Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Patent Trolls Again: High Temperature Steam, Boilers, and World War II.

If you follow the Admiralty's technological progress from Naval Estimate to Naval Estimate through the Nineteenth Century in the popular press, it's easy to end up making jokes about April Fool's Day and drunkard's walks. The Admiralty was always backwards, always conservative, always wrong. The forward looking inventor, like Galileo, can see what no-one else can see. And the Press, unlike the establishment, can see his point.

If you're a contrarian like me (and perhaps only like me), you end up itching to take the establishment's side. Because the innovators can be wrong. If you set up a process where the only way to escape the criticism is to indulge the critic's every whim until something goes transparently wrong, you get the capsizing of the HMS Captain. Who wants to pay a battleship and 500 lives to shut up one obstreperous inventor, much less sacrifice the eldest son of his main institutional patron to shut that man up? And yet, even after Captain went down, people continued to argue. No less a person than Baron Kelvin was called at the inquest, and proved Captain's recklessly dangerous design with numbers. And yet the matter continued to be controversial as long as anyone cared.

You think, you wish, that the gobs end up stopped. Two decades ago, the province of British Columbia dropped a godawful amount of money in a local shipyard for aluminum-hulled high speed catamaran  motor ferries. It was a transparent disaster in the making, complete with the provincial premier suing detractors.  (Wikipedia article.) By 2003, "the fast cats" were a bad memory. Yet a certain major national publisher,  bought a piece of high concept nonsense of the 1421 variety from one of the advisors that sold the premier on the fastcats and flogged it onto the market with great lashings of positive press. The press made a lot of money, the professionally-wrong author made a lot of money. A century from now, historians will have to listen to earnestly crazy people telling them that Francis Drake built a secret English colony on the inshore coast of Vancouver Island.

The professionally wrong can, and do, go on and on. 

I know. My outrage fails to  move you. These things happen. It's just that when Nathan Myhrvold raised his head in public again to babble about how we should respect innovators more, I can at least present a test case to refute the meta-argument.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Plantation of the Atlantic, XIV: Praying For a Pale

So Nathan Myhrvold is in the news again. (Well, Slate, anyway.) And this time the patent troll is arguing about how America just isn't nice enough to inventors. Mad? I'm mad. This happens when you scare governments into "pro-inventor" positions. Now, I'm not going to blog about Cowper Coles, now or next week. At least he had the grace to go down with the ship, and, more importantly, David McGee has already covered it. And if you can't get a copy of his unpublished dissertation, well, a little light on those who've neglected their responsibilities never hurts. I'll talk about something else next week.

First, Praying Towns.

If I had to summarise the conventional wisdom on "King Philip's War," the 1675--6 conflict memorialised by Increase Mather and Daniel Gookin, amongst others, it would be with something like this cut-and-paste from "Links: The International Journal of Socialist Renewal," on the theme of why Thanksgiving is actually bad, and you should feel guilty:

When this war ended, 600 European men, one-eleventh of the adult men of the New England Colonies, had been killed in battle. Hundreds of homes and 13 settlements had been wiped out. But the colonists won.
In their victory, the settlers launched an all-out genocide against the remaining Native people. The Massachusetts government offered 20 shillings bounty for every Indian scalp, and 40 shillings for every prisoner who could be sold into slavery. Soldiers were allowed to enslave any Indian woman or child under 14 they could capture. The “Praying Indians” who had converted to Christianity and fought on the side of the European troops were accused of shooting into the treetops during battles with “hostiles.” They were enslaved or killed. Other “peaceful” Indians of Dartmouth and Dover were invited to negotiate or seek refuge at trading posts–and were sold onto slave ships.
It is not known how many Indians were sold into slavery, but in this campaign, 500 enslaved Indians were shipped from Plymouth alone. Of the 12,000 Indians in the surrounding tribes, probably about half died from battle, massacre and starvation.
After King Philip’s War, there were almost no Indians left free in the northern British colonies. A colonist wrote from Manhattan’s New York colony: “There is now but few Indians upon the island and those few no ways hurtful. It is to be admired how strangely they have decreased by the hand of God, since the English first settled in these parts.”
In Massachusetts, the colonists declared a “day of public thanksgiving” in 1676, saying, “there now scarce remains a name or family of them [the Indians] but are either slain, captivated or fled. [emph. mine.]I

The poor guys at Links are cited because they placed high on my Google Search. They're reporting statistics they have from reliable sources on good faith, and the worse sin committed here is the passive one of confirmation bias. If you want to make King Philip's War a defining moment in America's fall from grace,  it would be as well for it have been the worst war ever.

The only problem being that the numbers are pure crazy town. "One-eleventh of the adult men" implies a New-England "colonist" population in the outside range of 20,000. Our baseline statistic for New England's population growth is 100,000 in 1710.

You see the head scratcher here. That's why the "Plymouth Rock" school historical demographers  put the number of immigrants to New England during the 1630--1640 timeframe at 40,000. Anything less is a problem.

It's also a great example of selection bias. f you type "600 eleventh King Phillip's War" into the Google search window, you get:

i) Someone's amateur website of every massacre ever.
ii) Wikipedia, which is pretty sound and sensible on the subject, as it usually is these days. (I donated a twenty again this month!)


iii) Mayflowerfamilies.com: " The horrors and devastation of Philip's war have no parallel in our history. The Revolution was a struggle for freedom; the contest with Philip was for existence. The war lasted only about fourteen months; and yet the towns of Brookfield, Lancaster, Marlborough, Medfield, Sudbury, Groton, Deerfield, Hatfield, Hadley, Northfield, Sprigfield, Weymouth, Chelmsford, Andover, Scituate, Bridgewater, Playmouth, and several other places were wholly or partially destroyed, and many of the inhabitants were massacred or carried into captivity. During this short period, six hundred of our brave men, the flower and strength of the Colony, had fallen, and six hundred dwelling houses were consumed. Every eleventh family was houseless, and every eleventh soldier had sunk to his grave." Charles Hudson: A History of Marlborough

This is some guy writing back in the 1840s. I have my doubts about his numbers, which are very.symmetrical, but they aren't the modern, accepted numbers. You can see where the error comes in, and that, again, theory is driving the facts. 

Now, the last thing I want to do is deny that King Philip's War happened, or that it was pretty traumatic event. I just want to suggest that there's an agenda here, and it's not a subtle one, either. To repeat the quote bloc:

After King Philip’s War, there were almost no Indians left free in the northern British colonies. A colonist wrote from Manhattan’s New York colony: “There is now but few Indians upon the island and those few no ways hurtful. It is to be admired how strangely they have decreased by the hand of God, since the English first settled in these parts.”

You'd have to think that someone, somewhere, would be a little shy about reporting genocidal ethnic cleansing, that it would be some kind of secret with a bodyguard of lies, at least until Rutger Hauer discovers the horrifying truth. (That Neo-Nazi Youtube commenters will sit through very boring trailers).

I'm no Rutger Hauer, but I'll give it a whirl. Short version farmed out to Gene Autry. Sorry 'bout the cows.
(Going into the file of secrets that can be shared in state songs.)*

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Plantation of the Atlantic, XIII: What the "Leaky Pump" Means

I know that I promised to reconstruct and post my research on Praying Towns here. That basically means that I'm going to run down some Internet-accessible research on these self-governing communities of Christian Indians established on the recommendation of John Eliot between 1661 and 1675, as well as parallel communities in Connecticut and discuss what the dreadfully-neglected Alltagsgeschichte of these communities shows in the case of some excellent, web-accessible PhD theses, or at least summaries thereof.

But that sounds like work, and I get to be substitute store manager this week,* and consequently am a little out of it. Instead, I'm going to trot some concrete research data about the makeup of mid-Seventeenth Century New England communities out just to put some methodological depth to my gestures to the Newfoundland fishery's "leaking pump" of transatlantic labour migration flows and allegedly consequential claims about the actual composition of those communities.

First, though, I'll rehearse some historiographic reflections. Remember Bishop Samuel Wilberforce's comments about how there were in New England in 1640 supposedly 4,000 Puritans, who “are said in fifty years to have multiplied to 100,000” (59)? Sure, Soapy Sam is an unlikely authority. After all, he's the guy that opposed Darwinism in that famous session with Huxley in the summer 1860 meeting of the BAAS and gave rise to the "better an ape as an ancestor than a bishop." On the one hand, that establishes a historical vector connecting the Plymouth Rock myth to Creationism. That's got to lead to some interesting reflections on where those ideas have gone in American politics since. On the other hand, it leaves Wilberforce a pretty unlikely martyr of truth. His defenders try to make his nickname refer to his obsessive-compulsive hand-wringing, but pretty much everyone else thinks that it's an accurate reflection on his somewhat casual approach to the truth.

That means that while Wilberforce, the man who rediscovered Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation in the library of the bishop of London and used it in this book, may have been working with the facts about migration to New England that were certainly at hand in London in the late 1830s. If so, someone had synthesised those facts and made the conclusions available, and other people, or at least the Bishop of London, was willing to gloss them in print in a book highly critical of American society in other contexts. But it might also mean that he's seen the "40,000" figure often cited for the Great Migration and lost a zero in his enthusiasm for Yank-bashing. Still, it's interesting that he went there. and used it, unlike any other modern reader, for its list of civil marriages in the back as well as Bradford’s narrative.

Second, much of this information, and my original inspiration, started with an exchange with my buddy Charleycarp over at the lately-lamented-but-now-back Edge of the American West. I'm not going to go out on a limb on the accuracy of the claim that Elizabeth Cable, wife of Jehu Burr and thus great-grandmother of the Aaron Burr was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1600,  but there it is, sourced to some old family records in the hands of the Latter Day Saints. Charley challenged it, and I went to Robert Charles Anderson, and here's what I found in that synthetic summary of two centuries of genealogical research:

Or something like that, anyway.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Plantation of the Atlantic, XIII: New Towns

Not to belabour the point, but we have enough details to  make it clear that there was a long-distance trade route running along the coast of the Eastern Seaboard in the century between Columbus and the Mayflower. It's at least plausible that it is older than that, and that it was plugged into the Norse settlements in Greenland, at least as far south as the limits of distribution of Ramah Island chert. (The gulf of the Saint Lawrence, so far as is currently established.) If the linguistic hypothesis be credited, the route extended as far south as the Carolinas, and was paralleled by another one just inland running above the Fall Line. Of course, if the linguistic evidence be credited, I need something a little stronger than "trade route." The affective ties were sufficient to produce relatively linguistically homogenous Algonquin and Iroquian-speaking areas on the two proposed routes.

So what happened? The obvious analogy here, for this Northwest Coaster, is the trade area defined by the Chinook Jargon.  We'll leave it to the historical linguists to hash out whether or not the Algonquin and Iroquian language families could have emerged as "natural" languages from similar trade jargons, or whether we should look to single groups dominating these exchange networks. What matters here is the analogy. The early contact period history of the Pacific Northwest coast is well known, where that of the East Coast is not. The proposed mechanism for the first European settlements on the East Coast is one of self-sufficient agriculturalists driven by exogenous "push" factors. People come either fleeing religious persecution, seeking to establish Indian missions, or in a quixotic search for bullion mines. Yet in the case of the Pacific Northwest, we know that the issue was endogenous "pull" factors. Hawaiians, Europeans, and Asians are drawn in by the availability of fur, fish, mineral resources, and the wheat boom. Moreover, the plantation was orchestrated from the land side, by Canadian, Russian and American fur trading enterprises. That is, there was agency on the part of the pre-existing community receiving the plantations.

That "pull" factors subsequently came to play a major role in the plantation of the East Coast is well known. The north  has access to substantial fish and whale resources that, in New England in particular, can best be exploited by over-wintering fishers due to the early cod-spawning season, which would otherwise call for European fleets to depart  for the fishing grounds at the peak of the Atlantic storm season. There is also fur, tobacco in the south, and eventually wheat and other provisions, mainly for the Caribbean sugar islands.

We are given to understand that these pull factors are irrelevant to the initial colonisation, in spite of at least one of them (the fur resources available on the lower Saint Lawrence and at the mouth of the Kennebec) being already in exploitation.

This is not as strange as it may seem, because the breakdown in the analogy makes the point self-evident. There is no East Coast counterpart to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1600.

But wait! There is precisely an equivalent to the Hudson's Bay Company. There's a fur trade going on! It clearly isn't a corporate entity, but it equally clearly doesn't require a corporate entity to exist. And if we look to the people who would have been organising trade, we find, well, people like Squanto and his liege, Massasoit. When we find that Squanto has crossed the Atlantic three times under the aegis of, amongst other European patrons, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who had a well-established interest in the Patuxet area well before the establishment of the New Plymouth Colony, our eyebrows have to rise. Apart from a desire to maintain a clear distinction between European agency and Native American passivity. (Check it out: this link comes up higher on Google than any academic discussion I could find of the historically well-established interaction between pre-Contact Iroquians and Basque fishers.)  it's hard not to draw a picture of...

Okay, let me back this up a bit. And how about some Muppets blogging?.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It Begins

Here it is: first draft, first page. Hopefully, I won't just find myself trapped in a cycle of endless revision.

The Plantation of the Atlantic: Introduction

This is not a history of the Atlantic Ocean.  People have written such things. Generally, they’re about boats and geography, important subjects here. But I thought that it was best to start with savage denial. Because what this is, is a history against the grain, and there’s very much a reason to put an ocean in a starring role in such a history.
It goes like this. In a German prisoner of war camp, long ago, a French scholar named Fernand Braudel found internal liberation in a work of defiance and denial. He defied his captors by making use of his time,  notwithstanding his nation’s defeat, which ought to have allowed the German Reich the use of his time. And he took his research and his evidences and used them to create a history that denied and repudiated his teachers. (More or less; I won’t argue the details if you know them.) It is known in English as The Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II,[i]and, again, it would be off point to explain why it was such an act of defiance. Take my word for it, and appreciate that there are arguments that could walk the claim back. I’m being too neat, tying up loose ends meant to be undone.
In the second act, Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell revisited Braudel’s concept, writing The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History.[ii] The title brilliantly expressed the diffidence that Horden and Purcell felt as they came to the end of their study. It’s a reference to what Horden and Purcell call the common Roman observation that the ease with which people communicated by sea was profoundly disruptive of good social order.[iii] Their frontispiece, a Medieval map showing Africa and Europe as lovers, puts it more neatly. The two continents that God has set apart are being brought together by the Mediterranean Sea. The Strait of Gibraltar will be the site of their fatal kiss, and their fall into worldly sin will end on the Levant shore.
Except that the whole notion is confused.  Another way to look at it is that the Mediterranean will be the marriage bed of a new social order. Hence this book: Atlantic history, I modestly propose, has up until now been told by disapproving parents looking on from the shore. I write as a friend of the couple, drunkenly celebrating the chivaree. If I have a moral, it is that the grandparents-to-be need to stop worrying about miscegenation, and start worrying about their grandchildren’s college tuition. If I have a subject, well, it’s a little raunchy.

[i] (Braudel, 1966)
[ii] (Horden & Purcell, 2000)
[iii] (Horden & Purcell, 2000), 5.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Plantation of the Atlantic, XIII, 1:Preparing The Ground

So, the thesis, which I owe to a better historian than I, is that the story told by the many failed European colonies established on the Eastern Seaboard before 1607, when they suddenly began succeeding (St. Augustine apart), is that by 1607, the time was right. A quasi-historical period had passed between 1492 and 1607 in which the world prepared itself to receive European-style settlements.

I wish I could remember the person who suggested this, but I should also note that according to vagrant memory, he or she placed the crucial changes on the left bank of the Atlantic. It is the rise of the early modern state there, most plausibly in terms of its role in promoting larger ships, that prepares the way. Whatever: this is surely to the point. But what about the left bank? The presumption seems to be that the Eastern Seaboard rests unchanging, a fertile shore awaiting the planting of European seed.

Yet we know that that is not the case. Change does occur in pre-, and peri-Columbian America. On Saturday I had a chance to pop into the local Chapters books (I'm beginning to feel some hope for a good Christmas retail season), where I discovered Daniel K. Richter, Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts (2011).Professor Richter teaches at the (unfortunately not this member of Clan McNeil) Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

 Professor Richter begins his converging story of the two sides of the Atlantic and "early" America at Chaco Canyon, just a little further afield than I would, and on the large common fields of the "new" European three-field system before moving on to the more familiar terrain of Cahokia. He then closes out Cahokia's story with its abrupt fall, gives us a brief, timeless account of Eastern Woodland political and social practice, brings some Vikings onto the stage for a brief interlude, and then moves east looking for "the Crusades of the Christ-bearers" (67).

How, though, do you synchronise the two coasts and the depths of the Southwestern interior? Here I'm left scratching my head. Of all the mechanisms of exogenous historical determism, how can someone committed to writing this project, and in this way, possibly turn to the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age?

Per the IPCC:  "Thus current evidence does not support globally synchronous periods of anomalous cold or warmth over this timeframe, and the conventional terms of "Little Ice Age" and "Medieval Warm Period" appear to have limited utility in describing trends in hemispheric or global mean temperature changes in past centuries."

The reason that this has to be said by the IPCC? Because the LIA and the MWP have become the last, desperate lifebuoys to which climate denial clings. It's getting so that I can't even find Deep Climate's little blurbs on the LIA and MWP with Google, because there are so many denialists specificallly bringing up the two alleged episodes in specific reference to Deep Climate. That's a lot of clutter. 

But wait! There's more! My long, slow burn against the Little Ice Age in general started with this book, where Geoffrey Parker and his co-authors proposed to find a pattern of "general crisis" in the European Seventeenth Century, and traced it back to the weather. And, sure, the Seventeenth Century was chock full of crisis. There was the Russian "Time of Troubles" (1598-1613); the Thirty Years War (1618--1648); the English Civil War (1639--49); and the Fronde (1648--1660). Just to widen the net a bit, we can throw in the fall of the Ming Dynasty (1625--1644), and, I'm sure, other events as well. See the problem here? If we're going to find a historical explanation for a series of political crises, we need the crises to happen at the same time. "The Seventeenth Century" is not good enough. One hundred years is a long time in politics. 

Without rehearsing the arguments and counterarguments any further, it suffices to note that for Richter's purposes, the Little Ice Age has to account for events as early as the 1300s. The Little Ice Age; it comes, and it goes, as required by the historian, called upon the stage and dismissed as readily. And the same may be said of the Medieval Warm Period.

Having said all of this in a spirit of crabby hostility to a book that looks like a must-read of the season, I'll end with one more complaint. Richter ends the story of Cahokia on another false note, albeit one well-supported by his reading, so that I should rather call out the anthropologists: Cahokia, he tells us, seems to have been "forgotten" by the Indians, as though there were some taboo on the crucial facts. Something terrible happened there.

Which is actually pretty awesome history. Terrible things happened in old time cities. Say it to the class, in the dreams where your education gets you a chance to teach a class, slowly and dramatically. Let it hang. You can come back later to Jesuits and Anglicans being torn apart or burned; to the London hanged being dissected at banquets, to gladiators killing each other for the crowds; to the nobility of Ur III being slowly killed by nails driven through their heads; to twenty thousand buried around Anyang at the behest of the oracle bones by King Wu Ding of Shang.

But come on! The examples are enough to show that terrible things are always happening. That's not the reason that history gets forgotten and misremembered. That happens when we don't need it any more. Or need it for another, telling purpose. James Belich, in the first chapter of his history of New Zealand, where he mischievously pairs the early history of Britain and New Zealand, quotes a series of lineage singers: Aperahama Taonui was careful to note where "the real men" began in his accounts. Everything before that was told as "taboo removal." A half century later Apirana Ngata approved. Before the real men begin, it was perfectly appropriate to sing a random list of distinguished ancestors. 

This is history of families rather than of people, but the point remains that we should not expect an account of centuries past to be a straight, dry account of things that happened. It must serve its role as "taboo remover." And if we want to get at  what happened, we have to work through the stories that we're given whether as told or as interred. 

And, as it happens, the stories that Father Pinet of the Societe de Missions Etrangere du Quebec heard when he began preaching from the pulpit of the Church of the Holy Family at Cahokia, Illinois, in (apparently approximately) 1690 are actually full of mounds of earth being erected for great and solemn purposes. They're not history, to be sure ...but, wait. Strike that. Of course they're history. They're the history we've got. 

So the story I'm pointing to, of course, is the story of Fallen Woman. When Fallen Woman falls from the arch of heaven onto the primordial flood, she is pregnant with twins. Perhaps they are the Hero Twins, or perhaps one of them is disposable and the other is a great culture hero. Whatever; the point is that the animals of the primordial flood gather to help Fallen Woman. Turtle carries her on her back, while three amphibious animals in turn attempt to dive to the bottom of the flood. The last of the three, succeeding, brings up earth with which to build a lodge for Fallen Woman on the back of Turtle's shell. Hence, the world: Turtle Island.

I know, I know, I've told this story before on this blog. I've pointed out that it's at the core of James Fenimore Cooper's last Leatherstocking novel, argued that Cooper can't be bothered to hit us quite so many times with the clue-by-four of Incredibly Obvious Symbolism without a reason. (Honestly! Deerslayer's got a boat named "the Ark" captained by a man nicknamed "the Muskrat"  who lives in a "Muskrat Lodge," built on a reef in the middle of  "Glimmerglass." How the hell can you not read this allegorically?)

But that's not the point right now. The point, rather, is what "taboos are being removed" with this story. Floods and drownings, Arks and divers aren't local themes, but the importance of this story, and its details, might have specifically North American, post-Mississippian relevance. If it does turn out to be universal, or we recover evidence of the "Earth Diver" story in the Southern Cult cosmogenic complex, forget I said anything. In the mean time, this about floods and floating origins. (Because I've already linked to this, which I personally like better.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Plantation of the Atlantic, XII: Evidence, Experts and the Source of the Susquehanna of th

Historically, by 1650, and probably by about 1600, the Eastern seaboard of North America was linguistically organised in a way that no-one found remarkable at the time, but one that I want to single out as an important historical fact. Coastwise from Nova Scotia and perhaps Newfoundland all the way to the Carolinas, native populations spoke a very closely related group of languages designated today, and since the early Nineteenth Century at least, as Algonquin. Inland, along a continuous water transport corridor extending from the lower Saint Lawrence down the Richelieu River-Hudson-Mohawk-North Branch of the Susquehanna-Potomac-Shenandoah, could be found Iroquian languages, including Huron, Erie, the languages of the Five Nations, Susquehannock and perhaps others, Tuscarora and Cherokee.

I've said before that I don't think that it is at all an accident that Cooperstown is located at one of the most important waystations along this inland route. And, I would add now, Washington, D.C. (and Gettysburg) at others. That being said, there remains the question of how languages come to be aligned with geography.

This is a question that, in the first instance, inclines me to talk about a much smaller, walkable, professional geography. It is the case that some humanities departments at the University of British Columbia have their offices in one of the wings of the great spaghetti maze that is the Buchanan complex. So when the rain is pounding down on Vancouver, as has been known to happen, you might find yourself cutting through a long corridor of offices to get to your next class, rather than braving the courtyard outside. If you have a moment to linger, you can get some idea of what a department is about by reading the cartoons, funny clippings, and newspaper stories that people like to post on doors and notice boards. As an introduction to a field of study, it sure beats trying to read yourself into a textbook!

Now, one might ask why an expert in another field would want to do something like that? We have experts for a reason. No-one goes to an historian for an opinion about string theory, and the default presumption is that a physicist who wants to talk about history has gone a little dotty. Yet some of these departments bring together specialists from many fields. Take a trip down the hall through Classical Studies, though, and you'll  see the point. The bulletin boards joke about archaeology, literature, and history, because Classical Studies contains (Classical) archaeologists, (classical) literature specialists, and (classical) historians. First come archaeological sites, then Greek literature, beginning perhaps 472BC by the absolutely most savagely skeptical, reductive approach I can imagine taking, then, sometime in the 430s, Herodotus of Halicarnassus writes his Histories under the patronage of the Alcmaeonidae. History is handed down from door to open door down the Classics Studies hall from archaeologist to literary scholar to historian, and the Classicists get to do all of us a favour by figuring out how history is going to relate to archaeology. Clearly there will be important lessons here for historians working on other areas at a similar transition point, such as the Eastenr Seaboad in the peri-Contact phase.

To follow the baton a little further, I'm going to take a walk through a campus that only exists anymore as a nostalgic memory, exiting out the north doors of the Buchanan complex to walk down back alleys and through a grove and across a field in the dripping rain under lowering skies* to the Vancouver School of Theology. Though even if we did that, we'd have to take the time machine of nostalgia back a long time further yet to the point where bible scholars intruded on the archaeologists's fields of toil to tell tales of pharaohs, Phoenicians, and Hittites.Not to mention Pythagoras studying hermetic secrets with the Jewish  monks of Mount Carmel. Crazy? Perhaps. But mixed with uncomfortable facts.

So the Classicists sought allies amongst the ranks of the philologists, as I have discussed before. Allies with nigh unbeatable scientific talk swept away uncomfortable facts, bringing Greeks into Greece from the north at whatever time science currently leaves us (1200BC? 1500BC? 1900BC? 2500BC? 7000BC?) before hooking over the Aegean and colonising the Anatolian shore about 900BC or whatnot, just straight up exterminating the Orientals.

Which last? It seems invented --implausible, even. As though a story about Nineteenth (and Seventeenth) century colonialism is being resituated in the past so that its heuristic can have a longer lever arm with which to move the present. Stupid analogy? Let's be clear. It's not what the sources say. How do you get there with vehement certainty? In part, it's the jargon, but I prefer to visualise a sputtering academic, of a particularly embarrassing and embarrassed kind, babbling about Achaeans Indo-Europeans and Mediterranean Semitics and miscegenation.

On the one hand, I'm conjuring with a particularly repellent straw man here, and my only defence is that they existed in their myriads. On the other, I'm invoking a beguiling heuristic. If races are things given in themselves, separate and equal, then languages and cultures come in boxes that we can shuffle around the maps of our ancient mind's eye. Forget archaeology! There is no science for understanding the history that comes before history like historical linguistics! We've already applied this "science" to the Greeks, and there's no reason not to apply it to the Indians. I'll bet that you can't wait to find out where the Algonquins come from. (Hint.)

Way back in the world of credible scholarship, the classicists are getting better and better at founding history in archaeology. Why shouldn't we take the same approach to historical linguistics?

Actually, we should. But one more analogy here, this time with boxing. I've already linked to a brief discussion of Representative Seaborne Roddenberry's anti-miscegenation amendment to the United States Constitution, introduced  into the House in January, 1913 in direct response to Jack Johnson's July 4th, 1910 victory over James Jeffries. At least for a historian of boxing, the mood in the United States in the wake of a black boxer's achievement of the heavyweight title seems a little ...frenzied. Could there be anything more petulant than trying to shut down professional boxing over this? (In favour of college football, just in case you thought that there was a public health case to be made) So Jess Willard's highly irregular victory over Johnson in April 1915 was taken hard by some. When this white, alleged "working cowboy" stepped into the ring for another 4th of July fight in Toledo, Ohio in 1919, he might have suspected that the man glaring at him from "Kid Blackie's" corner intended to set the boxing world to rights.

As with boxing, so with historical linguistics.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Plantation of the Atlantic, XI: The New Culdees

So I'm taking it for granted that the Plantation of New Plymouth was a production unit inserted into an existing economy by a ramified East-Central European magnate family to create a "German Home Town" within their territories by granting a nascent town a privilege, mainly in the form of a town legal charter suchj as the famous "Magdeburg rights." The result, described here is just another German town in the pale of settlement, full of strange odours of cabbage and diligent guildsmasters working long hours to produce perfect things before going off to the Lutheran Church to pray in a way that is conspicuously different from the way in which the peasants outside prayed. Note that this doesn't require mass migrations. People who move into town from outside will become German (or Polish, or whatever is needed), even if that will later require family genealogists with natural acrobatic skills.)

From there, I can go on to understand the economy into which Patuxet/New Plymouth was inserted, and, before that, wave a hand at another line of evidence that supports the argument and gives a shout-out back to the Late Bronze Age.

But hold on there for a moment. Don't we already have an explanation for the Plymouth settlement? Weren't there a bunch of Calvinist Puritan Pilgrim Separatist Congregationalists being religiously oppressed in England? Didn't they settle in New England precisely because they could practice their religion in freedom? Wasn't that religion stuff important back then? Don't we therefore need to give serious due to their explanation for their own fate?

No. We don't.

I mean, I know that we suspect and in some cases know that William Bradford's account omits important details ("the friends we had in Plymouth"), probably with the intent of concealing Ferdinando Gorges' role in events, and thus, entirely incidentally, that of Squanto. Yet he wouldn't be the first religious leader to have occasionally dabbled in hypocrisy while being in the main sincere and motivated by faith, would he? Religious persecution is the key issue here. Sid Meier's Colonization says so! Why am I being so mean to the nice Puritan Pilgrims?

I'll answer that question with another question. Have you ever taken a physics class? If you have done so in the last few years, and if your professor is reasonably conscientious about issues of notational formalism and a little careless about their history, chances are that the prof has said something like "When that apple fell on young Isaac Newton's head that wonderful autumn, he suddenly realised that the Moon was exactly like the apple. Nothing was keeping it from falling. It was falling."

Then the prof wrote something like this:

From Professor Mona Berciu, who has helpfully put her notes on the Internet without making any historical errors whatsoever.
 But, of course, Newton didn't say, or write, anything like that. At best, he wrote something like this (not actually the same expression):

Lifted from Niccolo Guicciardini's Development of Newtonian Calculus in Britain
The problem with doing this is obvious enough once the many people who have spelled it out before me, spelled it out. We've turned Newton into some kind of modern. He was trying to write his equation the way that we do it today, but couldn't on account of how there was so much more progress to be made along the ineluctable path of improvement that leads from Newton's time to ours.

But, once upon a time, it was routine to teach the history of physics this way. Back in the day when Galileo was a hero of anti-Catholicism (thank Heavens we've moved beyond that!) and the Progress of Science was the biggest thing in the Nineteenth Century. (Hint: you can't be pro-science and pro-Catholic. Hence, let's never let Home Rule happen or elect Blaine President!)

It's no big deal. I mean, it used to be a big deal. There's lots of old history books that take all of this seriously, and once in a while, the kids get into them and peddle the old insights as though they were new. That being said, the kids are learning their physics and their calculus right, and can learn their history right. They don't even have to read something old and frightening (and perhaps a little homophobic in that old-fashioned way.) Neil Stephenson's got them covered.

The problem arises where there's no Neil Stephenson. What if a field that used to be enormously important and all-pervasive, and is now boring and off-putting and even offensive. What if this kind of thing is still hijacking serious discussion?


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Privatising History: A Million Gnadenhuttens

Now, I don't exactly value my insights into American politics highly, because I'm wrong virtually every time I  open my mouth. All that matters here for me is still the fact that people are talking about how crazy it is that a Mormon could get so far in American politics. I've known exactly one Mormon well. He was a math major with a Mohawk haircut and a taste for punk music, and we played Dungeons & Dragons together. I'm recalling, off the top of my head, exactly one monograph by a scholar who made his Mormonism an issue. It's an awesome book.

The Mormon faith believes crazy stuff? Join the club. (Which, arguably, is what they were trying to do.)

Of course, I'm not trying to marginalise this stuff, like we do with, say, the story of Jericho. I'm saying that the pseudohistory of the Book of Mormons is a fictionalised history of America, in the same way that Cooper's Pioneers is a fictionalised history of his family.  The names have been changed to protect the innocent, recalling that there are a great deal of innocents to be protected here. It's a history so awful and awesome that one side can't bear to express it except esoterically, while the other wants to privatise it.

 Here's a Google Map screenshot of the unincorporated town of Gnadenhutten, Ohio, centred on the National Historical Service-registered Memorial Park.

In the words of the anonymous Wikipedia contributer: the Pennsylvania militia who occupied this Moravian mission town on the Tuscarawas River in east-central Ohio on March 7th, 1782, took some 100 prisoners:

"The next morning on 8 March, the militia tied the Indians, stunned them with mallet blows to the head, and killed them with fatal scalpingcuts. In all, the militia murdered and scalped 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. They piled the bodies in the mission buildings and burned the village down. They also burned the other abandoned Moravian villages. Two Indian boys, one of whom had been scalped, survived to tell of the massacre.
The militia collected the remains of the Lenape and buried them in a mound on the southern side of the village. Before burning the villages, they had looted, gathering plunder which they needed 80 horses to carry: furs for trade, pewter, tea sets, clothing, everything the people held."

The Gnadenhutten Massacre, the burial mound at Aztalan, and the "Battle of Nauvoo." (Somewhat) similar episodes: that's what I'm saying. The whys and wherefores are a little difficult to discern at this distance. Keat Murray takes his insight in a different direction than I would, but his basic suggestion is that the massacre at Gnadenhutten worked two ways. It enforced the authority of the Moravian leadership by punishing the people who returned to Gnadenhutten, and it implicated the lower social orders who supposedly carried out the massacre at their own initiative.

Today, Gnadenhutten is formally memorialised by a stone obelisk inscribed to the martyrs who "triumphed through death." At the time, though, it was through a practice familiar through many an archaeological report on Southern Cult sites. First, people were stunned with mallets. Then, they were killed by scalping. Then, their bodies were burnt. Then, the bones were collected and buried in a mound. Then, a village was laid around the mound, such that today the memorial park faces the back campus of Indian Valley High School, the back side of Gnadenhutten Cemetery, and the backyards of Walnut Street and Spring Street West.*

This isn't a private site by any means. County Highway 10 will take you directly to the interpretative centre. I'm hanging the perfection of my little thesis about the memorial park being informally private on the fact that to get to the actual mound you have to take a right or left turn off the highway (or Cherry Street, as it has become in the town grid.) The site isn't profaned by traffic driving directly by, but there's no sense in which you can't drive right by it. You just have to make an effort.

 This idea of "private history" started with the suggestion that the fact that the Hill of Cumorrah was on private property was a telling fact about the early history of Mormonism. I wish that I could remember the scholar who made that suggestion, but it was interesting enough that I've made some effort to count the number of such places, because there's nothing like large numbers to stun people into acquiescence, like a mallet brought down upon their heads.

In theory, this is something that could be done scientifically. The NHS Register of Historic Places is now in the process of being made into a searchable online database. It's just not very searchable, because the site reports are being done up as PDFs, and most of them haven't been uploaded yet. So in the end I gave up on the scientific and went with the  impressionistic. It's self-indulgent, something that I don't normally go in for here, but what the heck.

For a final word on privatising public spaces before the jump, I turn things over to Steve Earle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Columbian Exchange

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

No, wait: When Lugalzagesi was king in Umma, Akkad came against him and defeated him. Sargon, whose father was a gardener, the cupbearer of Ur-Zababa, became king, the king of Akkad, who built Akkad; he ruled for 56 years. My point? Meet the first royal gardener. We haven't even got to history yet, and we've got a king who plants paradises and brings the trees and fruits of foreign lands home to flourish.

It's a metaphor for kingship. Or a kind of propaganda. Call it what you want, and make an appointment with this book. It doesn't make Sargon nice. Kids stayed off Sargon's yard. What it brings home to everyone but the  most blinkered Whig historian ever is that the second that Columbus got home, the rulers of Spain and everywhere else were trying to grow seeds or cuttings. It's one of the things that kings do, and anyone who doesn't think that the inhabitants of the New World were doing exactly the same thing, and, I suppose, disrupting their previously perfectly harmonious relationship with Nature is missing an important aspect of the changes that were radiating across the continent from the first points of contact. (If you dig up this book and it doesn't include references to Pima Indians working wheat before first contact with the new California missions, my apologies. I got the factoid from Bancroft, but this is more recent, to put it mildly.)

So what? It's a big deal. You may have heard of the potato. It's called "the Columbian Exchange," and it's big on the Internet right now. Why? Because it's a big thing in history? How big? The biggest. Let's go to Wikipedia.

Hmm. So. Okay.
- Potatoes were big, 'till the Potato Famine, which was a big deal, and the damn Brits' fault somehow.
-Maize  and manioc virtually replaced Africa's indigenous crops. (Well, actually, it's a bit more complicated, but point.)
-Horses were a big deal on "the American plains." Yeah, but no. Please, fewer stereotypes,  more appreciation of the real west, up in the mountains, and even including sucky Albertans, thank you very much.

Oh, yeah. Wikipedia. So also the Columbian exchange led to--
-Tomato sauce got to Italy!
-And tomatoes reached France!
Coffee and sugar cane reached the Caribbean!
-Chilis got to India! And paprika reached Hungary!
Cats! Artichokes! Amaranth! They all switched continents!

Seriously, Wikipedia? I mean, it could be worse. You  have a list of all the exchanged plants, and that's helpful. We don't have to hear Alfred Crosby's nonsense about the great earthworm/honeybee invasion of North America (kernel of fact in farrago of fiction), but the rest of it is a bit silly. Can we do better?

We'd sure as heck better, because as the article notes, 5 of the world's top 20 crops originated in the New World, while 61% of agricultural production by value in the United States today is Old World. These are pretty tantalising facts. They suggest enormous historic changes. Well, what might they have been?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Plantation of the Atlantic, X: Squanto's Town

Let's begin with ....say... Stephen Greenblatt. You're probably too young to remember when the New Historicism was actually new, but trust me. There was a time. We history graduate students had perhaps a different take (enough with this guy Shakespeare already!) but Greenblatt's first blast of the trumpet was a revelation. The big Renaissance figures were into "self-fashioning." In Chancellor Moore's Utopia and in the allegory-laden portraits of Hans Holbein and the Northern Mannerists (I'm not the first guy to overinterpret paintings), Greenblatt detected a conscious effort to fashion an image that could only be understood in their historic context.

It went on from there. At the risk of trivialising a powerful insight, men are lying liars.

Oh, sure. Women, too. But if you're old enough, you remember Linda Ronstadt as the First Consort of California, and you remember her husband for his brave but indiscreet repudiation of the would-be iron law of historical causality. "That was then, this is now," he said. Don't ask your prince to be consistent and unswerving or even honest. Ask him to do the right thing at the time. Whether as a guide to moral behaviour or to the Benjamins, everyone gets to be the own subject of their own stories, and that's how history has to take them.

Unless the stakes are high. Then, any kind of high wire act is okay. Say that you have an Indian from Massachusetts. He crosses the Atlantic at least twice. He has the ear of the Governor of Plymouth, who happens to be an inveterate promoter of transatlantic colonisation. Say that this Indian dies a man of the highest distinction, in an English colony erected on the very soil of his hometown.

Wouldn't you at least wonder what kind of story might make him the subject? And the answer is that no, you would not. Because once you've made Indians subjects instead of objects in the story of the plantation of the Atlantic, you've broken the corn dam, and the flood is like to carry you over the mountains to disaster.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gather the Bones, 12: Disembedded Capital

Two inspirations for this post: first, from Benjamin Woolley's brilliant Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America, the fate of George Casson and John (Sicklemore) Ratcliffe. This one has been waiting for a while, and was much on my mind as I tackled A. Martin Byers. Second, a blogger I deeply respect jumped in on the anti-Mormon sentiment burbling around the current American Presidential election campaign. Since it continues to be my opinion that we're not going to get American history until we start taking the Book of Mormon seriously, I'm going to have another go at the Angel Moroni's revelation.

Anyway, prolegomena, check. Horror? Starting now.

The place is Tsenacomoco, Virginia between the Fall Line and the shore. More specifically, it is the fall hunting camp of the weroance Opechancanough, rich in manitou. He is attended by a skilled quiyoughcosuck, people seeking his favour, and one of the trousered men from beyond the sea, who appears to be promising to aid the weroance in making war on the Monacans above the Line, who control access to stone.

For stone is important to the people who flock to Opechancanough's hunting camp, and scarce on the outflow silt of the lowlands. The weroance surrounds himself with a guard of twenty men armed with macahuitls, while many of the poor who attend him depend on sharp shells for the heavy work of butchering. In this fall of 1607, the weroance does not yet understand that the advent of the trousered men means that the stone, copper, and crystal of the mountains is no longer precious. On the contrary, they have impressed locals by simply throwing their stone ballast by the way.

For whatever reason, not all trousered men are equal, and a common sailor, George Casson, has fallen into Opechancanough's hands at a bad time. He is tied hand and foot to two stakes, set between two fires, and when the weroance tires of berating him, a quiyoughcosuck (probably) slips up behind him

[B]randishing mussel shells and reeds. Using the edges of the shells as blades,and the reeds as cheese-wires, the executioner systematically set about cutting through the flesh and sinews of Casson's joints, stretched out between the staves. As each of his limbs was removed,it was cst upon the fire, until only his head and trunk were left, writhing helplessly on the blood-soaked ground.
Turning the torso over, so Casson faced the ground, the executioner carefully cut a slit around the neck, then slipped a mussel shell beneath the skin. He proceeded to ease off the scalp, and, turning the body back over again, gently unpeeled Casson's face from the skull. He then slit open Casson's abdomen, and pulled out his stomach and bowels, which steamed in the cold winter air. Casson's remains then joined the rest of his body to burn on the fire, until only his dried bones were left, which, according to White, were gathered up and deposited in a 'by-room' in one of the tents. (Woolley, 114.)

Casson was already in bad odour down at Jamestown. He was linked to one of the early Governors of the Jamestown Colony, a John Sicklemore. Unfortunately for himself, if he dis so innocently, Sicklemore travelled under an alias, by which he was better known. He was John Ratcliffe, one of the early governors, although he had already lost a power struggle by the time a condemned man, another common sailor, blurted out his secret identity in a vain attempt to stay his own execution. Ratcliffe is thus a bit of a mystery, upon which others have attempted to build further. A Ratcliffe received a major land grant in Beaufort County, North Carolina, and only two Ratcliffes are known in America in this timeframe to have received it. There is Ratcliffe himself, and a Roanoke Colony man, and the myths to which I refer attach this grant to the Roanoke man, who must then have survived the failure of that colony and shown up at Jamestown a generation later to receive his due, and in all this never recorded. At least, in a surviving text. (That is, if I read the sanitised account in Wikipedia correctly.)

Which is all very unlikely, and the only reason that we attend it is that in the winter of 1609, Govenor John (Sicklemore) Ratcliffe died the same death as George Casson, except at the hands of the weroance known to history as King Powhatten.

That's right. A former and recent Governor of Jamestown with powerful patrons at home was stretched out between the fires and ritually butchered by the great Powhatten. And, in later times, this was taken as a thing that happened by the men who attended on Powhatten and sued for his daughters' hands. Because that's the way that things happened in the Seventeenth Century --on both sides of the Atlantic. Although on the eastern shore the king set the quarters about the city rather than reserving the bones to his private ossuary. Bearing in mind that Sicklemore may have been a former Catholic priest and informer, his fate might have an element of ironic justice to it.

Either way,we have a very different use of the same thing: people disembodied and thus turned into a sort of symbolic capital. Powhatten had the bones of a governor, Opechancanough a mere common sailor, and so we see how Powhatten on the way out in 1607, was back on top in 1618. (He was even dispossessed of his capital, a part of modern Richomond, when the  weroance Parahunt sold it to John Smith for a likely slave boy, Henry Spelman.

Powhatten's movements from one to another "capital," illustrate the anthropological meaning of the phrase "disembodied capital." Ever since Nimrod erected the Tower of Babel, rulers have attempted to register new departures and social revolutions by building themselves new residence cities. Sargon's Akkad may have been one. I've already talked about Epaminondas' move with Messene; Constantine's Constantinople marks an epoch. St. Petersburg is the model of record for Washington, D.C. One could take my basic argument and make an overly romantic move with it and have Cahokia a model for Washington. More defensibly, you could make Teotihuacan the model for Cahokia via intermediaries.

I'm going to try to unpack this with the history of technology: specifically, the technology of Mode IV stone tools. But first I'm going to talk about Mormons.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Running Away to the Air, 5: Wooden Wings

Have you ever been told that "The wings of the Spitfires that won the Battle of Britain were made of British Columbia spruce?" Probably not. Chances are, you're not British Columbian. It's untrue, but you might have been persuaded by more plausible versions,such as that it was the Hawker Hurricane or De Havilland Mosquito. (And you will have heard stories about this.) Actually, BC's aeronautical-grade lumber was staked in a frenzy of ration allocations in 1942, and went into machines like this and this.  But who wants to hear that? Certainly not anyone who has ever lived north of the Skookumchuk.

Because you've felt the November rains.

And you've gone out to the cut blocks in old crummies smelling of wet rain gear. I remember being told, rather arrogantly, in Toronto in the early 90s, during one or another manufactured standoff in the woods, that my interlocuter would prefer to see Vancouver Island evacuated and turned into a nature preserve.

(The scenery isn't from Vancouver Island, but it is authentically straight out of the cutblocks, so here's the Be Good Tanyas again illustrating the point.)

It's because there's just not a lot of people out there (some half million, but far fewer than that on the northern half) and a great many trees. Old time boosters used to dream of integrated regional development, that the sawmill would bring houses and schools, and hobby farms, and garages, then real farms and factories; finally a Gothic city hall and a militia regiment and a university and a cathedral.

It didn't work out that way. Perhaps it might have. Perhaps it was starting to happen in the 1920s, but then it stopped, sometime in the 1920s. Some mills still run, but they shed more jobs all the time. The rest have shut down, sweeping their towns away with them: Ocean Falls, Gold River... Sometimes the community fails, sometimes it doesn't. People have to live somewhere.

It's like history reached just so far, like the tide.  So it's some consolation that we floated out a few wooden wings before it was too late. Does it matter whether it was for Spitfires, or Hurricanes, or Mosquitoes, or these? They all played their part.

I almost gave up on this post. We've past the anniversary of Operation Typhoon, and all the old German excuses about the quality of Russian roads are being dredged up again, as though "we couldn't campaign" is an excuse an army can use. So I thought about writing about armies, and roads, and pavements. But I wanted to check whether I've used some of my quality anecdotes already. Besides, this morning, a CBC sportscaster talked about wooden aerodynamic test models of the Avro Arrow: wo Canadian patriotic urban myths in one. And on top of that, going through my notes on the wartime run of Aviation, I came on one of Robert Neville's editorials from the fall of 1944, patiently explaining why the rapidly rising national debt didn't portend a postwar apocalypse, that the crucial thing was maintaining economic growth, not stringent austerity.

Now, you've never heard of Robert Neville. He certainly doesn't have a Wikipedia page. He's just a former editor-in-chief of the McGraw-Hill stable of technical monthlies who cranked out wise, thoughtful editorials each month for many years. Now, he's gone and forgotten, and the same things still get said, again and again,   into the same dull, uncomprehension. Thinking about Robert Neville is a reminder, if a reminder were needed, that people have been patiently saying wise and sensible things for many years. And that we've been ignoring them and substituting our own preferred narratives.

For example, that the RAF somehow "forgot" that you could make planes out of wood (presumably over five years in the late 30s, because allegedly in 1932 it was still building wooden planes indistinguishable  from the aircraft of WWI), and was blindsided by the wonderful Mosquito when it appeared out of nowhere in 1939. It's not true. And not true in a usefully informative way.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gather the Bones, 11: 1450: Turtle Island Before Columbus: Or, The Conquest of Paradise By Something I'm Not Really Responsible For

Look! It's snide mockery of Charles C. Mann. And a reluctant appreciation of John Ralston Saul, not afraid to issue a book that rips off the Canadian Bandaid and sinks like a stone. Ordinarily not the kind of compatriot that I appreciate, (Cry me a river, Tubby),but I commend his courage.

So let's start with a review of the facts at hand.

No, let's start with today's dubious musical provocation. At the end of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Julia Ward Howe references Christ, "who was born across the sea." I've heard it said (strawman alert!) that she captures the problem of American Christianity.* It's a foreign import with no authentically American roots.

 Yeah, right. If you want to pull the other one** after this, I'll dig up snake-handlers.  

No. Wait again. I'll dig up snake handlers anyway.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Plantation of the Atlantic, IX: The Road to Norumbega

Eben Norton Horsford might deserve to go down in history as the single worst American patent troll of the Nineteenth Century. I know that would be a pretty impressive accomplishment when we look at how much money Andrew Carnegie extracted out of the Bessemer process, or find Linus Yale's patent locks in archaeological sites from before history began, but at least those early locks are made of wood, and, unlikely as it might seem, one can only be skeptical about the American rival patent to Bessemer's on the basis of an absence of evidence. Horsford, on the other hand, managed to make a fortune by "inventing" baking powder well after Oetker and Bird had done the same in Europe.

What's more, although I may be hallucinating a memory, I think that there's a scene in Little Lord Fauntleroy where the intermittently obnoxious Hull is asked to show off American democratic culture in song, and stumbles through a rendition of the "Golden Griddle Song." Memory, fantasy, whatever. The next stop on my personal free-association train finishes off the line of thought.

So perhaps some minor sense of inadequacy with regards to astronauts, or, on the other hand, inanimate carbon rods. And more; for while Horsford was rich, respected, and philanthropic, he was also a Bostoner. And nearby Newport, Rhode Island, had this.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Eighteenth Century: Building a Better Future Through Higher Energy Density?

No "series" post here, but I missed a moment in the blogosphere a few weeks ago when people were talking about how the transition to high intensity energy use (burning coal, that is), created modernity. So this whole global warming thing has us back on the road to the caves, or something. It's nice to see John Landers' closely argued thesis finally get some traction.

On the other hand, I was disappointed by The Field and the Forge. It's not that I disagreed with it or anything. I just thought that Landers was offering the wrong global explanatory framework, one that has already gone sideways in Chinese history. So now that the moment has passed me by, my unfashionably late thoughts.

Also, links to myself: this isn't one of my little series, but it is a sequel to this, this, and above all, to this. Above all, it's bout taking Daniel Szechi seriously.
So let's get  in the mood!

So what does coal have to do with romanticising the Celts this time? Here's the meditation: sure, "The Skye Boat Song" is another sporran-full of schmaltz. ( I was going to post the Real McKenzies' version, but that particular selection challenged my heteronormative assumptions, and how often does an old-fashioned historian get to say "heteronormative?" Besides,  it's not a particularly impressive reinterpretation.) Old Kenneth McKellar, on the other hand, is pretty powerfully affecting. At least, to me, but then I've probably been exposed to more of his over-orchestrated prime than most. The Skye Boat Song is about the whole "lost cause" thing, and having an old man sing it seems to catch what the song is about (now) very well. "Seems," he said. There those Hanoverian spin doctors go again. People get old. Countries and political options don't. Find a way to buy enough people (and, admittedly, it would have to be a very large "lots"), and the Jacobite restoration could happen tomorrow.

What's really going on is simple enough. If you can't put a solid, rational argument for preferring the Hanoverian dynasty to the Stuarts, you use illegitimate rhetorical devices instead. If that makes the practice of history harder two centuries down the road, well that's a problem for the historians of two centuries in the future.
That is, if you care enough to be seen making bad arguments in public, something that good people don't do unless they think there's something important at stake. So it's time to talk about what's important, and where it leads.

Sigh. It's money, of course. And the conjunction of money and politics and guilty, weak arguments leads to foreign military misadventures, and corrupt people getting rich. But before I mutter about how the more things change and retire to cultivate my garden, I am going to stop and propose that it also led to the industrial revolution, in a much clearer way than the notional proposition that people suddenly discovered that coal burned real good.