Nominate your favorite history book!

November 24, 2006

Still looking for nominations for your favorite history books of all time. You can leave nominations in the comments to this post, or here.

Please do.

JFK assassination, 43 years on

November 24, 2006

Texas history teachers got either a reprieve or a roadblock, depending on their view, when most schools scheduled vacation during the week of the anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. Generally news outlets highlight the anniversary, and it becomes a good time to discuss the events in history classes.

Classroom discussion openings are available for a broad range of topics in social studies: general government, presidential succession, politics and history of the 1960s, Vietnam, Cuba, the Cold War, U.S. international relations, Lyndon Baines Johnson, racism, civil rights, etc., etc. I have not yet been able to arrange a field trip to the 6th Floor Museum during the week, but I still hope to do that some time.

The assassination and the rumors of conspiracies that have swirled for years offer a good opportunity to discuss the methods and tools of historians, and just how we know what we claim to know about history. It’s a good opportunity to discuss how science can be used to increase our knowledge of history, and it’s a great way to introduce kids to the sort of skepticism that keeps all academic inquiry honest.

How is the day commemorated in Dealey Plaza, the site of the attack? Generally there are no formal activities, though often a wreath is placed there or at the JFK memorial a block away. Tourists come. Vendors try to sell them stuff.

One of the oddest sets of vendors for any historical site, I think, is the “newspaper” hawkers who sell tabloids touting favorite conspiracy ideas. The Dallas Morning News featured a page 1 story on this strange business, on the Sunday prior to the anniversary. Vendors dodge cops because they are unlicensed — which also means that technically they cannot sell the papers, but must ask for donations.

Another key milestone is close to passing: Only one member of the Dallas Police Department remains who was on duty that day. Again, The Dallas Morning News carried the story. Sgt. Graham H. Pierce is not yet retired, but with 43 years on the force, he will be retiring soon.

History sources pass continually. Who will capture their stories for posterity? A class might make a year-long project of interviewing such a man, preparing a document to give him at retirement, to reside in local libraries, and to provide the grist for future historians looking into whatever wild conspiracy claims might be made in the next decade, or century.

Quirks of history: Customer service circa 1909

November 24, 2006

Interesting correspondence with a railroad regarding a misapprehended hat, in 1909.

1. Can you imagine any common carrier institution taking such care with a customer today?

2. Can you imagine any such chain of correspondence in e-mail, or by telephone?

3. Can you build a lesson plan for a history class around this correspondence?

Further thoughts: This story puts me in mind of two others that turned out quite differently. The first is the (possibly apocryphal) story of Abraham Lincoln’s borrowing a book to read, and stashing it between the logs of the cabin when he put out the candle. After a nighttime rain in which the water ran down the side of the cabin and soaked the book, Lincoln returned the book to its owner and at great personal expense replaced it, the story goes — meriting the the “Honest Abe” moniker. The book was reputed to have been a biography of George Washington.

The second story is that of American businessman William Boyce, lost in a London fog and late for a business appointment in 1909. Out of the fog came a boy in uniform who offered to guide Boyce to his appointment, and did — and then refused a tip because, as he explained, he was a Scout, and Scouts did not take payment for good deeds. The legend is that Boyce later met with the founder of Scouting in Britain, Lord Baden-Powell, and then carried Scouting to the United States, incorporating the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. The Scout was never identified, but is instead honored in Scout lore as the “unknown Scout.”

Buffalo tribute to unknown Scout at Gilwell ParkStatue of an American Bison, erected at Scouting’s training center in Gilwell Park, England, in honor of the unknown Scout who helped businessman William D. Boyce find his way, and thereby played a key role in the founding of Boy Scouting in the U.S.

Carnival of Bad History #11

November 24, 2006

Yes, it’s called “Carnival of Bad History,” but it’s really dedicated to smoking out, and smoking, bad history.  It’s rather in the spirit in which this blog got started, to straighten out the bent and crooked stories of history that lead away from the truth (which is almost always much, much more interesting).

So go see the latest, Carnival of Bad History No. 11, over at Philobiblon — a blog by a journalist named Natalie Bennett.

There is an interesting skew to non-U.S. material in this version.  U.S.-ophiles will be left pondering this post on “unknown” Islam in America prior to the current era, however.   World history and world geography teachers will find sources on Stonehenge in this post, lamenting a Goose & Grimm cartoon.

Go check it out.

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