Joel Achenbach offers a lively narrative review of the War of 1812 and the invasion and burning of Washington, D.C. in the Washington Post today, the two-hundredth anniversary of the attack. He spends an unaccountable number of column inches on the Battle of Bladensburg (?), but has some funny and touching stories towards the end about President James and First Lady Dolly Madison wandering around separately in nearby Virginia and Maryland for the first few days after the invasion and destruction of the President’s House, hoping to find some sympathetic locals to take them in. Continue Reading »
Archive for the 'American history' Category
Stop by and sit for a spell. Have a cup of coffee, too, while you’re at it! (It’s fresh, or at least it was this morning.) As you have probably guessed, I’ve crawled my way out of the wilderness and back to internet-connected civilization. Although the entrance to The Huntington Library and Gardens is torn up now because of a major construction project, everything indoors and out is pretty much its usual quiet and studied perfection. As commenter Susan noted in the comments on my last post, the Corpse Flower is about to bloom here, so we’re all on the edge of our seats. (Follow the progress on Twitter, #CorpseFlower).
I’ll surely be reporting more from my new sabbatical year location, but I’m actually getting lots of writing done this week (!) so I don’t want to let the blog suck too much of my mojo right now. I’m enjoying the offline company of my fellow nuns and monks here. It’s a refreshingly cloistered environment, in which people still cultivate the attention spans required for long study and deep reflection rather than the instincts of the blogosphere or Twitterverse.
The Huntington is also culturally and environmentally about 15,000 miles away from Ferguson, Missouri. Working and strolling through this privileged environment, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the incredible liberties I have even amidst the many botanical, art, manuscript, and bibliographic treasures. All it takes is a “reader’s card” on a lanyard around my neck, and I have nearly the run of the place. And who am I? I haven’t paid a dime for the pleasure–in fact, I’m a huge welfare queen! I’m getting paid to be here! What a tragically different experience Mike Brown had of his own neighborhood. Continue Reading »
The Anglo-American tendency to see food as medicine (rather than a vehicule for pleasure) runs deep. Reading eighteenth and early nineteenth century cookbooks and dietary advice manuals, all of a summer’s day (like you do), I came across this advice that made me laugh out loud (funniest part in bold):
By being too rich, is improper for weak stomachs, liable to turn rancid, and difficult of digestion. Upon strong stomachs, which can digest it, it is very nourishing.
It is an unwholesome custom to eat cream or milk with apple-pies, strawberries, &c. &c. directly after dinner, if you mean to drink wine; for the wine ferments, coagulates the cream, and makes the whole mass hard of digestion: and upon weak stomachs, such a mixture will promote sickness, vomiting, &c. This I myself have experienced more than once.
–from Thomas J. Hayes, Concise Observations on the Nature of our Common Food, So Far as it Tends to Promote or Injure Health (New York, Swordses for Barry & Rogers, 1790), 22.
Via Twitter, I clicked on a link to an article about polyamory at The Atlantic by Olga Khazan, and was struck by just how un-rebellious it seemed. Actually, it seemed pretty damned polygamous, as in Fundamentalist LDS-style polygamous, with a much older man sharing two much younger women. Here’s the lede:
When I met Jonica Hunter, Sarah Taub, and Michael Rios on a typical weekday afternoon in their tidy duplex in Northern Virginia, a very small part of me worried they might try to convert me.
All three live there together, but they aren’t roommates—they’re lovers.
Or rather, Jonica and Michael are. And Sarah and Michael are. And so are Sarah and whomever she happens to bring home some weekends. And Michael and whomever he might be courting. They’re polyamorous.
Michael is 65, and he has a chinstrap beard that makes him look like he just walked off an Amish homestead. Jonica is 27, with close-cropped hair, a pointed chin, and a quiet air. Sarah is 46 and has an Earth Motherly demeanor that put me at relative ease.
My first thought? Eeeew, not because of the polyamory, but because of the serious age differences between gramps and his girlfriends. My second thought: it’s not like FLDS communities in that the women are permitted to date other men and bring them home even. But why is there still some old silverback in charge of the pack? Continue Reading »
Distractions, distractions, distractions! How am I ever going to finish this damn book without moving to a remote Scottish village, a mountaintop cabin in New Mexico, or a Colorado ghost town without the internets? Ironically enough, the internets have a lot to say these days about how the internets are scrambling our brains and changing our understanding of our own humanity.
- First, we see via a link from Karin Wulf (@kawulf) Maria Konnikova’s “How to Be a Better Online Reader,” which argues that readers haven’t learned to cope with the distractions of reading online. According to Maryanne Wolf, “‘Physical, tangible books give children a lot of time,’ she says. ‘And the digital milieu speeds everything up. So we need to do things much more slowly and gradually than we are.’ Not only should digital reading be introduced more slowly into the curriculum; it also should be integrated with the more immersive reading skills that deeper comprehension requires.” In other words, reading comprehension is shaped by factors other than the words on a page or a screen–the materiality of the text is fundamentally important. But instead of chucking out our screens, we have to learn to adapt and teach online reading skills to our students.
This American Life featured a fascinating–as in, car-crashtastic–example of the war on expertise that I thought many of you academic readers might be interested in, if you haven’t heard it already. In a story called “Sucker Mc-squared” (Mc-squared as in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, not Mc- as in McDonald’s), Robert Andrew Powell tells the story of Bob the Electrician, and of Bob’s conviction that he alone had discovered a fatal flaw in Einstein’s theory. You can hear the entire story here–it’s well worth 20 minutes of your time.
To summarize: Bob takes a year-long self-funded sabbatical to study physics and prove that Einstein had it all wrong. Powell tries to get real physicists to read the paper that Bob produces over the course of the year, which turns out to be quite a chore because it turns out that Bob is kind of like the old joke about asylums being full of Napoleons: there are thousands of cranks around the world who believe Einstein’s theory–and by extension all of modern physics–is wrong, and they are a plague upon real, working, university- and U.S. government-affiliated physicists in much the same way that Holocaust Deniers, Constitutional Originalists, and Lost Causers are to historians; climate change denialists are to real climate scientists; and anti-vaxxers are to real physicians. In sum, these cranks have no confidence whatsoever in expertise or in the value of the credentials that real historians, scientists, or doctors have. But yet, they crave their respect and demand to be acknowledged by the experts.
Why does Bob believe that all of physics has it all wrong? Why is he argumentative and defensive when finally Powell convinces a real physicist (Brant Watson of the University of Miami School of Medicine) to explain to him why he’s all wet? Why does he admit that he doesn’t understand the advanced training in mathematics that physicists receive, and still believe he’s right? SPOILER ALERT!
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Per my comparison of recently freed Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl to Anglo-American captives of the eighteenth century, the Wall Street Journal reports that so far, “Sgt. Bergdahl has refused to see his parents or speak to them on the phone, the official said. The decision by Sgt. Bergdahl, who returned to regular duty on Monday, suggests a deeper estrangement between the soldier and his parents than the military understood when he was released. Still, officials said, they don’t know the precise cause of the tension or when it began.”
Slate comments that “the news that Bergdahl has refused to speak to his parents is an unexpected plot twist in a story already full of hairpin turns.” Actually, no. The eighteenth-century evidence suggests that Anglo-Americans who were adolescents or young adults and who were adopted by new Native or French families frequently chose to remain with their new families rather than return home again. (I wrote about these captives, especially the girls and women who didn’t return, in chapter four of Abraham in Arms.)
Many captives became very attached to their new families and caregivers. In the case I cited last month in my analysis, Sylvanus Johnson–a child captive from age six to eleven–forgot how to speak English, forgot his own parents, and for the rest of his life allegedly “so much preferred the modes of Indian life to the prevalent customs of civilization, that he often expressed regret at having been ransomed. He always maintained, and no arguments could convince him to the contrary, that the Indians were a far more moral race than the whites.” Continue Reading »
Did you see this hilarious chat between journalists Emily Dreyfuss and Ben Dreyfuss, the children of Richard Dreyfuss, about their recent viewing of Jaws, the movie that made their father a famous actor? It’s really funny–they agree that the movie “makes no sense.” My fave part (SPOILER ALERT!):
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Remarkable providences! An eighteenth-century Jesuit is blogging now at Charlevoix (“a blog about New France”). Those of you in the know will recognize the blogger as the late Pierre F.-X. Charlevoix (1682-1761), who is considered one of the first historians of New France. (I say one of the first historians of New France, because I consider the unsung annalists of women’s religious orders to be historians of New France as well–and most of them in the eighteenth century were Canadian-born historians, not imports like Charlevoix.)
Here’s a little flava, a brief comparison of New England and New France in his Journal of a Voyage to North-America (London, 1761; Readex Microprint, 1966, in two volumes), an English translation of his 1744 French travel narrative: Continue Reading »