Goodbye Cumberland House

I assume that a struggling economy is going make life difficult for a number of small publishers, not to mention the major publishing houses.  Cumberland House looks like it is the first to succumb.   Sourcebooks Inc., an independent publisher based in Naperville, Ill., assumed rights to the titles and an additional nine books that haven’t been released, plus the Cumberland House name and Web site under the deal that closed this week.  That’s good news for those of you still looking to collect all of their titles in the “May I Quote You…” series.

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Blog Talk Radio

Listen to Kevin Levin on internet talk radioEver since I first heard “Wolfman Jack” on the radio I’ve harbored a deep desire to host my own radio program. Now with Blog Talk Radio anyone can host their own program. My big leap into this format will take place tomorrow at 11:30am. I set up an account, which was easy enough to do, and now it is a matter of figuring out what I am going to talk about for 30 minutes. My guest tomorrow will be my brother, who just completed a B.A. in history and is set to begin a second career in teaching after 15 years in the culinary industry. Here is the link for the show and a phone number that you can use to call in with questions or comments. I have no idea what to expect, but I am hoping to have fun with it. Future programs will include interviews with historians and even call-in shows to discuss various topics raised on the blog. The show will be archived and easily accessible if you miss the broadcast.

Update 2: I just completed a 15-minute radio segment with my wife.  It went really well.  My brother and I are going to try and schedule an interview for tomorrow.  Please let me know what you think.

Update: Well, the show didn’t go so well. Although my brother called-in I was unable to figure out how to click him in for the interview. On top of that I learned from a listener that my voice was very choppy, which I now realize was the result of using a cell phone. The format is a bit unintuitive, but I think I was able to figure it out. I deleted the episode and plan on scheduling another one for tomorrow at the same time.

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I Don’t Live in Dixie,

I live in Virginia.

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The “Outer Limits” of Gettysburg

I came across an episode of “The Outer Limits” that deals with Civil War reenacting and the battle of Gettysburg. Many of you are no doubt familiar with what I like to describe as the poor cousin of the “Twilight Zone”, which ran from 1963-1965 and than again from 1995-2002. This particular episode features the singer, Meatloaf, as one Confederate Colonel Devine, and tells the story of two young men who are preparing to take part in a reenactment of Gettysburg. The episode reflects many of our popular beliefs about the Civil War, including the assumption surrounding the decisiveness of the battle itself and our love of counterfactuals. Both men are transported back to July 1863 for the purposes of carrying out a mission – a mission that they learn early on will challenge the notion of historical determinism. While the Union reenactor is quite concerned about their predicament, his Confederate friend fully embraces the opportunity to fight for states rights and against big government along with its long lines of “welfare recipients”. For him, this stroke of good luck is a chance to meet and fight alongside his Confederate ancestor for values that he believes they both must share. What is striking is that the viewer learns next to nothing about why the Union reenactor embraces the hobby. I have to wonder whether this is just another example of our inability to fully embrace the importance that so many attached to the preservation of the Union.

As the two friends work to figure out their mission the campaign and battle develop. Of course, since they come from the future they know how the battle will unfold and try desperately to steer it in a different direction. When it is announced in camp on July 1 that J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry will arrive shortly they announce that he is off on a “Glory seeing raid” and will not arrive in time. And, of course, they try to prevent “Pickett’s Charge” from taking place, which the producers mistakenly place on July 2. At one point the two friends end up on the battlefield with the Confederate reenactor’s ancestor, who they find is a coward and shares none of his descendant’s reasons for reenacting. For this ancestor the goal is simply to stay alive and is void of anything connected to principle. The encounter raises the suggestion that reenacting is as much (if not more) about our own perceptions of the past and/or cultural values than it is about the men who actually fought in it.

The episode takes a number of kooky twists before the real mission is finally revealed. Without ruining the plot, let’s just say that their goal is to prevent an assassination that would take place in 2013 on the Gettysburg battlefield. And let’s just say that with the election of our first black president this episode, which originally aired in 1995, is rendered that much more interesting.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

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So What’s the Next Move?

I’ve stated that the proposed construction of a new Wal-Mart on the Wilderness battlefield is a bad idea and, along with 252 other historians, signed the Civil War Preservation Trust’s letter addressed to the CEO of the company. But even with all of the attention generated in newspapers over the past few weeks it is only a matter of time before permits are handed out and the ground paved over. What I want to know is at what point should preservationists begin to work with Wal-Mart to propose ways to minimize the site’s impact on the surrounding battlefield. Are there ways to configure the entrance, the parking lots, as well as the building itself in a way that would preserve some of the viewsheds? While I admire the efforts of the CWPT to bring the issue of battlefield preservation to the attention of the general public, it seems to me that an opportunity would have been lost if company executives are not engaged at all.  How about asking Wal-Mart to buy a parcel of land in the area and donate it to the CWPT in the name of battlefield preservation?

That’s just one idea.  What other ideas are out there?

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It’s Only Satire If You Ignore the History

You would think that a party that has struggled to attract black voters would be extra careful when it comes to the distribution of material that could be construed as racist. That didn’t seem to be a concern for Chip Saltsman, who distributed a CD to RNC members that included the song, “Barack the Magic Negro.” Saltsman is a former chair of the Tennessee Republican Party and a top adviser to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; he most recently managed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. Click here if you haven’t heard the song. “I think most people recognize political satire when they see it,” Saltsman told CNN. “I think RNC members understand that.” Don’t get me wrong, I have a high threshold for political satire and for political comedy generally. That said, this little spectacle does nothing more than remind me of the sad history of how white Americans have used stereotypes as a means of racial control and as a means to maintaining a political system steeped in white supremacy. We can go back to Reconstruction for an example..

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or even to the beginning of the twentieth century.

Given that there are still plenty of people in this country who continue to hold tight to their racist beliefs it is inexcusable that a prominent member of the Republican Party would distribute such a song. It’s one thing if a lard ass such as Rush Limbaugh wants to play it on his idiotic radio show, but intelligent people with even a modicum of good taste ought to steer clear of what is potentially hurtful and insulting to many. What I find most striking is that this individual apparently didn’t think twice about the broader historical context into which such a song must be placed. And the RNC – the party of Lincoln and emancipation – wonders why they struggle to attract African Americans.

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Congratulations John Latschar

A belated congratulations to former Gettysburg superintendent, John Latschar, who earlier this month was honored by The National Parks Conservation Association with the Stephen T. Mather Award for his work on park preservation.

The award recognizes National Park Service employees who have demonstrated initiative and resourcefulness in promoting environmental protection and who have taken direct action where others may have hesitated in order to promote the principles and practices of good stewardship of the national parks,” according to the press release.

Latshar has been instrumental in restoring wartime viewsheds, dismantling the ugly observation tower, and helping create what I believe is the most important Civil War exhibit to be found anywhere.  Public historians like Latschar are easily worth their weight in gold.  It is reassuring to know that he will be involved in affairs at Gettysburg for the foreseeable future as the president of the Gettysburg Foundation.

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Intense Debate Update

Sorry guys, but once again I’ve had to scrap my plans on using Intense Debate to manage comments. I encountered a number of problems, including a much slower load time – perhaps some of you noticed this. The forum boards are filled with other users who are experiencing similar problems. Perhaps ID will fix these bugs, but for now I am going to play it safe.  A few comments were lost, but I managed to post the rest manually, which is why you will see my gravatar next to the comment.  Everything is back to normal.

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