Monday, July 27, 2015

18 July 1863: Union Attack on Fort Wagner by Massachusetts 54th Infantry

18 July marks the anniversary of the assault on Fort Wagner by African-American troops of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, made famous to the present generation by the film, "Glory."

This year, instead of posting about it on that day, I earlier wrote about the changing reactions to the "Shaw Memorial" in Boston, which commemorates Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the troops that he commanded.

For today, several engraved representations of the battle over on the tumblr:

(details here

(details here)

Note the difference: Although both depict the assault, including a heroic bearer of the Union flag (the first bearer was hit, and then Sgt. William Harvey Carney seized it, the first Black to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor), the first was produced by a British reporter "embedded" with the Confederate troops, and thus views the attack from the inside. The second, based on a painting by Thomas Nast, presents the (to us) more familiar view of the assault seen from the perspective of the Union attackers.

This piece, from an August 1863 issue of Harper's Weekly, depicts African-American troops digging fortifications as the siege of Fort Wagner continued

 (details here)

See all posts relating to the Mass 54th regiment (including the soldiers who came from Amherst).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Charlotte Corday Medal: Well Deserved?

In contrast to the portrait prints in the previous post, numismatic commemorations of Charlotte Corday, assassin of Jean-Paul Marat, are fairly rare.

Here is one of the more refined of those exceptions:

Attributed (1, 2) to the Swedish medallist Carl Carlsson Enhörning (1745-1821), it is made of gilded bronze, with a diameter of 29 mm.

I don't know the source of the likeness, but it certainly seems to be an idealized generic representation. (I myself do not know of a single depiction in profile--so it is likely that Enhörning would not have, either--though it is possible that this one is based on the artist's interpretation of one of the full-face portraits.)

In any case, the inscription on the reverse suggests closeness to the event, at which time, presumably, few accurate representations of Corday would have been available.

The words, "bien méritée,"--well earned, or well deserved--make Enhörning's political sympathies clear, lest there was any doubt. In choosing this form, the artist also implicitly echoes the standard type of medal that governments, schools, academies, and other institutions issued for commendable achievement. For example, this small silver medal of the eighteenth-century Kingdom of Poland under Stanisław II August given to cadets:

Whether her act was justified is a matter that we can continue to debate. I keep the medal in my collection because I feel her fate rather than the act was "well deserved." Marat was a radical revolutionary leader--not unproblematic in his politics and personal views, yet also hardly the demon that his enemies claimed he was.

Bien méritée? As I said in the previous post, the verdict of "the Raging Reporter" Egon Erwin Kisch seems the most congenial.  Introducing a piece by Marat in his anthology, Klassischer Journalismus (Berlin, 1923), he explains, "the agitated hysteric, Charlotte Corday, a stupid person, stabbed him to death."

Portraits of Charlotte Corday: From Counter-revolutionary Soft Porn to the Picture that Churchill Used to Chide DeGaulle

On 13 July 1793, Charlotte Corday stabbed the French Revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat to death in his bathtub. On July 17, she went to the guillotine.

For counterrevolutionaries, she was a great heroine and tyrannicide. Even many French and foreign supporters of a moderate Revolution viewed her with some sympathy, though the issue of assassination remained a moral and political dilemma that they did their best to finesse. Personally, I've always favored the terse characterization of the episode by the great radical journalist Egon Erwin Kisch (1923):  "the agitated hysteric, Charlotte Corday, a stupid person, stabbed him to death."

counter-revolutionary soft porn

Portraits of Corday issued soon after the event, and especially in the nineteenth century, tended to romanticize or infantilize her, as this selection from an earlier post will show.

I described one of them as "Victorian counter-revolutionary soft porn: a little bondage, a little rain and wind—Joan of Arc in a wet t-shirt."

By contrast, this engraving, based on a sketch that the artist Jean-Jacques Hauer made while she was in prison, is the most distinctive if not most attractive. Both she and her contemporaries regarded as the most accurate.

And the best thing about it is that it had a strange second life. Winston Churchill had this engraving on display in his home in order, when dealing with de Gaulle, to remind him of the fate of arrogant Frenchmen.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Q: Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? A: Often, near Samoa

We are all familiar with the dramatic scenes of the fiery takeoffs of US space vehicles. We are arguably somewhat less familiar with the landings, though I'd wager many of us have seen a space shuttle landing on television.

And before that? Those of us of a certain age can probably remember both ends of the launch cycle very well. When we were kids, before these things became routine, they were broadcast live on the major television networks (nowadays, only on CNN and the like). In fact, teachers would wheel a portable television into classrooms so that students could watch history being made. Again, the blastoff was probably the main attraction.

And the landings? From the Mercury through the Apollo program, they took place on water, giving rise to the term, "splashdown." For a variety of complicated, partly contingent reasons, the USSR always opted for recovery of its space vehicles on land, whereas the US chose water landings.

So here are some philatelic artifacts of the Apollo program.

The splashdown of Apollo 11, like other Apollo landings, took place in the Pacific Ocean, most near American Samoa. This stamp from Western Samoa commemorates the moon landings. (The depiction of the space suit is not accurate.) [kickstarter project to restore and display Neil Armstrong's space suit]

Another Western Samoa stamp with the same image but a higher denomination is used on this commemorative cover marking the safe return of Apollo 16, the second-to-last manned moon mission.

For those of you not around at the time, here's what these splashdowns looked like:

As for the title of this post? It, too, is a historical artifact:
  • (a) either something someone of a certain age knows and fondly recalls, or
  • (b) something one picked up while exploring retro culture, or
  • (c) something one does not know but really should.
It's a great satirical song by the great Tom Lehrer, bitterly poking fun at Wernher von Braun. Again, those of us of a certain age remember the latter as a perennial talking head whenever the US space program was in the news (including Walt Disney productions, before my time). Snapped up at the end of World War II by "Operation Paperclip," in which the US sought to grab German rocket scientists before the Soviets could do so, von Braun went from designing Nazi V-2 rockets used in terror attacks against London to becoming the father of the US space program without skipping a beat. Hence this little ditty. And so, without further ado:

[restored video]

The Moon Landing in the Service of Advertising, Anno 1969

I always thought this was a very clever advertising strategy.

Back in 1969, when the Apollo 11 moon landing took place, Spoo & Son, a well-established Madison, Wisconsin clothing store on Capitol Square, had the clever idea of purchasing a whole load of first-day-of-issue covers of the commemorative stamp for use in promoting its big fall sale. The custom cachet, with the words, “in celebration of a great event,” in white against the image of the moon, thus appropriated the glory of the technological achievement in the service of commerce.

It had a sufficiently light touch to be amusing, and the prospective customer got a nice keepsake.

Moon Landing Anniversary (and animation, space toilets, and cheese)

If it's July 20, it's time to haul out my old post, which combines lunar exploration, zero-gravity toilets, animation humor, and the Jeffersonian politics of cheese.

But I also realized that the old posts did not include any images directly related to the moon landing, so I will redress that omission with the Apollo moon landing stamp.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Tale of Interfaith Cooperation and Historic Preservation from Old Jerusalem

The seventh-century Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is arguably the archetypical emblem of the city. And because it stands on the Temple Mount, it has since medieval times served as a representation of the Temple of Solomon in Christian art.

Scottish artist David Roberts depicts its dominant place on the skyline in "Jerusalem From the Mount of Olives" (color lithograph; London: Day & Son, 1855).

(late 19th-century engraving)

Because the month of Ramadan is traditionally a time of introspection and charity, it seems appropriate to relate an interesting tale of interfaith cooperation on the Temple Mount in the service of what we would nowadays call historic preservation or restoration.

Some years ago, Yehuda Litani recounted a fascinating discovery made in 1992-93, when a team of artisans from Northern Ireland was refurbishing the dome in a project funded by King Hussein of Jordan:

On a visit to the site during those renovations I discovered a story that wasn’t known until then, regarding the Jewish-Ottoman-Palestinian connection to the mosques on Temple Mount.

Story of the iron panel

The Dome of the Rock was surrounded with scaffolding, and before ascending one of them a friend of mine drew my attention to an iron panel that lay on the floor and was inscribed in French. The foreman of the Irish construction company said the panel had been found between the two halves of the crescents at on top of the mosque, and was temporarily dismantled so that the dome could be coated in gold.

The words in French revealed that the Mosque had been renovated in 1899 during Turkish rule, and that the works had been assisted by the Jewish community in Jerusalem led by a public figure called Avraham (Albert) Entebbe, who among his numerous other activities was also the principal of the city's "Kol Israel Haverim" school.

Entebbe, who was the undersigned on the French inscription, was known for his courageous ties with the heads of the Ottoman rule, and the inscription noted that for the purpose of renovating the mosques on the Temple Mount five acclaimed Jewish artists had been invited to Jerusalem. The Jewish stone carvers, wood carvers and iron mongers from various cities in the Mediterranean basin, shared their skills with their Muslim brothers during months of work.

Zenith of Jewish-Muslim cooperation

The inscription also noted that all the students at Entebbe's school were given a three-month leave in order to assist their Muslim brothers in the renovations works on Temple Mount. In the last lines of the inscription, Entebbe described the ideal cooperation and understanding that prevailed between Jews and Muslims in the Holy City, which reached its zenith when the Jews undertook renovations of the Temple Mount mosques in 1899.

Of course, not every story has a perfect happy ending.  When Litani returned to make a photograph, as he had requested, the foreman explained that the Waqf (Islamic trust that administers the holy sites) had taken the panel. When he went to the officials of the Waqf, they denied knowing anything about it.

As for the experience of visiting the site today: physician, scholar, and Muslim feminist activist Qanta Ahmed has written a moving four-part account of her pilgrimage:

The Dome of the Rock: A Muslim’s requiem
Part 2: Reaching the Dome
Part 3: Inside the Dome
Part 4: The farthest Muslims

Cairo Minarets and Mosque

Colored lithograph by the great David Roberts, whom the Metropolitan Museum of Art calls "the first professional artist to visit the Near East without a patron or a connection to a military expedition or missionary group." Roberts's meticulous depictions of Middle Eastern scenes are among his most famous works.

"The Minarets at the Bab Zuweyleh, and entrance to the Mosque of the Metwalis, Cairo," Plate 218 of The Holy Land, with historical notes by William Brockedon (London: Day & Son, 1856), vol. 6, Egypt and Nubia.

Quarto edition, sheet size: 295 x 205 mm (11 5/8 x 8 1/16 in.)

Ramadan Kareem, Eid Mubarak

As in many other aspects of life, I find that, as soon as July 4th has passed, the summer starts to vanish before my eyes, and I am behind in many tasks.

Among them this year is extending Ramadan greetings to my Muslim friends and readers. The holy month is almost ended.

Ramadan kareem.
Eid mubarak.
Bayramınız kutlu olsun.

Because we just marked the Laylat al-Qadr (or Night of Power), on which, according to tradition, the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, I decided to use for this year's image a photo of a Qur'an page that we keep in our living room. It is one of my sentimental favorites: among the handful of items that I purchased with my hard-earned pennies when, as a high school student, I first visited some classic bookstores in Greenwich Village.

The dealer told me that it was made in Jerusalem in the eighteenth century, but the style and paper clearly mark it as nineteenth-century (even at that age, I knew enough to be suspicious: but I am assuming he in his haste simply confused 1800s and 18th-century, as many educated people are wont to do, even today).

Wishing you all the blessings of the holy month.

My Ramadan posts from previous years.

Revolutionize Your Hair With "La Marseillaise"

"to clean, beautify, and strengthen the hair"

To us, it seems a commonplace item: a product promising to make the consumer healthier and more attractive, promoted with the aid of patriotism.

dia. 3.25 "; height 1.75" (83 x 43 mm.)

The small paper box is undated but, based on the lettering and the fashion styles depicted on the lid, was produced sometime around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century.

"La Marseillaise" promised:
A superior and domestic product to clean, beautify, and strengthen the hair.

Guarantees prompt disappearance of lice, nits, dandruff, and grime.

Who wouldn't want all that?

Well, first, who could afford it?

The small box cost 30 centimes.  In 1890 in the Département de la Seine (which is to say: Paris and environs), cleaning women earned 1.5 francs a day; seamstresses, shirtmakers, and dressmakers, 2; and women industrial workers, 2.46. As for what 30 centimes could buy: 2 loaves of bread or 3 liters of either wine or milk.

So, who wouldn't want all that? 

Maybe more people than you would think. For one thing, although the use of the national anthem and national colors to sell the product is something that we (alas) have come to regard as commonplace, that wasn't always the case. Even the use of the historic patriotic hymn as national anthem itself was relatively new. Napoleon banned it, as did his monarchical successors, so it was officially adopted again only in 1879, the year before the first official new Bastille Day celebration. Even the creation of the Third Republic in 1870 did not definitively end the struggle between republicans and royalists--as the Dreyfus Affair showed. Using a product called the "Marseillaise" was thus, at least in some quarters, a potentially political statement.

Cleanliness next to godliness?

Using any product to clean the hair, for that matter, was not something that one could take for granted. We are all familiar with the popular notion of the Middle Ages as a time of uncleanliness (in the famous phrase: a thousand years without a bath). In fact, washing and bathing were well established habits in the medieval era. One cannot say the same of some subsequent periods--even including the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. What is even more striking is that lack of bathing in France was not confined to the lower orders.

As Eugene Weber shows in his evocative account of France, Fin de Siècle, a combination of factors--prudery, the expense and difficulty of dealing with clean and waste water, and just plain ignorance of hygiene--conspired to make bathing less common than we would expect.

He cites the example of upper-class provincial women who bathed "once a month in summer, never in winter," as well as a contemporary public lecture claiming that most French women never took a bath even once in their lives. Those who did clean themselves with any regularity often just sponged themselves off--through a nightshirt, "for never would we have allowed ourselves to be naked to wash." Continuing this account, he adds, "When changing the chemise, they closed their eyes and crossed themselves. 'I grew up without ever seeing my navel.'"

And hair was the part of the body perhaps least likely to be clean: in Weber's words, "washed seldom if ever." He cites the recollections of the Countess de Pange, whose tresses apparently resembled the ones on the lid of our little box:
At seventeen, I had very long hair which, when loosened, wrapped around me like a mantle. But these beautiful tresses were never washed. They were stiff and filthy. The very word shampoo was ignored. From time to time they rubbed my hair with quinine water.
As for those lice and nits that "La Marseillaise" was supposed to purge: they were ubiquitous. Weber notes, "In the countryside lice and fleas and scabs were so common that popular wisdom considered them essential to the health of children."

So maybe a product that guaranteed clean and beautiful hair was indeed a revolutionary idea.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Toast to the Fall of the Bastille in the Manner of G. W. F. Hegel

"This glass is for the 14th of July, 1789 -- to the storming of the Bastille"


I often like to celebrate holidays with an eye to old historical practices.

One of my favorite traditions was that of the great German idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). As a student at the famed Stift in Tübingen, he was a passionate admirer of the French Revolution, more interested in political philosophy than epistemology (or the theology that he was supposed to be studying). According to a well-established but less well-proven tradition, Hegel, along with the likewise soon to be famous poet Friedrich Hölderlin and philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, erected and danced around a liberty tree on the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in the early 1790s.

But it is absolutely established that, every year, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the Revolution, the older Hegel--even though he had seemingly become more conservative--celebrated with a bottle of fine wine. I've known the story for years, but if I stop to think about it, I must have encountered it as a college or grad student, probably via the memoirs of the Prussian diplomat Karl August Varnhagen von Ense, while I was doing research on his friend, the poet and journalist Heinrich Heine.

In 1820, as Terry Pinkard's recent biography of Hegel tells it:
At the inn called the Blue Star (where Hegel thereafter always stayed when going to Dresden), various friends and compatriots from other universities gathered for dinner  . . . when the usual local Meißner wine was offered to Hegel, he rejected it, ordering instead some bottles of Champagne Sillery, the most distinguished champagne of its day. Having sent the expensive bottles of Sillery around the table, he then entreated his companions to empty their glasses in the memory of the day on which they were drinking. Everyone happily downed the Sillery, but when it became clear that nobody at the table knew exactly why they should be drinking to that particular day, Hegel turned in mock astonishment and with raised voice declared, 'This is for the 14th of July, 1789 -- to the storming of the Bastille.' Needless to say, those around Hegel were astonished; the old man had not only bought them the finest champagne available, he was drinking to the Revolution at the height of the reaction and at a time when he himself might have been in danger. (But maybe this was not so odd; in 1826, Hegel, once again in the company of young people, again drank at toast to the storming of the Bastille, telling Varnhagen von Ense at the time that he in fact always drank a toast to the storming of the Bastille on July 14.)
Hegel at that time wasn't really an "old man": only 50 (!); admittedly, he died at the age of 61. But I hope that, when I am a truly "old" scholar, I will continue to associate with "young people" and exhort them to remember the Revolution even as I listen to the particular reforming or revolutionary concerns of their own generation.

Print ephemera

Depicted above, two very rare pamphlets from the outbreak of the Revolution:

Paris Sauvé . . .  recounts the events from 12 to 15 July. The anonymous author notes that it is impossible to produce a definitive history at this early point, but offers a preliminary sketch, dedicated to "you courageous Parisians, brave fellow citizens, liberators of all France."

The Récit of the statement by the King on 15 July, by contrast, is an official document on the monarch's report to the Estates General following the storming of the Bastille. He here assures them that, having come before them to consult on the "horrible disorders taking place in the capital," he is one with the nation. He guarantees the personal security of the representatives of the nation and asks them to join him in working for the common welfare.

The wine

Unlike the famous Hegel, I wasn't about to spring for top-of-the-line French champagne (even for myself, much less for a bunch of students) so I chose a much more modest beverage closer to what the typical Frenchman might have drunk back then: in this case, a Pied-de-Perdrix ("partridge foot"). It's one of the old "black wines," a recently rediscovered relative of the Malbec--what one critic calls an "earthy, rustic wine."

I did, however, use a fine hand-blown and -cut eighteenth-century glass appropriate to the occasion. (It's English rather than French, but you have to make do with what you have lying around the house.)

Vive la révolution. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Confederate Flag and Defending the Shaw (Massachusetts 54th) Memorial

What a difference a century makes.

The great Saint-Gaudens bronze on the Boston Common, depicting the white officer and black soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, has become an iconic image of the struggle for freedom and serves as the starting point for the Boston Black Heritage History Trail.

In the wake of the controversy over the flying of the Confederate battle flag in the US south, many of us up here were shocked and concerned to hear that one of these emblems had been attached to the monument.

(Boston Globe)

It turned out, according to the Boston Globe, that the incident was entirely benign. A group of demonstrators had started to burn a Confederate flag, and when dispersed by police, decided to affix the remnants of the banner to Col. Shaw's sword in what they saw as a symbol of victory over the Confederacy and racism. It never occurred to one of the highly educated organizers, described as "a student in a joint program at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology," that anyone might take the  gesture differently.

As the article points out, the monument has occasionally been vandalized in recent years. As chance would have it, I had just recently acquired a little testimony to hostile sentiment about the 1897 sculpture when it was still relatively new.

It is a postcard from 1906, produced by the Metropolitan News Co. of Boston, which was active from 1905 to 1916. Like many other US cards of the era, it was printed in Germany. Prior to 1907, US postcards did not have divided backs: the blank side was reserved for the address, and senders wrote messages on the side of the card bearing the picture. In this case, the anonymous sender expressed revulsion at the sight of the Shaw Memorial, writing "Abominable!!"--with two exclamation points--below the caption.

The message is clear, yet it is puzzling: if the sender was revolted by the image, why buy it? Was the sender so angry that s/he just could not refrain from sharing the outrage?

Although the monument won plaudits from many contemporaries, including Henry James, clearly, not all felt this way. The card thus serves as a salutary reminder. Just over a century ago, some viewers found the memorial repugnant. Today, at even a hint of desecration, we rush to its defense. That is a useful reminder, as well.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Surprised that people think the Confederate flag is not a symbol of racism? Listen to what they think about slavery.

Southerners can continue to honor their ancestors, but doing so does not necessitate embracing the vile cause for which they fought — just as Germans can honor their ancestors without embracing Nazism and Japanese without embracing militarism.
--Max Boot, Commentary

many Americans don't seem to think slavery was much of a problem in the first place

In the wake of the horrendous massacre at the Charleston African American church by the racist fanatic Dylan Roof, there has been a startling, salutary, and long overdue willingness to challenge the perversely enduring presence of the so-called "Confederate flag" (actually a version of the battle flag) as ensign and emblem. Where else but in the US today--or until today--would the public display of a symbol of treason be not only tolerated but celebrated? And that's not even taking the question of racism and slavery into account.

Some have expressed surprise that otherwise well-meaning people could insist that the flag is simply a symbol of regional and historical pride, which has nothing to do with slavery and should not be seen as an offense and a provocation. That becomes much less surprising when one realizes that a good many Americans don't seem to think slavery was all that much of a problem in the first place.

Yesterday, the South Carolina Senate voted to remove the offending "Confederate flag" from the grounds of the Statehouse, although subsequent necessary approval from the House was far from certain, and even if successful, the measure might just result in replacement of the battle flag by another Confederate flag. Meanwhile, in Texas, schools are preparing to use textbooks "based," in the words of the Washington Post, "on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation" and "also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws." A Republican Board of Education member was quoted as having called slavery a "side issue to the Civil War.”

"earnest but deep misunderstandings about the nature of American slavery"

I tend to use Twitter more for professional than personal purposes, to keep up with news from and network with colleagues in various historical fields, including historic preservation and history museums. One of the accounts that I follow is @AfAmHistFail. The author, Margaret Biser, who for six years gave tours of a historic southern plantation on which the captive Africans outnumbered the whites by three to one, was dumbfounded when visitors "reacted with hostility to hearing a presentation that focused more on the slaves than on the owner." She began to tweet some of their choicest remarks, which range from the offensive and mindboggling to those reflecting "earnest but deep misunderstandings about the nature of American slavery."

Last month, she offered a summary of what she had heard:
  1. People think slaveholders "took care" of their slaves out of the goodness of their hearts, rather than out of economic interest
  2. People know that field slavery was bad but think household slavery was pretty all right, if not an outright sweet deal
  3. People think slavery and poverty are interchangeable
  4. People don't understand how prejudice influenced slaveholders' actions beyond mere economic interest
  5. People think "loyalty" is a fair term to apply to people held in bondage
As she notes, in many cases, it is probably not so much about an intentional desire to defend slavery as such, and rather, more about the need to defend one's individual or collective national ancestors. (We all saw how Ben Affleck forced PBS to censor the presentation of his ancestry on "Finding Your Roots" because he discovered he had slave-owning forebears--even though no one would seek to visit their sins upon the quintessentially liberal actor.)

How do public historians teach the population about the legacy of slavery and the contributions of African Americans to our collective heritage?

Two African American public historians (among others) are doing brilliant work to teach about the history of slavery and foster understanding by emphasizing a common but not unproblematic American heritage.

Historic preservationist Joseph McGill (@slavedwelling) hit upon the simple but radically original idea of traveling the country to visit every former slave dwelling and, by spending the night in them, calling attention to this lost history and these lost-from-memory historic structures.

The immediate purpose of his Slave Dwelling Project "is to become a clearinghouse for the identification of resources to document and preserve these slave dwellings," but there is also a larger mission:
Now that I have the attention of the public by sleeping in extant slave dwellings, it is time to wake up and deliver the message that the people who lived in these structures were not a footnote in American history.
His work is among the most exciting and innovative efforts of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It has provoked considerable conversation and now inspired two national conferences. Clearly, it no longer suffices simply to mark sites of memory with a sign. We need new ways to engage the public, so that it can understand the place of history as not only the past and memory but also an active contributor to the world that we have inherited.

In a related realm, Michael Twitty (@koshersoul) travels the country to explain our fascinating and tangled foodways. His presents his work as "a food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian , and historical interpreter personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African American foodways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South." His work is multifaceted, focused on three fronts:

Antebellum Chef emphasizes "the vast number of unknown Black cooks across the Americas that were essential in the creation of the creole cuisines of Atlantic world" and their contribtion to the overall "Southern food heritage. A corollary is the need for “culinary justice” in contemporary African American communities suffering from poor health, food deserts, and other symptoms of inequality.

Kosher Soul explains: "Identity cooking isn’t about fusion; rather its how we construct complex identities and then express them through how we eat.  Very few people in the modern West eat one cuisine or live within one culinary construct."

Finally, The Cooking Gene seeks "to document the connection between food history and family history from Africa to America, from slavery to freedom" as Michael "visits sites of cultural memory, does presentations on his journey, and visits places critical to his family history while conducting genealogical and genetic research to discover his roots and food heritage." It is not only an attempt to recover the Black heritage, but also "a proving ground for racial reconciliation and healing and dialogue" which thus "seeks to connect the whole of the Southern food family."

The nation's history, good and bad, black and white, is our collective history. The sooner we recognize that, the better off we will all be. As the foregoing examples show, historic preservation and public history have a crucial role to play here--and the individual with a vision can make difference.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Commemorating Bunker Hill

June 17 marks the anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill, which was a British victory yet accounted an American one, at least on the level of symbolism and morale. Because the Revolutionaries stood their ground through two assaults and fought bitterly to resist the third before being forced to withdraw, this first full-fledged battle of the conflict gave the Revolutionaries hope that the movement would endure.

This 2010 cover from the typically over-the-top (but also often witty) New York Post actually captured the spirit of the event as well as many a historical tome.

The cornerstone of the great monument was laid on the anniversary of the battle in 1825, with Lafayette and Daniel Webster in attendance, though the 221-foot obelisk was not completed until 1843, after a long struggle for funding.

Over on the Tumblr, I have posted a series of depictions of the Monument. Just start with this first one from Bartlett's American Scenery and then click through to the following ones (or look for Bunker Hill using the search bar at the upper left of the page).

Commemorations of Lidice on Medals and Stamps

The previous post described the Nazi massacre of the inhabitants of the Czech village of Lidice and the powerful emotional and historical echo of the crime.

In Czechoslovakia, the memory of the crime became a regular part of national rituals and identity. Over on the Tumblr, I posted a few of the numismatic and philatelic commemorations.

This medal, depicting some of the victims--echoing a monument to the murdered children at the site--is the first installment. Just click on to the subsequent posts (or look for Lidice using the search bar at the upper left of the page) for the rest.