Thursday, May 24, 2007

Providence Journal Wins EPPY

And the awards keep coming....

The Providence Journal has won an EPPY in the category of "Best Special Feature in a Web Site - Enterprise, fewer than 1 million unique monthly visitors" for it's series "Unrighteous Traffick: Rhode Island's slave history." If you haven't checked it out, do so. It's really well done and shiny and all that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Sons of Providence" Wins Washington Book Prize

Charles Rappleye's Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution , which I've discussed before, has won the George Washington Book Prize, given to the best book written about the era of the Founding Fathers. In addition to the "prestige," Rappley receives $50,000. That's pretty sweet. The other finalists were A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor and In the Name of the Father: Washington's Legacy, Slavery and the Making of a Nation by François Furstenberg.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

National Maritime Day

As a former merchant mariner (KP, '91), I'd be remiss if I didn't take note that today is National Maritime Day. Here's the President's 2007 National Maritime Day proclamation and a link to, a great spot to read up on the contributions made by the U.S. Merchant Marine during war time. Fair winds and calm seas...

Hamburger's "Separation of Church and State"

The latest University Bookman contains a review of Philip Hamburger's Separation of Church and State", which delves into this "stubborn ideology". Hamburger recounts the evolution of the "wall" argument, hitting all of the appropriate touchstones. But then there's this:
In fact, it was not until the 1840s that the idea of separation of church and state really began to gain wide acceptance, as native born Protestants, alarmed by increasing numbers of Catholic immigrants, and viewing the Catholic Church as an obscurantist, authoritarian institution that, ruled by a foreign prince, exercised a kind of mind control over its members, embraced separation of church and state as a way of limiting the grave threat they believed Catholicism posed to American freedom....Nativist Protestants used the idea of separation of church and state to restrict the influence of Catholic clergy in politics and to eliminate public support for Catholic education.

Particularly notable in this regard was the school question, where nativist legislatures, seeking to make the public or common school an agent of both Americanization and Protestant evangelization—the two were closely linked in their minds—promoted common schools in which a non-denominational Protestantism was taught, the (Protestant) King James version of the bible was regularly read, and textbooks filled with anti-Catholic propaganda were used, even as they refused public support for “sectarian” Catholic schools because such support would allegedly violate the separation of church and state. Nativists could hold these contradictory positions because...they did not think of themselves as part of a structured, hierarchical church; accordingly, as they saw matters, supporting a non-denominationally Protestant public school system while denying funds to Catholic schools on separationist grounds made sense because what they sought was the separation of church from state, not of (the Protestant) religion from government.

...recognizing that the Constitution did not actually mandate separation, nativists began in the 1870s to propose constitutional amendments intended to make separation the law of the land and to preclude any possibility of public funding for “sectarian,” that is, Catholic schools, while leaving the non-denominational Protestant public school system fully intact... Yet, ironically, while nativists recognized that the First Amendment did not in fact separate church and state, they do not seem to have recognized that the logic of separation, strictly applied, would require the secularization of the public schools...
Ah yes, unintended consequences...

Pawtucket "Officially" Historic

Now downtown Pawtucket, Rhode Island is more than just of old buildings. It's officially a bunch of old, "historical" buildings.

Downtown Pawtucket has been named to the National Register of Historic Places, the R.I. Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission announced today.

“The architectural and civic character of Downtown Pawtucket is preserved in this collection of solid historic buildings,” Edward F. Sanderson, the commission’s executive director, said in a statement. “Downtown’s historic core is important to Pawtucket’s heritage, and these structures are a resource for attracting new investment and revitalization.”

The district comprises 50 buildings on about 14 acres of land in the city’s central business district, two blocks to the west of the Blackstone River. “With its collection of architecturally significant banks, shops, offices and civic buildings, the Downtown Pawtucket Historic District represents the city’s growth as a prosperous industrial city between the Civil War and World War I,” the Preservation & Heritage Commission said in its announcement.

...the Blackstone’s 30-foot drop at Pawtucket Falls had made the region a magnet for early industrial efforts including Slater Mill, and the booming manufacturing economy attracted housing, institutional and civic buildings and commercial development.

The 1870s through 1890s, the state Preservation & Heritage Commission said, saw the replacement of horse-drawn streetcars with a street railway system, the advent of public utilities and the beginnings of a new central business district where small wood-frame shops and houses gave way to masonry structures up to five stories tall.

“The Downtown Pawtucket Historic District encompasses examples of all of these building types,” the commission said.

“North of Exchange Street stand three wood-frame residences that predate Pawtucket’s urban boom: two Italianate-style cottages on Grant Street and a Second Empire-style house on Montgomery Street.

“Fine examples of commercial buildings include the Late Victorian-style Beswick Building (1891) and the massive Summer Street Stables (1892) with its terracotta plaque containing the biblical verse, ‘How Do The Beasts Groan.’

“Municipal and institutional buildings like the Deborah Cook Sayles Memorial Library (1899-1902, designed by the Boston firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson) and the Colonial Revival-style Pawtucket Boys Club (1902) embody the wealth and civic ambitions of this maturing city.”

Friday, May 04, 2007

Hazards of Late Antique/Germanic History--Don't just guess!

From Martin at Aardvarchaeology (this is all him, so don't be confused by formatting):
The concept of an Old Norse religion (as it has been used by e.g. Karl Hauck and Lotte Hedeager) is useless. Such a non-codified, orally performed and transmitted body of mythology and liturgy cannot be coherent across time nor space. So all statements about Old Norse religion must be qualified with two questions: Where? When? And when things don't add up, this is only to be expected.

Think about it. Even heavily codified religions, such as Judaism or Christianity, aren't coherent.

This skepticism of monolithic coherent entities in societies of the past and present is actually a post-modernist viewpoint, and to my mind a valuable one. Unlike real po-mos, however, I don't draw the conclusion that anything goes in interpretation. Quite the contrary, I find it a strong argument to drop all discussion of anything not strongly anchored in source material. Wovon man nicht reden kann, darüber darf man ganz bestimmt schweigen, po-mo Dummköpfe.

This reminds me of something I wrote the other day in a letter to a charming Aard regular:

"The problem is often called 'essentialism', as I think you may have seen in my review of Herschend's The Idea of the Good. The argument presupposes that there's this huge block north of the Imperial border called Germanic Society, that this block has the same essence from the border to the North Cape, and that when the block changes, all of it changes at the same time, in the same way. All this is in my opinion a) pure speculation, b) very, very unlikely."

Review: English History Made Brief, Irreverent, and Pleasurable

English History made Brief, Irreverent, and Pleasurable by Lacey Baldwin Smith (Academy Chicago Publishers).

Smith is Professor Emeritus of History at Northwestern University and has written a number of books centering around the history of Great Britain. English History not being my bailiwick, I'd never read anything by him before. After reading his recent work, however, that will change.

Smith opens his book by noting that “history is not what happened in the past, but what today is worth remembering about the past.” Setting aside the historiographical discussion that such a comment can engender, he has written a fine work of history. Smith hits the high--and low--points of English History (note, it's "English" and not "British"-- Smith explains the difference) in a conversational and engaging way. It's as if you're your history professor's office hours were held at a kegger. In short, Smith injects a little humor and verve into his narrative, which is complemented by some very funny illustrations from Punch.

As a medievalist--and if historians are considered "dry," medievalists are downright parched--I found his take on the early medieval period in English history refreshing and funny. For instance, while describing how the Angles and Saxons came and conquered Celto-Roman Britain:
The invaders proceeded over the years to divide Britain among themselves. The Saxons in the area of London broke up into the east, south and west Saxons--Essex, Sussex and Wessex. The urge to box the compass generated the splendid, but also apocryphal, story of a north Saxon kingdom called Nosex which naturally died out very rapidly, but doubtless inspired one of Britain's longest running plays: No Sex Please, We're British.
Keeping with a theme, Smith also explains the English resurgence after the Plague by explaining that "somewhere around 1485, the English started having more and better sex...rising from two to four million by 1600." He also takes the opportunity to weave in a zinger or two when he can. For instance, this observation about Elizabethan society:
The family, over which the father was supreme, was seen as the Kingdom writ small. In learning obedience to and respect for their parents, Tudor children learned deference to authority on every level of society. Thus the inferior bowed to all forms of superiority, the freshman stepping aside for the senior, the bachelor of arts for the master of arts, the master of arts for the doctor of divinity or civil law, and all six for the professor, a way of life that high-ranking academics today regret has disappeared.
Indeed! But Smith's work isn't all wit and snark. He gives very concise and readable accounts of historical events and explains how one affected the other (eg; the reign of James I and the Glorious Revolution or the evolution of Parliament). Though there are chronological demarcations in the narrative, a narrative it is, not a patched together pop-encyclopedia of sequential--though disconnected--events. Smith does a fine job of moving the story of English history along in a coherent and entertaining way.

Smith concludes the book with an extended treatment of the British royalty--"The Royal Soap Opera." He covers the breadth of the more personal shenanigans of English royalty, plumbing the depths and climbing the peaks, and shows that royal peccadilloes are a constant. Commenting on the leveling of the contemporary Royal Family, he offers that "what is eating at the soul of Kingship is not moral outrage, but boredom." Like the rest of the entertainment industry, if the progeny of Elizabeth II don't give the press enough scandalous fodder, what is left?

Overall, I found that Smith's English History lived up to the rest of it's title, especially the Pleasurable part. Go out and get it--you'll learn something between chuckles.

Southern Conservative History: It's not all Black and White?

The points made by Donald T. Critchlow in "What’s Wrong with the New Conservative History?" were:
First, I do not believe enough attention has been given to framing the history of conservatism more broadly within the context of modern liberalism. Second, we need to stop seeing the rightward shift in the electorate in the late twentieth century as simply a racial backlash. Both points suggest that many historians working in this field simply are not getting the full story.
Well, maybe they are:

new wave of historians, many of them young, believe that one cannot understand today’s housing, schooling, economic development or political patterns without understanding the mostly apolitical white Southerners of that era. None of these scholars play down the inbred racism of the region, but they argue that the focus on race can obscure broader economic and demographic changes, like the dizzying corporate growth, the migration of white Northerners to the South and the shifting emphasis on class interests after legal segregation ended.
Critchlow and the "new wave of historians" point to the suburbanization of southern whites as a key factor in understanding the spread of Republican conservatism in the south.
Matthew D. Lassiter was motivated to research his own Southern roots. He found a gap between the history he had learned in school and his experience growing up in its wake in Sandy Springs, a white, middle-class suburb of Atlanta. “I was trying to find my own people, my parents and grandparents,” said Mr. Lassiter, 36, who wrote “The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South” (Princeton) published last year. “There were a few white Southerners who were liberals, a larger number throwing the rocks with the rioters and the vast group in the middle were left out of the story.”

As a graduate student at the University of Virginia, he taught undergraduates and assigned the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” in which he wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than justice.”

Mr. Lassiter, who now teaches history at the University of Michigan, said: “Who are these moderates? They don’t seem to be participating, yet they’re completely complicit in the system of Jim Crow.”

Mr. Lassiter’s book looks at how the federal government subsidized white flight to the suburbs, where middle-class whites could embrace colorblind values but still maintain all-white enclaves and schools. “When you look at suburbs and middle class, then you start getting a national story,” he said. “White suburbs outside Charlotte are reacting the same as white suburbs outside Los Angeles or in New Jersey.”

Kevin M. Kruse, who grew up in Nashville and now teaches at Princeton University, focuses more on rank-and-file segregationists than moderates. In his 2005 book, “White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism” (Princeton), he argues that in moving to the suburbs, “white Southern conservatives were forced to abandon their traditional, populist, and often starkly racist demagoguery, and instead craft a new conservatism predicated on a language of rights, freedoms, and individualism.”