Ethnomusicology is a fascinating subject, and nowhere more so than when it comes to the music of African-Americans.  During the New Deal researchers recorded the oral histories and music of former slaves who were by then in their eighties and nineties.  Most famous, of course, was the work of Alan Lomax, who worked with Zora Neale Hurston among others to record and document this soon-to-be-gone-forever piece of American history and folklore.  Graduate student Bob Hester spent a year tracking down the roots of a half dozen slave songs.  The tale goes from South Carolina to Augusta, Georgia with the help of a soldier from Brooklyn.

The Handbook

(Courtesy: National Park Service)

Last week in the Antietam bookstore I bought my copy of The Civil War Remembered, the National Park Service’s official handbook for the sesquicentennial.  This slim (176 page) tome punches above its weight, with an introduction by James McPherson and fifteen essays by some of the leading scholars of today.  Essayists include Edward Ayers on America in the 1850s and early 1860s, Drew Gilpin Faust on death and dying, Allen Guelzo on Emancipation, Carol Reardon on military strategy, and Jean Baker on the war’s civilian toll.  Though many readers will already be aware of the ideas expressed by at least some of the authors, the monograph covers much ground and will provide something new for everyone.  If a person were to read the fifteen essays offered here and nothing else, she would have a firm overview of current trends in Civil War historiography.  It is loaded with photographs and art work as well.  After each essay is a comprehensive list of Park sites related to the subject.  Yours truly has been stuffing it in his bag and reading an essay each morning during his daily commute.  (Reading while commuting is one of the fringe benefits of being a New Yorker.)  The book is not available through online booksellers, but can be found at battlefield parks or online from Eastern National.

Civil War to Civil Rights

Hey everybody, we got back from Gettysburg and Antietam on Friday.  We had a great time hiking and taking in a number of tours.  The cottage we rented was beautiful.  The only “problem” was that it was so serene and peaceful we didn’t want to leave in the mornings.  Now I am catching up on everything I missed here at home.

Talk amongst yourselves

Hey everybody, I wanted to let you know that we are headed to Gettysburg and Antietam tomorrow and that I will not be posting for about ten days.  We’re looking forward to a fun and active trip.  I have been to Gettysburg the last four years and every time I visit I realize how much more there is to see.  My goal is to take at least five ranger tours, in addition to various other things we have planned.  Somehow I suspect a few regiments of toy soldiers will be making the march from Steinwehr Avenue to Brooklyn, NY as well.

This coming Tuesday, June 21, is the first day of summer.  The National Park Service is waiving entrance fees at all parks that day.  (Many are free year round, too, of course.)  I guarantee that wherever you happen to live, you are close to one of our nearly 400 National Parks and Monuments.

Enjoy your summer.


“A Soft Place to Sleep”

That night, when the fighting was over, Jacksland spread his bedroll upon the soft grass on that high spot overlooking the river. Union ironclads, moored just offshore, resembled squat drum cans set atop big sheets of metal under the stars. The masts of man-of-wars looked like tall trees. The men around Jacksland felt the expectation and terror of the day wear away into a bone tiredness from which Lance felt impossible to awake. He thought about his wife and daughter in New York. He thought about milking cows in a cold barn, the plume of his breath, the smell of manure and dry hay, remembered the deep white snow spread across rolling fields in January and the way the north winds swept down from Canada to pile high drifts along the glacier-stone-fence-rows. Lance remembered the way the Hudson River always froze solid this time of year.

The Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear, in cooperation with alternative publication encore, holds an annual short fiction contest.  L.E. (Roy) Dieffenbach is the 2011 winner.