Wednesday, March 28, 2007

one of them's ??

A headline in my local newspaper: "Men threatened with gun while working on one of them's car." (I don't know how long the link will remain active.)

I can imagine "one of them's" as a contraction for "one of them is" or "one of them has." But as a possessive?

UPDATE: The link still works, but the newspaper has changed the headline to "one of their cars." Some might say this implies the men owned the cars collectively--I'm not sure about that--but in any case it's much better.

Elektratig picked up on this posting, as did Pillage Idiot (which has a screenshot of the original, in all its glory).

"set" no longer on top

A recent update from the folks at the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that "set" has suffered a setback: it is no longer the longest entry in the OED. "Make" has taken its place, but "set" could return in a few years when the OED editors get to it in their revisions. (There is an update to the OED every three months; the latest covered the words "Prakrit" to "prim.") Currently, the top five words, in terms of length of entry in OED:
  • make
  • set
  • run
  • take
  • go
(in each case, the verb form of the word)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

faith healing, Charles Atlas, Kate Turabian, and more

Faith healing-- Parts I and II of Brian Lardner's series on faith healing are up, and as we wait for the third and final posting of the trilogy ("in which we help to make Benny Hinn a very rich man"), he teases us with a bonus: Brian Lardner as faith healer! (Instead of clicking these individual links, you could just go over to Primordial Blog; as I write this, they're all still on the front page.)

Charles Atlas and sexy chimps-- Brian also writes about the "Sexiest animal on the planet: Chimpanzees." Somehow, it doesn't make me feel better knowing the biological reason girls ignored me in high school.

"Many females (especially the young and inexperienced) are subconsciously drawn to the strongest competitor, regardless of their manners. At times they will actually incite competition between two males. In the movies it is the stuff of tragic love triangles, but in real life it can often be brutal and ugly. It kind of reminds my of those old Charles Atlas ads in the back of the comics from when I was a kid - the 98lb weakling getting sand kicked in his face by the bully who then steals his girlfriend."

Ahh, Charles Atlas. Now there was a cultural icon. And today, my students have no idea who he was. Not too long ago, I could mention "Charles Atlas" in class and know that a significant number of students would understand. If I mention him today-- nothing. That's a shame, isn't it? Or am I being an old fuddy-duddy? (I feel sort of fuddy-duddyish today.) But what symbol do we have to replace him? Rambo isn't quite it.

Turabian-- A new edition, to be published April 15. I got an early copy last week. Oh, I do love St. Kate. When she died, in 1987, her obituary in the New York Times noted that she never received a college degree. Did she ever go to college? I don't know. But I think it's pretty neat that the woman who wrote the book that has guided hundreds of thousands of academic papers, from research papers to doctoral dissertations, never graduated college.

The obit explained the book's origin: "In 1930 the university [of Chicago] appointed Mrs. Turabian as the dissertations secretary. She was charged with coordinating the administrative logistics for graduate dissertations. Noticing that some students could not afford the University of Chicago Press Style Manual, Mrs. Turabian boiled down the larger volume into a pamphlet."

Turabian (as we all call it) is said to be the most profitable book ever published by the University of Chicago Press.

I've got Kate on my mind today. In my methodology course this semester, I assigned, on the advice of a colleague, a different book. And now my students have no idea how to do footnotes. I know, because we had that class this morning. It's not their fault, it's the book; I didn't realize how bad it is.

Fiesta Texana!-- Clio Bluestocking joins the well-wishers for Ed Darnell's upcoming Texas blog carnival. Pressure's on, Ed. We're expecting a Texas-sized success when the inaugural Fiesta Texana appears on April 2.

Monday, March 26, 2007

pollen, H-Net, mythstory, and more

Pollen-- I washed the car on the way in this morning. It's green! Of course, by lunchtime, it'll be yellow again. I really don't remember pollen this bad before moving to Georgia.

H-Net-- I told my senior seminar and methodology students about the H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online) discussion groups the other day.

In case you don't know: "H-Net is an international interdisciplinary organization of scholars and teachers dedicated to developing the enormous educational potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Our edited lists and web sites publish peer reviewed essays, multimedia materials, and discussion for colleagues and the interested public." "H-Net's e-mail lists function as electronic networks, linking professors, teachers and students in an egalitarian exchange of ideas and materials. Every aspect of academic life--research, teaching, controversies new and old--is open for discussion."

There are nearly 200 discussion networks. They range from very broad to specific. H-Teach is for those who teach college history, H-AmRel is American religious history, H-Albion is British and Irish history, H-South is the history of the American South, H-CivWar is Civil War, etc. There is a list for high school history/social science teachers. And on and on.

Go to the H-Net main page and check it out. (Click on the "discussion networks" link at the top to see the list.) All kinds of good resources.

Mythstory-- Ed Darrell, at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, directs us to This Day in Mythstory, "just enough facts to ring true," Ed says, "enough humor to make the parodies appealing and likely to be repeated as fact." Chris Regan, formerly a writer for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," write Mythstory. Good stuff.

Fiesta de Tejas-- Talk about excitement! After seeing how the Carnival for Georgia Bloggers has grown and what it has become in just a couple of months, Ed is getting together the first Texas blog carnival. He says, "It may take us a couple of months to get up to speed, of course, but this is the state that produced Molly Ivins, John Henry Faulk, J. Frank Dobie, Kent Biffle, and Dwight Eisenhower — not to mention Stevie Ray Vaughn." We're expecting great things, a carnival big and grand enough for Texas, on April 2, when the first edition is scheduled to post.

Britannica Blog-- In case you've missed this: "Britannica Blog is a place for smart, lively conversations about a broad range of topics. Art, science, history, current events – it's all grist for the mill. We've given our writers encouragement and a lot of freedom, so the opinions here are theirs, not the company's."

Chronicling America-- Another new database, with all sorts of potential for research and teaching. "This week, the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities unveiled their 'Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers' joint venture which debuted on-line with more than 226,000 pages of public-domain newspapers from California, Florida, Kentucky, New York, Utah, Virginia and the District of Columbia published between
1900 and 1910."

Description from a posting yesterday on H-SHGAPE, the H-Net list (see above) for the Gilded Age/Progresive Era. See, I told you it was useful!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Catching up

It's been a long week.... Last round of candidates in for a position in the department, conference week for students in my senior seminar, and the pollen's got me down.

This is the longest break I've taken from posting here, and it wasn't intentional; in fact I didn't really realize how long it had been.

I'll get something up soon, but for now, a few quick notes:

Eddie Hunter is a wonderful guy. Look how nice he is! He lives down the road in Marietta, Georgia, home of the Big Chicken and Eddie's blog, Chicken Fat. Eddie writes about his people-- family and friends-- and recently he posted a photo of himself as a kid with Smiley Burnette. Wow.

Jeremy Boggs, of the Journal of the Association for History and Computing, has a column titled "History Blogosphere: An Introduction." Boggs lists a handful of the best history blogs, and two of them, Civil War Memory and Cliopatria, are on my short blogroll (to the right). I knew I travelled in good company! (Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory has a good and thoughtful bunch of postings up now.)

The conference paper got finished and sent off to the commentator on time; the conference is in a couple weeks. Now I'm working on an encyclopedia entry on William Ellery Channing, who might be called the father of American Unitarianism. Umm, well, in fact he IS called that.

Clio Bluestocking presents a very interesting new reading of The Last Supper in Another DiVinci Code. I don't want to spoil it TOO much, but her posting was prompted by the Bong Hits 4 Jesus controversy and an article in asking "What Would Jesus Smoke?" A bumper sticker here in the parking lot: "What would Scooby Doo?" Clio says something about a Ganga interpretation of Scooby Doo. I have no idea what she's talking about.

J.L. Bell reminds us that the bicentennial of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's is fast approaching. J.L. posts a lot of good, solid stuff, both at Boston 1775 and at Oz and Ends, on children's literature (which I just realized contains a different Longfellow posting!).

The Carnival of the Decline of Democracy, Edition 2.6, is up at The 13th Story. Again, good stuff! And don't miss the first appearance of Blog about Your Blog.

All right, back to work.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ayllón in Georgia, 1526

as promised....

What was the first European settlement in Georgia? James Oglethorpe founded Savannah in 1733. But over two centuries before Oglethorpe reached the Georgia coast, another settlement existed here: San Miguel de Gualdape, established in 1526.

St. Augustine is often called the oldest European city in the present United States, but San Miguel de Gualdape preceded it by almost 40 years. In fact, it is now considered the earliest European settlement (after the Vikings, a millennium ago) on mainland North America.

San Miguel was the work of Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, a Spanish-born nobleman who came to Hispaniola (present day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in 1504 as a judge. Columbus had “discovered” Hispaniola just a dozen years earlier, but the Spanish had developed it quickly, because of the island’s gold and its native population (which the Spanish found they could easily enslave). Judge Ayllón was able to win the favor of some of the wealthy Spanish officials on the island, and he soon began to build up his own landholdings and personal wealth. As the island’s gold began to peter out, Ayllón and others shifted to sugar plantations, still using the natives as slave labor.

The Spanish on Hispaniola found that they were using up the island’s natives at an alarming rate. Ayllón saw the potential profits of slave trading and entered that business, importing natives kidnapped from the Bahamas and other islands and selling them on Hispaniola.

Meanwhile, the Spanish in the Caribbean remained generally unaware of a much larger land mass just north of them. A few explorers had visited mainland North America (Columbus never did). Knowledge of the continent was very sparse, however, and in fact it was often referred to as just another “island.”

In 1521, Francisco Gordillo, one of Ayllón’s chief slave raiders, was unable to find a sufficient number of natives in the Bahamas, so he decided to try his luck elsewhere. He sailed northwest, making landfall near present day Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He briefly explored the area (called “Chicora”), then lured 60 natives onto his ship and set sail for Hispaniola.

In his report to Ayllón, Gordillo described Chicora as a beautiful place, full of natural resources, looking much like Spain itself, and full of natives. Ayllón was fascinated by the potential of Gordillo’s discovery. Who knew there were so many possibilities there? Earlier voyages, such as Ponce de Leon’s, had not begun to hint at such a thing. Ayllón quickly went to Spain and asked King Charles for the right to colonize Chicora. Charles granted Ayllón's wish.

In July 1526, Ayllón left Hispaniola with 600 people (including several African slaves), along with supplies and animals, on six ships. He reached the Carolina coast in early August, but failed to find any Indians there. The ships moved slowly south, hugging the coast, looking for a location that contained both a good site for a new colony and the native Americans Ayllón was so interested in finding. Finally they stopped in what is now Georgia. The exact location is still unknown. Historian Paul Hoffman put it near Sapelo Island; Douglas Peck puts it further north, near the mouth of the Savannah River. In any case, on September 29, Ayllón found his spot, named it San Miguel de Gualdape for the festival of Saint Michael (celebrated that day), and began building his colony.

The houses and the church at San Miguel went up quickly, as did the storage buildings for food and the livestock pens. But the new church’s graveyard began to fill up as Ayllón’s people started to die, from starvation and disease. Ayllón himself succumbed to an unknown disease on October 18. Surviving colonists tried to keep San Miguel going, but it was no good. Indians attacked, black slaves rose up and burned some of the buildings (the first slave revolt in what would become the United States), political disputes split the people, and a cold winter arrived much earlier than anticipated. A few weeks after Ayllón’s death, the colony disbanded. Of the 600 who had left Hispaniola to start the colony, only 150 returned.

And San Miguel de Gualdape, the first European settlement on mainland North America, was no more.

Ed Darrell calls for Fiesta Texana

Ed Darrell, who runs Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, took one look at our Georgia Carnival and got a bit jealous. Texas needs a blog carnival, he says, except, Texas being what it is (or rather Texans being what they are), they'll have to call it "fiesta."

Well, Ed, Texas is further behind than you know. It has to catch up not only with Georgia; in addition to our carnival, there's the Carnival of Maryland, the Carnival of Ohio Bloggers, the Virginia Blog Carnival, and the Tarheel Tavern (that's my native state of North Carolina).

The Carnival of New Jersey Bloggers seems to have been inactive since last August, and the Illinois Carnival was last seen even further back.

(All of these are from the list of blog carnivals at-- well, at Blog Carnival.)

"If Georgia, with its dull, almost-landlocked, not-found-by-Europeans-until-the-17th-century and having-only-peaches-instead-of-peppers history can do it," Ed says, "Texas should be able to do it better."

Ed-- "Dull" is in the eye of the beholder; peaches vs. peppers is a matter of personal preference; "almost-landlocked," well, I'm not sure of your point there. But "not-found-by-Europeans-until-the-17th-century": that's a statement that can be verified, a point on which a real comparison can be made.

According to Wikipedia, "On November 6, 1528, shipwrecked Spanish conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca became the first known European in Texas."

That's 1528.

On September 29, 1526, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón landed with several hundred people on the coast of what would become Georgia and began erecting a colony, named San Miguel de Gualdape, the first European colony in the New World.


So, Ed, you can have your peppers and your shoreline; we have our blog carnival and the distinction of the first European colony.

Good luck getting a Texas blog fiesta together!

(I wrote something about San Miguel a few years ago. I'll see if I can find it and post it here later.)

Dylan Hears a Who

UPDATE: Apparently the site's down-- "at the request of Dr. Seuss Enterprises." For the time being, you can still hear "Green Eggs and Ham" here.

FURTHER UPDATE: More on the missing page here.
Dylan does Dr. Seuss. This is brilliant. "Green Eggs and Ham," "The Cat in the Hat," "The Zax," and more

from WFMU's Beware of the Blog.


The Sixth Georgia Carnival is up at Provocative Church.

Early Modern Notes has the 50th History Carnival.

UPDATE: Check out Black Sun Journal's Carnival of the Godless #62, and the 110th Carnival of Education is available at The Education Wonks.

Good stuff all around!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Comments NOT made in 1955

A friend just sent around an email titled "Comments made in the year 1955."
  • I'll tell you one thing , if things keep going the way they are, it's going to be impossible to buy a week's groceries for $20.
  • Have you seen the new cars coming out next year? It won't be long before $2000 will only buy a used one.
  • If cigarettes keep going up in price, I'm going to quit. A quarter a pack is ridiculous.
  • Did you hear the post office is thinking about charging a dime just to mail a letter?
Cute, but as soon as I started it, I had that same feeling I mentioned last week. This time, has it covered. A sample:

Did you hear the post office is thinking about charging a dime just to mail a letter?
In 1955, first-class postage cost 3¢ per ounce, and that rate had been unchanged since 1932. The first-class rate was not raised again until 1958, and even then it went up only one cent, to 4¢ per ounce. It was not until 1974, nearly two decades after 1955, that the cost of first-class postage was raised to 10¢ per ounce.

Ahhh, the good old days that never were.....

March Madness

I don't follow college basketball like I used to.

I was an undergrad at Duke University from 1975 to 1979. Nowadays, Duke is bigtime basketball, but it wasn't always so. The Duke Blue Devils' record in conference play my first three years there was 7-29, and they pretty consistently finished at the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But I was a fan. I bet I didn't miss more than a handful of home games.

And then in my senior year, the team turned things around. After six seasons of not winning a single ACC tournament game, the Blue Devils swept the tournament. As conference champs, they went to the NCAA tournament and kept winning until the final game, which they lost to the University of Kentucky.

We loved our team. Duke is a small school. My freshman class had about 1200 students (Kennesaw's total enrollment is close to 20,000), so we knew these guys. And they had taken us from the bottom to the top in one season.

Things are different at Duke now. A whole generation of students has come to think of winning as almost a birthright. For us, winning wasn’t a birthright, but that doesn’t mean we were any less enthusiastic than the current “Cameron Crazies.” At many schools, students get game tickets ahead of time. At Duke, there were no advance tickets; we lined up outside Cameron Indoor Stadium, and when the doors opened, we flashed our student IDs and went in. After waiting outside in the cold for a few hours, doing whatever we could to stay warm, we weren’t inclined to be especially friendly to the opposing team.

And since students got every seat in the lower level--the wealthiest and most generous alumni had to settle for good seats above--the noise on the floor could be deafening.

Not long after I graduated, the students began to get out of hand. Their chants, which had begun to cross the line from fanatic to obscene, prompted Duke president Terry Sanford to send a letter to the student body about the growing problem. “Crudeness, profanity, and cheapness should not be our reputation,” he said, “but it is.”

I was so proud to hear that at the very next game--against arch rival University of North Carolina!--Duke students, instead of chanting “Go to hell, Carolina, go to hell [clap clap],” as we did, held up signs that said “Welcome Fellow Scholars.” And the first time the ref blew his whistle against the Blue Devils, instead of the usual obscene chant that was all too audible over the radio and television, the students chanted, “We beg to differ! We beg to differ!”

After my time at Duke, I moved down the road to Chapel Hill for two more degrees. I loved Chapel Hill--everything except Tar Heel basketball. I tried, Lord knows I tried, but I just couldn’t make myself do it, and after a season or two I gave up the effort.

I shared this story with Ralph Luker, who is also of both Duke and UNC, and readers of my old newspaper column a few years ago, but I think again about those years every time March rolls around.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Click on image for readable version.

from Uncommon Descent, via Tom McMahon.

religious literacy and bible courses

Today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an interview with historian Stephen Prothero concerning his forthcoming book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know--And Doesn't.

"Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant of religion," Stephen Prothero writes in his new book, "Religious Literacy."

Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University, notes that about 85 percent of Americans say they are Christian, and about one-third claim to be biblical literalists. Yet, in survey after survey, many people can't name the four Gospels, or don't know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. He quotes an evangelical Christian who calls the Bible "The Greatest Story Never Read."

Prothero wrote "Religious Literacy" (HarperSanFrancisco, $24.95), which comes out Tuesday. It's partly a history of religious instruction in the United States and partly an argument toward teaching religion and the Bible in public schools as a standard academic course. At the end, he includes a Dictionary of Religious Literacy (with a nod to E.D. Hirsch's The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy —- about 150 key names and concepts from major world religions, from Abraham to Zionism, that he believes everyone ought to know.

This, coupled with a recent posting on Southern Pasts, got me thinking today about a couple of new high school courses that were approved last year by the Georgia General Assembly: History and Literature of the Old/New Testament. Such a course might address the problem Prothero addresses in his book, but this new law in Georgia concerns me.

Last year, in the 2006 legislative session, several Democrats introduced a bill to allow the state to fund high school elective courses on the Bible. (School districts could already teach these classes; the bill would provide state funding.) The bill called for the use of a textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, a book published by the Bible Literacy Project under the oversight of several dozen scholars and well received by many religious leaders, both Jewish and Christian.

Charles Haynes described what happened in the neighboring states of Alabama and Georgia when similar bible electives were introduced in the state legislatures:

Beyond the fact that they were put forward by Democrats, why did Republicans in Alabama and Georgia reject the original Bible bills? It turns out that the dispute is about much more than partisan jockeying over which party is on God's side. It's really about how public schools should teach about the Bible.

The Democrats in both states had no sooner proposed their bills when supporters of an alternative approach from a group called the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools mobilized to defeat it with a political two-step: First, discredit the textbook in the Democratic bill. Then get Republicans to endorse an alternative approach that just happens to reflect the National Council's own curriculum.

National Council advisory board member (and prominent evangelical minister) D. James Kennedy labeled the textbook "anti-biblical" and claimed it was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on Islamic Education. In reality, The Bible and Its Influence has been praised by many Jewish, Catholic and Protestant leaders — including evangelicals such as Chuck Colson. Neither the ACLU nor CIE has endorsed it. But the smear campaign worked.

What many religious leaders and scholars like about The Bible and Its Influence is that it puts the Bible in historical context, exposes students to how Jews and Christians understand the Bible in various ways, and illustrates how the Bible has shaped history, literature and the arts. Contrary to the National Council's claim, students using the textbook are required to read the Bible itself. But both teachers and students are given sound scholarship and historical context for studying it.

By contrast, the National Council's curriculum doesn't have a student textbook (the Bible, they say, is the textbook), but provides a lengthy workbook for teachers that, in places, treats the Bible like a history book. Most of the secondary sources recommended for classroom use are from an evangelical Christian perspective.

The "Performance Standards" issued by the Georgia Dept. of Education for these courses can be seen here (.pdf) or here (html). This website discusses problems in similar classes.

I'm all for increasing cultural literacy, including religious/biblical literacy. But given the above, I'll admit I'm a little worried about how these new courses will play out. I'll be happy to hear what others think.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Wow, P.Z. sure is popular!

Yesterday, P.Z. Myers announced: Yes, I will be HALF A CENTURY OLD tomorrow. He invited everyone to write a poem for his birthday. As of right now, that posting has received 166 comments, most containing poetic birthday wishes.

Gee, he's popular.

The picture on the right is from Richard Dawkins's website. Dawkins started the greetings-in-rhyme with the following:

All around the World Wide Web, the wingnuts get the crepys,
As the faith-heads take a drubbing
from our era's Samuel Pepys,
That sceptical observer of the scene about the wyers,
At Pharyngula, the singular redoubt
of P Z Myers.

Happy birthday, P.Z.!

UPDATE: He has A LOT of friends. If your internets seem slow today, it's because everybody is wishing P.Z. happy birthday. See here, and here, and here.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Willie Lynch: The Making of a Slave

Trying to clear off the corner of a desk that has become rather cluttered the last few days, I came across something a student gave me last week. He asked if I'd ever heard of Willie Lynch's speech. I said I hadn't, so he gave it to me, printed out from this website. (It's much easier to read, though, here or anywhere else you can find it.) I put it on the side of the desk, and before long it was covered and forgotten. I rediscovered it a few minutes ago.

The speech begins:

Gentlemen. I greet you here on the bank of the James River in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twelve. First, I shall thank you, the gentlemen of the Colony of Virginia, for bringing me here. I am here to help you solve some of your problems with slaves. Your invitation reached me on my modest plantation in the West Indies, where I have experimented with some of the newest and still the oldest methods for control of slaves.

After the first sentence, I had my doubts. A quick Google search seems to confirm. Fake. Hoax.

I’m probably the last person in the world to see this, right?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

"They only call it class war ..."

I found this wonderful picture at a posting from gottlieb titled "All Revolution is Class War" over at Progressive Historians. I won't bother quoting or even describing the piece; if the guy holding the sign doesn't make you want to read it, you probably wouldn't enjoy it. (Come to think of it, that probably means you should read it. Just click above.)

History Enthusiast takes on "The Lost Tomb of Jesus"

Kristen, over at The History Enthusiast, has a great post on "Decoding The Lost Tomb of Jesus." Good analysis, but I was especially interested in how she compared the names recorded in the tomb--
Jesus, son of Joseph
Mariamne e Mara
Judah, son of Jesus
to the listings she found in an 1850 slave schedule from Missouri--
24-year old mulatto male
20-year old black male
18-year old black female
15-year old mulatto female
6-year old black female
3-year old black female
What are the familial conections? How can we be sure?

"Southern Pasts": A new, must-read blog

I just came across a new (two week old) blog, Southern Pasts. The "sub-title," if that's the right word, is "The past is not dead," the first half of a famous line from William Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun; the conclusion, "it's not even past," proves that Faulkner was one of the greatest southern historians ever.

Southern Pasts is beautiful in both its layout and its writing. The author introduces it thusly:

The title of this blog, Southern Pasts, borrows from the titles of two books on the history of the South. The first is Fitzhugh Brundage’s recent monograph, The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory. The second is Melton McLaurin’s award-winning memoir, Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South.

Given its namesakes, this blog will address issues related to southern history and how people remember it, particularly with regard to race. I deliberately chose McLaurin’s plural “pasts” because I believe that the South is a region with a still largely segregated understanding of the past. In terms of historical memory in the South, there are often (as the cliche goes) two sides to every story.

One of my goals as a historian is to complicate (dare I say, integrate?) the “separate pasts” of the South, both black and white, and it is with this goal in mind that I began this blog.

I urge you to read it.

Best wishes, Southern Pasts!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Getting LOST

Since I'm too worthless these days to post anything here, I'm passing along a link to LOST Magazine, described by the publisher as "an online monthly magazine that combines elements of many other literary, online, and national magazines with a singular mission--to reclaim in writing lost people, places, and things."

I haven't read much of it yet, but what I've seen is quite good.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Marian Sims and Reconstruction in S.C.

In response to a posting yesterday where I noted that I'm working on a conference paper and need to finish it during our spring break, a reader asks what the paper is about.

The paper is for the annual meeting of the Georgia Association of Historians and is titled, rather boringly, "Beyond Surrender: Marian Sims, Francis B. Simkins, and Revisionism in Reconstruction South Carolina."

Marian Sims (1899-1961) was a writer born in Dalton, Georgia. In the mid-1930s, Sims, who had been a school teacher (history and French) and copy writer for an advertising firm, began writing novels and short stories. Much of her fiction dealt ("with notable honesty and intelligence," according to a reviewer in the New York Times) with the lives of middle-class southerners facing such issues as divorce and small-town religious and moral bigotry.

In 1941, Sims turned her hand to historical fiction with Beyond Surrender, a novel of Reconstruction in South Carolina. In the book's acknowledgements, she thanked Francis Butler Simkins, who was the author (with Robert Woody) of one of the first of the so-called "revisionist" histories of Reconstruction (South Carolina during Reconstruction, [1932]).

Earlier historians (and people in general) had looked at Reconstruction as a dismal failure, where vindictive northern Radical Republicans imposed horrible "reforms" on the southern states. This interpretation features scalawags and carpetbaggers, uppity and incompetent blacks, and whites being humiliated and, in general, unfairly imposed upon. William Archibald Dunning and his students (the "Dunning school") at Columbia a century ago turned out a number of studies that "proved" this interpretation. (Perhaps the most popular "history" was Claude Bowers's The Tragic Era [1929]). Think of Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind, and you'll understand how widespread this view was.

Historian Francis B. Simkins was no Eric Foner, but his view of Reconstruction was quite different from Dunning's. In Simkins's view, not all Yankees were bad, not all southern whites were good, and the former slaves were treated with a sympathy that even W.E.B. DuBois pronounced "fair."

A reading of the Sims-Simkins correspondence and the two books (Sims's novel and Simkins's history) shows that Sims was heavily influenced by Simkins's work, producing what might well be the first "revisionist" fiction of the Reconstruction era, a much improved version (from a historical standpoint, anyway) of Margaret Mitchell's more famous novel.

Sims has been almost completely ignored by historians, and I think that's a shame, hence the paper.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Who do people say I am?

This past week in my History of American Religion class, we discussed Patrick Allitt's "The American Christ," from American Heritage (Nov. 1988). It's a great article that makes several good points I want my students to learn. (At the end of the semester, they're going to read Stephen Prothero's American Jesus.)

Since Jesus was in the news last week, the timing worked out well.

A few years ago, I used Allitt's article as the basis for a column (I used to write a weekly column--or, as someone said, I wrote a column, weakly--for the local newspaper). Jesus himself provided the title (or the "headline," as the editor insisted on calling it): "Whom Do Men Say That I Am?" That's the King James Version. I wish now that I had used the more politically- and grammatically-correct New International Version: "Who do people say I am?" (Mark 8:27)

Anyway, here it is:
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Several years ago, Patrick Allitt, a historian of American religion at Emory University, published an article called “The American Christ.” He showed how Americans in the last two centuries have interpreted Jesus--his life and his teachings--from their own perspectives. You might say that we have made Jesus in our own image.

In Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur (1880), Jesus and the title character were strong and masculine. Wallace himself was a manly man, a major general in the Union army.

On the other hand, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a woman. Her story of Jesus, titled Footsteps of the Master (1877), stressed the feminine side of Christ, calling him at one point a “loving, saintly mother.” Stowe noted that Jesus had more compassion for women than any other famous man in history.

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps took things a bit further with her Story of Jesus Christ (1897). Jesus “boldly took the stand that men and women stood before God upon the same moral plane, and that they ought so to stand before human society.”

Whom do men say that I am: Charles Atlas or Phil Donahue?

Eugene Debs, labor leader and Socialist party presidential candidate, said that Jesus “organized a working class movement for no other reason than to destroy class rule and set up the common people as the sole and rightful inheritors of the earth.”

Bruce Barton, an advertising executive in the 1920s, described Jesus as the founder of modern business principles, the world’s greatest salesman.

Jesus: labor leader or businessman?

Mary Austin’s biography of Jesus was titled A Small Town Man (1915). Big cities were wicked, but Jesus came from the small town of Nazareth. Fulton Oursler echoed this theme in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1949). “Oh yes, Joseph knew that sophisticates in Jerusalem looked down on the countrified Nazarenes, yokels with a ridiculous northern accent,” Oursler wrote. “But Joseph, with all his fellow townsmen, felt that the people of Jerusalem were unnatural and overcivilized. Anyway, he was proud of his home town.”

In the 1960s, Karl Burke, a prison chaplain, thought young people raised in the inner city had trouble understanding the Bible’s language and identifying with its agricultural setting. So Burke, in God Is for Real, Man, rewrote a number of Bible stories from a more contemporary, urban perspective. “After Jesus busted outa the grave, He met two of his gang on the road. Man! Were they ever spooked and surprised. Thomas’s eyes almost bugged out when he saw Jesus.”

Jesus: country boy or urban dude?

Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps (1896) told how citizens of a Midwestern town were suddenly made aware of the suffering in their midst. They became interested in a number of social reforms as they decided to live by the simple creed, “What Would Jesus Do?” One of the characters was a young woman from a prominent and well-off family who gave up everything to live with and help the poor. “It was not a new idea,” said Sheldon. “It was an idea started by Jesus Christ when he left His Father’s house and forsook the riches that were His in order to get nearer humanity.”

William Stead’s If Christ Came to Chicago (1893) took a more moralistic stance. Stead had scandalized the city by publishing a list of the businessmen and local officials who visited the city’s prostitutes. Stead said in his novel that if Jesus came to Chicago, he would do the same thing.

Robert Ingersoll, the most famous atheist in the nation a hundred years ago, found much to admire in the life of Christ. “He was a reformer in his time,” Ingersoll said, noting that both he and Christ had worked to save the world from the tyranny of organized religion. “Had I lived at that time, I would have been his friend, and should he come again he will not find a better friend than I will be.”

Jesus: social reformer, scandal monger, friend of the atheist.

I was thinking of Allitt’s article this week, after I read about a new Catholic church in Los Angeles. The church, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, contains a large statue of the Virgin Mary, a Mary with definite Latino features. “I think she has to be one of us,” said the artist. The statue has raised a few eyebrows, but has apparently been accepted fairly well.

How do we see Mary? Lew Wallace said: “Her complexion was more pale than fair, the eyes blue and large, and shaded by drooping lips and long lashes; and, in harmony with all, a flood of golden hair.” Elizabeth Stuart Phelps described Mary as having “a fair complexion, blonde hair and bright hazel eyes. Here eyebrows were arched and dark, her lips ruddy.”

When I was a child, I had a book that told the life of Jesus, as illustrated by a number of artists through the ages. Jesus was always light skinned, sometimes even blond, often surrounded by Caucasian children, smiling brightly. According to Albert Cleage, in Black Messiah, “For nearly 500 years the illusion that Jesus was white dominated the world only because white Europeans dominated the earth.”

Jesus: white man, or person of color?

In the recent primary, one candidate criticized his opponent’s liberal religious views, especially his alleged tolerance of homosexuals. This candidate promised that, if he were elected, he would support Christian [i.e., anti-homosexual] principles.

We continue to create Jesus in our own image.

This piece was first published in the Cartersville Daily Tribune News in 2002. All literary references are from the Allitt article cited above.

good stuff for the weekend

For your reading pleasure this weekend:

Dr. Homeslice has the 108th Carnival of Education.

The 55th Skeptics' Circle is up at Second Sight (with numerology!).

The 5th edition of the Georgia Carnival is at Got Bible?.

History Is Elementary is hosting the 49th History Carnival.

Everything Ed Darrell writes at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub is worth reading.

Me, I'm going to finish the above, watch Jesus Camp, and begin spring break week by finishing a conference paper. I hope.