The National Archives has hired its first Wikipedian in Residence and so far the results have been impressive. I was saying to someone just yesterday that the institutionalization of Wikipedia is all but complete. Be honest. Who among us does not use Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, at least for a quick overview of the subject at hand? Obviously there will always be legitimate copyright issues to consider, but I can’t see the Open Access of historical photographs and documents as anything but a good thing. After all, where do you think the above photo came from?
One of the ironies of visiting our Civil War battlefields is that these places, the scenes of some of the most terrible moments in our nation’s history, are also some of the most beautiful.
This is why we will always love baseball.
There has been much talk in the news recently about the possible closing of London’s Abbey Road Studios. This shouldn’t be a surprise given the tenuous financial situation of EMI, the record company that owns the studio. If anything, it is a wonder the facility has held on for eighty years. Even when the Beatles were recording there 40+ years ago the studio had a reputation for being cramped and technologically obsolete.
There was a good piece in last Friday’s Washington Post about Union Quartermaster Montgomery Meigs. The provisioning of the Union Army is an often overlooked component of the Civil War, probably because the story of how Billy Yank’s socks reached him during the Siege of Petersburg does not make for dramatic story telling. Still, undramatic is not the same as unimportant.
Meigs is of course most famous for creating Arlington National Cemetery in the flower garden of Robert E. Lee’s home.
Meigs, however, was responsible for much more than that.
Even if the war had not come Meigs would have been justly famous for engineering the Washington Aqueduct, among other things. This system of bridges and channels partially opened two years before the conflict started and was fully operational by 1864. Given that Washington D.C. went from tidal backwater to armed fortress during the war, this is no small thing. Ironically the war itself may be the reason we think so little of Meigs’s aqueduct today. The mundane story of our drinking water, however important it obviously is, cannot compete with headlines from Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.
The aqueduct is still in use today, bringing millions of gallons of water to the region.
During this same period he was working on U.S. Capitol dome.
The structure was famously incomplete during President Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural.
I began thinking more about Meigs’s role in the development of the nation’s capital during a visit to the National Building Museum this past Memorial Day weekend. The museum is in what used to be the old Pension Building. The mammoth edifice is testimony to the power Union veterans held for decades after the war.
This frieze runs the perimeter of the building.
Meigs made sure to include this memorial to one of his strongest supporters.
If you want to see the man’s legacy, look around you.
Because we do not have a television in our home, my wife and I get our movies and tv shows through Netflix. Usually we watch a full season of a particular show, mixing in a movie or two between dvds of whatever series we happen to be caught up in at the moment. Most recently it has been Treme, David Simon and Eric Overmyer’s drama about post-Katrina New Orleans. For those who have never seen the show, here is an excerpt:
Wanting to know more about the Treme neighborhood, I ordered journalist Lolis Eric Elie and filmmaker Dawn Logsdon’s documentary Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans. The Hayfoot and I watched it last night and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The film depicts the crisis caused by the hurricane while exploring the history of the community going back to the eighteenth century. I had always known of course about the Crescent City’s jazz heritage; I was aware, too, that the Plessy vs. Ferguson case originated on a New Orleans railroad car. I had never grasped the city’s full role in the nation’s history, however, until seeing this intelligent, unflinching paean to one of the world’s great cities.
The oppressive heat, venomous serpents and boot-snatching muck that made the Great Dismal Swamp a barrier to European settlement ever since colonial times also made it a haven for thousands of people escaping slavery before the Civil War.
This fall, a permanent exhibition will open to provide some detail about those lives, part of an expanding effort by the National Park Service and other agencies to recast the experience of pre-war slaves. Scholars are using sites like the Great Dismal Swamp, straddling the line between North Carolina and Virginia, to highlight a little-known side of history, in which the freedom trail for slaves didn’t always run to the north.
I have always regarded Shelby Foote as novelist first, historian second. His writing is quite effective in novels such as Shiloh. Foote’s sonorous voice brought the Civil War home (literally) to millions of Americans, which on the whole is a good thing. His greatest strength was his gift for story telling. As a historian, however. . .
Yours truly has been collecting Civil War revenue stamps for a few years now. Coins and stamps have always fascinated me because of their tangibility. The people using them at the time had no way to know that these items would someday be part of history. They were just the accoutrements of everyday life and commerce, used in the types of transactions we all conduct each day without thinking about them. Thus a coin, stamp, or bill from an earlier era is a connection to the past in a genuine and understandable way, giving us a real connection to the people who once used them. And why do we study history if not for that?