Confederate Generals

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Yesterday you read an article about the violence in Charlottesville, VA. One of the sparks for the protests was the proposed removal of a stature of a confederate soldier. There are lots of opinions on what to do with old memorials especially those memorials which heroically depict men who fought for the Confederate States of America (CSA). A quick google search will give you more than you ever wanted to know on the opinions people have for an against such removals. A good example is the statue of Nathan Bedford Forest. Read a little about him here and then listen to this short piece of audio about his statue and the reasons why it was put up.

For homework answer these questions and be prepared to discuss them tomorrow. The last is based (in part) on the audio piece, the others will require further research and thought.

  • What is the argument of people who are for the removal of confederate monuments?
  • What is the argument of people who are against the removal of confederate monuments?
  • What are your thoughts on this topic?
  • What does Nate DiMeo mean when he says “…monuments are not memories…they have motives. They are historical. They are not history itself.”

 

You can write out your answers to these questions or email them to me at zachary.wilson@pucs.org

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The Beginning of History

In the past few years I have had several people suggest that we start history classes with modern day and then work backwards through history slowly revealing how recent events connect with the past. This makes a lot of sense in some ways because arguably history isn’t linear and learning from history definitely isn’t. This means we could start anywhere we wanted in time and learn about history from that point or from multiple points.

I won’t be doing this entire year backwards, but I will jump a bit between recent and less recent history. Recently I was reminded that there are some events so important and momentous that we all but have to stop and think, “How did this happen? What led up to this?” The point is you can start history anywhere. For this year I’m starting it on August 11th 2017.

The protests and violence in Charlottesville, VA brought all this into sharp focus for me. The protests and resulting death on August 11th and 12th showed a darker side to American history. This is very recent history, but in a larger sense it is just the latest part of a story that has been playing out for a very long time. History isn’t a grouping of separate events. It’s a story in which the earlier chapters can often give us insight into what is happening in our chapter. More than that however, just like a novel the events early in the book dictate how the characters act in the closing chapters. How you feel (and the actions you take) about white nationalist ideas, and the events that followed are largely based on how well you know the story of race relations in the United States, the confusing narrative of the U.S. legal and police systems, and a multitude of other ongoing and connected stories. Our story.

Read the article in the link above. Feel free to look up other information as well if you have questions. I want you to write a response to this article similar to what you would write for a current event report. In your response consider these questions.

  • In your opinion who should we hold responsible for this violence?
  • Were the actions (of police, protesters, counter-protesters) justified? Why or why not?
  • Why is there so much tension between black people and white people? Not just in Charlottesville, VA but in other places around the country and in the country as a whole as well.

No summary is necessary.  This response should be about three-fourths of a page.

You can write this response long hand or type it and email it to me at zachary.wilson@pucs.org (Make sure you put your name on it). Either way it is due this Friday, Sept 29th

(Write the assignment in your planner!)
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2017 Summer Blog #13 – Who tells your story?

My final word on Alexander Hamilton…for now.

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2017 Summer Blog #12

Philadelphia Day 7

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2017 Summer Blog #11

Philadelphia Day 6

How have I been in Philly this long and not done a blog post on Ben Franklin? I mean the guy is everywhere. There’s a larger than life bust of him beside the fire station outside my hotel. I found a bronze life-size statue of Ben lounging on a random bench at U. Penn.  I walk past his much visited grave every morning on my way to class – for some reason it is traditional to drop pennies on Franklin’s grave and there are often lots of pennies on it. And that isn’t even 1/50th of the spots honoring the man, who is clearly Philadelphia’s favorite son (even though he was originally from Boston). You’d never know that he was sort of  sketchy character in some ways who had very loose morals, particularly by 18th century standards.

Today I visited Franklin Court, which is where the Franklin post office and print shop are. Franklin Court is also the former site of Ben’s house. For a city so Franklin obsessed you’d have thought they would have kept the structures their hero built, lived in for several years, and died in; but no, they were torn down. Now all you can see of the actual structures are the brick foundations and two “ghost houses” which give you an idea of the shape. I was disappointed to see no actual ghosts however.

 

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Ben ordered the house to be built and then had to travel to France for a long time. He wrote lots of letters to his not-really-wife Deborah. This line makes me wonder what he was hiding in that room.

 

 

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Ghost Houses!….spooky.

 

The recreated printing office, which you can see in the background above was much more interesting. They’ve done an excellent job of restoring and refurnishing Franklin’s printing rooms and two National Park employees give wonderful demonstrations using a replica of Franklin’s original printing press. While I was there they printed a couple of copies of the Declaration of Independence right in front of me. I was really quite impressed, and I kind of want to find a printing press to mess with.

 

As I was leaving I found that another room had been recreated. Perhaps one of the most infamous rooms in American history.

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I know, the picture isn’t great but I was trying to take it through very thick glass with and old (and much abused iphone) so give me some slack, alright. This is the newspaper office of the Aurora, a paper owned and run by Franklin’s grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache. Bache was vehemently opposed to the presidential administrations of Washington and Adams and printed some pretty harsh accusations in his paper. Our old friend Alexander Hamilton was one of Bache’s favorite targets. This was the no holds barred era of American journalism and Bache claimed without much evidence at all that Adams was trying to become king of America, Hamilton was stealing money from the treasury, and George Washington was an old senile fool letting them do it. Sometimes he complained about real injustices like the Alien and Sedition acts, but most often printed attacks on political enemies or in favor of Thomas Jefferson, with whom he collaborated. Many of the Aurora’s articles are so blisteringly hateful I can’t really quote them here.

Some people (Jefferson and his party) loved Bache, but railing against Washington was sure to make some enemies and man did it ever. Bache was attacked in the street several times by angry citizens, this very office (or the original at least) was attacked and smashed, his family was terrorized. He eventually was arrested by the government for the printed attacks he made in the Aurora and was awaiting trial when he died of yellow fever, as disease that ran rampant in Philadelphia throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

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Some people treat Bache as a hero standing up for freedom of speech while other view him as a hyper-partisan who contributed to the ugly political and societal atmosphere of his day. He certainly was one of the first purveyors of ‘fake news’ in our country, so it seemed appropriate that I took a minute to soak up the historical feeling of this very well created room and try to steep myself in a time when news was just as political and sharp-edged as it is now, maybe more so. Then I shivered, hunched my shoulders, and went back to my hotel for a very hot shower.

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2017 Summer Blog # 10

Philadelphia Day 5

I’m not sure why I’d never gone to Betsy Ross’ House before. I’ve walked past it several times on previous trips to Philly, but somehow never went in. The house itself is a semi-reconstruction. Lots of the walls and support beams and such are original but lots of the rest, including nearly all the furnishings, are reconstructions. This does nothing to diminish the experience of touring the house although it is a little annoying that you have to walk through the ridiculously over priced gift-shop on your way in. The house had no tour guides but plenty of signs and two very nice actors playing the part of Betsy and one of her servants. The two young women were very eager to talk to my daughter as we went thought the rooms and to tell us all things we couldn’t immediately see relating to the way the household operated and how Betsy came to sew the now famous thirteen-star flag for Gen. Washington.

Apart from the kitschy gift shop I had only one issue with Betsy Ross’s house; there were too many people in it. All of them were trying to nonsensically manuver up and down the house’s narrow spiral staircases simultaeously with their audio tour microphones pressed up against one ear. They irritated me to no end as the repetatively ignored the actors, shuffled into each other (and my family), and asked overly loud questions that they could have learned the answers to by reading the informational signs. As with most places my problem is the people.

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Of course there’s a huge flag on the side of Betsy Ross’ house

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I never was able to find out why the courtyard of the Betsy Ross house has a fountain featuring three bronze cats. There is absolutely no information at the site about this, and no one nearby could tell me anything helpful.

 

Afterwards I tried to go to the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial but it was closed. Kosciuszko was one of the unsung heroes of the Revolutionary War. He was a Polish immigrant who, with his training in military engineering, helped win the battle of Saratoga for the Americans. He also redesigned the fortifications of West Point. After the war he returned to Poland and led a failed revolution against the Russians. After his release from prison he returned to the U.S. and received a hero’s welcome. Sadly nearly no one in the U.S. knows his name now.

 

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2017 Summer Blog #9

Philadelphia Day 4

I’m stuck by the number of historic places within spitting distance of my hotel here in the old city. Sometimes they’re in the oddest places as if whatever commission puts these things up without any thought about weather anyone will be able to see them. I’ve found them in the center median of four lanes of traffic; in tiny niches between buildings where I’m sure no one has found them since they were erected. some of the sign pole heights vary wildly some are about stop sign height while others are something over 12 feet. At any rate some of these marker do provide insight into the architecture, landscape, politics, and local (even national) history.

Here are a few of the markers I found most interesting. In the caption is a note on what is in that location now.

 

 

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