Songcatching

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.