Hi Everyone. Sorry for the lack of posts over the past few days, but I’ve been on the road.
This past weekend I accompanied my wife to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, where she successfully defended her PhD dissertation in Neuroscience. It’s been a long 7 years and a lot of late nights, but she finally did it and I could not be prouder. I was able to sit through the public portion of the defense and although I still have a great deal of trouble following along it is hard not to be humbled by the amount of time and effort that went into this project. I know we historians like to think that we explain things, but the good folks in the science world really do EXPLAIN the world around us. [Here is the abstract for Michaela's most recent publication in the Journal of Neurophysiology, which outlines her project.] It’s unfortunate that so much of our public discourse centers on the kind of science popularized by Oliver Sacks, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others. I don’t mean to diminish their contributions, but their books do not reflect the daily grind that takes place in laboratories across the country.
On Monday I had a conference call with the marketing staff at the University Press of Kentucky. As it stands, the book should be in their wearhouse by mid-June and available on the shelves one or two weeks later. A few of you have asked if books will be available at this year’s Gettysburg CWI conference. It’s going to be a close call. As an incentive you can now purchase the book with a 40% discount. Just click through the image in the sidebar and use the code at the point of purchase.
…and thanks to the 18 people who have already ordered it.
I finally caught an episode of American Digger last night and I was appalled. This episode focused on the history of slavery in Aiken, South Carolina. It begins with a few rebuffs from folks who want nothing to do with this past; however, the boys finally come across a home owner who is more than happy to comply only after renegotiating the standard agreement on any profits resulting from the dig. The worst part of this show is its star. Former pro-wrestler Rick Savage is obnoxious and seems to know very little about the history of slavery. These guys basically go into a site, dig up relics, and split the proceeds with the highest bidder. The scenes where Savage gets emotional about what he uncovered are priceless. And what does this have to do with the preservation of history?
You will need a shower after watching just 3 minutes of this episode.
Today I came across the Remembering Slavery, Resistance, and Freedom Project, which is a partnership between The College of William and Mary and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Association. This really is a wonderful example of how technology can promote and shape a community’s efforts to commemorate its past. What I like most about this project is the grassroots element. Organizers are not just looking for Facebook likes or Twitter followers; rather, they are encouraging involvement through attendance at any number of community meetings across Virginia. Here is a list of their goals:
To publicly recognize sites throughout the Commonwealth associated with slavery, resistance to slavery, and emancipation from slavery
To foster respect for the lives of enslaved persons and to contribute to an honest and informed public understanding of the consequences of the enslavement of Africans and African Americans
To assist in the public’s recognition of “slaves” as complete persons who recognized and asserted their own humanity by memorializing their dead, who should be credited for what they produced, and who, by their very humanity and personalities, naturally resisted attempts to turn Africans and African Americans into property
To reveal the pervasive historical presence of African and African American lives and experiences
To provide events of remembrance that contextualize Virginia’s commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, Lincoln’s relevance to Virginia and the Emancipation Proclamation
To design a commemorative website based on the messages and goals identified by regional communities
Whether you like it or not, Lincoln is central to Virginia’s story of emancipation. You may remember that the Virginia Assembly recently failed to pass a resolution honoring Lincoln. With the Assembly’s backing of this project I have to wonder whether they had any influence on the goals listed here. It will be interesting to see whether the meetings and other forms of feedback lead to any substantial recognition of his place in this story.
This project is a positive sign given that I have not heard much on the Emancipation 150 front.
“In a dramatic image worthy of Goya or Daumier, the terrible carnage of Grant’s campaign against Lee in Virginia during the summer of 1864 is represented by an enormous cannon mounted on a gun carriage with studded wheels, rolling unchecked over the bodies of hapless Union troops and leaving their mangled forms in its train. The “American Juggernaut” looms ominously out of roiling clouds of black smoke, driven onwards by the Three Furies of Greek tragedy, who hold aloft flaring torches. This powerful image expresses the uneasiness that many Europeans felt over the mounting death toll across the Atlantic, which led many to urge a British attempt to mediate a peace settlement on humanitarian grounds, even as the War entered its final stages.”