Monthly Archives: February 2008

February 22, 2008, 4:15 pm


On this day in 1889, Grover Cleveland signed into law the omnibus admissions bill that brought the Dakotas, Montana, and Washington into the union as states—which might seem unremarkable enough on the face of it, but in fact poses one of the few Genuine Historical Mysteries I have lying around. This is a dissertation waiting to happen, people. Or at least an article. Or else one of you is going to email me to say that someone has already done it, and I will feel I have been ignorant (which is an unpleasant if familiar feeling, trust me, but I’d rather feel I have been ignorant than go on being ignorant).

Before I get into this, if you’re from the Dakotas, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona or Nevada and especially sensitive about how your state became a state, why don’t you accept my happy stativersary wishes and not click on the rest of the post?…

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February 22, 2008, 3:10 pm

Friday Afternoon Neo-Confederate Blogging

As Friday shades into the weekend, please enjoy this stirring tribute to African-American Confederate soldiers. Remember, “black is nothing other than a darker shade of Rebel grey.” Once again, via Kevin at Civil War Memory.

February 22, 2008, 11:21 am

"Brilliant" is not a word I use that often.

Unless I’m missing something, this is a brilliant blog post. Or, at the very least, it’s Yglesias at his best: reducing an incredibly complex geopolitical issue to a still complex, but more manageable, series of policy options. In this case, he’s turned his gaze on the thorny question of independence for ethnic minority groups, beginning with Kosovo and then pivoting to Israel/Palestine. Oh, and he also bashes Marty Peretz. So: extra credit! Even though I’ve just made an anti-Semite of myself. Anyway, here’s the nut graf of the post (but you should read it in its entirety):

It’s clear, though, that granting Israeli citizenship on terms of equality to residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is incompatible with the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. Thus, Palestinian independence emerges as a reasonable, practical, and moral alternative. Basically, there are four things you …

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February 22, 2008, 12:40 am

By Request*: Friday Dog Blogging

This is Hannah. Well, actually this was Hannah. But before getting to the sad stuff, I want to say what a great dog she was. She was. A great dog. She was so sweet it makes my heart ache to think about her. She allowed the kids to do just about anything to her that they wanted. The baby boy would point at her and say, “dug dug,” and then leap onto her flanks. She always wagged when this happened. I wouldn’t have. I’d have been quite peeved at having the little brute attack me, cackling as he tried to climb up my back to reach my velvet ears. But Hannah always loved all of us more than we had any right to expect. Or, if it wasn’t love, you could have fooled us. Because she was big on the full-body wags.


February 21, 2008, 4:47 pm

Independence Day

Vicksburg, Mississippi, you may know, fell to the Union on July 4, 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg ended the previous day, meaning that, after a long, very hard spring, the North had two great victories back to back. Which was good news for President Lincoln, who, at the time, was dealing with a fatigued homefront that badly needed a morale boost.

Regardless, I’ve always heard that the people of Vicksburg (Vicksburgers? Let’s hope so.) didn’t begin celebrating Independence Day again until the middle of the twentieth century. But it turns out that’s a myth. Or so says Chris Waldrep, whose new book on Vicksburg and collective memory just arrived in my mailbox today. Better still, Waldrep has traced the myth back to its taproot: a bit of promotional flummery in which a National Park Service superintendent made up the story about the Fourth of July in order to generate more tourism…

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February 21, 2008, 7:01 am

Who he?

On this day in 1925 The New Yorker first appeared, and every year the magazine’s editors mark the august anniversary by reiterating in appropriate fashion the picture of dandy Eustace Tilley, who graced the first cover. Though he became an institution, Tilley started as a joke, a man self-evidently out of tune with The New Yorker, with America, and indeed with 1925.

If the city’s new voice had a real face it was this one: the tough but humorous map belonging to Harold Ross, the New Yorker‘s first editor. He came from Colorado and worked as a reporter and photographer in San Francisco and Atlanta. He spent time also in Panama and, maybe most important, edited the Army’s newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Which is by way of saying, he knew the West, the South, the new cities, the new army and the new colonies—the ingredients that, when added to an acquaintance with the capital of capital,…

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February 20, 2008, 11:01 pm

Mixed-Up Files

On this day in 1872, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its doors. I grew up, for the most part, in Cleveland, Ohio. And my family used to make the seven-hour drive to New York City pretty regularly. Or at least often enough that I learned to love art at the Met. Huh, if that’s not the most pretentious sentence I’ve ever written, I’d like to avoid the one that takes top billing. Even if I turn my head sideways and squint while I read it, the one above makes me sound like an ass. But it’s true.


February 20, 2008, 11:46 am

First Black Communist President

About two weeks ago, a news producer for one of the television stations in Sacramento called to ask me, “Will Barack Obama be our first black president?” I didn’t write about this at the time, because I was a bit freaked out and didn’t want to make sport of someone I don’t know. But the time has come to tell the story.


February 20, 2008, 6:29 am

RIP but until then, be prepared to dodge.

I dearly love the TLS. Here is part of a tribute to Rees Davies:

As a memorial to Rees Davies – perhaps the closest rival to Marc Bloch that Britain can claim to have produced, both in terms of scholarly method and of humanity – this book has the added advantage of a postscript from Davies himself, reminiscing about his early failure to obtain a place at Oxford, where the Master of his prospective college questioned him about his Welsh-speaking ancestors and the fairy tales and myths of his home area with all the condescension, Davies tells us, that an anthropologist might have displayed confronted with “a member of the Dinka or the Nuer”. One senses here that the wounds of the greatest historians go deep, and that from them flows much that is best and most humane in their writing. This is historical scholarship at its best.

Davies was indeed a deeply humane and decent man,…

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February 19, 2008, 10:10 pm

"Are you men from California? Or do you come from heaven?"

On this day in 1847, rescuers found the Donner party, trapped high in the Sierras near Truckee Lake. Daniel Rhoads later remembered the scene:

At sunset, we crossed Truckee Lake on the ice, and came to the spot where, we had been told, we should find the emigrants. We looked all around, but no living thing except ourselves was in sight. We raised a loud hello. And then we saw a woman emerge from a hole in the snow. As we approached her, several others made their appearance, in like manner coming out of the snow. They were gaunt with famine; and I never can forget the horrible, ghastly sight they presented. The first woman spoke in a hollow voice, very much agitated, and said, ‘Are you men from California? Or do you come from heaven?


February 19, 2008, 12:53 pm

Academic Freedom and Contingent Faculty

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, argues that the shift to contingent faculty isn’t just an economic development but also an attack on academic freedom. It’s an interesting point, and I feel silly that I haven’t considered this before now. At the same time, it’s absurd to me that Nelson allowed himself to be videotaped with his tie looking like that. Honestly, I’m not sure which outrages me more: the tie or the situation surrounding contingent faculty. For the moment, I’m going with the tie, which is both ugly and a huge mess.

Via howtheunversityworks.

February 18, 2008, 3:46 pm

"The truth is, the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina."

On this day in 1865, William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops, having already made Georgia howl, took the city of Charleston, South Carolina. Given that, and also because it’s President’s Day, it might make sense to consider how close the cult of Abraham Lincoln — of which I am a member in good standing — came to never having been founded. And also, how much our collective memory of Lincoln actually owes to the field tactics, good timing, and daring of William Sherman.


February 18, 2008, 2:43 pm

Crazy, crazy Tom and Daisy.

Okay, the NYT article on a “bizarre literary reading” of The Great Gatsby gives me an opportunity to air my own pet and possibly bizarre reading thereof. I’ve asked around and nobody seems to think it’s either been done or is entirely non-credible. I now throw myself on the mercy of the Internets, asking “Isn’t Tom Buchanan afraid that Daisy has black ancestry?”

I think he is. People act funny at first when I say this because Mia Farrow played Daisy and Mia Farrow is blonde. And isn’t Daisy blonde? No, she’s not: when she gets caught in the rain, “A damp streak of hair lay like a dash of blue paint across her cheek,” and when we read in flashback about Gatsby and Daisy, we hear that “he kissed her dark shining hair.”1

We know that Tom is surprisingly tangled up in the subject of racism—which is to say, it’s surprising that he’s been researching it: “the fact that he ‘had some…

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February 18, 2008, 1:20 pm

Mailbag, Hannibal Hamlin edition.

Heather Cox Richardson, author of West from Appomattox, The Death of Reconstruction, and The Greatest Nation of the Earth, as well as all-around brilliant historian and fine human being, writes apropos this discussion and this one:

By the way, Hannibal Hamlin was on the ticket in 1860 because he was from Maine, and Maine voted before any other state (hence the saying, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”) Lincoln needed the momentum he could get from having a local boy on the ticket in 1860. HH was jettisoned in 1864 to broaden the party into a national concern. Johnson, a border state man who had stayed with the Union, seemed the logical choice.

“Logical” does not in this context mean “good.”

February 17, 2008, 4:50 pm

Eric el pescado.

Our various discussions about spit and memory reminded me of my favorite passage on the subject of truth and observation, which I had thought was probably everybody’s favorite, but the Internets wouldn’t yield it up to me in full. So here it is, John Steinbeck from The Log from the Sea of Cortez: