Monday, May 15, 2017

Odds and Sods: A Collection of Thoughts and Curios from the Mind of a Living Historian

For this week's posting I have thrown together bits and pieces of individual posts that were intended to become full-fledged articles for this blog but realized they weren't really going to go much beyond a paragraph or two. So I decided to put them together as a sort of odds & sods collection of my thoughts, quotes I like, and even opinions on history and its environment...oh! and living history, too.
As far as my opinions go - - remember: they are just that - my opinions. Yours may differ.
And that's okay.
Anyhow, I hope you enjoy it - - -

~ Diggin' up bones...and adding flesh ~
"To my mind, 'Historians' dig up the bones, 'Buffs' put flesh and clothing on those bones, and the 'Public' have the privilege of simply admiring and learning from the results.
Or a better analogy is the relationship between farmers, cooks, and diners, all of whom, ultimately, need each other." 
- G. Lovely 

~     ~     ~

“History is Bunk!” a famous quote from Henry Ford
In part, due to his strong pacifism and anti-war sentiment during America’s involvement in World War One, a number of newspaper articles called him an anarchist, among other things, and quoted him as saying, "History is more or less bunk..." which has been repeated often ever since, signifying that Ford didn’t like, or was ignorant of, history.
What most folks who hear this today don't understand is that this "bunk " comment was stated for reasons other than what the press said (wow---doesn’t that sound familiar, even here in the 21st century); what Ford meant and explained many times in his later years was that written history reflected little of people's day-to-day existence. Ford said, “History as it is taught in the schools deals largely with...wars, major political controversies, territorial extensions and the like. When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land, I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows. Yet our country depended more on harrows than on guns or great speeches. I thought a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk, and I think so yet."
My great Aunt Babe - ca 1922~
She was one of Pete McCurty's
Bonton Girls, an entertainment
troop of youths in the Jazz Age.
I happen to agree with Ford's sentiment here; a history which excludes harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk. How can history be taught without acknowledging the average person? And I would like to add: how can history be taught without placing the people of the past in their own time, in their long ago environment, with their morals and values - not ours... and try to understand what they felt, seen, and knew as truth?
This is what I try to do during the high school history class I parapro in, though on a smaller scale. In fact, very recently, we were reading and talking about the 1920s and the changes that occurred during that decade. To get the kids somewhat engulfed into the period, I clicked onto You Tube and found original 1920s music (Helen Kane "Button Up Your Over Coat" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" by the California Ramblers) and told them this was the young hip music of the time that they probably would have been listening to had they been living back then.
My great Aunt Bea - ca 1922
She was also a Bonton Girl

We then looked at fashions of the day, watched film clips of dancers doing the Charlston, and saw a Charlie Chaplin comedy short from (I think) 1928 called "The Lion's Cage."
These kids never saw or heard any of this before, and the best part is one student mentioned to me afterward that he really liked the silent movie and planned to go home and find more to watch on You Tube!
How cool! 
I believe that's along the lines of what Henry Ford meant when he said that history, the way it is usually taught, is bunk.
Ha! Not if I can help it (and it also helps to have cool head teachers who allow me to add these everyday life bits to her teaching process).
Oh, and here's one more quote about Ford:
"A lot of guys have had a lot of fun joking about Henry Ford because he admitted one time that he didn't know history. He don't know it, but history will know him. He has made more history than his critics ever read."
Will Rogers

~     ~     ~

Present vs Past vs Present vs Past vs Present...
There is a lot of talk these days about those who lived in times past in comparison to how we, the enlightened ones, live today. We ravage and besmirch people who's values and morals are unlike our own because they - can you believe it? - are from a different century. These folks from another time are trashed for being a part of their long ago society; they are condemned for thinking as their time and environment directed instead of how we think today.
I mean, they should've known better!
Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?
And, yet, there are many - too many - in our modern times who think this way.
To be honest, it really needs to stop.
Move on...learn from the past and never stop trying to make a better future rather than condemn those who lived back in their own time.
As I recently read HERE:
"One of the traits of modern society, and indeed no doubt of many generations in the past, is one of hubris -- that we are so much more advanced and vastly superior than the "unenlightened" people of prior generations. The cries of "this is 2017" echo the self-same complaints I heard decades ago and those I heard when I was young. "We are born into a brave new age," we're told, "free of the chains of the past, brimming with freedom and opportunities that those poor people of the past never enjoyed." Like a broken record, it is the mantra of every new generation. 
To back up their belief comes in that old crutch, confirmation bias. If we're so superior and the past was so bad, then we must tell all that which supports that notion and suppress all that which might challenge our viewpoint. Indeed, our post-modern viewpoint cannot be challenged, because that would mean that we are not in fact special compared to the humans who went before. And, if real information to support our claims of modern superiority cannot be found, things can be made up. If a total myth is repeated enough, especially if by celebrities and teachers, then it becomes an accepted myth. Experience has shown that people cling to accepted myths like a drowning man to a life-preserver, even when the rescue line of simple truth is proffered.
Those who want to make an authentic positive difference on modern society would do well to abandon the idea that our modern society is inherently better than all that went before it. That is liberating and opens the mind to great possibilities to which it was previously closed through insular, small-minded hubris. "

Yep - - ! We've made strides in so many ways, but stayed the same in most others.
Maybe we've even gone down some in other ways as well.
But please understand - people from the past were every bit as smart as people today. They are just from a different era.  
And for Pete's sake, stop believing all of those "historical" Facebook memes!

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When I read a book on history, something I find myself doing more and more is to look at the bibliographies at the back, for this is where the authors found their information. I would rather go straight to the source, if at all possible, rather than get it second hand. Especially if the source is a diary. I have found many old original diaries were released in book form during the colonial revival of the earlier part of the 20th century, and a number of them are still available as reprints.
Well, where did you think I get a lot of my quotes from, the internet??

 ~     ~     ~

My wife and son at Little Round Top
in Gettysburg during sunset.
“Battlefields are looking glasses into the worlds of our ancestors. Standing on their earth, under their skies, is to be at one with them and to viscerally understand humanity's connections across time.
The generation that won American independence lives in the ideas we honor, the architecture we preserve and the battlefields we yet can save.”

~     ~     ~

"Some kid a hundred years from now is going to get interested in the Civil War and want to see these places. He's going to go down there and be standing in a parking lot. 
I'm fighting for that kid." 
- Brian Pohanka, 1990

          ~     ~     ~

Recreating a scene from colonial times.
Yeah...we were there...
A few years back I jumped over a 90 year wide river - yes, I said 90 year wide - from the 1860s to the 1770s. One of the things that was said to me at my first colonial event when I mentioned I also do Civil War was, "You guys in Civil War want to be there. You like to feel as if you've actually time-traveled.
We who do Rev War prefer to teach."
Well, this person was half right. Yes, it's true that we who reenact the Civil War do strive to be there, but we mostly do it in a teachable manner. I can't imagine reenacting any other way. I do want to experience what our forefathers did, at least, to a small extent. That's why I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity of utilizing a historical house, when possible, and attempt to immerse myself through 1st person.
I have also found, by the way, that there are a number of Rev War reenactors who also want to be there. And that's pretty cool.

~     ~     ~

"The Revolution and the beliefs and ideals that came out of it are what hold us together and make us a united people. There is no American ethnicity, so the Revolutionary beliefs in liberty and equality and constitutionalism are the adhesives that make us a nation." 
- Gordon S. Wood

~     ~     ~

Why does my Patriotism
bother some folks so much?
Not that it matters to me...
Patriotism seems to be at an impasse in our day and age; we have come to a point to where if you wave the flag and love your country, you will be pigeon-holed into a political category.
And I don't understand this thought. I mean, the American flag does not belong to any one political party, no matter what anyone says or thinks. It belongs to all Americans. Yes, it belongs to you who protests the President. Yes, and it belongs to you who voted for the President.
And it also belongs to the citizens who didn't vote at all.
And if you won't fly it because you are afraid that you will be thought of as belonging to a certain political party, then shame on you.
I have flown my American flags since moving out of my parent's home way back in the 1980s. My dad flew one while Ford was in office. Then Carter. I carried on the tradition when I moved out during the Reagan years, and then continuing on with Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama, and now Trump.
Believe me when I say that there are plenty of things I disagree with on each president mentioned here.
But, still, I fly my flag.
I am not ashamed of being a patriotic American, for my patriotism doesn't stem from whoever is president.
And I do love my country - past and present.
Oh, I don't always agree - and many things happened in our history that I abhor.
But it doesn't take away the fact that I love this, the United States of America.
Yes I do.
And if that bothers you, that's your problem.
Thanks...I just needed to get that off my chest.

~     ~     ~

I was recently told that Paul Revere was a failure during his midnight ride.
"A failure?" I asked. "How?"
"Because," came the reply, "he failed to make it to Concord to warn the citizens that the Regulars were coming to steal their ammunition."
I responded, "Do you realize that he helped develop the entire plan? And do you understand that warning the people of Concord wasn't necessarily his main goal?"
Hancock-Clarke House - 
Where John Hancock and Samuel Adams
were staying the night of April 18, 1775.
(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
I went on to explain that "on the night of April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren, who was the last major patriot leader left in Boston (and a personal friend of Paul Revere’s), informed Revere that he had just received intelligence from his own spy network that the troops, while on the road to Concord to capture or destroy military stores that had been gathered there, planned to stop in Lexington and arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, the patriot leaders who were staying in a house owned by one of Hancock’s relatives. So Dr. Warren “begged” Revere to stop in Lexington and warn Adams and Hancock to get out of the way of the British troops."
Well, as it turned out, this intelligence was inaccurate, though that wasn't known at the time.
As historian David Hackett Fischer wrote:
"Paul Revere's primary mission was not to alarm the countryside. His specific purpose was to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were thought to be the object of the expedition. Concord and its military stores were also mentioned to Revere, but only in a secondary way." 
So there you have it.
As far as Revere not making it to Concord, he was stopped and captured by a British scouting regiment: "In an instant I saw four of them, who rode up to me with their pistols in their bands, said ''G---d d---n you, stop. If you go an inch further, you are a dead man.'' Immediately Mr. Prescot came up. We attempted to get through them, but they kept before us, and swore if we did not turn in to that pasture, they would blow our brains out."
Yep - I woulda stopped, too.
So he was no failure - he did exactly as he set out to do.
And this, by the way, is why we, as historians, must continue our research in all aspects, and not just take what some people (or Facebook memes) say as truth or fact.

~     ~     ~

My wife the spinner...
To be a part of living history is a privilege that I cherish; I would like to think that those of us in this reenacting community are making a good attempt to do honor to those of the past in all of its many forms. We are continuously learning - researching - so we can do our best to bring the words we read to life.
And that can be a very difficult thing to do.
But we're trying.
Many visitors don't think twice about living historians and museum presenters who keep alive the crafts, chores, and occupations of long ago. My wife is a good example of this; as a reenactor not only does she crochet and knit (and sew), but she will take a mound of raw wool, covered with grass, twigs, burrs, animal poop, and bugs, then skirt it, wash it, pick it clean, card it, spin it, wash it again, dye it, rinse it...and now it's ready to be knitted or crochet into a hat, socks, scarf, mittens, or any number of useful items.
We can't forget about those who work in the museums or the living historians who will bring their presentations up a few notches - the men who plow behind a team of horses and perform other farmhand chores, the women who do open-hearth or woodstove cooking after preparing the food "the old-fashioned way." Then there are those men and women who keep other period crafts alive such as tinsmithing, running an old-time printing press, make pottery bowls, plates, and cups, coopering, basket makers, leather workers, seamstresses and tailors, hat makers, and even those who drive steam engine locomotives, horse and carriages, and Model T automobiles.
How about something as simple as dressing authentically and accurately so when a modern visitor sees you they are automatically drawn back in time just at the sight.
Add to that: having the knowledge of the past and presenting it verbally in an interesting manner is quite the talent as well.
There is so much more to historical presentation than most folks realize!
Yeah...I'm loving it!

~     ~     ~, remember a while back when I was sorting through my lanterns and candle holders and I realized I had enough different and antiquated ones to do a full blog post?
If not, click HERE
Well, as I was going through my dresser drawers, I realized I had a pretty large collection of "historic" t-shirts depicting the Revolutionary War era.
Never have I ever received so many inquiries and (mostly positive) comments from strangers than when I wear one of these t-shirts, and that excites me because I consider it a teaching moment for American History.
So, for a lark, I took a picture of each - - - here they are:
Here is, perhaps, my favorite.
As you can see, it is depicting the 
midnight ride of Paul Revere.
Artsy-types like this one.

A sort of "Class of '76" shirt.
Believe it or not, I do get people asking me
if I graduated high school in 1976 when they
see me in this shirt.
Hmmm...I suppose it makes sense...but, nope, 
I did not graduate in that bicentennial year.
I graduated 200 years after the birth of
Francis Scott Key. Betsy Ross flag shirt.
Did she or didn't she?
She was a flag-maker...hmmm...
But there is no proof either way, so quit arguing!

Though I am of English and German
heritage, I am also Sicilian.
This shirt is perfect for someone like
me, for it pretty much says it all.

What a cool shirt! One never sees the
minute men get their just due.
Well, here is a small way I can honor them.

I love wearing this shirt!
Do you want to know why?
Because many ask me what it signifies!

"What do the coffins with the initials 
and the date of March 5, 1770 mean?"
Well, here it comes...a teaching moment:

I tell them about the Bloody Massacre at Boston
and that the initials are of those who were killed 
during the raucous there - 
Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, 
Crispus Attucks, and Patrick Carr.

My wrap-around George Washington crossing
the Delaware shirt.
It was very expensive but I thought it was cool.
It's like I'm wearing a painting.

A collection of historical flags that thumb
their "noses" to the British.
Defiance indeed!

My souvenir t-shirt from Colonial Williamsburg.
I. Love. Colonial. Williamsburg.
'nuff said...

A friend got me this Declaration of Independence
shirt when they visited Colonial Williamsburg
a few years before I was able to go.

The ever-popular Gadsden Flag shirt that
I've had for nearly ten years.
I've been accused of quite a few things when 
I have it on, as if wearing history makes 
me belong to one party or another.
Ha! Little do they know.
And, like I said earlier, how sad.

Another defiance shirt!
Yes, I am sure that could be Paul Revere there,
riding his borrowed horse.
But since I already have a Paul Revere shirt, I tell
people it's William Dawes. And that begins
another history lesson from historical Ken!

Yes, I am proud and unapologetically
American. And I do believe in our
2nd Amendment rights, as people have
for well over 200 years.

Here is the back of the same shirt. 
Yes, I believe this, too.

Well, there you go!
A trip through the head of Historical Ken.
It's been one of the more honest and unique postings I've written, but I suppose I have the right to my own thoughts, opinions, and oddities, eh?

Until next time, see you in time.

~     ~     ~

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a wonderful site! I found it because my husband and I are on a mission to help a person we don't even know identify a very old piece of machinery. With your backgrounds, interests, and knowledge of the past, my husband said I should try to send you a photo because you may have seen it at some point. I will try to post it here. Hope it works.

Thank you in advance. I tried to copy/paste the photo but nothing happened, so I've pasted the link. I am one of about 15 people who have given our suggestions. The lady who posted the photo and asked for help identifying this thing researches each suggestion and has come up empty so far. I've already suggested to her that she send her photo to Antiques Roadshow or American Pickers. It was my husband's bright idea to reach out to people who put their energy into learning about and then sharing what they learn, the past, out of love for the project, rather than simply a way to make a living. The item is located somewhere in Florida, Walton County I think. We are in Defuniak Springs, Florida, which is next door to Freeport, Florida, where this post originated. Both are in Walton County, Florida.

Gay D.Maddox
1002 High Lonesome Rd
Defuniak Springs, FL 32435
(850) 419-0805