Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Twitter: The Future of History?

Recently, the Library of Congress announced that it would be accepting all of twitter’s archives for its digital collections. This has led to interesting questions about the use of Twitter by historians in the future. Slate had a great article about the myriad ways historians might use twitter in the future. Namely, food historians could use tweets about different products to track consumer product reactions. Historians could also use the trending feature on twitter to see how quickly different trends spread and how.  
 Here is a great interview with Martha Anderson, the director of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress. In her conversation with Phoebe Connelly, she discusses how the Library acquired the Twitter archive and how they might organize it to make it available to the public. Good news: if you have any embarrassing tweets, you have up to 6 months after posting them to delete them before they become archived by the Library of Congress. This means you John Mayer!
I think this development is a great step in the right direction. For years, historians have been worried about how we will tell the story of our generation when there are no longer any letter writers or many diarists (even if there are more of those then we think). Today’s generation seems to sharing most of its reactions, experiences and random thoughts online. The idea that we can harness the data of these social networking sites is great news to everyone worried about saving our history and a warning to the classic over-sharers who hang out online: you are leaving a bigger footprint than you may know!

[Images via Wikimedia]

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

George Washington has $300,000.00 in late fees…that’s a lot of Washington's

Last week, George Washington was in the news when it came to the attention of the New York Society Library that he had two outstanding library books.  The library loaned the two books to Washington when he was in New York serving as President (New York was the initial national capital). Washington wasn’t the only political luminary to visit the library, as Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and John Hay also show up on the library’s ledger as patrons. This same ledger lists the person who took out the “Law of Nations” (a treatise on international law) and Vol. 12 of “Commons Debates” (which contained transcripts of debates in the House of Commons) as simply the “President.”  The books were due back November 2, 1789, and needless to say, they never made it. The library is hoping to get the books back for its collections, but I doubt that will happen. What do you think happened to those books?
           In other George Washington library related news, there has also been recent mention of a movement to establish a George Washington Presidential Library. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker discussed this possibility. She is a member of the group trying to make it happen, and says that the group still needs to raise $20 million to start construction.  I’m all for it, especially because it would allow scholars a place to study Washington’s contributions in a concentrated way, and possibly foster greater intellectual connections. Also, on a more common sense note, if Rutherford B. Hayes gets a presidential library, shouldn’t the founder of our country?

[Image via geniocity]

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ahab Goes to the Opera

Here is a great story about a new opera based on Melville's Moby Dick that is being mounted by the Dallas Opera. The opera will not include the book's signature opening line, "Call me Ishmael," but does draw about half of its dialogue from the book. Would you want to see an opera based on Moby Dick?

Want to read Moby Dick? Check it out for free at Project Gutenberg.

[Image wwwedu]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Great Cold War Educational Video….Starring Marionettes

The good people over at Internet Archive ( posted this video on their facebook account today and I just had to share it. It is a video produced by the U.S. Civil Defense office in 1965 to educate farmers about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack…and it stars marionettes. It’s pretty priceless. Also, who knew stacks of hay could protect you from the effects of a nuclear bomb?

Happy Earth Day!

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmental advocate, founded the environmentally conscious holiday in 1970. He wanted a day to unite all the grassroots environmental groups across the United States to create a grater awareness of environmental issues. The holiday got off to a rocky start in 1970, with President Nixon reluctant to acknowledge the Earth Day movement – assuming it was part of the anti-administration, anti-Vietnam movement. While Nixon and the federal government didn’t play a big role in the first Earth Day, it did establish the Environmental Protection Agency that July by special executive order with the goal of regulating and enforcing national pollution legislation.
 In the years since the first Earth Day, concern over the state of the environment has become a moral issue. While some are still content to link concerns over climate change to modern day liberalism (we are living in a post Al Gore Inconvenient Truth world after all), surely the idea that we should “clean up the mess we made” (as Walter Cronkite once said) is goal everyone can aspire to  - regardless of nation, race, religion, etc.
Has much changed in since the first Earth Day? Well, the NY Times says that Earth Day has done a 180 from its original anti-business slant to now being something of a cash cow. Below are some videos showing events from the first Earth Day. Even though the interviews and speeches by scientists and activists are from 1970, it feels like a modern day conversation about our environment. People were concerned about pollution in urban areas and beyond and how pollution and a lack of resource renewal could affect every aspect of human life. It’s pretty scary stuff when you stop and think about it. Do you think Earth Day really motivates people to think about the state of our environment? Do you think anyone will change his or her behavior/way of thinking as a result?

Here are some tips from the EPA about how to improve our relationship with the environment, including ways to save energy, recycle and use water more efficiently.   

Enjoy the coverage of the first Earth Day by CBS News with Walter Kronkite (check out how different Dan Rather looks in one of the pieces)

Happy Earth Day!

[Image via]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

First Detective Story Published – (No, it’s not Sherlock Holmes…)

Today marks the publication of what is arguably the first detective story. Murders in the Rue Morgue was written by Edgar Allan Poe and published on April 20, 1841. Want to give it a read? Here it is

[Image via macworld]


Monday, April 19, 2010

Oklahoma City Bombing – Fifteen Years Later

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s hard to believe that fifteen years have passed since this tragic event, which, prior to 9/11, was the worse terrorist attack on American soil. The bombing took the lives of 168 Americans, including 19 children under the age of 6, and injured over 680 others. The sheer force of the blast took off a third of the building and destroyed or injured an estimated 200 surrounding buildings. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were arrested for planning and executing the bomb, for which McVeigh was executed in 2001 and Nichols sentenced to life in prison.

Bill Clinton reflects on the tragedy that occurred during his presidency in a NY Times Op-Ed today. In it he alludes to the bombers’ supposed motivations, which stemmed from a strong hatred of government. When Timothy McVeigh was pulled over by police 90 minutes after the bombing for driving a car without a license plate, he was wearing a shirt with two phrases on it: the first was the state motto of Virginia, “Sic semper tyrannis” (or “To All Tyrants” which was also shouted by John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln) and the second was a quote by Thomas Jefferson, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” McVeigh and Nichols saw the bombing as a form of political protest, fueled by a strong hatred of the American government. They wanted to protest the government’s treatment of the Waco incident, which was why they picked April 19th as the day of the bombing (the anniversary of Waco).  April 19th is also the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and McVeigh believed his actions to be motivated by a warped and highly delusional form of patriotism. The anniversary of the bombing reminds us of the cowardice of these men who so cruelly took the lives of so many innocent people by confusing abject and senseless violence with political dissent.

[Images via nationalgeographic and olbroad]

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Daffy Duck Makes His Debut

Today in 1937, Daffy Duck made his debut in Porky Pig’s Duck Hunt. Since I loved to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings growing up, I thought it might be a fun addition to the blog. It’s interesting to see how cartoons back in 1937 differ from those today. Notably, they feature subject matter that might now be deemed inappropriate for children. For example, the cartoon puts high emphasis on Porky Pig’s shootings skills (or lack there or) and shows some fish getting drunk and singing “Moonlight Bay.” It made me laugh, and I hope you enjoy it too!

[Image via EmulsionCompulsion]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Let me tell you how it will be/ there's one for you nineteen for me - Happy Tax Day!

April 15th has become a day feared/loathed by many Americans as the deadline for submitting taxes. While April 15th is now the day most associated with taxes, it was not always the day taxes were due in the United States. From 1912-1918, taxes were due on March 1st. IRS employees were continually flooded with last minute submissions, so Congress changed the date to March 15th, making the Ides of March even more sinister. The hope was that people would get their taxes in early in plenty of time before the new March 15th deadline. However, human nature being what it is, people still continued to submit their taxes at the last minute. It wasn’t until 1955, that the current due date of April 15th was adopted. It is estimated that in recent years, 20 percent of returns have been filed in the last week before the deadline. Good luck to those out there filing at the last possible minute!

If you’re feeling a little bitter about Tax Day, you might enjoy this cheesy 1967 cartoon starring The Beatles and Robin Hood singing about the dreaded Taxman.

[Image via laist]


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

“Houston, We Have a Problem” – Anniversary of Apollo 13

Today marks one of the most dramatic events in American space history; the day the oxygen tanks exploded on Apollo 13. Commander James A. Lovell, command module pilot John Sigert and lunar module pilot Fred Haise were the mission crew who launched into space on April 11, 1970. The mission intended to land on the moon, but two days into the mission, the oxygen tanks ruptured causing enough damage to abort the moon landing. Imagine the initial emotions of the astronauts who had come so close to walking on the moon, only to have that dream taken away in a split second. One moment the astronauts were imagining the fruition of years of training, the next they had to use all their strength to keep themselves alive. The astronauts were able to return safely from their mission as a nation waited with baited breath. They landed on earth on April 17th. Ever since their safe return, their story has continued to inspire not because they achieved what they set out to do, but because they could adapt to the challenges at hand and survive.

Here is the audio from the Apollo 13 flight after the explosion of the oxygen tank in which Commander James Lovell utters the now famous words, “Houston, we have a problem.” If you listen closely, I think he actually says, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Here is an interesting simulation of the Apollo 13 flight showing what might have happened if the crew hadn’t used the rockets on the landing gear to get them back into earth’s orbit.

[Image via b2bcmo]


Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Men will thank God on their knees a hundred years from now that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House" - The Death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. The longest serving president in American history (12 years), Roosevelt passed away suddenly while staying at his Warm Springs, George retreat with former mistress Lucy Mercer Rutherford. He had asked his daughter Anna to arrange for a meeting with Mercer in Georgia while Eleanor was elsewhere. When Eleanor later learned of her daughter’s complicity in reuniting Franklin with the woman who virtually destroyed the romantic part of their marriage, she was devastated.
According to reports, Roosevelt was sitting in his Warm Springs home having his portrait painted by Elizabeth Shoumatoff on April 12th (see above). At around noon, President Roosevelt was served lunch when he said, “I have a terrific headache,” and collapsed onto the floor as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage. He died later that day.
            The nation mourned the loss of the president who ushered them through the Great Depression and World War II deeply. The president had been in declining health in the later years of his life, but the public was kept virtually unaware of his condition making his sudden death shocking to the American people. Here is a newsreel from soon after President Roosevelt’s death showing a brief history of Roosevelt’s involvement in public life and his contribution to American history.


            Here is another newsreel showing President Roosevelt’s funeral train procession from Warm Springs, GA to Washington, D.C., to Hyde Park, NY, President Roosevelt’s family home and final resting place.


            The magnitude of FDR’s loss was not felt solely in the United States, but around the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the words of one of President Roosevelt’s greatest wartime allies, Winston Churchill. After learning of Roosevelt’s death, Churchill telegraphed Eleanor Roosevelt saying, “ I have lost a dear and cherished friendship which was forged in the fire of war. I trust you may find consolation in the magnitude of his work and the glory of his name.”

Want to learn more about FDR? Visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

[Image via]

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cool Article

Here's a great article that appeared in the NY Times about some Native American tribes who are attempting to reclaim their once extinct languages to enhance their tribe cultures. It's a very cool concept, and will hopefully deepen the influence of their tribes on American history and culture.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Confederate History Month sparks anger in Va.

Reviving a controversy that had been dormant for eight years, Virginia's governor declared that April will be Confederate History Month in the state, a move that angered civil rights leaders. Check out the Washington Post's reporting on the story here

The governor of Virginia is not the only one trying to stir up memories of Confederate history. The Sons of Confederate Veterans - the same group that urged the Virginian governor to appoint April Confederate history Month - have also be involved in a multi-year campaign to establish a Confederate license plate in Florida to benefit their cause. Here is a video on the subject from MSNBC. What do you think of their defense of the Confederate flag license plate? Is there a way to celebrate the legacy of those who fought for the confederacy without invoking rhetoric and imagery that is itself inflammatory to African Americans and those who view the war as a means to end slavery? 

The Virginia governor seems to believe that Confederate History Month will help win him support from conservatives who feel a kinship with the notion of states rights in an era of perceived greater federal control. What do you think? 

Read Governor Bob McDonnell's proclamation of Confederate History Month here.

[Image via Politics247

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Robert Peary and Matthew Henson become the first to reach the North Pole...or Were They?

On April 6, 1909, Robert Peary and Matthew Henson became the first to reach the North Pole. Peary and Henson explored the Arctic region between 1891-1909, and along with four Eskimos, are generally believed to be the first people to have reached the North Pole.
Peary had previous experience as an explorer dating back to his days as civil engineer in the navy. He originally worked in Nicaragua as a surveyor during the building of the Nicaraguan Canal. After developing an interest in exploration, he was able to obtain a leave of absence from the navy in order to explore Greenland. His findings there were believed to be significant, and he began to plan an exploration of the North Pole. On these trips, Matthew Henson served as his guide, dog sled driver and interpreter. He would later go on to work as a clerk in a New York Customs House.
The two were thrilled when they returned from the 1909 trek to stake their claim as the first two visitors to the North Pole, only to find that Dr. Frederick A. Cook, who had served as the ship’s surgeon on an 1891-1892 trip to the Arctic, had already made a similar claim. The dispute was extremely contentious, with both sides making their cases and attempting to discredit the other through books and interviews. Peary seems to have gained more recognition for the discovery, as Congress officially thanked him when he retired from the navy in 1911 as a rear admiral.  However, the fight over the credit for the “founding” of the North Pole continues to this day.

It’s incredible to think that Peary and Hanson made their journeys to the Arctic in a wooden ship. I can’t imagine the conditions they faced with what now seems like primitive technology. Even more incredibly, Perry’s wife Josephine accompanied him on many of his expeditions. On one trek, she even gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Marie Perry, while on board (poor woman). Here’s a video of the departure of Perry’s ship from New York in 1906.

Robert Peary was a Bowdoin alumnus, and the school has a museum dedicated to his feats as an explorer (the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum). Here is a great video from the museum showing some of their pieces relating to Peary’s trek to the Arctic, which also shows modern analysis of exactly how close to the North Pole Peary and his crew actually were. *hint - they weren't actually at the North Pole. 

Opening Day and the Great American Game – Go Out There and Take It! (Go Sox)

Many people mark the beginning of spring in different ways - nicer weather, longer days, etc. I always welcome spring with the beginning of baseball season. Yesterday, I had the good fortune of attending the Mets’ opening day. The weather was great and the fans were rabid, and I just hoped all afternoon long that no one could tell that I am really a Red Sox fan.
            The Red Sox played their opening game against the Yankees on Easter Sunday. To open the game and the season, young Joshua Sacco performed his own version of Herb Brook’s “Miracle” speech (delivered prior to the United States’ Men’s Hockey team’s game against the Soviet Union during the 1980 Olympics). Here is his fiery rendition of the speech that might make all the Yankees’ fans out there cringe – especially in light of how the game ended. Enjoy!

[Image via gysba]

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy April Fools Day!

 On this day in 1700, English pranksters begin popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools' Day by playing practical jokes on each other.

Although the day, also called All Fools' Day, has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures, its exact origins remain a mystery. Some historians speculate that April Fools' Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes. These included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as "poisson d'avril" (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

Historians have also linked April Fools' Day to ancient festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. There's also speculation that April Fools' Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.

April Fools' Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with "hunting the gowk," in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) and followed by Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people's derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or "kick me" signs on them.

In modern times, people have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools' Day hoaxes. Newspapers, radio and TV stations and Web sites have participated in the April 1 tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have fooled their audiences. In 1957, the BBC reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees; numerous viewers were fooled. In 1985, Sports Illustrated tricked many of its readers when it ran a made-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour. In 1996, Taco Bell, the fast-food restaurant chain, duped people when it announced it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia's Liberty Bell and intended to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. In 1998, after Burger King advertised a "Left-Handed Whopper," scores of clueless customers requested the fake sandwich.

[Image via inspirationonline]