Friday, July 30, 2010

The Pardoning of Billy the Kid?

It has been 129 years since Billy the Kid met his end at the hands of Sheriff Pat Garrett near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Surprisingly however the validity of Pat Garrett's account is being brought into question today. Questions are being raised as to whether Garrett even killed Billy the Kid or another individual and simply tried capitalized on his disappearance. Some people believe that Billy the Kid moved to Texas and went by the name "Brushy Bill" Roberts and died at age 90 in 1950 of a heart attack. Garrett on the other hand, along with a friend, authored a book on the life of Billy the Kid which built up the legend of this now notorious gunslinger. Since these questions have arisen, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico is actually having historians look into the claims of Garrett and find out what it would mean to pardon Billy the Kid for his crimes. This all started when Richardson backed a notion in 2003 when the Sheriff then, Tom Sullivan, wanted to reopen the investigation on the death of Billy the Kid. Not surprisingly Garrett's descendants are angry over the notion because pardoning him would destroy the legacy and heroism of Sheriff Garrett. Their argument is that whether or not it was Billy the Kid he was a killer including many of them law enforcement officers and if he were loose today he would of course be locked up for life.

First it is difficult for me to understand why government officials are taking their time to look into the life of a criminal from the nineteenth century with probably more important things to do. Secondly I would say pardoning Billy the Kid could potentially destroy the legend that has been built up around him. The reason this is such a big discussion in New Mexico is because of the popularity that has been capitalized upon his life and death. I would argue that by pardoning the outlaw you will destroy that legend and possibly lose tourism dollars that could have been gained by people visit his grave site and locations in which he is famous for being.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Propaganda in the American Revolution

To think that the entire cause of the American Revolution was righteous anger against an oppressive mother country is a little naive. We are brought up believing that the evil English Empire was trampling upon the rights of the lowly Americans. Realistically, did you know that the standard of living was higher in the American colonies than in England itself. In addition, the tax burden was less despite the English government investing large sums of money in fighting the French on the western border of the colonies. Many of the people in the colonies had to be convinced that the English were an oppressive people and we as Americans needed to break away from their rule. In the aftermath of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Dr Joseph Warren tried to accomplish that very thing.

It is important to understand a little of how and why the battles transpired. First of all the tensions between the British government and the American colonists were growing but only in certain regions. The hottest of these regions was by far Boston, Massachusetts. With the major headlines being the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party the British government felt they needed to make sure that no armed resistance would break out between them and the citizens in Northeast. Word spread quickly that the local militia was stockpiling guns and cannons in Concord, Massachusetts for possible hostilities against the British. The decision was made for British troops to march to Concord and seize those munitions. This is where Paul Revere made his midnight ride to warn the people that the British were coming. This is where the great moment of "the shot heard round the world" occurred. Such indelible moments which defined beginning of the American Revolution.

When the British arrived in Lexington it was like a wild west showdown. Except it was 700 trained British troops up against 77 farmers and workers. What isn't really said in the history books often is that neither side wanted to start shooting and Captain Parker, who led the Lexington militia, even started to order his men to disperse but not everyone heard that order. Once the shooting started both sides tried to stop it immediately but it was inevitable that everyone would commence firing. When the shooting stopped from both sides and the smoke cleared eight men lay dead on the side of the Americans with only one British solider wounded.

Now word was spreading more rapidly than ever that the British meant business and they were heading toward Concord. Militia from everywhere were moving in. By the time the British arrived in Concord there were nearly 400 militia waiting for them. With the British commander Smith splitting up his troops it made overtaking the city difficult and the British were forced to surrender and retreat along a single road all the way back to Boston, nearly 18 miles. Along this entire road is where the British really got into trouble. As many as 3800 American militia poured into that area and began firing upon the retreating British. With the road being in a slight valley it became very easy for the American militia to shoot down upon a helpless retreating army. The militia men would basically take a shot, reload while running down the row and take another shot, over and over again. The British made attempts to break up this constant shooting gallery however they were not incredibly successful. They drove the British all the back to Boston and forced them to stay there without any option for a major counter attack. In the end the British lost 73 men with 174 wounded. Compared to the Americans who only had 49 killed and 39 wounded. With the British achieving no objectives that they set out to do, being forced to retreat back to Boston, and losing far more troops than the Americans one could look at the outcome of this and say it was a victory for the American colonists. However Dr Joseph Warren published a news article throughout the colonies that painted a much different and darker picture of the events that occurred at Lexington and Concord.

"Gentlemen,- The barbarous murders committed on our innocent brethren, on Wednesday, the 19th instant, have made it absolutely necessary that we immediately raise an army to defend our wives and our children from the butchering hands of an inhuman soldiery, who, incensed at the obstacles they met with in their bloody progress, and enraged at being repulsed from the field of slaughter, will, without the least doubt, take the first opportunity in their power to ravage this devoted country with fire and sword. We conjure you, therefore, by all that is dear, by all that is sacred, that you give all assistance possible in forming an army. Our all is at stake. Death and devastation are the instant consequences of delay. Every moment is infinitely precious. An hour lost may deluge your country in blood and entail perpetual slavery upon the few of your posterity who may survive  the carnage. We beg and entreat, as you will answer to God himself, that you will hasten and encourage by all possible means the enlistment of men to form the army, and send them forward to headquarters, at Cambridge, with that expedition which the vast importance and instant urgency of the affair demand."

It doesn't take long to see how the writer is painting that vivid picture of an evil empire of men out to kill and murder every member of this society. The reality however is much different. The British did not march toward Concord with the intent of killing colonists but rather to prevent future hostilities that would cause death and destruction. In addition, the British troops never fired upon the colonists until they were provoked which is basically what happened when 77 armed men stood their ground in Lexington. To say that Dr. Joseph Warren used propaganda effectively is an understatement. For those colonists not present at the battle it would be easy for them to read this and believe that the British had every intention of storming upon their houses and killing their entire family with zero provocation. 

I truly find this kind of information enlightening and important to understanding the small factors that led to the American Revolution. Without Dr. Joseph Warren writing this piece of propaganda to the colonies than many men might not have heeded the call and joined the militias that headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts which overlooked Boston. Without all those men joining in the outset the Battle of Bunker Hill might not have turned out as well as it did and who knows how the rest of the American Revolution might have transpired. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lost Languages Could Soon Be Revealed

There are five languages that even to this day go undeciphered. The scripts have been studied for years however because the languages are lost to centuries of time there is no way to determine what the symbols mean, until now. Researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) plan to use a computer to help decipher the hidden mysteries on reading these ancient languages.

The program takes other scripts and compares the similarities determining possible combinations for the meaning of the symbol. The researchers were successfully able to use the computer to decipher the Ugaritic alphabet which has 30 total letters. However it won't be like using Google Translator and it immediately pop out the results. Professor Regina Barzilay pointed out that deciphering the Ugaritic language took years and a lot of luck including the discovery of an axe which had the word "axe" written on it. It is believed that despite many variables it will speed up a lot of the process of deciphering the language. It's early to tell however this could be the first steps to discovering our world's ancient past. 

The Five Undeciphered Languages:
   1) Etruscan - Repeated attempts to decipher this language have led little further than the numbers one to six.
   2) The Rohonc Codex - Discovered in Hungary, it contains 10 times more symbols than any known alphabet 
   3) Rongorongo - Discovered on Easter Island, scientists are not even sure if it is language
   4) Linear A - An ancient Minoan script from Crete from around 1900-1800 BC
   5) Vinca symbols - Believed to be the earliest 'proto-language' known to man, these symbols were found in Hungary in 1875. They date from around 4000 BC

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

History Links: Teaching American History

Now and again I want to start introducing everyone to historically oriented websites that I have found beneficial and valuable in my learning and teaching. The first one I want to introduce you to is a project sponsored by Ashland University known as:

Although the website is definitely geared toward teachers and providing them the necessary resources to introduce students to American History, I believe this site is wonderful for all students of history. The documentary library provided is the most comprehensive tool which is divided up into multiple eras allowing for quick access to primary resources on a multitude of topics. Teaching American History also provide audio lectures from professor on various topics of history and biographies of individuals. Despite being long they can help steer one in a general direction. Additionally, they offer seminars for teachers to attend throughout the year. Conveniently they provide times and locations that make it accessible for teachers in multiple areas. With lesson plans and even a grant available on the website, is a fantastic site for all teachers and students of history

Thursday, July 15, 2010

18th Century Ship Found at World Trade Center Site

As the construction crews in New York City were excavating the World Trade Site they came across a major historical find. Buried far below street level, workers uncovered the remnants of a wooden hull which appears to date back to the 1700s. As soon as the discovery was verified, archaeologists scrambled from around the area to take measurements and gather data before the wood deteriorates now that it is exposed. It has only been a couple days at this time so the team of archaeologists are hesitant to identify what they have found or why it is there. It will be interesting to see what they find and what we can learn about our past.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Famous World War II Nurse Dies at 91

Edith Shain heard the news on August 14, 1945 that Japan had surrender and the Second World War was finally over. Shain decided to join in the grand celebration that was occurring on Times Square. Little did she know that she would be immortalized as the symbol of that celebration. Suddenly grabbed by an unidentified soldier and kissed, the picture by Alfred Eisenstaedt is forever captured in our minds with the exuberance of that day and celebrating that took place. Edith Shain died on June 20, 2010 of cancer. Althought numerous men came forward claiming to be the sailor in the picture no man has been definitively identified.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Culturally Historical Moment?: "The Decision"

As I sit here today on July 8, 2010 all I listen to from people around me is where will LeBron James be going to play basketball next season? Will he stay in Cleveland, will he go to Miami, will he surprise us all and go to the Indiana Pacers (that'll never happen). As I wait for tonight's decision which will air on ESPN at 9pm, I wonder about the historical context of his decision. In a country where we idolize our celebrities and treat sports figures like gods is it any surprise that this is such a big deal. The question I have is what effect will this free agent move mean to our history as an American people. Please do not misunderstand what I'm saying because I do not plan on seeing LeBron James and his decision tonight in an American history textbook but what will it mean to our culture? Better yet, how will it effect our history?

Look into the past at where Cleveland was eight years ago. A major city unknown to many around the country. Mentioned only by the random celebrities that claim it home it is rarely mentioned in the national media. With the acquisition of LeBron James in 2003 Cleveland turned international, it was known globally. Their city has transformed, businesses were formed and the economy has flourished simply because of one man playing basketball there. Once LeBron James leaves their sports and culture will be devastated. How can we not look at this decision in the context of its effect on cultural history. As the decision draws near more and more people are indicating that he will be leaving, Miami seems the likely destination. So if he goes there how will things change? Cleveland's economy will be hurt almost immediately. The amount of money that the Cavaliers generate will drop, which will result in less money going to the people of the city. Businesses will be forced to close because the majority of their revenue was centered around the Cavaliers and their popularity in the city and around the world. On the opposite side Miami will see a major boom. Ticket sales will skyrocket and be near impossible to get. Revenue will grow exponentially which means more growth for the city. This will all have drastic effects on the people and culture of both two cities. Showing another indication of the effect on our culture, for the last two months all people have been able to talk about is the NBA free agency summer of 2010. Specifically over the last two weeks that is all the sports outlets and even major media types have been able to discuss. People all around have either heard about it or have discussed it in length. The world wants to know what he will do and we as citizens are waiting for him to tell us.

Now when we look back at 2010 there are far bigger stories already that would dominate our memories: Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, the earthquake in Haiti, the oil spill in the gulf, and that's only six months into the year. Little will be said about LeBron James' decision to pick a team but does that mean it did not effect our culture. What will you remember most about 2010? I would argue that whether you want to believe it or not this free agency summer will have a great effect on our cultural history. As a student of history and a fan of basketball I do not want to believe that this is a culturally historical moment however I believe that it is.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Shipwreck Found in Lake Michigan

By the late 1800s Chicago had become a center of commerce and transportation for the Midwest. It was a jumping off point for goods and services to travel around the country and even the world. Many of those goods were agriculture products such as corn. In 1898, the L.R. Doty was one of those transport ships that moved product around Lake Michigan. During one of its voyages transporting corn from Chicago to Ontario, Canada, it got caught in a violent storm. The ship being only five years old with reinforced steel arches should not have had any problems according to researchers. The problem was actually with the schooner it was towing. In an attempt to aid the much smaller vessel in the storm it more than likely sank in its effort. Seventeen crew members were killed including the ship's cats, Dewey and Watson.

Brendon Baillod is president of the Wisconsin Underwater Archaeology Association and has been researching the shipwreck for nearly 20 years. A report in 1991 from a local fisherman about snagging something nearly 300 feet deep went largely forgotten until, with new technology, the effort to find the Doty began. As soon as the divers had the right conditions they dove and realized immediately they found what they were looking for. What they found was a perfectly intact vessel, due to the cold fresh water, with even the cargo of corn still in the ship's hold. Now the property of the state of Wisconsin there are no plans to resurface the ship. Baillod stated he will continue to search for what is believed to be nearly 500 shipwrecks that can be found.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Celebrating the Fourth of July with Family

As far back as I can remember my family would attend our small towns, fourth of July parade. We would go to my grandparents' house in the early afternoon house and maybe have lunch. Someone would normally then volunteer to stake out our spots along the parade route. Typically it was my grandfather and sometimes it would be my mom and/or dad and accompanied by my uncle and myself because we enjoyed people watching as much as the next person. The prime position for observing the parade were along the park and if you lost out on a good spot you were out of luck. We would drive as close as we could to the location and then start carrying everything else. We would find our spot, hopefully in the shade but always no more than a few feet from the road. Despite the heat and humidity on numerous occasions we braved the conditions, lay out our blanket, prop up our "directors chairs", open up the cooler full of drinks and enjoyed the celebration. Marking the beginning of the parade was always a loud boom from a firework which was no more than a mile away which made it seem so loud. Then it was was not long until you saw the emergency vehicles. Fire trucks and police cars would fill the streets with their sirens and lights. As floats would start go by the children, including myself, were looking for the groups that threw out free stuff. Candy was always the most popular giveaway, I had so much it seemed like Halloween came early this year. Various floats would continue to sail by from local businesses and organizations. We would see marching bands, old tractors (which was always our families favorite), Shriner's, and everything else you would expect from a classic Midwest fourth of July parade. Every float and individual was sporting red, white, and blue everywhere. American flags were draped over every possible location one would fit. As the parade ended things were gathered up and it was off to my grandparents house where dinner would begin.

It always seemed like half the dinner was ready when we got there but so much more work was still needed to be done. The grill would be fired up, charcoal of course, my mom and grandma would be preparing every possible dish that you could imagine, limited only by the amount of room in the fridge and oven and sometimes even that was not a boundary. My plate was never big enough but I never felt shy about going up again. If you were one that can not handle your food touching this was not the meal for you. Homemade ice cream would not be far behind. Spinning round and round and as loud as can be the ice cream machine I knew would be turning out its amazing desert and at moment. There was definitely nothing better to end the warm evening on then that delectable treat. As visiting with family and laughing at something my uncle said would continue, dusk would be upon us soon and plans to see the fireworks would start. Blankets and chairs were gathered again and the caravan of cars would start to leave.

A group of people would leave first with then intention of saving our spot. The kids would always go in that group. Sparklers were always in tow and ready to be lite once we got there to occupy our time. The second and/or third cars would include everyone else ready to enjoy the amazing light display. We always would pick the same place, a slight hill along the road right between the middle school and high school. I always remember how I never understood why so few people would choose this fantastic spot. Then it began. One almost had to lie down in order to properly view the show. Explosion after explosion of bright colors and loud sounds. We were never in position to see the ground show that you knew people in the park could see but it did not matter we were enjoying every minute of it. Then it would happen, the finale. Where every firework is shot off at what seems the same moment. The sky is so full that night becomes day in a sea of reds, whites, and blues. The sound is nearly deafening. You can not hear anything else going on around you to the point it almost feels like you're the only one watching. Then silence.   

Every moment of this day is in celebration of the freedom and liberty we have in this wonderful country. We celebrate because we are proud of our heritage, we are proud of our independence. It may not always be remembered and talked about at every moment throughout the day but it was always recalled clearly in my father's prayer right before dinner. My father would eloquently thank God for the independence our country has and the opportunity we as citizens were given to live here. We would pray for our men and women in uniform and the sacrifice they have given to defend our liberties. And finally he would pray for our leaders and the wisdom in leading this country and the decisions they would make to guide us into the future. This quickly reminded us all of the reason we were gathering this day. It was not just to come together as a family, but to celebrate our independence as a country, as Americans.  

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