Monday, October 22, 2018

North Carolina's Military History and Honoring Our Veterans

Last week, our Department participated in Military Appreciation Day at the North Carolina State Fair. We have been participating in this program for four years, and this year was the first in which I served as the primary organizer. Aside from discounts for active military and veterans, the State Fair puts on a variety of programs aimed at those constituencies. Various military bands play throughout the day and a number of veterans organizations set up information tables. For our role, we gather as many costumed interpreters from as many different periods of our state's history and participate in a morning parade that winds through a good portion of the fairgrounds, as well as conducting a narrated uniform review on stage in the afternoon. Though we had some folks drop out at the last minute, we still had a good number of folks attend, and had one of the largest crowds I remember for the uniform review. In exchange for their time, participants receive a meal voucher that can be redeemed at select fair vendors and some down time to wander around and enjoy the fair. I thought I would share this year's participants:
1585 Ralph Lane Expedition
Colonial Wars (L-R, 1771 Regulator Rebellion, French & Indian War, and War of Jenkins' Ear)
American Revolution (a sailor and three soldiers of the 1st NC Continental Line)
War of 1812 (L-R, a sailor, NC militia, and two members of the 10th US Regulars)
1830s NC Militia, off to fight in the war for Texian Independence
Civil War nurse
One of Sherman's "bummers" and a NC infantryman
Union cavalry, 36th NC (artillery), and Union artillery
35th US Colored Troops (raised in eastern NC)
Confederate Marine, US Marine, Confederate sailor, and Union sailor
Spanish-American War (1898)
Great War (L-R, Salvation Army, US Marine, 30th Division Sanitary Corps, 105th Signal Battalion)
Great War Military Police
World War II (L-R, Coast Guard Beach Patrol, US Marine, US Army, Paratrooper)
Korean War medic

And, when at the State Fair, one gets to do cool stuff like ride in a 1941 troop carrier with colleagues of all different time periods. Take a look!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Recently Acquired Reading

To steal a theme from Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory blog, here are a few recently acquired titles in my library.

I received a copy of Joan Cashin's latest, War Stuff: The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War from the publisher. I hope to start at least perusing it after I finish Steven Hahn's A Nation Without Borders: The United States and It's World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910, which I've been working my way through for a few weeks.

I also recently picked up a copy of a book that I'm way past due to read, Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South by my UNC-Pembroke colleague Jaime Martinez.

Finally, I purchased a copy of This Day in North Carolina History compiled by Ansley Herring Wegner and Jeff Miles, and published by the NC Office of Archives and History. This coffee table volume began as a daily blog of the NC Department of Cultural Resources that ran for three years. Many folks within the Department, myself included, contributed to that blog regularly, and thereby contributed to this published volume that resulted from it. Certainly not a cover-to-cover reader, but an interesting book to have in the collection.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Conflicted Month of September

September is indeed a conflicted month for me. There is plenty of good in September. The long, hot, sticky summer is winding down and the promise of cooler fall temps is just around the corner. One of my all-time favorite events going the whole way back to my childhood, Mountain Craft Days at the Somerset County (PA) Historical Center, is the second weekend of the month, which also happens to coincide with the first week of the NFL (read Steelers) season. I have lots of good memories from this event and enjoy going back when I am able. One of my favorite disc golf tournaments, the Craven Chains Classic in New Bern is the third weekend in September. There is a whole lot of good in the month of September.

The conflicted part of this is that a host of sad and difficult times in my life have also occurred in September. Most of the significant hurricanes I’ve encountered (Fran, Floyd, and Florence among others) have visited us in September. This is certainly true this year, as the recent storm has devastated many communities that hold a piece of my heart (Wilmington, Jacksonville, Swansboro, and New Bern among them). As such, the previously mentioned Craven Chains Classic has been postponed, and may still have to be cancelled. September is also the month in which three very significant people in my life died. In 2012, my maternal grandmother and father passed away three days apart from one another. And what got me pondering all of this in the first place is that yesterday was the third anniversary of the passing of my very good friend, Joel Smith. He and his wife were among the first people to befriend me when I moved to Kinston following the deaths of my grandmother and dad. We were partners, along with many others, in the Kinston Disc Golf Association. Joel gave me my first opportunity at being a tournament director and in the summer months we played “sunrise” disc golf at least a couple of days a week. We also shared similar tastes in music and a love of craft beer. His unexpected and untimely passing left a huge void in Kinston and in the disc golf community in NC.

So, for all the good and all the promise in September, there has also been a lot of sadness, difficulty, and despair to offset it. Here’s hoping the rest of the month will pass uneventfully and the cooler temps and busy schedules of October renew us all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Antique Store Finds

Sunday afternoon, while out and about, my wife and I stopped in at one of our favorite antique malls in eastern North Carolina. I have occasionally found odds and ends of interest to me there, and on this trip I stumbled across two minor gems that seem very timely given recent events.

First, I picked up an autographed hardcover copy of Confederates in the Attic at the very reasonable price of $5.00. Now, I've had a paperback copy of this book for almost 20 years, but I never pass up the opportunity to replace paperback with hardcover if the book in question is in good shape and the price is right. This book was both, and the author's autograph made it even better.
Though I haven't read the book in years, I think it is still very relevant to today's ongoing debate over Confederate iconography.

The second find was more interesting still. I found a copy of the inaugural issue of the journal Southern Cultures. While I normally would not buy a random issue of a journal, the lead article in this one was an article by Catherine Bishir entitled "Landmarks of Power: Building a Southern Past, 1855-1915". If you click the link, this article is available to read free online, something that was done in the wake of the Charlottesville violence last summer. Given the recent debates here in North Carolina, this article surely provides important context.

I always joke with my wife that I should not go to antique stores with her because I am the one who always ends up spending money. However, I would say that the dollars spent on Sunday were well worth it.

Friday, August 24, 2018

New Semester, New Beginnings

The Fall 2018 semester is now in full swing at all of the institutions for which I teach. Normally, there isn't much change from one semester to the next, but this one is very different in one regard. I teach online classes for two community colleges and one university. Over the course of my career, I have used both the Blackboard and Moodle platforms. This semester I am adding a third platform to my repertoire, as the university for which I teach has switched to Canvas. So far, the learning curve is not quite so great as I had feared.

When I first started online teaching, I was required to complete a summer session course on how to use Blackboard. When that college later switched to Moodle there was no required course so I was on my own. The transition was rather simple and I really don't have a preference between the two platforms. Each has its upside and downside. For the switch to Canvas, the University developed an online tutorial, designed to walk faculty through Canvas step by step. It was extremely valuable and helpful in getting the basics of my course set up. Of course, as with any online platform there are all kinds of tricks, bells, and whistles to play with, but I'm happy to just have the basics in place for this semester. I can experiment later, once I'm more familiar with the platform. There have certainly been some growing pains; for instance, when a student emailed earlier this week to tell me she had accidentally reported my profile photo. I told her not to worry, that we are all learning this new platform together, and no one had contacted me regarding the report. The next test will come when it is time for the first assignments to be graded. The tutorial makes it sound extremely easy, so I'm hopeful. For now all I have to worry about is signing student ADA accommodation forms, answering questions that students should have seen in the Syllabus, and the usual beginning of semester paperwork.

All this being said, Fall semester is always my favorite because there is something to look forward to at the end of it - the holidays. Spring semester transitions almost immediately into summer session, which transitions just as quickly into Fall semester. At least I feel like there's a break after Fall semester because of the holidays. So even though it has just begun, here's looking at you, Christmas!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Thoughts on Recent Conference

As promised, I have returned to offer some brief thoughts on the conference I attended with two colleagues two weeks ago. "Confederate Icons: History, Memory, and the Future of Our Past" was held at James Madison University and sponsored by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation. First, let me say that the facilities at JMU were top notch in every way, and that everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful. Having attended all seven Virginia Sesquicentennial conferences, I believe this was on par with those larger events, and I made sure to tell the organizers that. I am going to post links to each of the presentations so you can watch them yourself if you choose, but here's a brief synopsis.

James I. "Bud" Robertson, Jr. was first up and I hate to say it, but I was terribly disappointed. While his presentation started out moderately enough, he quickly went off the rails and stayed there. His talk lost all professionalism in my mind when he used the oft-heard conservative jab at young liberals, "snowflakes." And that was only the beginning. One colleague pointed out that he cited no historiography past the 1950s, though he certainly knows better. His worship (and there's no other way to say it) of Robert E. Lee and attack on the Episcopal Church was over the top. Basically, he came off sounding like an angry old white guy. There is so much to break down about his presentation, but I'll spare it and you can watch it yourself if you choose. Link

Caroline Janney gave what maybe should have been the first lecture of the day, which put every other presentation into historical context. Her presentation outlined the activities of both Union and Confederate veterans in the years following the war, up to about World War I. This offered a gentle corrective to some of Robertson's thoughts by taking the issue further back in time than he bothered to do. Link

Christy Coleman was nearly the polar opposite of Robertson in her presentation, though she didn't go spinning wildly off into left field. She did have a few miscues/stumbles, but offered the real counterpoint to Robertson. She proved elusive during Q&A, not really answering the one question that was posed, to which everyone wanted to know the answer (regarding the committee recommendations on what to do with Richmond's Monument Avenue). She also invited some pointed criticism during Q&A that the moderators fairly quickly shut down. Link

John Coski came in right where I thought he would - straight down the middle. He was easily the most moderate of the speakers, though not conciliatory in any way. He laid out the facts in a straightforward and honest way, and his conclusions fell squarely where they should have. He was pushed a bit during Q&A, but not to the extent that Coleman had been. Link

Keven Walker wrapped up the day by giving the SVBF official position on the matter. Link

Overall, it was a very balanced conference, with all sides represented in some way. Unfortunately, the audience for this was probably not the audience that needs to hear such reasoned debate. The demographic was about what one would expect for such a conference, 99% white and over the age of 50. Those of us in our 40s felt like the young ones in the room, save for a few grad students. One colleague mentioned on numerous occasions that he was surprised to see armed law enforcement presence at the conference and wondered what message that sent. The officers were JMU campus police and there were two of them in the facility throughout the day. I didn't find this too unusual, surmising that the campus probably requires law enforcement to be present at most events held on campus. Maybe it was their appearance that he noticed. They didn't look like contract security guards (mall cops/rent-a-cops), but were regular, uniformed police, one of whom was wearing a vest. I chalked it up to campus policy, but maybe they were hedging against any kind of unrest. Suffice it to say, it was a very low-key and respectful crowd.

I will definitely keep up with the program offerings from SVBF in the future, as I was very impressed with this event. If they do something that interests you, I would highly recommend attending. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Reimagining the Blog

So its been almost another two years of not checking in here, but I still can't pull the trigger on killing the blog. I have updated all of the administrative stuff and cleaned a few things up, as I move forward with re-imagining the blog. Over the very infrequent postings of the past few years, topics aside from history and the public history field have crept onto the page. I'm fine with that, but I don't want to go on an all-out redesign and start blogging about disc golf and stuff. Any of you who follow me on social media are well-aware of my concert going, craft beer chasing, and disc golfing adventures. So I do want to keep this mainly about history and I will strive to get better about posting occasional thoughts here again. I have updated the "What I'm Reading" section so that's the latest news. In the coming days, I hope to post a synopsis of a conference I recently attended, parts of which have already been well-chronicled by Kevin Levin over at Civil War Memory. Until then....

Friday, October 28, 2016

Long Time, No Post

Well I'll be damned! It's been over three years since I posted on this blog. I remember after the first year of inactivity thinking what I should do about it, and here I am two years later having done nothing. I was prompted to take a look as I was cleaning out bookmarks on my computer. I had a whole folder full of links to blogs, many of which have completely disappeared or, like this one, have been dormant for a year or longer. I deleted three-fourths of the links in that folder and it got me to thinking about this blog and the state of blogging in general. I think the rapid rise of social media has stifled some bloggers (I know it has for me). It seems so much easier to post things on Facebook than to write about them on a blog. There is an element of blogging that I miss, so I'm still not completely sure what I'm going to do with this page just yet. A few notes:

1. I have updated much of the basic info on the blog, including my blog roll, web links, What I'm Currently Reading, etc. So all of the basics are up-to-date.

2. I thought about all that's happened in my life since I last posted on the blog, and the two biggest changes are that I got married in December 2015 to a wonderful woman who is a high school art teacher, and I've become much more involved in the disc golf community. In fact, disc golf has taken over primacy in my list of hobbies, supplanting living history/reenacting as the top hobby on my list. A former boss of mine told me that one day I would burn out on living history considering it is such a large part of my job, and by golly it took quite awhile, but she has been proven correct. I'm not totally burned out on it, but I'm certainly much more selective about which/how many events I do each year. Lots of times I'd rather be at a disc golf tournament or concert than at a reenactment, and that's OK.

So here I am, wondering what to do with this long-neglected blog. I'll think it over for awhile. It may go dormant for another three years (let's hope not) and in the end, I may decide to shut it down after all. In the meantime, I have lots of mid-term exams to grade before heading out for four days for our Division's historic weapons training and certification class, which of course I am in charge of. After that, who knows?

Thanks for reading this long overdue check in! Cheers!


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Weekend in WNC - the second highlight of my summer

Two blog posts in one day; crazy, I know. But it's pretty eventful around here lately. July 5-9 was spent in Mills River with my old buddy Glenn Bailey and his family. I had not seen Glenn or anyone else in his family in at least eight years. We had planned a weekend of hiking and visiting as many of western North Carolina's craft breweries as possible. We hiked to waterfalls in South Mountains State Park near Morganton and Dupont State Forest near Brevard. We also took a drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.

The more impressive part of our weekend was the fact that we managed to visit 15 breweries in 4 days time, including seven on Saturday and five on Monday. What follows is a brief review of each brewery.

1. Catawba Valley Brewing (Morganton) - Our first brewery was a good one. Though the folks were having some technical difficulties with their cash register system and didn't seem to have their mess together, they had plenty of good beer. I sampled their Mother Trucker Pale Ale and their Scottish ale, both of which were very good. The pale ale was actually excellent. Glenn really enjoyed their red ale. The place seemed to be a local gathering place, with many people coming in and bringing pizzas for dinner. The pool tables were a nice touch. Like many of the breweries we visited, this place was set up in an old warehouse type building, but it was cool.

2. Lookout Brewing (Black Mountain) - One of the newest places we went to, it was located in a nondescript office plaza behind an Asian restaurant. The place was very small, but had a cool vibe going on with some art on the walls and Grateful Dead playing on the stereo. There was also a small outdoor seating area. All of the beers on tap were good, but nothing stood out to me as particularly outstanding. The people were super friendly and it was a nice, laid back place to hang out. Glenn really enjoyed their smoked ale.

3. Pisgah Brewing (Black Mountain) - Another warehouse location with a large outdoor seating area, this is a well established brewery. Cool music helped make the atmosphere. The Toubab International Pale Ale was excellent. I had previously tried their signature Pisgah Pale, which is a very good beer, but the Toubab was even better.

4. Lexington Avenue Brewery, aka Lab (Asheville) - Though they make their own beer, this place was much more of a restaurant in my opinion. I did not try any of their beers (trying to pace myself) but the food was excellent. I had the Cuban pulled pork nachos, which turned out to be a whole lot more food than I had planned on and it was really good. The atmosphere was much different than the other places we visited and I have to say that this is one of those places that just didn't make much of an impression on me (other than the great food).

5. Highland Brewing (Asheville) - Probably the best established of all the breweries on our tour, this was my Mecca prior to arriving. I have loved Highland's beers for a long time and was stoked to finally visit the home of those wonderful brews. Rather than trying one or two beers, I decided to get a flight of six tasters. It was nice just to have a little bit of everything. Unfortunately our visit was cut short as they were preparing for a concert and cleared everyone out. As an aside, we were able to take a tour next door at Asheville Distilling, where Troy & Sons Whiskey is produced. That was pretty cool.

6. Burial Beer (Asheville) - I think this was the newest place we went. It is a small brewery in an old industrial building. The ambiance was much different hear with hard rock/heavy metal music playing, lots of old tools displayed on the walls, and even the tap handles were made out of old tools like a pitchfork, hammer, scythe, etc. The owners were super nice and eager to talk with the customers; they were certainly enthusiastic. All of their beers are high gravity varieties, with nothing coming in under 7% ABV and most above 8.5%. I tried their farmhouse ale, which was nice.

7. Green Man Brewery (Asheville) - After leaving Burial, we walked right around the corner to the well-established Green Man. I had previously tried their pale ale and their ESB, both of which are very good. Green Man featured one of the more unique environments we visited with all kinds of random stuff hanging in the rafters and a ton of interesting stickers on the tap wall. There were also lots of choices, most with unique names. I tried the Ironic Mustache Red IPA, which was excellent. Glenn had the Hops for Teacher IPA and said it was very, very good. One of their specials was an imperial IPA called Imperial Stormtrooper (10.5% ABV). As I heard one customer exclaim, "I can't drink that; I'm a mere mortal!" Our friendly bartender at this location also gave us a few suggestions for other places we might want to try.

8. Wicked Weed Brewing (Asheville) - We wrapped up Saturday at Wicked Weed, which has a great restaurant (the food was really good) as well as a nice tap room and outdoor seating area downstairs. The beer selection here was huge and it would take many trips to try them all. I only had one, but it was a great choice. While I normally don't drink fruity beers I tried their watermelon saison and it was wonderful. A wedge of watermelon was placed on the rim of the glass and the aroma of watermelon was apparent from start to finish. The flavor of watermelon came through better the warmer the beer got. An excellent summer brew!

9. Brevard Brewing (Brevard) - This is a small brewery in downtown Brevard. The bartender was very friendly and most of their beers are of the lighter variety. I tried a flight so I could get a good sample of their beers. Glenn had looked all day Saturday for a lager with no luck, so he jumped all over the lager at Brevard Brewing and he was not disappointed. The pilsner was also very good, possibly the best I had on the entire trip.

10. Oskar Blues (Brevard) - A large warehouse operation, with a tap room named The Tasty Weasel upstairs and ample outdoor seating, this was one of the largest places we visited. My only previous experience with this brewery was Dale's Pale Ale, which I'm not a huge fan of. However, I had two of the best beers I tasted all weekend at this place. Their pilsner, Mama's Little Yella Pils, is really good. However, what may be the best beer I had all weekend was their imperial red ale named G'Knight. I can't even begin to describe how good this beer is and I ended up bringing some of them home with me.

11. Wedge Brewing (Asheville) - Located in the River Arts district of Asheville, I can only describe the atmosphere of this place as "junkyard." It is in a huge old warehouse/industrial building near the railroad tracks, river, and highway. It looks like an abandoned industrial site, but the beer is great. I tried their pale ale and their pilsner (noticing a trend here?) both of which were very good. Glenn had been itching to try their Belgian double, called Golem. It's a big beer at 10.5% ABV, but very smooth - a dangerous combination. It lived up to all the hype and Glenn was very happy it did.

12. Altamont Brewing (Asheville) - This place was recommended by our bartender at Green Man and when we arrived she was actually there, having drinks with friends. Located in West Asheville, this is sort of out of the way, but in an area that is probably about ready to take off growth-wise. The beer selection was extensive, but we wanted to try Altamont's own brews. Glenn got the ESB and said it was very good. I don't even remember what I had, but it was OK. Altamont seemed to cater to a crowd of mostly regulars, but certainly is a brewery worth checking out.

13. Oyster House Brewing (Asheville) - Located inside a pricey downtown restaurant, which I'm sure is very good just by the looks of the food I saw, their beer did not particularly impress. We can say we went there, but I doubt I'll ever go back. Nothing against the place, but I had better beer almost everywhere else.

14. Hi-Wire Brewing (Asheville) - I again tried a flight in order to get a broad perspective on their beers. The Acrobat Spring Ale was excellent and the Prime Time Pale Ale and Hi-Wire Lager were both very good too. I think the spring ale was on par with Highland's famous Little Hump. Everything here was good, but these three really stood out.

15. Asheville Brewing (Asheville) - The tour ended here with dinner. At this point I could only really have one beer and I chose their Rocket Girl Lager. This beer was good enough that I brought a six pack home with me. The food at this place was excellent too.

All of these places had their own unique niche. I have to say I didn't have a bad beer the whole time, but there were a few that stood out as being better than the rest. I'd love to return in the fall when all these places have their fall seasonals on tap. It really would be Oktoberfest!

ALHFAM - The first highlight of my summer

In mid-June I embarked on my first major road trip in my new car. I dropped my mother off in western PA to spend time with her family and I continued on to Akron, Ohio to attend the first three days of the ALHFAM annual meeting. For those of you who are uninitiated, ALHFAM is the Association of Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums. It is a national organization with regional subsets and the annual meeting moves around to diverse locations in the US and Canada every year. Each region also holds smaller regional conferences throughout the year as well. The last time I had attended an annual meeting was in 2009 when the organization convened in Winston-Salem, so I was very excited to return.

ALHFAM annual meetings consist of not only conference sessions, but also field trips, hands-on workshops, and all kinds of unique activities that you just have to present to witness yourself to understand. Generally, I think ALHFAM conferences are the best I've ever attended and certainly the most fun. The atmosphere is always super friendly, laid back and relaxed, but professional. For field trip day I signed up for a trip to Cleveland where our group got to tour the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Cuyahoga Valley Soldier's and Sailor's Monument, with a stop for lunch at Great Lakes Brewing. Most of the conference sessions I attended dealt with interpretation, particularly first-person interpretation and the role of historic sites in the ever changing field of 21st century learning. The entire group also took a field trip to two Mormon history sites and a working living history farm. All in all, it's hard to beat the experiences you have at an ALHFAM conference.

But it's not just the quality of the conferences and the excellent learning experiences that make ALHFAM a great organization. What is really special about ALHFAM is the relationships that are created and nurtured through the organization. It really is like a big family (hence the organizational moniker ALHFAMily). Though I hadn't been to an annual meeting in four years, it was as if I had never left. I saw plenty of familiar faces, many of whom I've stayed in touch with through the wonders of Facebook and Linked-In, and it was like we'd only just seen each other last week. I also met lots of new folks who I will look forward to seeing at future conferences. The people of ALHFAM are what makes ALHFAM special. It is a truly warm, caring, friendly, and professional group of folks. When someone asks me what an ALHFAM conference is like, I often say it's like summer camp for adults. The feeling I get at ALHFAM conferences is much the same as when I was attending youth conferences at Montreat Conference Center in the North Carolina mountains as a teenager. By the end of the week you feel like you want to stay forever and never let the moment end. But in the end you know that the feeling can't possibly last forever. The real world awaits, just beyond the conference reach, and you must return to that world with all it's responsibilities. You will take things that you learned and apply them in that real world. And you will eagerly anticipate the next time you are able to be with this special group of people, even if it's four years away. And when you return, you know that you will find the friendship, acceptance, and fun that always attends a gathering of the ALHFAMily. So to all of my friends in ALHFAM, I miss you and I can't wait to see you somewhere/sometime down the road!