Posts Tagged ‘American history’

Lincoln Was Not the First to Emancipate Slaves in America

October 14, 2013
Governor's Palace, Williamsburg

Governor’s Palace, Williamsburg, VA

The things you learn when you actually go to a place you’ve read and seen television show about!  Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia got some attention when I took Dr. John Lupold’s course at Columbus College in historic preservation.  The course was not extremely popular.  I was the only student in the class.  I don’t know why. It was really interesting and changed my views on rundown old buildings.  They have important stories to tell. Colonial Williamsburg really came to life when I visited there recently.

The Governor’s Palace was built in 1706 for the British Governors of the Colony of Virginia.  It is anything but rundown.  It is quite opulent.  It’s not the real thing, though,  but we’re told it is very much like the real thing before it burned.   Like most of the buildings in Colonial Virginia’s second capital city – Jamestown was the first –  it’s a replica,  We can thank philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife for all those replicas, including the second Capitol of Virginia.     

First Capitol of Virginia, Williamsburg

Second Capitol of Colonial Virginia, Williamsburg, VA

 John Murray, better known as Lord Dunmore, was the last British governor to preside in that building.  When the American colonists took over in the Revolutionary War, he, his wife, and three daughters went back to England.  Patrick Henry, of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame,  became the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first governor and not only presided in the Capitol,  but also moved into the Governor’s Palace.  Thomas Jefferson, the second govenor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, also lived there.   

Lord Dunmore, however, did some interesting things during the war, one of which was to issue a proclamation freeing slaves in the Colony of Virginia who would fight  on the British side.  Some 2,000 took him up on the offer.  However, as you know, the British didn’t win, and slavery remained in effect in  Virginia until President Abraham Lincoln freed them during the Civil War.

Actor portraying Maj. Gen. Lafayette, Williamsburg, VA

Actor portraying Maj. Gen. Lafayette, Williamsburg, VA

The employees and volunteers working at Colonial Williamsburg do a great job of giving visitors a feeling for what it was like to live in Colonial Williamsburg.  They wore the clothing and spoke the language of 18th Century America.  They also have finely developed senses of humor. Speaking in the present tense, the guide who took us on a tour of the Governor’s Palace had a great rapport with the tourists, especially the children.  When she explained that Lord Dunmore’s wife insisted that he sleep in the same bed with her because she wanted to know where the governor was at night, an eight-year-old boy who she had cultivated said, “That would do it,” everyone laughed. 

The day is climaxed with a parade by a fife and drum corps,  an appearance by “Maj. General Lafayette,” the French soldier who became an American hero in the Revolutionary War – the guide said when he returned to visit after war,  he was so admired that he never had to pay for his ale in a tavern – and the firing of an 18th Century cannon.  

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David McCullough says We’re Historically Illiterate

July 2, 2013

It’s not a new phenomenon.  Some students who excel in math and computer courses flunk or do poorly in history courses. I’ve known a few.

There are good reasons for that. For instance, once a math geek understands the logic of math problem solving,  he/she can figure out answers without doing a lot of homework.  Not so with history.  You have  to read and remember what you have read to pass history tests.

Another is that so many young people don’t believe history has any practical  value.  Who cares about all of those historical dates? Besides, memorizing them is a pain in the neocortex.

Anyone who  reflects on the  fact that  we are our histories has to see the value of studying the subject.  The same is true for our  country. How can you possibly know who you are if you don’t know who  you were?  The moment a thought enters your head it’s history. As some philosophers tell us, there is no present, only past and future.

My favorite historian, bestseller David McCullough, who wrote, among other things, histories of  Presidents John  Adams,  Truman,  and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the  Panama Canal,  is quite concerned that our country has become, in his view, historically illiterate.  That’s what he  told Morley Safer on 60 Minutes.

He says that thought really came to him when a young Western U.S. college student revealed to him that she didn’t know the original 13 colonies were all east of the Alleghenies.  He said he ran into similar experiences at other colleges where he spoke..

He blames not just the  students and their teachers, but all of us.  It is important for parents to encourage their children to learn the  stories of  history and to discuss family  history with them.. As for as history teachers are concerned, they should emphasize the stories of history, not dates.  This is not  a new idea, and I know some very good history professors who have practiced that for a long time, but it doesn’t hurt to remind those who  don’t.

So, tonight when your family  is gathered around the supper table,  direct some of the  conversation toward family and American history.   Of course, you’ll have  to make them stop texting first.

  

Television’s Intellectual Ghetto is Still Somewhat with Us

July 1, 2013

Thank goodness!

The term “intellectual ghetto” was originated by TV critics years ago.

Since the inception of network television,  Sunday has been the main day for the networks to broadcast  their “prestige” programs.  Fortunately,  the tradition is being continued by CBS, which has been running two great magazine programs, CBS News Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes for decades. CBS News Sunday Morning has been on the air since January of  1979.  60 Minutes, which is more investigative, went on the air on September 24, 1968. Wikipedia tells us that in 2002, the program was ranked number 6 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.  It is also credited with being the most successful program in the history of television.  I’m glad.

On this weekend before the 4th of July, Morley Safer repeated a compelling and engrossing piece with historian David McCullough.  I’ll have more on that. Stay tuned.