This Thing Called History

I apologize for the lack of substantive posts of late. The school year is now in full swing and I have very little time to think about anything other than my classes. I did find time to read a bit in Erskine Clarke’s new book, By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey. Thanks to Basic Books for sending along a review copy. It’s a fascinating story, but rather than try to explain it, I recommend reading the website’s description. Clarke has a really nice description that beautifully sums up what it is that we do as historians and what many of us try to impress upon our students.

To be sure, any persuasive reconstruction of the past must demonstrate careful research and faithful attention to details.  But the historian’s task is not primarily to present a catalog of discovered “facts.” Rather, the historian attempts to enter as deeply as possible into the lives and into the social and cultural contexts of those lives in order to interpret and re-create for the present a past world. The study of history is, finally, an exploration of mysteries, the continuing exploration of–and arguments about–the lives of particular people, and about the dynamics and forces that influence the course of human life. The writing of history is plunging into other times and other places and into the story and stories of other people and then emerging with the historian’s account of what has been seen and heard even in the empty places and silences of the past.

I may have my students think about this description as they begin to synthesize a selection of primary and secondary sources related to the establishment and development of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.


Robinson House Added to Virginia Landmarks Register

I am happy to report that the Robinson House, located on the grounds of R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, in Richmond is among twelve sites to be added to the Virginia Landmarks Register.  The VMFA will rehabilitate the structure and use it as a regional tourist center. This is great news for those who care about the preservation and interpretation of sites related to Richmond’s Confederate history and heritage.

The Robinson House in Richmond, located on the campus of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, is significant for its distinctive architecture and compelling history, particularly as part of the nation’s first successful and oldest operating home for needy Confederate veterans.

Constructed in the mid-19th century as the country house of Anthony Robinson Jr., a prominent Richmond banker and landowner, the Robinson House indicates the popularity of Italianate architecture with Virginia’s antebellum high society. In 1884 the Robinson family sold the house to the R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, Confederate Veterans, at which time it was transformed it into a three-story institutional headquarters for the R. E. Lee Confederate Soldiers’ Home. For 56 years thereafter, Robinson House-renamed Fleming Hall during the Soldiers’ Home era-served as a barracks, administrative center, and museum until the facility officially closed in 1941.

The building’s role as the literal and symbolic center of the large residential complex for Confederate veterans made it a visual icon of the “Lost Cause” and a long-standing, important site for collective commemoration, remembrance, and reconciliation events. While more than 30 buildings and structures once stood on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home, only Robinson House and the Confederate Memorial Chapel remain, both of which are now owned and maintained by VMFA.


Confederate Flag Difficult to See Along I-95

Virginia FlaggersVirginia Flaggers welcome visitors to Richmond and honor the memory and sacrifice of Confederate soldiers with this flag. [click to continue…]


If a Confederate Flag Flies in the Forest and No One Can See It…

…Does it Really Matter?

Earlier today the Virginia Flaggers held a dedication ceremony for their new Confederate battle flag that flies atop a 50 foot pole along I-95 in Chesterfield County. My biggest concern was that the flag would constitute a major eye sore for motorists along this stretch of highway, but based on the few photographs that I’ve seen, unless you know exactly where to look for it, you are very likely going to miss it entirely. So ends this latest round of Flagger follies. [click to continue…]


Azie Dungey (Ask a Slave) Responds

Ask a SlaveThanks to Azie Dungey for taking the time to share her thoughts on this site about her new Web series, Ask a Slave. Given that my post was somewhat critical of the show I decided that the comment deserved to be featured as a separate post. [click to continue…]