Monday, September 27, 2010

Good Stuff Over at HarpWeek

Brothers James and John Harper set up a small printing business in New York City in 1817, and then, joined by younger brothers Joseph Wesley and Fletcher, became the largest book publisher in America by 1825 under the name Harper's & Brothers. Their business survives to this day as publishing giant Harper-Collins.

In 1850 the brothers started Harper's Monthly magazine. After innovations in printing images emerged via the London Illustrated News the decade before, Harper's followed on the heels of ex-London Illustrated News engraver Frank Leslie and his Frank Leslie's Illustrated News by starting a weekly illustrated publication of their own they called Harper's Weekly in 1857.

Of course, being an important publication, Harper's covered all the major events and issues of the day. In the years leading to the Civil War Harper's kept a moderate stance on the divisive issue of slavery and strove to not alienate its Southern subscribers and readers. After the war came though, Harper's went all in for Lincoln and the Union. After the Civil War ended, Reconstruction was covered thoroughly by Harper's, and during this era Thomas Nast's illustrations made events come alive for readers. Nast's cartoons were credited for changing the public's impressions on everything from race relations to "Boss" Tweed's New York City Tammany ring. Harper's continued publishing their weekly editions until 1916.

We are fortunate to now have much of Harper's Weekly available and searchable online. The cartoons of Nast provide valuable lessons for students of history of all ages, but as the sites warn, the language of the nineteenth century is not always the racially sensitive and politically correct print we experience today. In addition to the main Harper's Weekly site, they also have an excellent black history site.

To browse and learn, check out both sites and

Monday, September 20, 2010

Virginia's Civil War Sesquicentennial 2010 Signature Conference This Friday

One of the last things I did as a resident of Virginia was attend the 2009 Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Signature Conference, Virginia on the Eve of the Civil War, at the University of Richmond in April. I was sincerely hoping to make it to this year's conference (to be held on Friday, Sept. 24) as well, but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to see my beloved Oklahoma Sooners take on the Cincinnati Bearcats in Cincinnati on Saturday. Although I have been a faithful Sooner fan since 1985, this will be my first time attending a game in person and going to the conference the day before the game would have made it extremely difficult to make it back for kickoff.

This year's conference is going the held at Norfolk State University, and is themed, Race, Slavery and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory, which is a big reason I wanted to be there for it. The conference agenda is filled with notable historians, with chair James O. Horton leading the way. The first session includes a panel featuring George Mason University professor Spencer Crew and University of Maryland's Ira Berlin, as well as University of Illinois' Dr. Bruce Levine. The second session includes Civil War history heavyweights Princeton emeritus James McPherson, Yale's David Blight, Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, and Dwight Pitcaithley, former Chief Historian for the National Park Service. It appears that each session will allow time for submitted questions and answers.

Luckily for me, and others that can't be there in person, the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission is going to make the conference available via webcast. You can get more information on the conference and the webcast feed on the day of the conference at the following link:

If I am lucky, maybe I will be able to make it to next year's conference, American Military Strategy and the Civil War, which will be held at Virginia Tech in May, 2011 and chaired by Dr.
James I. "Bud" Robertson. I'll keep my fingers crosssed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Place Matters Community Challenge

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is offering a special program called the This Place Matters Community Challenge where individuals can vote to help preserve special historically significant places in their communities all across America.

By casting your vote you can help decide which site will receive $25,000 for preservation efforts, which is sponsored by Fireman's Fund Insurance Company.

Places as diverse as Blackjack Battlefield in Kansas that I visited this summer, and the Ohio Theatre in Madison, Indiana, where I watched movies in my teenage years are among the many locations included.

To see all the locations, learn more, and cast your own vote you can go to:

Act now because voting ends on Wednesday, September 25, 2010.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations" by John Rogers

Although it was a number of years ago, I remember that I was impressed the first time I saw a copy of "Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations" at the Hall of Valor Museum at New Market, Virginia.

I have long been a fan of sculpture. Having the talent to produce a two dimensional scene on canvas or paper is a skill that I have always envied, but, to be able to carve a life-like image out of stone, or wood, or plaster, or whatever else sculptors use to create their art, seems like a extra special gift. Just like reading a good book can sometimes take one back in time, viewing a good sculpture can do the same...but with even less effort. "Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations" is a perfect example of a sculpture that transports me back in history when I see it.

This particular realistic art masterpiece was modeled in 1865 by John Rogers and patented in 1866. Rogers, sometimes called the "People's Sculptor," or the "Normal Rockwell of the 1800s," was born in Massachusetts in 1829. He worked as a machinist, draftsman and mechanical engineer before receiving artistic training in Paris and Rome prior to the Civil War. Rogers returned to the United States before the Civil War and from 1861 to 1865 produced a number or war-related pieces. By the time Rogers retired in 1894 he had produced over 80 pieces and sold over 80,000 copies of those sculptures. Copies of Rogers's works were often produced in painted plaster and priced at between $15 and $20, and thus were affordable to many middle class Americans. The affordability of his works along with the subject matter he portrayed are two reasons he was called the "People's Sculptor."

"Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations" is like many of Rogers's works. His sculptures more often than not portray scenes one might have seen in everyday nineteenth century life. In this specific work a Southern woman places her hand on a Bible held by a Union officer as he administers the Oath of Allegiance before she can receive food assistance. Next to the woman stands her son, possibly now fatherless, and wrapped in her skits. The Union officer holds his kepi aloft in respect, while a former slave boy takes in the scene as he leans on his basket and the food barrel. I think Rogers's real talent in this particular work is taking subjects of such social and cultural diversity and placing them all in a scene that elicits so many levels of empathy.

Someday I would like to claim a copy of "Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations" as my own. But, regardless of whether I ever place one on my end table or not, I can still appreciate the skill and subject matter that Rogers employed along with the significance his art holds in American history.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

NPS Calls for Public Input on Old Gettysburg Cyclorama Building

I received an email notice from the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) today that I would like to share with readers that may be interested. In this notice the CWPT stated that the National Park Service (NPS) is seeking public input on what to do with the old Cyclorama building on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Now that the Cyclorama painting has been safely moved and installed in the new Visitor Center, the old building stands as an anachronistic eyesore in my humble opinion. I concur with the CWPT's recommendation that the building should be removed and the area be brought back to its 1863 appearance as much as possible.
There are several ways to contact NPS and/or get more information and to make your suggestion. You can:
1. Write snail-mail style to - Superintendent, Gettysburg National Military Park, 1195 Baltimore, Suite 100, Gettysburg, PA 17325
2. Visit then click on "Management" and then "Public Involvement"
4. Fax to 717-334-1891, Attn. Cyclorama building
5. Attend open houses at Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center on Sept. 16 & 17.
This is a rare chance to be heard and be involved in this important decision. Don't miss it!