Category Archives: History

Where’s General Burnside?

Smithsonian.com asks: who had the best Civil War facial hair?

Move in Barry!

Pat Lackey watches game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series between the Pirates and the Braves and has some pretty good comments as a Bucs fan. That game, October 14, 1992, was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my baseball fandom. The Pirates had come back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the series and had a lead in the bottom of the 9th before falling short for the third straight year. Now the 1991 team was probably more disappointing, they had the best record in baseball and still had Bobby Bonilla yet lost to the Braves in 7, but Game 7 in 1992 was far more gut wrenching because they weren’t supposed to make it and because of how close they came. That following off season Barry Bonds left for San Francisco and the franchise hasn’t has a winning record since.

Quemoy, Matsu, and the Tennessee Valley Authority

September 26th was the 50th anniversary of the first Nixon-Kennedy presidential debate. Over at Slate, historian David Greenberg questions some of the conventional wisdom about the first televised presidential debates, such as whether Kennedy won the election because he looked better on television and whether radio listeners really did give the debates (there were four) to Nixon.

Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque

Here’s a smart read for a Wednesday. Two historians address the Ground Zero Mosque issue and the plight of American Muslims today in the context of the difficult integration of Catholics into the American mainstream in the 19th and 20th centuries. Like in all historical comparisons the parallels aren’t perfect, but there’s enough similarity for their argument to be enlightening, I think.

Causes

A couple weeks ago, a co-worker and I took a long lunch to check out the National Archives’ new exhibit, “Discovering the Civil War.” We attended a press preview luncheon featuring various speakers from the Archives as well as Civil War filmmaker Ken Burns, who had a behind-the-scenes role in getting the exhibit off the ground for the Civil War’s 150th anniversary. The exhibit itself is arranged thematically and features documents from the Archives’ large vault. Some of the displays were traditional, while others included new media features such as a Facebook-like display where you can track how the generals on both sides of the war knew each other from schooling or from family relations. The exhibit is going to travel around the country once it is done in D.C. Check out reviews from the Washington Post.

Something that hit me was, very early in the exhibit, the documents of secession on display. They had the original paper Virginia document as well as reproductions of documents from other states. It seemed appropriate considering Governor Bob McDonnell had named April “Confederate History Month” without mentioning slavery at all, to much (appropriate) public scorn. Back in grad school my adviser, when teaching the survey courses, would always run into students denying slavery caused the war, saying instead it was “states rights” or “Northern aggression” or other such reason. Her trump card was always the documents of secession–they stated explicitly why the Southern states were leaving. And they usually stated explicitly, “slavery.” “That black Republican” Abraham Lincoln, they would say, wants to overturn slavery (God ordained and civilizing, of course), steal their “property” (other human beings), and create racial chaos. Indeed, how can one deny the war was about slavery and race when the favorite epithet for Lincoln was “black Republican”? Though the National Archives says they want you to draw your own conclusions, the documents pretty much speak for themselves, as they usually do.

If you can’t make it to D.C., check out the “Discovering the Civil War” when it is in your neck of the woods.

The New American Dream: Renting?

Noted urban historian Thomas J. Sugrue of UPenn wrote in the Wall Street Journal a couple weeks ago a brief history of the various ways the federal government has subsidized middle class home ownership since the Great Depression. The government has been getting its hands in the housing market long before Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Community Reinvestment Act. Sugrue writes, “[T]he story of how the dream [of home ownership] became a reality is not one of independence, self-sufficiency, and entrepreneurial pluck. It’s not the story of the inexorable march of the free market. It’s a different kind of American story, of government, financial regulation, and taxation. We are a nation of homeowners and home-speculators because of Uncle Sam.”

Home ownership is regarded as important because it creates stable rather than transitory communities and encourages owner involvement in civic life. It tends to have a “conservatizing” effect as well — “No man who owns his own house and lot can be a Communist,” said William Levitt. But the government’s involvement in home ownership is as omnipresent as it is invisible. Has this been for good or ill? I’m not sure anymore.

The Cosmopolitan Provincial, or Why You Can’t Go Home Again

Essays like this one on historian Paul Conkin and his ruminations on “home” are why I read Front Porch Republic.