that “The signers of the Declaration of Independence were a profoundly intelligent, religious and ethically-minded group.”  Hmmmm.  I am not sure at all that assigning denominations to Founders, and then calling them religious is a way to say that the Founders were a religious lot.  Look at Jefferson–was he religious?  The website says he was an Episcopal “deist.”  What’s that??  There’s quite a write-up on him at a linked page, here.

One may also wish to question Washington’s religious beliefs as well.  Check out Peter R. Henriques’ book Realistic Visionary, for its chapter on GW’s faith, in which he concludes that GW was not a Christian as many people then and today would define that word. 

Novack’s point is that beyond the well-known religious murkiness of the top founders (GW, TJ, Adams, Franklin, etc.) most of the others were in fact devout~~and so were the American people as well.

The author’s (Mr. Novack) website is here.

October 24, 2006

Hollywood Historians

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 9:12 pm

Could you be a Hollywood historian?  There’s an interesting career piece at the Chronicle’s website, with a brief bit of it below.

Showing up on the big screen at your local multiplex isn’t something most scholars would consider career-enhancing. But what about having an Oscar-winning director ask your views or guiding movie stars through the thickets of historical accuracy? What professor’s heart wouldn’t beat a little faster at that?

As someone who has worked as a producer for years and written about the intersection between Hollywood and academe, I would like to offer some advice to professors interested in working on television series or feature films.

The academic’s most obvious path to Hollywood — writing the big, definitive book on a historical subject — is the most time-consuming. Robin Lane Fox’s first book on Alexander the Great was published in 1974 and optioned several times before Oliver Stone finally got the epic on film in 2004. Here’s the first lesson: Having your book optioned is no guarantee that a film will ever be made, nor that your views will be reflected in the script. As far as producers are concerned, an option is basically protection against similar films being made or lawsuits being filed.

Sometimes even unpublished work creates a buzz. In 2000, Tyler Anbinder, an associate professor of history at George Washington University, got a phone call from representatives of Martin Scorsese, who had heard of Five Points, Anbinder’s 2001 book on a slum neighborhood in pre-Civil-War New York.

Anbinder agreed to read the screenplay for Gangs of New York and give his reactions, and a few months later, found himself face to face with Scorsese for a Q&A — one at which Anbinder learned something about how films are made. He asked Scorsese why a certain scene was being set up the way it was, and the director told him about his vision of the shot. A historian’s quibbles were not about to change the scene at that point — after all, Scorsese been laboring for more than 20 years to get the film made.

Jefferson’s slave records now online

Filed under: Historic Places,The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 8:29 pm

Miniature of Jefferson by John Trumbull  

Monticello has recently created an electronic resource called the Monticello Plantation Database, which contains a searchable catalog of Thomas Jefferson’s slave records.  The database is available on the Monticello Web site, www.monticello.org.   According to the database introduction there,

This website contains information about people who lived in slavery on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantations.  It provides access to a database of information on over six hundred individuals–details of life span, family structure, occupation, and transactions like purchases and sales.  It is a work in progress, which will be expanded and revised throughout 2006 and beyond.  It is hoped that it will give voice to the men, women, and children whose labor sustained Jefferson’s family and plantations but whose lives and contributions went unrecorded.

Jefferson lived all his life in a world made by slavery. From the age of fourteen, when he inherited Sawney from his father, until his death seventy years later, he had by Virginia law been the owner of more than six hundred people. Despite his lifelong belief that slavery was an “abominable crime” and his early efforts to end it, he did not free his own slaves, always owning about two hundred at any one time. He manumitted only two men in his lifetime and bequeathed freedom to five more in his will. And although he had “scruples” against selling slaves, he did sell more than 110, mainly for financial reasons, and he “alienated” 85 more by gift to family members. He favored a gradual plan for a general emancipation – to include expatriation of the freed slaves – but while slavery was the law of the land he abided by that law.

Aerial of Monticello and West Lawn in Early Spring

Development of the Monticello Plantation Database, which began in 1996 with data entry, has been made possible by the Robert H. Smith Fund, which provides program support to Monticello’s Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. The database is a work in progress: It will be continually expanded and revised as new information comes to light, with the ultimate goal of encompassing all aspects of the Monticello plantation – its residents (both free and enslaved), livestock, crops, and buildings.

The database includes records of over 600 slaves.  For more details, click here.

October 22, 2006

Preservation vs. Schools in Va.

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 6:29 pm

From the WP, an article on how one town, in Northern Va., is struggling to fight the school system in its own county to limit growth. 

The small western Loudoun County town of Purcellville is taking on the county and one of its biggest developers — the school system — with the hope of managing growth in the once-rural area.

But the 50,000-student school system is a formidable opponent, given its mission of building more than 20 schools in the next six years to educate a population expected to grow by 40 percent in the same period of time.

So who will win?  Given the recent eminent domain decision by the Supreme Court ofthe US, I think I can tell where this is going.  But one never knows, and so far the town has had some success.

Officials in the town of 6,500 are seeking to block construction of a proposed high school on county-owned land just north of the town. They argue that construction requires town approval, which is the same argument that was used to challenge an elementary school outside of Hamilton that was scheduled to open next year.

So far, their efforts appear to be working. The elementary school has been delayed by a year and the high school’s 2008 opening date is in jeopardy.

The rest of the story is here.

October 19, 2006

VT Rev War Site Gets Grant

Filed under: Historic Places,Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 5:51 pm

The Mount Independence State Historic Site in Orwell, Vermont, has received a $28,500 Museums for America grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services for a project to create and install interpretive signage on the 1-¼ mile-long trail handicapped accessible trail under construction this fall.

Map of 18th century military sites

The new trail, which meets outdoor standards for handicapped accessibility with gentle grades and packed surfaces, reworks the old Red and White trails on the southern half of the Mount.

The signage project will draw in visitors to experience and learn about the beautiful landscape and historic, archaeological, and natural features at one of the best-preserved Revolutionary War archaeological sites in America. The signage will complement the story of the site as told in the state-of-the-art visitor center. The trail, with the new signage, will be opened in early summer 2007.

Mount Independence, a National Historic Landmark, is located in Orwell on 497 Mount Independence Road, six miles west of the intersections of VT Routes 22A and 73 near Orwell village. It is open daily through Columbus Day.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation Meeting

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 5:44 pm

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation will have its annual meeting 11/11/06, to include:

the presentation of the Carrington Williams Preservation Award, & Volunteer of the Year Award.

The event runs 2:30 to 4:30pm at The
Wayside Inn, 7783 Main Street, Middletown, VA.
Join us for an afternoon of partnership and networking in this 250-year-old building, now one of the nation’s oldest continuously operating inns.hors d’oeuvres and light refreshments
Please RSVP by Wednesday, 8 November 2006

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