Friday, February 15, 2019

Projects Keeping Me Busy

Normally the month of January is pretty easy going for me, but not this year. Among the regular work responsibilities, I have been working on two articles, a book review, and organizing a two-day PDGA B-Tier disc golf tournament. That's enough to keep anyone hopping.

I just finished up a review of Myron J. Smith's latest book, Ironclad Captains of the Civil War. Smith is a well-known historian of the Civil War's western theater, specifically the brown water navies. This book is well-researched and is a valuable encyclopedia for anyone interested in the Civil War navies. My only real problem is with the publisher, not the author. The price of this book will make it cost-prohibitive for a lot of folks to buy. The paperback volume lists at $75 and the Kindle edition is over $30. Had I not received it free for writing the review, I wouldn't buy it. My review will appear in an upcoming issue of The Nautical Research Journal. Over the years I've written a dozen reviews for this publication, most of them online rather than in print.

I have also been working on two articles for Civil War Navy magazine. My first article for them was a history of the Confederate ironclad CSS Neuse. Since then, I have produced a sidebar piece to accompany another article about the Confederate capture and destruction of USS Underwriter and am in various stages of completing the current two articles. The first, which is finished and I've received the page proofs of is a biographical piece about Lt. Francis L. Hoge, a Confederate naval officer who ended his career as executive officer of the CSS Neuse. I am really excited to see this article published because Hoge has been a particular interest of mine for a number of years. The second article is being coauthored with an acquaintance from New Bern. He did most of the research and wrote a rough draft, which I have edited extensively, added some information, and gotten formatted for publication. The topic of the article is the US Navy's role in the Battle of New Bern in March 1862. I believe it too will be a good article. The sum total of all these projects amounts to the most writing I've done since graduate school and it's been really refreshing to write something other than book reviews or exhibit text.

Once all of this is finished I'll have another book showing up for review on H-Net. I'll save that for a future post.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Recent Reading (Finishing Up a Few Things from 2018)

Keeping myself on any kind of a regular reading schedule is difficult due to the chaotic nature of my calendar. There never seems to be enough time to read everything I want to, but I finally knocked out a few things toward the end of 2018.

Steven Hahn, A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil War, 1830-1910
I started this book it seems like six months ago. It is a dense book, coming in at over 600 pages. I'll admit that I did not actually finish the book. I got about two-thirds of the way through it and just could not complete the journey. The author views the eight decades in question through the lens of imperial expansion and capitalist development. Populations negatively effected by such activities are spotlighted including the enslaved, American Indians, Mexicans, and others. While the book is very well-written and thoroughly enjoyable, by the time I got to the 1870s I was simply bogged down and ready to be done with it. I will betray my own bias here, as my interest in US history past Reconstruction is pretty feeble. Most of what I read tends to be focused on the period from 1740-1875.

Joan Cashin, War Stuff: The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War
This book was sent to me by the publisher back around October while I was in the midst of trying to get through the Hahn book. I started very slowly on this book, but was able to knock most of it out over my Christmas break, as it is only 171 pages. The book highlights the struggle between the armies and civilian populations for resources, particularly food, timber, shelter, etc. After setting the stage with the Introduction and a chapter on the Old South, the author launches into a series of what become very predictable chapters, each focused on a different resource. The story is the same: both armies pretty well ignored regulations and acquired what they needed by any means necessary. These four chapters (People, Sustenance, Timber, Habitat) cover the years 1861-63. The arc is the same for each. Early in the war there was some feeling of communalism, the armies tried not to impact civilians any more than necessary, but over time each got worse. The next chapter covers 1864 and basically everything got much worse. The final chapter on 1865 and the aftermath of the war basically details how the war devastated the southern landscape, scarred the southern populace in numerous ways, and led to an internalized hatred of northerners. Once you get into the pattern of these chapters the book ends up being a very quick read. The research is deep, and the examples given are numerous and varied. This is what made the book interesting to me. Even though the chapters were predictable, the first hand accounts and examples given were all very interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the day-to-day logistics of the war, as it really does focus on resources, their acquisition, and use.

Keep an eye on my "What I'm Reading" sidebar to see what's next up on my reading list!

Friday, November 30, 2018

November, I Hardly Knew You

The months of October and November were extremely busy, but definitely in a good kind of way. I've been afforded opportunities to visit places I'd never been and meet new people. The past six weeks seems like a whirlwind and now we turn the calendar from November to December and prepare for all the end of year/holiday/new year activities that are on the horizon. So what's been happening? A whole lot.

The last weekend in October found me in Pennsylvania for my youngest cousin's wedding. Though the weather was pretty awful the whole time I was there, it was an absolutely delightful wedding and reception. The opportunities to hang out with my cousins seem to be fewer and farther between, so it was nice to spend some time enjoying their company.

While in PA, my brother and I also had the chance to check off a bucket list item for our mom (and us too, if we're being honest). We got to see the Steelers play the Browns at Heinz Field. It was fun being a part of the "Yinzer Mob" (seen on a banner in the stadium) for one game.

The first week in November brought the opportunity to see new places and meet new people when I attended the Civil War Trails, Inc. Board meeting in Frederick, MD. On the trip up I took a side jaunt to Harper's Ferry and Charles Town, WV. A return trip when I have more time to spend is definitely warranted. Along with meeting new folks, I also got to reconnect with some that I had not seen in a number of years. It was just a good time all around, with great people.

Of course, the usual work activities are always made more enjoyable thanks to the awesome folks I get to work with.

And finally, my favorite holiday has always been Thanksgiving, which is a great way to wrap up such a busy few weeks. My wife's family holds their reunion on Thanksgiving so it ends up being an entire day of eating and visiting. What more could you ask for? Here, my wife supervisors her cousin making his awesome shrimp stew.

So now the Christmas decorations are up, I'm finally giving in and listening to Christmas music in my office on this last day in November, and looking forward to two disc golf tournaments between now and the holidays. Here's to a great final month of 2018!

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....