400 years of river history: NY celebrates Hudson, Champlain and Fulton in 2009

July 26, 2008

Okay, it’s the 202nd anniversary of Robert Fulton’s historic, 32-hour steamboat trip from New York City to Albany, demonstrating the viability of steamboat travel for commerce on the Hudson.  But for such a historic river, why not delay that fete for a couple of years and roll it into the 400th anniversary of Champlain’s exploration of the lake that now bears his name, and Henry Hudson’s discover of the mouth of the river to the south, the Hudson, whose mouth is home to New York City.

400 years of Hudson River history in 2009 - Hudson, Champlain, Fulton

400 years of Hudson River history in 2009 - Hudson, Champlain, Fulton

And so 2009 marks the Quadricentennial Celebration on the Hudson, honoring Hudson, Fulton and Champlain.

Alas, the committee to coordinate the celebration along the length of the river was not put in place until February, so there is a scramble.  Local celebrations will proceed, but the overall effort may fall short of the 1909 tricentennial, with replicas of Hudson’s ship, Half Moon, and Champlain’s boats, and Fulton’s steamer, and parades, and festivals, and . . .

Still, the history is notable, and the stories worth telling.

Most of my students in U.S. and world history over the past five years have been almost completely unaware of any of these stories.  One kid was familiar with the Sons of Champlin, the rock band of Bill Champlin, because his father played the old vinyl records.  Most students know nothing of the lore of Hudson, the mutiny and the old Dutch stories that have thunder caused by Hudson and his loyal crewman bowling in the clouds over the Catskills.  They don’t even know the story of Rip van Winkle, since it’s not in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) list and so gets left out of even elementary school curricula.  Is this an essential piece of culture that American children should know?  American adults won’t know it, if we don’t teach it.

Henry Hudson, from a woodcut

Henry Hudson, from a woodcut

Explorations and settlement of Quebec by Samuel de Champlain get overlooked in post-NCLB texts.  Texts tend to make mention of the French settlement of Canada, but placing these explorations in the larger frame of the drive to find a route through or around North America to get to China, or the often-bitter contests between French, English, Spanish, Dutch and other European explorers and settlers gets lost.  French-speaking Cajuns just show up in histories of Texas and the Southwest, with little acknowledgment given to the once-great French holdings in North America, nor the incredible migration of French from Acadia to Louisiana that gives the State of Louisiana such a distinctive culture today.

French explorer and settler Samuel de Champlain

French explorer and settler Samuel de Champlain

Champlain’s explorations and settlement set up the conflict between England and France that would result in the French and Indian War in the U.S., and would not play out completely until after the Louisiana Purchase and War of 1812.

Fulton’s steamboat success ushered in the age of the modern, non-sail powered navies, and also highlights the role geography plays in the development of technology. The Hudson River is ideally suited for navigation from its mouth, north to present-day Albany.  This is such a distance over essentially calm waters that sail would have been preferred, except that the winds on the Hudson were not so reliable as ocean winds.  Steam solved the problem.  Few other rivers in America would have offered such an opportunity for commercial development — so the Hudson River helped drive the age of steam.

New York City remains an economic powerhouse.  New York Harbor remains one of the most active trading areas in the world.  Robert Fulton helped propel New York ahead of Charleston, Baltimore and Boston — a role in New York history that earned him a place in for New York in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.  The steamboat monopoly Fulton helped establish was a key player in Gibbons v. Ogden, the landmark Supreme Court case in which the Court held that Congress has the power to regulate commerce between states — an upholding of the Commerce Clause against the old structures created under colonial rule and the Articles of Confederation.

Robert Fultons statute in the U.S. Capitol - photo by Robert Lienhard

Robert Fulton's statute in the U.S. Capitol - photo by Robert Lienhard

400 years of history along the Hudson, a river of great prominence in world history.  History teachers should watch those festivities for new sources of information, new ideas for classroom exercises.


Rachel Carson: Nice lady scientist, no mass murderer

July 26, 2008

Aaron Swartz has the summary.  Start with the introduction here, and see the full text with links here.

He goes easy on the hoaxers, those who cast stones at Ms. Carson, but you still get the idea if you read the article.

Typewriter of the moment: Douglas Adams

July 26, 2008

Here’s a typewriter you can buy. NV Books in Great Wolford, Warwickshire, offers a first edition copy of Douglas Adams’ masterpiece, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, together with the autographed typewriter upon which he wrote it:

Douglas Adams's typewriter, a Hermes Standard 8, used to write the novel, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams’s typewriter, a Hermes Standard 8, used to write the novel, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It’s yours, for just $25,112.92 (Today. Exchange rates may make the price wobble a bit). Abe Books in Denver lists the advertisement in the U.S.

THE HITCH HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, First Edition in FINE Condition. Sold together with DOUGLAS ADAMS’ TYPEWRITER owned by Adams (whilst writing ‘Hitch Hikers’) and SIGNED IN THICK FELT PEN BY THE AUTHOR across the original casing

Description: First Edition Hardback. A mouthwatering copy of this modern classic, the dustwrapper retains all of the notoriously fugitive blue and is wholly unfaded. The front image and lettering are bright and sharp and the book overall is in exceptional condition. Sold together with A UNIQUE ARTEFACT owned by Douglas Adams in the late 1970s, his Hermes Standard 8 typewriter. This is a thrilling object to possess with a fascinating history. It is as certain as can be that Adams wrote his most famous work ‘The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy’ on this Hermes Standard 8. Aside from the supporting provenance, it still contains much evidence of his ownership and regular use. It bears an anti-apartheid sticker on one side of the object and is boldly signed across the front casing by Adams in his unmistakeable hand. It comes housed in its cardboard box which Adams used to transport it, namely packaging from Simon and Schuster, originally containing copies of Adams and Terry Jones’ collaboration ‘Starship Titanic’. An address label to Adams’ office at the Digital Village, London, remains stuck on the box too. The typewriter itself is in attractive condition to display, but is entirely unrestored and as precisely as it was when it was owned by Adams. It is frequently mentioned by all who knew him that writing was often a torment for him and as such his lateness was legendary. He once said ‘I love deadlines. I love the whoosing sound they make as they fly by’, and such was his difficulty in producing work on time that in a well-documented act of desperation his publishers once locked him in a hotel room until he typed enough pages to be let out! The keys of his typewriter all still bear the marks of Adams’ tortured labour. Significantly, the ‘x’ key is particularly discoloured. A unique piece of literary history then and a fabulous talking point, and simply the ultimate possession for a Douglas Adams fan. It is almost superfluous to mention that it is also a very secure investment for the future. A little bit about its subsequent history: Adams signed and donated the typewriter to a wildlife charity auction in 1998, and it was then kept in private hands for several years before being sold on. Adams was passionate about wildlife and in keeping with his memory (and his original intention for this item), a donation will be made to Rhino Recovery with this sale. ABOUT US: It is our philosophy at N V to provide the astute collector with high quality books for pleasure and investment, whilst offering a service that is always friendly and helpful. EVERY listing has a sharp digital image of the EXACT item(s) that you are perusing – with more photographs available on request. The accompanying description is meticulous and we guarantee that all items are authentic. Nevertheless, you are welcome to call us FREE on (0800) 083 0281 with any queries, or on +44 (1608) 674181 from overseas. In the meantime we wish you every success with your collecting. Bookseller Inventory # 000002

I can’t improve on Boing Boing’s commentary. Steampunk beat me to the story, too. (The typewriter was sold as a benefit for RHINO by Christie’s on November 30, 2005, for £2,400, about $4,100.)

Your students may not know who Douglas Adams was — Adams died prematurely in 2001, at 49, of a sudden and unexpected heart attack. He was working on the movie adaptation for Hitch Hiker’s Guide.

Douglas Adams, photo by Chris Ogle; DouglasAdams.com

Douglas Adams, photo by Chris Ogle; DouglasAdams.com

Hitch Hiker’s Guide started out as a BBC4 radio series, airing in 1978. The book version appeared shortly after that — I think I first read it in 1979, an interim year when I really lit up small corners of Utah. The book was immensely funny, very witty, and self-conscious in a way that most pure humor writing isn’t. Adams appeared to be familiar with science deeply. The jokes work on several levels. The book was popular with friends in public broadcasting who had heard the BBC4 series, and with scientists in laboratories.

One of the NPR stations in Washington, D.C., ran the series shortly after I moved there (WAMU? WETA? I forget which). Use of an Eagles instrumental for the theme caught my ear. Eagles? This series seemed blessed with the best wit, best writing, and best music.

Not so with special effects in the television series. The script was inspired, the narrative effects were fine, but special effects were of the cheesy, early-Dr. Who variety — which was okay, because it put the focus on the script and the story. And the story was the thing.

Through much of that time I was deeply involved in land management issues. We worked on wilderness, the old RARE II wilderness designation process, and segued into the Sagebrush Rebellion, where I found myself deep into rebel territory when the fighting broke out (think of Jackie Vernon’s story of being in Japan when World War II broke out; saying he didn’t really know what to do, he “became a kamikaze copilot”). Hitch Hiker’s Guide opens with Arthur Dent protesting the demolition of his house to make a path for a new thruway, with the authorities telling Dent that he had plenty of time to protest since the notice of demolition was posted in a town only a few miles away, and since he missed the protest period, he shouldn’t complain. He is “rescued” from this situation by a friend named Ford Prefect — like the little European Ford auto — who tells Arthur not to worry about the house; Ford turns out to be an alien, and he knows the Earth is about to be destroyed to make way for an inter-galactic thruway. The destruction crew notes with no irony to the Earthlings that the notice of destruction was posted on a nearby planet, and Earth simply missed the protest period. Ah. A good summary of many land management decisions.

We found comradeship with people who understood that, once a decision had been made, often the best thing to do was remember not to panic, pick up one’s towel and hitch a ride to the next venue. I would not have been much surprised to turn to the appendices of an official BLM report and see that BLM had determined the answer to be “42,” and that a study group had been appointed for further study.

42. 42 is the answer.

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is numeric in Douglas Adams‘ series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the story, a “simple answer” to The Ultimate Question is requested from the computer Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. Unfortunately, The Ultimate Question itself is unknown, suggesting on an allegorical level that it is more important to ask the right questions than to seek definite answers.

Others have wondered about the number.

In the original series, Arthur Dent has a Scrabble™ game with him. At some point it mystically spells out, “What do you get if you multiply six by nine? Forty-two.”

6 times 9 is 42 — except in base-13. But as Adams himself said, he did not write jokes in base-13

I have not seen the movie.

Douglas Adams, perhaps pondering the meaning of life, and everything

Douglas Adams, perhaps pondering the meaning of life, and everything

“So long, and thanks for the fish.”

Big tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Pamela Bumsted, who pointed this out to me.

Snap Shots gone; got a problem with that?

July 26, 2008

Over the past year three or four people have complained about Snap Shots.  No one said they like them.

They finally got to me.  I turned ’em off.

If you have an opinion about that, put it in comments.

Don’t know what Snap Shots are?  Ignore this post.

%d bloggers like this: