How Have We Come so Far?

America seemed to represent the future… yet by the end of the 19th century, we became a people obsessed with our past.  A paradox not easily explained, and frankly, not wholly considered either.  The recent passing of historian Michael Kammen received little fanfare nationally, but to younger academics everywhere, it represented a melancholy turning point.


Kammen’s epic study, “Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture” was standard reading for first year grad students across academia in the mid-1990’s.  The difficult task of explaining why Americans simplify and revere their past was at the core of Kammen’s research- historians agreed with his thesis, students were primed for future frustration.  The Civil War was indeed a transformative event, radically shifting our traditions of remembrance and honor.  Prior to the war, argued Kammen, Americans viewed their past with casual indifference- the Civil War democratized our past- the masses wanted a story worthy of the sacrifices made in that most bloody struggle…American mythology began.



The good academic he was… Kammen was troubled by the wave of popular history that emerged in the 20th century.  His analysis at times bordered on whining- why don’t ordinary folks pay more attention to academic history?  To his credit, he never looked to assign blame- his study maintained an analytical approach- and his conclusions are if nothing else, valid.  But, like many writers of his background, he misses the true point of historical remembrance- pride.  Trying to explain it away with abstract concepts understood only in academic circles  is manipulative.  Our story is a complex, yet inspiring one, and the American people truly feel a part of it.  The study of history is so compartmentalized that it cannot contemplate this collective remembrance.  There is room for all types of historical study- academic, public, and popular history alike…. Kammen’s work proved it to be so… though it may not have been his intention.




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Erasing History 

ISIS circa 2015- destroying monuments 

Durham, NC-  Destroying monuments. 

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Listen to Lee

We must forgive our enemies

“It is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony…Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring [your children] up to be Americans.”


“I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”


“Sir, if you ever presume again to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this university. “

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Weekly History News Roundup

Trump is no TrumanNorth Korea bluster cause bogus comparison


Diplomatic shortages damaging North Korean progress… Trump administration fails to accept history


Army refuses to rename base streets… NY Democrats demanded Confederate names removed 


50th anniversary of the Detroit Riots..1967 unrest changed the city forever


Trump donates first salary installment to Antietam battlefielddonation of $78,333   to repair battlefield structures


Trump’s money


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Movie Review: Hatfields & McCoys

Kevin Costner is Devil Anse


Historians are quick to expose movies… which get history wrong; Braveheart being the optimal example of historical accuracy sacrificed for a plot line.  Hollywood elites rarely afford much effort in promoting or marketing films striving for authenticity; which is why historical dramas are often relegated to the made-for-television graveyard(see Son of the Morning Star.)  The History Channel, in conjuncture with Kevin Costner, has produced an epic historical miniseries that blurs many of the production lines that have long dictated filmmaking expectations.  Hatfields & McCoys features A-list talent in a historically accurate portrayal of America’s most infamous blood feud.  The film was a ‘passion project’ for co-producer Leslie Greif who struggled 30 years to get it made.  The History Channel provides the perfect venue and Bill Paxton and Costner provide the star power to bring the historical epic to life.

“Harden your hearts”… Hatfield patriarch William Anderson ‘Devil Anse'(Costner)  tells his kin as they prepare to execute three McCoy brothers.  The scene perfectly describes the blood feud that raged from 1865-1889.  Costner’s performance is solid and helps drive the film when it is occasionally dragged down by the complexity of post-Civil War Appalachian politics.  Paxton’s McCoy is a sympathetic figure opposed to Costner’s stern Hatfield.   Much of the controversy surrounding the feud was over states rights and extradition, but human interest is what draws the viewers.  The film explores the tragic love affair between Johnson Hatfield and Roseanne McCoy (Matt Barr and Lindsay Pulsipher.)  Young love was no match for family honor and frontier economics which drive the feud to unprecedented levels of violence.  The film does an admirable job portraying the events of the feud as well as the time period.  Director Kevin Reynolds’ photography all but drops viewers into the Tug River valley,  one can almost smell the tobacco, moonshine, and sweat.

Frontier justice

Historical accuracy is the film’s greatest strength… as well as its obvious weakness.  The historic detail is uncanny, but the introduction of the extended families and all the resentments, posturing, and politics are at times overwhelming.  The most violent acts of the feud are graphically depicted and the film doesn’t sugar coat life in 19th century Appalachia( like many Disney movies have.)  Film production should be an obvious direction for the History Channel following the success of this effort (now their most watched program.)  Kevin Costner can consider his career reenergized.  It is only a matter of time before historians begin questioning the purpose of Hatfields & McCoys– a topic which is believed to lack academic value.  Such criticism fails to consider the primary motive of filmmaking….entertainment.


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On Loss

Jefferson loved two women in his life… and lost them both.  To deal with the pain of loss and rejection, he looked to his mind- his intellect- to cope.

“A single event wiped away all my plans and left me a blank which I had not the spirits to fill up.”

“The most effectual means of being secure against pain is to retire within ourselves, and to suffice for our own happiness. Those, which depend on ourselves, are the only pleasures a wise man will count on: for nothing is ours which another may deprive us of. Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures. “

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Jefferson in Love….Sort of…

Jefferson struggled with his love for Maria Cosway…. going as far as to illustrate his emotional agony to her in a letter- the letter detailed the tug-of-war between Jefferson’s head and his aching heart.  Jefferson was perfectly content to remain within his head, buried in his books and letters.  But, as seen in the previous post, Jefferson was a man who cared and loved deeply.  Maria Cosway was a special woman, he knew he would never find another like her:

Dear Friend

Head: In fine, my friend, you must mend your manners. This is not a world to live at random in as you do. To avoid these eternal distresses, to which you are for ever exposing us, you must learn to look forward before you take a step which may interest our peace. Everything in this world is matter of calculation. Advance then with caution, the balance in your hand. Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer; but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, and see which preponderates…The most effectual means of being secure against pain is to retire within ourselves, and to suffice for our own happiness. Those, which depend on ourselves, are the only pleasures a wise man will count on: for nothing is ours which another may deprive us of. Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures. 

Heart: This world abounds indeed with misery: to lighten it’s burthen we must divide it with one another. But let us now try the virtues of your mathematical balance, and as you have put into one scale the burthens of friendship, let me put it’s comforts into the other….In a life where we are perpetually exposed to want and accident, yours is a wonderful proposition, to insulate ourselves, to retire from all aid, and to wrap ourselves in the mantle of self-sufficiency! For assuredly nobody will care for him who cares for nobody.

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