A Student of History

December 17, 2006

Oscar Marion is anonymous no longer

Filed under: The strange place called the South,Wars — John Maass @ 7:41 pm

This is from the Washington Post, and reprinted in a number of on-line news sites as well: 

WASHINGTON — For years, he was known only as the faithful servant. Through the long campaigns of the Revolutionary War, he toiled alongside his famous master. In a painting that has hung in the U.S. Capitol since 1899, he is the figure by the fire, roasting sweet potatoes.

Now Oscar Marion is anonymous no longer. He has had his name restored.

In a ceremony Friday at the Capitol, Marion was recognized as the “African-American Patriot” he always was. A proclamation signed by President Bush expressed the thanks of a “grateful nation” and recognized Oscar Marion’s “devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country in the Armed Forces of the United States.”

The occasion was a triumph for his distant cousin, genealogist Tina Jones, who researched his identity and pressed officials to honor him.

“He is not just some obscure figure in the background,” said Jones, president of the American Historical Interpretation Foundation in Rockville, Md. “This person had a name. He had a life and a separate contribution.”

Oscar Marion was the personal slave of Gen. Francis Marion, 1732-1795. Like other slaves of the time, he was given his master’s surname. The general was the legendary “Swamp Fox” from South Carolina who bedeviled British Redcoats during the War of Independence. He often is described as one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare. The 2000 movie, “The Patriot,” starring Mel Gibson, was based on Swamp Fox lore.

Jones unearthed Oscar Marion’s name while researching the Marion branch of her family, members of whom were among about 200 slaves on the Marion plantation. Jones said she became fascinated about a year ago with the references she found to Francis Marion and the slave who always accompanied him, sometimes referred to simply as Oscar. The two were side by side during the seven years of the Revolutionary War, far longer than most men of the time served. In addition to his duties for the general, Oscar Marion also fought in the militia.

“In books written about Francis Marion, he is described as ‘the faithful Negro servant,’ “ Jones said.

As she researched paintings and portraits of the general, Jones became aware of several “that portray Francis with Oscar close by,” she said. A prominent one, titled “General Marion Inviting a British Officer to Share His Meal,” hangs in a third-floor corridor of the Senate wing of the Capitol. Its common name, Jones said, is “the sweet potato dinner picture.”

Painted sometime between 1815 and 1825 by South Carolina artist John Blake White, it depicts Francis Marion, in a military hat, talking to a red-coated British officer. He extends his hand in a gesture that includes Oscar, who kneels low behind a small table, cooking sweet potatoes on the fire.

The artist, who knew the Marion family as a young boy, grew up hearing the Swamp Fox legends. The painting recreated a scene from 1781, when the enemies met to discuss an exchange of prisoners of war, and Francis Marion surprised the British officer by inviting him to share his modest meal.

In 1899, White’s son donated the oil-on-canvas painting to the Senate, where it has hung since. The slave was not named, however, until Jones studied the painting this year and made a case that he was Oscar Marion. She presented her research to the Office of the Senate Curator, which cares for the Senate’s collection of 160 paintings and sculptures.

“We’re always very excited when new research comes up about anything in our collection,” said Melinda Smith, the associate curator.

The curator’s office recently updated its Web site description of the painting, noting that the slave has been identified as Oscar Marion. In coming months, the painting will be relabeled to reflect the new information. “It really tells a great story about the Revolutionary period,” Senate curator Diane Skvarla said at Friday’s event.

The ceremony accorded Oscar Marion the respect he might not have received during his life. The D.C. National Honor Guard presented the colors; the invocation was led by the House of Representatives chaplain, the Rev. Daniel Coughlin.

U.S. Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., said the case has “historical significance.”

“African-Americans have been marginalized in so many different events in American history, as if they didn’t exist,” said Wynn, whose office helped Jones arrange the ceremony. “Whenever we can bring to light the name of a figure engaged in a historic event, it is a good thing.”

Jones said she continues to research the intertwined lives of Francis Marion and Oscar Marion. Although Francis married late in life, remaining childless, there is no evidence Oscar had a wife or a family, she said. She has found no direct descendants. Oscar Marion probably lived out his last days near the man he had served for a lifetime — on the large Marion plantation in Berkeley County.

December 15, 2006

From the Fordham Institute

Filed under: What is History? — John Maass @ 9:26 pm
The Consequences of a “Narrowing” K-12 Curriculum
Neglecting history, civics, literature and the arts threatens U.S. economic competitiveness, leaders say

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Doubling the time that schools devote to math and reading in response to state and federal testing requirements won’t truly prepare young Americans for life in the 21st century. It probably won’t even boost reading and math scores long term, concluded a conference of policymakers, business leaders, and educators today.

At the event, hosted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and supported by the Louis Calder Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, scholars and education leaders highlighted alternatives to a hyper-narrow curriculum, including testing added subjects like history, lengthening the school day to encompass art and music, and providing stronger curricular guidance and instructional materials for teachers.

“Narrowing the K-12 curriculum isn’t just a problem that arrived with No Child Left Behind,” said Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr. “Since the dawn of standards-based education reform, some states and schools have reacted to pressure for better basic skills by squeezing out history, civics, literature, and the arts. This is wrong. Our kids need both to walk and chew gum and our schools must prepare them accordingly, ensuring that they’re adept in the basic skills while also acquiring a broad liberal arts education.”

Business leaders, including technology mastermind Dr. Sidney Harman; artists, including poet and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Dana Gioia; statesmen, historians, and practicing educators from around the country gathered at the Fordham symposium, Beyond The Basics: Why reading, math, and science aren’t sufficient for a 21st century education, to ponder possible remedies, including:

  • Increasing instructional time in U.S. classrooms. According to data newly analyzed by Kate Walsh, president of the National Council for Teacher Quality, students in some cities (e.g. Chicago) spend the equivalent of eight weeks less in school per year than their peers in other cities (e.g. New York). Such sharp differences mean less time for learning basics—and everything else.
  • Adding subjects to the testing docket. Brown University scholar Martin West presented research showing that, at a national level, instructional time for reading has risen dramatically while time for non-tested subjects such as history has eroded. However, states that test students in history haven’t experienced these same declines; their students spend more time studying history than in other states. UNESCO researcher Aaron Benavot also found that U.S. primary schools spend more time on reading instruction—and less on the arts—than do other OECD nations.
  • Equipping teachers with better instructional materials and professional development to teach a well-rounded curriculum. A range of leaders including Kati Haycock of the Education Trust, E. D. Hirsch, Jr. of the Core Knowledge Foundation, and Antonia Cortese of the American Federation of Teachers faulted states for lacking a coherent curriculum that teachers can use in class. As most state standards are too vague to be helpful, teachers crave clear expectations and powerful classroom tools.

“The narrowing of the curriculum is not an inevitable response to testing and accountability,” said education historian Diane Ravitch. “Some schools, districts, and states have done a better job ensuring a broad education for all of their students, and they deserve to be emulated. The educators in charge of schools must hew close to a vision of a good education for their students, regardless of NCLB requirements.”

In the coming months, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute will release a volume highlighting today’s discussions and conclusions. To view the Beyond the Basics Symposium via Webcast, visit http://www.widmeyer.tv/webcast/beyondthebasics

Nationally and in our home state of Ohio, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute strives to close America’s vexing achievement gaps by raising standards, strengthening accountability, and expanding high-quality education options for parents and families. For more information about the Institute’s work, visit http://www.edexcellence.net.


Filed under: Wars — John Maass @ 1:22 pm

The 17th Annual WAR OF 1812 IN THE WEST SYMPOSIUM will be held March 24-25,2007 at the Historic General Daniel Bissell Home, St. Louis, Missouri, St. Louis Parks. Presentations on the War of 1812 era and the St. Louis area are desired. Presentations to be 30-45 minutes with 10-15 minutes for questions. Feature speaker is Richard V. Barbuto, author of Niagara 1814: America Invades Canada, Kansas University Press 2000. The Symposium is free and open to the public, no registration is required. Interested speakers please contact Dave Bennett at ebclemson@aol.com or 816-695-1831.

December 12, 2006

Is Stones River Battlefield important?

Filed under: Historic Places,Wars — John Maass @ 7:33 pm

Ok, this may not be the most burning question of the day, or ever, to some of you. However, I ran across a newspaper webpage that asks this question, since the paper is located in Murfreesborough, TN, where the Civil War battle took place. The page (here) begins:

Have you ever visited Stones River National Battlefield?  Or maybe it’s just on your to-do list? Perhaps you wonder why you should even bother?

Experts say the park is a major resource for Murfreesboro, the state of Tennessee and the nation.

“I believe that Murfreesboro and Rutherford County need to seriously consider the wonderful asset that is Stones River National Battlefield,” said David Brown, executive vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Brown, as chief operating officer of the National Trust, travels the nation as the organization strives to save historic places and revitalize communities with much less to offer than Murfreesboro.

The Battle of Stones River began on the last day of 1862 and was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Civil War.  It is a nice effort to promote tourism, etc., and worth a look.

Major General William S. Rosecrans

Gen. William Rosecrans, commander of the Union forces atthe battle.

December 8, 2006

WWI Gets Museum in US

Filed under: Wars — John Maass @ 4:35 am


“World War I has been pulled into the 21st century by a just-opened museum here that aims to deliver a highly tactile, thought- provoking experience to visitors. The National World War I Museum, created by one of the world’s premier museum-exhibit designers, occupies space directly below the recently restored and expanded Liberty Memorial. Eleven years in the making, the museum vividly tells the story of the four-year global catastrophe that reshaped the world. “

This is the opening paragraph in a detailed article in the Christian Science Monitor, available here.

“The memorial first took hold soon after the Armistice ended the fighting on Nov. 11, 1918. Back then, the people of Kansas City, in a burst of patriotic ardor, raised $2.5 million for a memorial in just 10 days through public subscription. The original design of the art-deco masterpiece included a small exhibition hall as well as a memorial hall and an observation deck atop the central tower. The memorial was closed in 1994 for a massive restoration and expansion, which, in addition to the new museum space, includes a 20,000-square-foot research center, collection storage space, and other amenities.”

Wirral Maritime Heritage Trail-UK

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 3:37 am

The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), America’s largest nonprofit battlefield preservation group, today announced the addition of the Wirral Maritime Heritage Trail to the 600-site Civil War Discovery Trail. The Wirral Maritime Heritage Trail becomes the first Civil War Discovery Trail site in the United Kingdom and the second to be designated outside the United States.

Edwin C. Bearss, CWPT Trustee and Chief Historian Emeritus of the U.S. National Park Service, will be the keynote speaker at the designation ceremonies. According to Bearss, the area along the River Mersey in northwestern England played a crucial role in equipping the fledgling Confederate Navy. He noted that the most famous Confederate raider of the entire war, C.S.S. Alabama, was built at the Laird Brothers Shipyard at Birkenhead on the Wirral peninsula, across the Mersey River from Liverpool.

“Adding the Wirral Maritime Heritage Trail to the Civil War Discovery Trail brings an important dimension to our understanding of the international partnerships that supported the Confederate war effort,” remarked Bearss. “This formal designation of the region’s role in the war will provide unique insights into the breadth and scope of what was an immensely far-reaching conflict. The Civil War did not just stop at the water’s edge.”

CWPT President Jim Lighthizer agreed, adding “The Civil War Discovery Trail tells the story of the American Civil War and its dramatic impact on the development of our nation. The Civil War Preservation Trust is proud to be the steward of such a unique resource and delighted that such an understanding of the importance of the Civil War exists overseas.”

The Wirral peninsula is bordered to the west by the River Dee, to the south by Cheshire, and to the east by the River Mersey. Facing the city of Liverpool and extending into the Irish Sea, it already had a long shipbuilding tradition when Confederate leaders sent James D. Bulloch to England in 1861 with $1 million and orders to commission ships for the Confederate Navy. The posting was fortuitous since, as Bearss stated, “Bulloch, like his nephew, future president Theodore Roosevelt, recognized the critical importance of sea power and the significance of the Wirral’s connection to the ocean.”

Working with other Confederate agents in the area, Bulloch was able smuggle millions of dollars worth of scarce naval and military materiel into the South. Bulloch also covertly commissioned the construction of C.S.S. Alabama, which masqueraded as Enrica until after she was launched.

Alabama served as a commerce raider, attacking U.S. merchant and naval ships for two years. Although she never set anchor in a Southern port, she wreaked enormous havoc on U.S. shipping, claiming more than 60 prizes valued at more than $6 million. For more than 20 months, Alabama cruised both the north and south Atlantic, crossed the Indian Ocean twice and navigated the waters off Indonesia. The damages were so heavy that after the war, the United States successfully pursued compensation from the British government.

“In 1864, Alabama was sunk in combat with U.S.S. Kearsarge off the coast of Cherbourg, France,” Bearss noted. “Alabama‘s captain, Raphael Semmes, rescued after the battle by the British yacht Deerhound, became a hero to millions of Southerners. But, at the same time, he was seen as a pirate by equal numbers of Northerners.”

Cité de la Mer, a French maritime museum in Cherbourg with extensive exhibits on the recently rediscovered Alabama wreck, was the first foreign site added to the Civil War Discovery Trail, joining the ranks in 2004.

In 2000, when the Civil War Discovery Trail was selected by the White House as a National Millennium Trail, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton called it a “visionary project that defines us as Americans.” According to Lighthizer, “We are especially proud to include another international Civil War site to the Civil War Discovery Trail.”

Each site on the Civil War Discovery Trail is operated independently. CWPT helps promote these sites through its website (http://www.civilwar.org), a comprehensive guide book entitled Civil War Sites, published by Globe Pequot Press, and an extensive collection of maps produced by the National Geographic’s MapMachine which are available online at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/maps/civilwar.

With more than 70,000 members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s remaining Civil War battlefields. Since 1987, the organization has saved more than 23,000 acres of hallowed ground. CWPT’s website is located at http://www.civilwar.org.

December 7, 2006

Irish Psalter Clarification

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 9:11 pm

This past summer, I posted on an ancient psalter found in a peat bog in Ireland, which made quite a splash in the news media.  Since that time, The National Museum of Ireland issued the following statement to clear up any misconceptions of what could be read in the incredible find:

In the press release issued by the National Museum of Ireland on 26th July the following reference was made to Psalm 83:

“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”

The above mention of Psalm 83 has led to misconceptions about the revealed wording and may be a source of concern for people who believe Psalm 83 deals with “the wiping out of Israel”.

The Director of the National Museum of Ireland,
<span style="font-size:10.5pt;color:black;font-family:Arial;">Dr.</span> Patrick F. Wallace, would like to highlight that the text visible on the manuscript does NOT refer to wiping out
Israel but to the ‘vale of tears’.

This is part of verse 7 of Psalm 83 in the old latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) which, in turn, was translated from an original Greek text would have been the version used in the medieval period. In the much later King James version the number of the Psalms is different, based on the Hebrew text and the ‘vale of tears’ occurs in Psalm 84. The text about wiping out
Israel occurs in the Vulgate as Psalm 82 = Psalm 83 (King James version).

It is hoped that this clarification will serve comfort to anyone worried by earlier reports of the content of the text.

POW Camps to be Preserved in US

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 1:55 am

There is an interesting story here about the efforts of preservationists and national legislators to preserve ten former POW camps from WWII.  “The Republican-led Congress,” says the column, “sent President Bush on Tuesday a bill for $38 million in National Park Service grants to restore and pay for research at 10 camps.”  Sounds great, as the Senate has already passed the bill too, and the White House so far has not signalled any opposition to it.

What’s the catch?  The NPS is not in favor of the project as they say it is too expensive.

December 1, 2006

Well, well, well…..

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 10:39 pm

As reported in a local paper (and on its site) the folks in Shakespeare’s home town, Stratford-on-Avon, are quite upset with a national drug store chain for ignoring the town’s historic past.

“MEMBERS of Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council and the Stratford Society reacted in anger to news this week that national chemist Superdrug filled in a medieval well at their new High Street shop without consultation.”

They should see what Walmart does over here on this side of the pond.  Actually, the folks there need look no farther than Stonehenge, or the Hill of Tara in Ireland, to see what “progress” means, even to the point of sacrificing the valuable tourist industry.  Will it all look like this one day?

Fundraising Dinner at Drimnagh Castle March 24

The rest of the brief article is here.

“Hotel Window” Sells for 26.8M

Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 12:32 pm

Edward Hopper’s “Hotel Window” sold for $26.8 million to an anonymous buyer yesterday. The 1955 large-scale canvas smashed Hopper’s previous record of $2.4 million for “South Truro Church,” set in 1990.  “Hotel Window” was predicted to bring $10 to 15 million.

From the ArtKnowledgeNews website:

Edward Hopper’s 1955 oil painting Hotel Window is a classic example of Hopper’s evocative exploration of the theme of isolation in American urban life in the 20th Century (pictured on page 1).  Depicting an elegantly dressed older woman seated on a navy couch in an anonymous hotel lobby staring absently out of a darkened window, the large-scale (40 by 55 in.) canvas expresses the loneliness and alienation that defined not only a certain aspect of American experience, but also, in the artist’s phrase, the “whole human condition”.  The presale estimate is $10 to 15 million.

Discussing Hotel Window, Dara Mitchell, Sotheby’s Director of American Paintings, has written: “Hopper’s bold, realist style and distilled compositional format reinforce the psychological power of Hotel Window and have close connections to many elements of film noir.  The stark light, spare setting and lone female figure create an atmosphere of unease and emptiness which characterized this genre’s particular brand of human disconnection.  Self-imposed solitude, the result of the individual’s disappointment in human interaction, was a societal ill that defined the American experience as depicted by both Hopper and the auteurs of contemporary fiction and film.  Hopper’s interest is not in telling a story, however, it is in the single image and its evocative possibilities”.

Of Hotel Window Edward Hopper himself wrote: “It’s nothing accurate at all, just an improvisation of things I’ve seen.  It’s no particular hotel lobby, but many times I’ve walked through the Thirties from Broadway to Fifth Avenue and there are a lot of cheesy hotels there.  That probably suggested it.  Lonely?  Yes, I guess it’s lonelier than I planned it really.”

The painting, which had formerly been in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, was sold at Sotheby’s in 1987 to Malcolm Forbes.  It has a distinguished exhibition history, having been regularly exhibited, both in America and abroad, since soon after it was painted.  Most recently it hung this summer in the Whitney Museum’s Edward Hopper exhibition as part of “Full House: Views of the Whitney’s Collection at 75”.

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