Category Archives: memory

July 31, 2009, 12:49 pm

Too good to be true?

Given that I haven’t had a chance to read the book in question, I don’t know what to make of the ongoing, and increasingly nasty, fight over John Stauffer’s and Sally Jenkins’s new history of the Free State of Jones. But it seems like the struggle over the book is pretty interesting, as it raises all kinds of questions about the intersection of historical narratives and big-time entertainment. I also think there’s probably something to be said here about the nature of scholarship. But again, without having read the book, I’m not the one to say it. At least not yet.

Anyway, the fight started here and here and here, I guess, when Victoria Bynum, who’s written her own history of Jones County during the Civil War, posted a scathing review of The State of Jones. Take a look. See what you think.

Update: Stepping back a bit, it seems to me that there are other interesting questions…

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July 1, 2009, 10:02 am

More powerful than memory alone.


Ars Technica has a post summarizing Kodak’s decision to end sales of Kodachrome after 74 years because, basically, “not enough people are shooting KODACHROME for us to continue offering it.” In 1935 the film offered casual photographers the ability to take snapshots in color—to indulge that “twinge in your heart more powerful than memory alone,” as Don Draper says; it “takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”

June 22, 2009, 4:20 pm

on solidarity

I came to political awareness (well, relatively speaking) in the late 1970s, so one of the first foreign “uprisings” I can remember following was the Danzig shipyard strike, culminating Aug. 31, 1980, in the official recognition formation of the trade union Solidarity (Solidarność). It was tremendously stirring to follow from abroad, not least because of good graphic design — in the Polish tradition, starting with the beautiful, “casual” but unmistakable Solidarity logo itself, by Jerzy (Jurek) Janiszewszki. As several have lately commented, the struggle there and elsewhere in the Soviet bloc had a certain polarity with respect to the United States: the regime(s) were broadly anti-American, the popular movements were to some degree philo-American, etc. Yet even then, vicarious participation at the level possible to me in Los Angeles seemed practically pointless.

How much more so to…

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May 15, 2009, 6:08 am

100 places.

From the street display in Århus of “100 places to remember before they disappear”, on the web in English here.

May 8, 2009, 5:04 pm

Thinking of Balmy Alley.

As kind of a sequel to Vance’s post on Balmy Alley (which I can’t link to, being on the phone, but maybe a co-blogger could do it please), here’s “Thinking of Balmy Alley”, mosaic by Rigo at SFO’s gate 96:

This work, of a solitary boy totally absorbed in the act of painting, is inspired by a mural (since destroyed) painted in 1993 by the artist and local youth in Balmy Alley, located in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The mosaic dates from 1999.

April 29, 2009, 9:14 am

The Future of the Past: History Beyond the Book

[Editor's note: Karl Jacoby's Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History is a must read. And the website he created to support the book is a model for the future. Below, he shares some thoughts on what that future might look like. Thanks, Karl.]

As the American newspaper industry collapses around us, its economics imploding under pressure from the worldwide web, we can begin to see hints that the book publishing industry is on the cusp of the same downward spiral. History book sales are down. Penguin and other presses have announced layoffs. The once venerable Houghton Mifflin may soon cease to publish trade books altogether.

Such changes ought to be sobering to historians. Ever since history first emerged as an academic profession in the mid-nineteenth century, the basic unit of production has been the book. One needs to publish a book to get…

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March 31, 2009, 12:39 pm

This just in: Errol Morris is all kinds of cool.

The latest evidence? He’s doing some sleuthing over at the Times about a Civil-War-era photograph. The first of what will be a five-part series is linked above.

Here’s the hook:

The soldier’s body was found near the center of Gettysburg with no identification — no regimental numbers on his cap, no corps badge on his jacket, no letters, no diary. Nothing save for an ambrotype (an early type of photograph popular in the late 1850s and 1860s) of three small children clutched in his hand. Within a few days the ambrotype came into the possession of Benjamin Schriver, a tavern keeper in the small town of Graeffenburg, about 13 miles west of Gettysburg. The details of how Schriver came into possession of the ambrotype have been lost to history. But the rest of the story survives, a story in which this photograph of three small children was used for both good and wicked purposes. First, …

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March 2, 2009, 11:45 am

It’s fair to say that he exceeded expectations.

It’s always useful to remember how low expectations were for Abraham Lincoln when he took office. Even his ostensible allies sometimes described him as a rube, a hayseed out of his depth in troubled times. As for his political enemies, the editors at Harper’s Weekly*, a publication that had shilled for Stephen Douglas during the 1860 campaign, printed the above cartoon (click here for a larger image) on this day in 1861. Less than a week before Lincoln’s inauguration, the artist, John McLenan, depicted the president-elect, apparently drunk, joking with cronies as a funeral procession for the Constitution and Union passed by in the background.

* The editors at Harper’s maintained a Unionist stance throughout the war. And by the end of the conflict, the publication had become aggressively pro-Lincoln.

February 12, 2009, 11:11 am

Bicentennial rehash.

Had he not been cut down by an assassin’s bullet, Abraham Lincoln would have been 200 years old today. How’s that for a lede? Honestly, I feel like I should try to write something grand on this auspicious occasion, but as Frederick Douglass noted in 1876, “no man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln.” Douglass was right. And that was in 1876. So you can imagine how hard it is to be original about Lincoln today. But that hasn’t stopped people, lots of people, from trying. In fact, I’ve just finished reading six new Lincoln books for a longish essay I’m writing to mark the bicentennial. I learned some interesting stuff from these books — especially from James Oakes’s The Radical and the Republican — but nothing that changes my basic impression of the man, his politics, or his presidency. Truth be told, it’s probably time for a multi-decade moratorium on Lincoln…

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February 4, 2009, 12:01 am

Step away from the historical analogy, please.

I suppose the editors at Newsweek should be credited with acknowledging that “the analogy isn’t exact,” but I still find myself thinking they would have done better by not going there at all. Although, if I squint and cock my head just so, maybe they’re right: images of flag-draped coffins coming off planes on the evening news, an anti-war movement pressuring a president inextricably tied to a failed conflict of his own making, endless discussions of body counts and increasingly well-lit tunnels, and the looming menace of international communism. Check, check, check, and check. Okay, not so much.

For me, the most disheartening part of this kind of nonsense is that I thought Obama’s victory meant we could finally move beyond framing all of our foreign policy debates with inapt references to Vietnam. That said, at least Iraq isn’t being likened to Obama’s Munich. Wait just a…

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January 27, 2009, 9:37 am

Speaking of photographs…

This massive photo of the inauguration is incredibly cool. If you look carefully, you can see Cheney’s hooves. You can also find the image here. And here.

Via Seth, who was there.

January 19, 2009, 10:24 am

Bruuuuce and Peeeete.

Or maybe that should be Peeeete and Bruuuuce. Either way, ben just put this video up over at unfogged. And I’m stealing it, because It’s nice to feel good again about loving America. And sure, party-pooper, it might not last all that long. But I’ll just enjoy the moment, if it’s all the same to you. (Nice backdrop, by the way.)

Update: Well, so much for that. HBO insisted that YouTube pull down the video.

Update II: Video of the whole concert is available for free on HBO’s site. And before someone decides to call me a corporate whore for linking, let’s remember that HBO brought us The Wire. We still owe the network a little loyalty, don’t we?

Update III: Thanks to Drip in the comments, we’ve got new video posted above.

January 15, 2009, 8:14 pm

Remembering Martin Luther King (again).

[Author's note: I hope you'll forgive me for recycling a post from last year. I'm doing so because MLK, Jr., had he not been gunned down on April 4, 1968, would have been 80 years old today. And while I don't want to let the occasion pass without comment, I'm too tired and busy to think of anything new to say.]

The Martin Luther King of American memory serves this nation as the safe Civil Rights leader. When shrunk to fit within the confines of soundbite history, the pages of a textbook, or the scenes of a primary school pageant, King is cleansed of anger, of ego, of sexuality, and even, perhaps, of some of his humanity.

Counterpoised against the ostensibly violent Malcolm X, who supposedly would have forced America to change its ways by using “any means necessary,” King comes off as a cuddly moderate — a figure who loved everyone, enemies included, even whites who subjugated…

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January 13, 2009, 9:06 am

Quartered safe out ’ere.

Everyone knows that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (a) isn’t very good and (b) is largely borrowed from/an homage to Gunga Din.

Now, it is almost as widely assented that Gunga Din is good, or at least not very bad. Why is this so?

Partly, I think, this is because it was made in the 1930s, instead of set in the 1930s; set in the c19, a story about British imperial rule over India and crackdown on Thuggee makes some sense. Whereas the same story set in the 1930s (hi, Gandhi) and made in the 1980s, doesn’t.

Partly I think this is because, well, even if you don’t think Cary Grant is obviously cooler than Harrison Ford, you must concede that Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. are cooler than Willie and Short Round.

But here is my question: Gunga Din is actually not much based on “Gunga Din”. What is it based on/ripped off from? Partly Soldiers Three, I gather, but is…

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January 12, 2009, 4:18 pm

Not quite the Enola Gay controversy.

TPM reports that Senator Bernie Sanders (Pinko, Maple Syrupville) is asking the Smithsonian Institution to change the caption beneath its portrait of George W. Bush (rugged, rough-hewn, repugnant). The caption apparently includes the line, “the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Sanders, in a letter to the Smithsonian, takes issue with this formulation:

When President Bush and Vice President Cheney misled our country into the war in Iraq, they certainly cited the attacks on September 11, along with the equally specious claim that Iraq possessed vast arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. The notion, however, that 9/11 and Iraq were linked, or that one “led to” the other, has been widely and authoritatively debunked … Might I suggest that a reconsideration of the explanatory text next to the portrait of President Bush is in order[?]

I think…

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