A Student of History

February 28, 2007

Another sign of the times….

Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 5:04 pm

“A majority of U.S. high school students say they get bored in class every day, and more than one out of five has considered dropping out, according to a survey released Wednesday.”  This is from a Reuters report, here.

Colleges and 52 Pick Up

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 12:28 pm

At Townhall.com (which I have never visited before today) columnist Henry Edmundson has a piece on what is going on in the academy as far as curriculum, or a lack thereof.  He compares course offerings by most colleges as a game of 52 Pick Up, which surely we all can recall from childhood.

Something like that is going on in education. It has to do with the movement to discard the academic disciplines in favor of teaching students “what they really need to know” or introducing them to “the real world.”

The disciplines, however imperfect they may be, provide—well, discipline. They bring organization and accountability to the curriculum. A college education is not like “52 Card Pick-Up”, whereby you throw up the deck of cards and let them land where they will. The curriculum must be organized in some reasonable fashion. It’s a practical matter.

Academic disciplines have a long pedigree. Some of the disciplines go back for two millennia, when Aristotle taught his class in physics, and then his class “after physics” on philosophical principles—the Metaphysics. The Trivium and the Quadrivium coalesced in the Middle Ages. The Trivium consists of logic, rhetoric and grammar; the Quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. These are still pretty good checklists for a good education. You will occasionally find them in private schools or as the organizing scheme in home schooling curricula. The results are usually SAT scores between 1300 and 1500.

The organization of the disciplines has refined over the centuries. Although the disciplines may be criticized for too narrow a focus for the “real” world, they, in fact, provide these subject building blocks precisely to insure that students are equipped for the real world. Otherwise, it is “hit or miss.”

So, in abandoning the “disciplines” and giving students “what they really need to know” we are discarding a proven method of organization–admittedly arbitrary, imperfect, Western, “logo-centric,” “traditional” etc.–in favor of a new scheme of organization that is arbitrary, unproven, and may vary according to the personalities and prejudices of those involved.

Mr. Edmondson is Professor of Public Administration and Political Science at the Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia.  

Va. Apologizes to Slaves, Indians

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Maass @ 12:23 pm

From Newsday comes the news that Virginia–where slavery began in what later became the U.S.–has apologized for that peculiar institution.

Meeting on the grounds of the former Confederate Capitol, the Virginia General Assembly voted unanimously Saturday to express “profound regret” for the state’s role in slavery.

Sponsors of the resolution say they know of no other state that has apologized for slavery, although Missouri lawmakers are considering such a measure. The resolution does not carry the weight of law but sends an important symbolic message, supporters said.

“This session will be remembered for a lot of things, but 20 years hence I suspect one of those things will be the fact that we came together and passed this resolution,” said Delegate A. Donald McEachin, a Democrat who sponsored it in the House of Delegates.

The resolution passed the House 96-0 and cleared the 40-member Senate on a unanimous voice vote. It does not require Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s approval.

The measure also expressed regret for “the exploitation of Native Americans.”  The apology is the latest in a series of strides Virginia has made in overcoming its segregationist past. Virginia was the first state to elect a black governor — L. Douglas Wilder in 1989 — and the Legislature took a step toward atoning for Massive Resistance in 2004 by creating a scholarship fund for blacks whose schools were shut down between 1954 and 1964.

February 24, 2007

Lock, Stock, and Barrel

Filed under: Wars — John Maass @ 6:25 pm


Lock, Stock, and Barrel:

The World of the Revolutionary War Soldier

March 31, 2007

Valley Forge Hilton/Valley Forge National Park

            Join us for a unique and captivating look at the life and culture of the soldier of the American Revolution at a very special series of presentations aimed at historians, students, historic site staff, teachers, volunteers, reenactors and all others with an interest in America’s past. The full-day program brings together some of the nation’s leading Revolutionary War authorities to discuss a variety of aspects of the conflict including artifacts, campaigns, and army life.

          The event promises to be a memorable and enjoyable gathering rich in insights and content. Sponsored by the Second Pennsylvania Regiment, Valley Forge National Historical Park, and the Friends of Valley Forge, this event offers programming to fit everyone’s area of interest. Participants can select three presentations offered during the day at the Valley Forge Hilton in King of Prussia, Pa., and then adjourn for a final presentation by renowned author Thomas Fleming at nearby Valley Forge National Park. The day concludes with a cocktail reception at the park’s Welcome Center. A buffet lunch is also included for participants at the Hilton as well as a “Sutlers Market” featuring a number of merchants selling unique crafts and military reproductions. Also, early arrivals are invited to attend a Friday evening reception hosted by park superintendent Mike Caldwell from 7-9 p.m. at the Welcome Center.

          The festivities continue with special programs at Valley Forge National Park on Sunday, April 1, marking the site’s 30th anniversary as part of the national park system. All Sunday events are free and open to the public. A schedule can be seen at www.nps.gov/vafo .

          REGISTRATION for Lock, Stock, and Barrel is only $75 per person and can be made on-line by visiting the Friends of Valley Forge website at http://www.friendsofvalleyforge.org. (or by the mail in registration form and returning by mail). All registrations must be made no later than March 10. An exceptional room rate of $79 per night is available to participants at the Valley Forge Hilton (610/337-1200).

 Schedule, Topics and Speakers

FRIDAY, MARCH 30 (Valley Forge National Park)

            7-9 p.m.: Welcome Reception for early arrivals hosted by Valley Forge National Park superintendent Mike Caldwell at the park’s Welcome Center.

SATURDAY, MARCH 31 (Valley Forge Hilton)

            8:30-9:30 a.m.: Registration opens at Hilton. Participant pick-up of information packets and seminar tickets in the lobby.

            8:30-a.m.-3:30 p.m.: Sutlers Market opens to participants.

            9:30-10:30 a.m.: SESSION I (choose one)

                        A. Martial Treasures from Colonial Williamsburg. Arms authority and Williamsburg curator Eric Goldstein takes a look at selected highlights of the site’s world famous militaria collection and how they help us understand the life of the colonial soldier, from firelocks to belt plates.

                        B. Being an Effective Friends Group. Cinda Welbeusser, Pennsylvania Director of the NPS Conservation Assoc., moderates this panel of volunteer leaders that include Barbara Finfrock (Friends of Gettysburg Park), Mike Caldwell (Valley Forge National Park Superintendent), and others to discuss the challenges that face groups supporting historic sites and ways they might make a positive difference. Special tables reserved for participants at lunch will encourage further conversation and an opportunity to build new bridges and friendships.

                        C. The Philadelphia Campaign. Historian, author and educator Tom McGuire follows up his acclaimed books on the battles of Brandywine, Paoli and Germantown with an in-depth look at the events leading to the British seizure of the young nation’s capital, filled with little known facts and reminiscences from actual participants.

            10:45-11:45 a.m.: SESSION II (choose one)

                        D. Following the Army. Dr. Holly Mayer reveals the highly misunderstood world of the many civilian adults and children who were a constant and critically important part of both the British and Patriot armies. Wagoners, clerks, laundresses, sutlers, soldiers’ wives and more are brought to life in this fascinating glimpse at the least known players in the conflict.

                        E. Rochambeau’s Army. A former senior curator with Canada’s National Historic Sites, consultant and veteran military historian, Rene Chartrand presents a colorful and in-depth look at the force that arrived in America to back up French support for the revolution and secure its successful conclusion.

                        F. Painting the Revolutionary War Soldier. The nation’s most celebrated living historical artist, author and antiquarian Don Troiani discusses the process required to paint the 18th Century military, from single figures to massive battle scenes. The artist will describe the quest to find and pose appropriate models, provide historically correct uniforms and dig for “historical truth” in rare documents, private collections and archeological finds.

            11:45a.m. – 1:15 p.m. Buffet Lunch

            1:30 – 2:30 p.m. SESSION III (choose one)

                        G. Archeological Story of the Valley Forge Soldier. From trash pits, hearth remnants and long abandoned company streets, a recent archeological project has unearthed thousands of artifacts from the momentous Valley Forge encampment. Archeologist Dr. Douglas Campana shows how the findings have shed a new light on the Continental Army with some surprising insights.

                        H. Loyalists in the Revolution. Dr. Judith Van Buskirk draws on family letters, diaries, memoirs, and other records to paint a rich and complex portrait of those who remained loyal to their King despite a host of risks and the clash of personal concerns, neighbors and political ideology. It is a compelling social history with a richness of human detail.

                        I.  Washington’s New Army. As the fall of 1777 drew to an end, the Continental Army was exhausted, demoralized and about to collapse. Popular author, historian and antiquarian George Neumann describes how Washington persevered to create a “professional” fighting force and emerge from the Valley Forge encampment able to meet the Crown’s troops as equals.

            3 – 4 p.m. SESSION IV (Auditorium, Valley Forge National Park)

                        J. Everybody’s Revolution.  Historian, award winning author (his acclaimed book “Liberty!” inspired the famed six-part PBS series) and television commentator, Thomas Fleming presents a portrait of our nation at the time of the Revolution and all those who had a stake in the conflict. He gives us compelling stories of courageous men and women of all cultures who sensed the coming greatness of America and made significant contributions to the struggle. What does all this in the 18th Century have to do with us? Fleming will let us know.

            4 – 5:30 p.m. Reception (Welcome Center, Valley Forge National Park)

SUNDAY, APRIL 1 (Valley Forge National Park)

            Meet many of the authors who appeared on Saturday at book signings in the Welcome Center and enjoy the Second Pennsylvania Regiment conducting living history at the Muhlenberg Hut Site along with performances of their fifes and drums. There will be ranger-led hikes and other park-wide programs, including a rare guided tour into the park’s artifact vaults conducted by George Neumann, author of the Collectors Encyclopedia of the American Revolution and other publications on 18th Century militaria.

The size of groups attending the vault tours is limited and reservations should be made in advance by calling the park’s curator at 610/783-1020.

D.C. Research talk in March

Filed under: Wars — John Maass @ 5:05 pm

On Thursday, March 8th, at 4 PM, I will be giving a research talk sponsored by the Society of the Cincinnati Library in Washington, D.C.  It is entitled, “A ‘Complicated Scene of Difficulties’: The Revolutionary War and State Formation in North Carolina, 1776-1789,” which is the subject of my soon-to-be-completed dissertation.  I will be a research fellow at the society’s library for one week, and this is a part of my duties.

If you are interested in attending this event please let me know and I will be happy to refer you to the proper folks at the SoC to see if they will have room to accomodate you, since it is by invitation only.

The General Society of the Cincinnati was founded in May, 1783, at the Verplank house, Fishkill, New York, by Continental Army officers who fought in the American Revolution. This was before the Treaty of Peace was signed and before the British evacuated New York. The Honorable Major General Baron von Steuben, being the senior officer, presided at the organizational meetings. Within 12 months, Constituent Societies were established in the 13 original states and in France under the auspices of the General Society of the Cincinnati. Of the 5,500 officers who were eligible to join, about 2,150 did so. George Washington was elected the first President General of the Society in December 1783 until his death in 1799. He was succeeded by Alexander Hamilton.  The Society is named for Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus, a Roman farmer of the Fifth Century B.C, who, like Washington, was called from his fields to lead his country’s army in battle. Cincinnatus, as did Washington, returned from war a triumphant leader, declined honors, and went back to his farm. Washington, as did Cincinnatus, lived up to the Society’s Motto: “He gave up everything to serve the republic.”

A Useable Past…

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 8:26 am

Koreans seem to be trying to combat an ever-menacing China by using the past, or their interpretation of it at least:

The founding of Korea’s ancient kingdom of Gojoseon will be officially written as part of national history in high school history textbooks. In addition, the Bronze Age on the Korean peninsula will be described to date back 1,000 years earlier than was previously thought.

The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development announced yesterday its plan to deliver the revised history books to schools nationwide for the class of 2007.

Academic and political circles have demanded that the founding of Korea’s first kingdom, currently depicted as a myth, should be rewritten as official history to counter the claim by neighboring countries, especially China’s latest historical re-mapping.

Page 32 of the present high school textbook mentions ancient documents such as “Samguk Yusa” and “Dongguk Tonggam” that describe the foundation by Dankun. According to the new plan, however, the ministry has altered the wording in high school texts to state that Dankun actually found the kingdom. Junior high school textbooks have already carried such an explanation.

China, denying the very existence of the Korean kingdom, teaches false information to its people. Japan also describes that Korean history started from Goguryeo in its chronicles. The books being used in secondary schools explain that the Bronze Age started in the 10th century B.C. on the Korean peninsula and 15th to the 13th century B.C. in Manchuria, but the new book dates it earlier by 500 to 1,000 years.

In the revised version, Korea gradually entered the Bronze Age after the utilization of new earthenware, which was introduced from Liaoning in China, the Amur River in Russia, and the Littoral Province 2000 B.C. at the end of the Neolithic Age and coexisted with the preceding herringbone-patterned earthenware. This will be recorded to be around 2000 to 1500 B.C., when Korea entered the full-fledged Bronze Age.

Choi Mong-ryong from the Ancient Art History Department of Seoul National University, who reviewed the sections in question, said that the time was changed based on relics recently uncovered from Jeongseon in Gangwon Province and Gapyeong in Gyeonggi Province.


February 22, 2007

Irish Castles

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 8:05 pm

CNN’s travel section has a nice piece on visiting Irish castles.  Since I am a Hibernophile, I include the link.

The image of majestic stone castles rising from rolling green fields is a romantic one, a fantasy held by many travelers who dream of Ireland.

But that image is a reality all over the island nation — where castles offer such differing charms and features that visitors can tailor castle stays to their own whims and preferences. Luxury accommodation, resident ghosts, medieval banquets and horseback riding — all of these can be found amid the smattering of Irish castles. And regardless of each castle’s location, striking views and sightseeing opportunities are never far away.

My favorite: Kilkenny (below).

February 21, 2007

MOC wanted in Lexington

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 4:57 pm

Will Lexington get the financially disturbed Museum of the Confederacy?  Folks in the Shenandoah town seem interested in getting Richmond’s famous museum to locate there.  From the local paper, The News Gazette, an article by :

The Rockbridge Area Tourism Board is hoping local government officials will continue exploring the idea of the Museum of the Confederacy being relocated from Richmond to Courthouse Square in Lexington.

The Board on Monday adopted a motion to ask the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors and Lexington City Council to endorse a continuation of the exploration. Tourism representatives will make presentations on the prospects of the museum coming here to both governing bodies next week – to the Board of Supervisors on Monday, Feb. 12, and to City Council on Thursday, Feb. 15.

The Tourism Board discussed the pros and cons of whether the museum would be a good fit for the Rockbridge area, said Jean Clark, tourism executive director. “Everyone on the Board thought there was merit in continuing the exploration.”

Clark said the Board wants to look at whether the museum “would complement, or not, the area’s current tourism attractions.”

“Is it economically feasible and is there enough public support?” asked Clark. Also, she said, it needs to be determined whether there’s a better use for the Rockbridge County Courthouse, which is to be vacated when a new courthouse opens a block away in a couple of years.

At the invitation of the Tourism Board, museum Board members toured the Courthouse Square facilities in early January. The museum Board wants to relocate its museum because it’s being encroached on three sides by Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical campus, and is no longer considered very accessible.

Deconstructing the Lincoln Memorial

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 2:41 pm

From the National Review’s website, there’s an interesting piece called “Deconstructing the Lincoln Memorial: The National Park Service reconsiders America and the Civil War.”  It starts like this:

Presidents’ Day, as older Americans will recall, is a watered-down substitute for the February celebrations that used to mark the birthdays of our country’s two greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Once upon a time (i.e., as recently as the 1960s) it was the custom in elementary schools throughout the land to commemorate these events by having schoolchildren learn about these men’s lives and even write essays about their achievements. Even if Presidents’ Day is now largely considered just a day off from work and an occasion for holiday sales, there must be some Americans who still give thought to Washington and Lincoln at this time of year, and even some teachers who commemorate it in the old-fashioned way.



Author David Lewis Schaefer goes on to point out his objections to the way the NPS interprets the site.

Lee at 200

Filed under: Historic Places,The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 10:42 am

Some interesting events have been planned at W&L in Lexington for commemorating Robert E. Lee’s 200th birthday this year.  Lee was president of the college after the Civil War until his death in 1870.  For more info, contact the university at http://www2.wlu.edu/.


  • Original Lee manuscripts, Boatwright Room, Leyburn Library (January 2007).
  • “Re-Visioning Lee,” Wilson Hall (grand opening Jan. 19, 2007).
  • “Lee the Educator,” Lee’s Office, Lee Chapel (May 2007).
  • “Not Unmindful of the Future,” reinstallation, Lee Chapel Main Gallery (May 2007).
  • “The Washington-Custis-Lee Family Connections,” Lee Chapel & Museum (October 2007).
  • Taking advantage of the exhibition about Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant (sponsored by the Virginia Historical Society and the New-York Historical Society and co-curated by William Rasmussen ’68, Lora M. Robins Curator of Art at the Virginia Historical Society), W&L will host alumni chapter functions at all venues currently planned: the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond (exhibition opening in October 2007); the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis; the New-York Historical Society, New York City; the Museum of Southern History, Houston; and the Atlanta History Center.


  • Alumni College Campus Program, “Parallel Lives: Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant” (July 2-7, 2006)
  • Special Anniversary Lee Memorial Program (Oct. 8, 2007).

Anti-Popery: The Transatlantic Experience

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 10:35 am
Call for Papers
Anti-Popery: The Transatlantic Experience, c. 1530–1850
The McNeil Center for Early American Studies and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, in cooperation with the School of Arts and Sciences of The Catholic University of America, will hold a conference in Philadelphia, September 18–20, 2008, on the uses of anti-popery in the early modern world. Antagonism towards the pope and his co-religionists was nearly universal in the Protestant societies of Europe and colonial America. In recent years historians on both sides of the Atlantic have begun to realize that anti-Catholic fears represented more than blind prejudice or ignorance. Instead, anti-popery was a powerful language that early modern Europeans used to understand their world and their place in history. This conference will explore the diverse uses of anti-popery in the Protestant Atlantic—whether religious, social, legal, economic, or political—from the time of the Reformation to the era of massive Catholic migration to America in the mid-nineteenth century.We invite proposals for papers on any aspect of anti-popery in Europe or the Americas from approximately 1530–1850. Presenters will be expected to complete a 20–30 page essay by the end of May 2008, for pre-conference circulation among registered attendees. We welcome submissions from advanced graduate students as well as more senior scholars. Support for travel expenses will be available.

To apply, please send a 500-word synopsis of your proposal along with a short c.v. to Anti-Popery Conference, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, 3355 Woodland Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104-4531, or e-mail to mceas@ccat.sas.upenn.edu by September 15, 2007. Other questions can be directed to the conference organizers: Evan Haefeli [eh2204@columbia.edu], Brendan McConville [bmcconv@bu.edu], and Owen Stanwood [stanwood@cua.edu].

Wikipedia smacked again

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 10:34 am

Back in August I posted on some troubles Wikipedia has had, mainly regarding their accuracy.  Well, actually lack of it.  This is in the news again (hat tip: HNN).

Middlebury College in VT has now banned the use of this on-line “resource” by its students in their assignments because of continued complaints by faculty.   In a NYT article, we read:

When half a dozen students in Neil Waters’s Japanese history class at Middlebury College asserted on exams that the Jesuits supported the Shimabara Rebellion in 17th-century Japan, he knew something was wrong. The Jesuits were in “no position to aid a revolution,” he said; the few of them in Japan were in hiding.

He figured out the problem soon enough. The obscure, though incorrect, information was from Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, and the students had picked it up cramming for his exam.

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