Remembering Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

November 20, 2017


154 years ago this week, Abraham Lincoln redefined the Declaration of Independence and the goals of the American Civil War, in a less-than-two-minute speech dedicating part of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as a cemetery and final resting place for soldiers who died in the fierce battle fought there the previous July 1 through 3.

Interesting news if you missed it: More photos from the Library of Congress collection may contain images of Lincoln. The photo above, detail from a much larger photo, had been thought for years to be the only image of Lincoln from that day. The lore is that photographers, taking a break from former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Everett’ s more than two-hour oration, had expected Lincoln to go on for at least an hour. His short speech caught them totally off-guard, focusing their cameras or taking a break. Lincoln finished before any photographer got a lens open to capture images.

Images of people in these photos are very small, and difficult to identify. Lincoln was not identified at all until 1952:

The plate lay unidentified in the Archives for some fifty-five years until in 1952, Josephine Cobb, Chief of the Still Pictures Branch, recognized Lincoln in the center of the detail, head bared and probably seated. To the immediate left (Lincoln’s right) is Lincoln’s bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, and to the far right (beyond the limits of the detail) is Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania. Cobb estimated that the photograph was taken about noontime, just after Lincoln arrived at the site and before Edward Everett’s arrival, and some three hours before Lincoln gave his now famous address.

On-line, the Abraham Lincoln Blog covered the discovery that two more photographic plates from the 1863 speech at Gettysburg may contain images of Lincoln in his trademark stove-pipe hat. Wander over to the story at the USA Today site, and you can see just how tiny are these detail images in relation to the photographs themselves. These images are tiny parts of photos of the crowd at Gettysburg. (The story ran in USA Today last Thursday or Friday — you may be able to find a copy of that paper buried in the returns pile at your local Kwikee Mart.) Digital technologies, and these suspected finds of Lincoln, should prompt a review of every image from Gettysburg that day.

To the complaints of students, I have required my junior U.S. history students to memorize the Gettysburg Address. In Irving I found a couple of students who had memorized it for an elementary teacher years earlier, and who still could recite it. Others protested, until they learned the speech. This little act of memorization appears to me to instill confidence in the students that they can master history, once they get it done.

To that end, I discovered a good, ten-minute piece on the address in Ken Burns’ “Civil War” (in Episode 5). On DVD, it’s a good piece for classroom use, short enough for a bell ringer or warm-up, detailed enough for a deeper study, and well done, including the full text of the address itself performed by Sam Waterson.

Edward Everett, the former Massachusetts senator and secretary of state, was regarded as the greatest orator of the time. A man of infinite grace, and a historian with some sense of events and what the nation was going through, Everett wrote to Lincoln the next day after their speeches:

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Interesting note: P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula noted in 2007 that the Gettysburg Address was delivered “seven score and four years ago.” Of course, that will never happen again. I’ll wager he was the first to notice that odd juxtaposition on the opening line.

Resources for students and teachers:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Stroll through history: 100th History Carnival

July 6, 2011

The Century edition, 100th Carnival of History is up on the internet, over at Walking the Berkshires.  Well worth the stroll.

Who says history isn’t sexy or exciting?  Tim Abbott, in the text discussing entrants to the 100th History Carnival, tossed off this gem:

And then we have certain minted pneumismatic artifacts of scholarly interest blogged about at Hypervocal.  Be forewarned that these may be considered NSFW in some quarters.  Are they ancient Roman brothel tokens, or possibly pornographic gaming pieces?  At right, a proposed design for a modern token, suitable for use by disgraced US Congressmen in exchange for sexting services, appropriately priced at “sex asses”, if I remember my High School Latin.

You’ll have to go read it there if you don’t know immediately what he’s talking about.

Other pointers to great posts, with more that I haven’t mentioned:

Now:  Is there some way to sneak a copy of the 100th History Carnival into the e-mail of every member of the Texas Lege?


Badly-needed fable for our times

November 6, 2010

When you’re fed up with the hysteria that Glenn Beck offers instead of true history, when your neighbor complains about how government regulation should “get off my lawn,” point them to this story.

It’s truer than Beck, righter than Limbaugh, and it deserves a wider audience:


Tip of the old scrub brush to Crooks & Liars Video Cafe, John Gray in Cincinnati, Ohio (whoever he is), and to Thom Hartmann, the performer of the piece, who seems like a regular Joe on the level.

A transcript, below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

SBOE dare not say his name: “Obama”

May 3, 2010

What?  The Texas State Board of Education is doing such a shoddy job of writing social studies standards that they don’t even name the current president of the U.S.?

It’s a cautionary tale of overprescribing, and of looking at everything as if it has some ulterior motive.  But is there any rational reason why the SBOE refuses to utter the name “Obama?”

President Barack Obama

Who is this man? Texas social studies standards let his identity remain a mystery, despite the historical significance of his election.

SBOE should stop gutting social studies standards and vote to simply accept the updates provided by teachers, historians, economists and geographers.  The process is out of control, embarrassing to Texas, and damaging to education.

Grading Texas has the story (from TSTA), here in its entirety (but go check out that blog):

April 28, 2010

The president has a name: it’s Barack Obama

TSTA President Rita Haecker created a stir among legislators today when she testified, at a hearing hosted by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, that the State Board of Education, in its recent rewrite of social studies curriculum standards, had refused to name President Barack Obama.

That bit of news seemed to catch several lawmakers by surprise. They already knew that the right-wing bloc on the board had attempted to rewrite history. But to go so far as to omit the name of the historic, first African American president of the United States seemed preposterous, even by conservative leader Don (the Earth is 5,000 years old) McLeroy’s standards.

Haecker was correct. Barack Obama’s name, so far, has not been included in the history curriculum standards on which the SBOE is scheduled to take a final vote next month. The standards do note the “election of first black president” as a significant event of 2008, but they don’t say who that black president is.

Haecker urged legislators to make changes, if necessary, to the curriculum setting process to protect educator input and ensure that “scholarly, academic research and findings aren’t dismissed or diminished at the whim of a board member’s own political or religious view of the world.”

State Education Commissioner Robert Scott accepted the caucus’ invitation to voluntarily testify on the curriculum adoption process. He said his and the Texas Education Agency’s role was mostly in technical support of the SBOE.

Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe of Lampasas, who also had been invited, declined to attend, even though the caucus had offered to pay her travel expenses.

Predictably, Lowe was skewered for her failure to show up by the mostly Democratic legislators who attended the caucus hearing. Lowe must have figured it was better to be skewered in absentia than in person.

You can read Rita Haecker’s prepared testimony here:

Oh, go on — you can say it — tell your friends:

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150 years ago, a book that changed history: Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

November 25, 2009

150 years ago today Charles Darwin’s “big book,” On the Origin of Species, was first published.  The entire publication run of more than a thousand copies sold out within a few days, making it a certified best-seller of its day.

A rare copy of the first edition, found in the loo of an old house, sold at auction at Christie’s for US$172,000.

Olivia Judson’s already got her day-after blog post up at the New York Times site, talking about a key issue in evolution:  Extinction.  She already blogged on the importance of the Big Book.

And the “Origin” changed everything. Before the “Origin,” the diversity of life could only be catalogued and described; afterwards, it could be explained and understood. Before the “Origin,” species were generally seen as fixed entities, the special creations of a deity; afterwards, they became connected together on a great family tree that stretches back, across billions of years, to the dawn of life. Perhaps most importantly, the “Origin” changed our view of ourselves. It made us as much a part of nature as hummingbirds and bumblebees (or humble-bees, as Darwin called them); we, too, acquired a family tree with a host of remarkable and distinguished ancestors.

The reason the “Origin” was so powerful, compelling and persuasive, the reason Darwin succeeded while his predecessors failed, is that in it he does not just describe how evolution by natural selection works. He presents an enormous body of evidence culled from every field of biology then known. He discusses subjects as diverse as pigeon breeding in Ancient Egypt, the rudimentary eyes of cave fish, the nest-building instincts of honeybees, the evolving size of gooseberries (they’ve been getting bigger), wingless beetles on the island of Madeira and algae in New Zealand. One moment, he’s considering fossil animals like brachiopods (which had hinged shells like clams, but with a different axis of symmetry); the next, he’s discussing the accessibility of nectar in clover flowers to different species of bee.

At the same time, he uses every form of evidence at his disposal: he observes, argues, compares, infers and describes the results of experiments he has read about, or in many cases, personally conducted. For example, one of Darwin’s observations is that the inhabitants of islands resemble — but differ subtly from — those of the nearest continents. So: birds and bushes on islands off the coast of South America resemble South American birds and bushes; islands near Africa are populated by recognizably African forms.

Of course you –you cognescenti, you — know Judson is the wit behind Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, a thoroughly delightful, funny and scientifically accurate book.  Which brings to my mind this question:  Why are scientists, and especially evolutionary scientists, so funny and charming, in stark contrast to the dull proles of creationism?

And, were he not ill at the time, can you imagine what a fantastic dinner guest Charles Darwin himself would be?

Darwin's hand-drawn "tree of life"

Darwin's hand-drawn "tree of life"

Meanwhile, at PBS, NOVA already featured “Darwin’s Darkest Hour” earlier this year.  NOVA research Gaia Remerowski alerts us to a coming production, “What Darwin Never Knew,” featuring progress made in evolutionary development, “evo-devo.”   Science marches on.

Remerowski illustrated her post with Darwin’s quick, hand drawing of a “tree of life,” a drawing that has become iconic in biology circles — like the one to your right.  This one comes from the website of “Speaking of Faith,” another PBS production that featured Darwin earlier this year.  SOF offered an online tour of some of the work of Darwin, too — other drawings from Darwin’s own hand.  Nice exhibit.

Our country’s advocates for good science education, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) carried Origin Day greetings and a rundown of a dozen projects commemorating the 150th year of the book, and the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

Happy Origin Day, indeed.

Moving Civil War Memory. No, I mean, it’s really moving.

July 22, 2009

Civil War Memory said:

This past weekend I mentioned that there are some big changes to Civil War Memory on the horizon.  Well, today is the day that I announce that Civil War Memory is moving to  All the posts and comments have been moved to the new site, which can be found at   Please update your blogroll as soon as possible.  In about a month I will unveil a brand new theme for the blog.

One less blog with history leanings

July 14, 2009

The Necromancer signed offFor several reasons including this informative discussion of dealing with creationism in the classroom, let’s hope the archives stick around online.

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