Tag Archive for History

A Special Halloween Post

Abandoned Oneida Lake Canal, from "Abandoned Canals of the State of New York," Popular Science Monthly 75 (September 1909)

From “Abandoned Canals of the State of New York,” Popular Science Monthly 75 (September 1909)

It’s that time of year again: Halloween, and map quizzes in my US History survey.  These two events converge in the single most common undergraduate typo: the labeling of the “Eerie Canal” through upstate New York.  Reliably, every year a solid quarter of the class makes this spelling error.  (I blame their being educated largely in Virginia, which means that didn’t get a solid year of Erie Canal propaganda in 4th grade.)  This excellent typo raises a whole range of questions about what the “Eerie Canal” could possibly refer to.  But I demure.  Instead, I’ll take the occasion to quote a great paragraph from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s scathing description of traveling the Erie Canal, which he published in 1835 in the New-England Magazine.   Read more

The Moral Entanglements of Defending Capitalism

Looks like capitalism to me.

Looks like capitalism to me.

The early Americanist internet exploded last night with the news that The Economist had given a negative review to Ed Baptist’s magisterial new book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.  The shocking part is that the main criticism of the book is that “Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.”  Although this is the most damning quote, the whole review is pretty breathtaking; the anonymous reviewer’s main complaint seems to be that Baptist failed to consider the possibility that maybe slaves were treated well because “Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their ‘hands’ ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment.”  Despite the fact that all existing evidence argues against this hypothesis, the reviewer seems to think that there might be some magical never-before-seen document that Baptist could have consulted to somehow show that this was the case.  The review was withdrawn today, thankfully, amid much speculation about what could have caused The Economist to publish it in the first place. Read more

College Admissions and the Commodification of Experience

When ivy dies.

When ivy dies.

The academic social-media-o-sphere has been abuzz for the past couple of weeks with discussion of William Deresiewicz’s piece in the New Republic entitled “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.”  The piece was an obvious piece of clickbait (as Salon put it in their subheading, “it’s all such excellent sport: graduating from great colleges, then creating click-bait telling other people not to”), but it raised some issues that are important in higher education circles, especially in the context of the mounting so-called “war on college” that is increasingly coming from both ends of the political spectrum.  Deresiewicz’s basic thesis is that “elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.”  In other words, the hyper-competitive world of hyper-elite American higher education is creating achievement robots rather than thoughtful people, and providing credentials rather than education.  The elite system has so thoroughly lost its way, Deresiewicz argues, that parents should, gasp, send their children to public universities. Read more

A Very Special Virginia Anti-Marriage Equality Argument

This shining example of traditional marriage is why the the gays can't have any.

This shining example of traditional marriage is why the the gays can’t have any.

David Cohen in Slate has brought word of what he calls “The Worst Argument Ever Made Against Gay Marriage,” made last week before the Fourth Circuit in Richmond.  The occasion was the state’s appeal of the Eastern District of Virginia’s decision in Bostic v. Schaefer that the Commonwealth’s constitutional ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.  The attorney defending the ban, David Oakley, made a brave foray into Virginia history in order to show Virginia’s “traditional” support for opposite-gender marriages.  That’s right, the gays can’t get married in Virginia because of Pocahontas. Read more

Fxbg’s Landscape of Slave-Made Capitalism


The beating heart of Fredericksburg's capitalist emergence.

The beating heart of Fredericksburg’s capitalist emergence.

This recent post by Julia Ott, a historian of capitalism at the New School, articulates forcefully a point that can’t be repeated enough: in a very real sense, slaves were the capital that made the emergence of capitalism possible.  Or, as she puts it, “slave-capital proved indispensable to the emergence of industrial capitalism and to the ascent of the United States as a global economic power.  Indeed, the violent dispossession of racialized chattel slaves from their labor, their bodies, and their families — not the enclosure of the commons identified by Karl Marx — set capitalism in motion and sustained capital accumulation for three centuries.” Read more

Fixing FXBG’s Traffic

Traffic's building in Fredericksburg.

Traffic’s building in Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg can be a weird place to live.  If you stay downtown, life flows smoothly and easily along, with relatively few delays and inconveniences.  But if you leave “the bubble” (as Brian calls it) then things get ugly really fast.  I don’t care what they say, Fredericksburg is part of Northern Virginia if you define Northern Virginia as a region of unrestrained, sprawling growth that produces horrific traffic.  Primary and secondary roads around town, and especially I-95, get incredibly clogged during rush hour, on summer weekends and holidays, and any time there is the slightest hiccup due to weather, construction, or accidents. Read more

Places I Have Lived, in 1941

Yesterday Kevin sent me a great site put together by Yale that has made available 170,000 photos taken by the Farm Security Administration between 1935 and 1943 to document the last years of the Depression and the early years of World War II.  When I was procrastinating today, I looked up three of the places where I have spent significant chunks of my life to see what life was like there in 1941. Read more