Chinese in Roman England?; UN group calls for slave reparations; Spiritualism in 19th century New Orleans; Debate makes history


Super interesting archeological find in England: At the height of the Roman Empire’s glory, London (Londinium) was apparently even more cosmopolitan that once believed. The skeletons of Chinese men have been found in a Roman cemetery there and they date to about 2,000 years ago.

A U.N. affiliated group has issued a report arguing that the US government owes African Americans financial reparations for slavery and “racial terrorism.”

It isn’t October yet, but here’s a good creepy start to Halloween month: Over on the UNC Press blog they have a post from Emily Suzanne Clark,  assistant professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University and author of a new book about a group of spiritualists in 19th century New Orleans. 

And speaking of creepy: the debate last night was classic Trump, perfectly playing the angry white American guy. As expected, the debate turned out to be the most watched in US history.  I don’t have the energy for a commentary on the debates, at least today. But this picture that has been going around the internet pretty much sums up my opinion of what went down:


Enough said. Looks like Trump picked the wrong time to stop sniffing glue.

Presidential debate highlights and blunders; History says Trump will win the election?; Obama and Bush open the new Smithsonian; Drunk History’s new season


The big news today is tonight’s debate, which will likely turn out to the be the most watched presidential debate in history. There are a lot of stories out there today offering a brief history of presidential debates, but I like this one from Forbes the best: 13 quick facts. It of course includes Reagan’s take-down of Mondale with one quick line about age, but I’m a big believer that it was what Ronnie did after delivering the line that made it so effective. That sip of water was true showmanship, and was as if Reagan had said, “Game. Set. Match.”

Meanwhile, CNN has a list of the “8 biggest debate blunders.

American University Professor Allan J. Lichtman got a lot of media coverage over the weekend by predicting that Trump would win the presidency, based on a history formula he claims has successfully predicted every winner since 1984. So what is that formula? He breaks it down here.

On a happier note: did you see the full ceremony for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture? If not, I highly recommend you watch the replay on CSPAN. Obama was at the top of his game (and even George W. had some nice moments.)

The much anticipated new season of Drunk History starts tomorrow night, and the Washington Post is already declaring the new season might turn out to be its best ever.


New Smithsonian tells a brutal yet triumphant story; Obama says Trump needs a third grade US history lesson; Restoring a “Tuskegee Airmen” plane; How Ford revived presidential debates; “Virtual unwrapping” of a 1,700 year old biblical scroll


After much anticipation, the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture is set to open this weekend. There are several good reviews of the new institution, like this one from the Washington Post. Some have criticized it for being too “triumphant” in depicting how much African Americans have overcome, arguing that it does not do enough to highlight the struggles that remain far from complete. This review from The Atlantic, however, disagrees, insisting that the new museum has a nice balance that reminds us that US history is “not just a long march toward progress, but also a constant war against it.”

On display at the museum is a plane that was used to train the Tuskegee Airmen. Check out this short video on the plane, and the husband and wife that bought it, restored it, and then donated it to the museum.

Did you see Obama’s comments about how Trump seems to know less about black history than the average third grader? As I am sure you know, the Don said the other day that America’s black communities are “absolutely in the worst shape than they’ve ever been in before, ever, ever, ever.” Obama’s reply: “I think even most 8-year-olds would tell you that whole slavery thing wasn’t very good for black people. Jim Crow wasn’t very good for black people.” He encouraged Trump to visit the museum to learn a thing or two.

We’ve got a big presidential debate coming up that is going to be “must see” TV of epic proportions. As for the history of debates, we all know that Kennedy and Nixon squared off on TV in 1960, but the elections of 64, 68, and 72 were debate-free. It was Ford that brought them back in 1976 (and they’ve been a staple ever since), when he challenged Carter. His gamble backfired when he made a huge gaffe.

Here’s a good Fortune interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the Broadway hit  and cultural phenomenon Hamilton. The success of his musical has shocked him, confessing that he felt that history teachers were the only ones that would enjoy it.

Did you see the fascinating story about the “virtual unwrapping” of a 1,700 biblical scroll that was long considered unreadable because unrolling it would have crumbled the artifact into pieces? Check out the technology that was used to scan the document and make it readable, but perhaps just as interesting is that the document (which contains the beginngs of Leviticus), reveals that after 2,000 years, the text is the same as today.

“I’m as mad as hell, and . . . “

So I went off on a short Facebook rant today (don’t we just love those?) What set me off was a story from my home state of Alabama that I missed when it came out back a couple of weeks ago. I LOVE high school football (a big part of our culture down here), so I was all the more upset to read about some local yocal preacher named Allen Joyner who announced over the PA system before kickoff of a high school game that if someone did not want to stand for the National Anthem they should “line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots at you since they’re taking shots for you.” The crowd reportedly cheered loudly.

Ok, first of all, that this would come from a Christian pastor is mind boggling, given that I have never encountered a single scripture in the New Testament that would support such a violent stance. (I thought Islam was the religion that intolerantly kills those that disagree with them. Hmm). Secondly, I’m guessing the good reverend would rather live in a place like Nazi Germany, where loyalty to the state was achieved by the very means he promoted over a PA system to a cheering crowd of fanatics. “Line up against the fence! Heil Hitler!!” Lastly, the total ignorance that he displayed about exactly what that flag stands for makes me want to cry. Here’s the short rant Pastor Allen Joyner induced from me today on Facebook:

“Sometimes I think many people need a reminder that our nation was born out of a protest movement against the government. We can’t praise the ideals of our Founding Fathers and the nation they created, without also recognizing that they were extremely angry dissidents that protested against their government because they believed it treated them unjustly by taking away their individual rights. In doing so, they created a nation in which we have the right to protest, and it is those protests that have increasingly forced our government to grant more freedoms, and to more races and sexes, than even the Founders intended.”

Stand up and salute that, Pastor.

In this flag/anthem debate, I wish we would see less condemnations, and more celebration of the fact that we live in a country where we can freely protest our government without fear of being lined up against a fence. You don’t have to agree with the protestors, but isn’t it a beautiful thing that they are free to do it? If you love that flag, you have to love that fact.

Anyway, go read a history book or two, Mr. Joyner. You could start with the  basics like the American Revolution, and work your way to abolitionism, the women’s suffrage movement, and the Civil Rights movement. Then turn to books on  Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Mao’s China. And while you are at it, you might want to actually read that Bible you thump (starting with the words in red).

Get off my lawn, Pastor Joyner.

Using “enslaved people” instead of “slaves”& those folks that yell about “political correctness”; New African American History Museum’s intriguing cuisine; In defense of Broadway’s Hamilton; Jimmy Stewart’s Civil War

I am always interested in hearing about the frontline experiences of folks that work as public historians, and I have yet to find a better blog from one of them than that of Nick Sacco. As many of you probably know, the term “slave” has come into disfavor lately, as many argue that it takes away the basic humanity of the peculiar institution’s victims. Using the adjective “enslaved” when discussing these individuals restores their humanity and more accurately conveys that slave status was something forced upon them, not something that was inherit to their humanity. While still using “slave” from time-to-time for the sake of avoiding repetitiveness, I’ve tried to use “enslaved” more frequently in my writing and lectures than in the past, because I believe the argument for its use is very valid. Today on his blog, Nick discusses his use of the word while on the job at a public history site. Most people seem to be welcoming of it (or just keep their dissent to themselves), but he has gotten some blow-back from the type of folks that are prone to yelling about “political correctness” whenever efforts are made to make our history more honest/culturally diverse. As a former park ranger, I know these people well, and as Nick so accurately puts it, their protestations are usually the product of “personal sensitivity, anger, and defensiveness,” which is all the more ironic because those are the very things for which they criticize the “PC crowd.” These are the same people that recently got mad about the decision to put Harriet Tubman on our currency, and yelled about Michele Obama’s daring to mention that the White House was built by slaves. We often hear these folks complain about how people are too sensitive these days and need to stop being offended by everything. Yet, if they are offended by inclusive language and more honest and culturally diverse history, one has to wonder who the overly-sensitive people truly are.

As if I were not already excited enough about the soon-to-open African American History Museum in DC: the cafeteria at the new Smithsonian will be a delicious learning experience of its own, highlighting the role that African Americans have played in the development of American cuisine. Time reports that the cafeteria “is divided geographically, with stations carrying cuisine from the agricultural south, the Creole coast, the northern states and the western range. Each station’s entrées speak to the particular flavors of the region, from the Caribbean-style pepperpot and oyster pan roast to fried catfish po’boy and shrimp and grits.” Oh man, get out of my way.

And speaking of the new museum: The Washington Post has a really good essay from Ken Burns today in which he argues that the new African American history museum “belongs to all of us.” In making his point, he nicely digs a bit into the history of jazz and of baseball, concluding “that we must recognize that the greatest accomplishments of a people have a direct correlation to the life experiences of many, many others.”

I missed this one a few days ago: We’re History has a piece by PhD student Michael McLean in which he defends the Broadway musical Hamilton from the attacks it has received from a few notable historians. I’m a fan of our first treasury secretary, so I’m prone to seeing the author’s point of view, but I think he makes a good case, especially when pointing out that despite its historical inaccuracies and glossings,  the musical confronts slavery in a much more honest way than previous pop cultural depictions of the revolution. (McClean also earns my affinity when he blasts that mess of a film, Mel Gibson’s The Patriot).

And speaking of pop culture: My buddy Christian McWhirter is back on his game over on Civil War Pop, as he dissects the classic James Stewart film, Shenandoah. The movie feels a bit dated now, but, as McWhirter points out, when it came out in 1965 in was actually pretty progressive for its time (in a few different ways). I’ve never been a big fan of the movie, but it is a lot better than other Civil War films prior to Glory, (and many of them after!), if for no other reason than that it acknowledged the Confederacy’s true cause and portrayed black Union soldiers. Oh no! American conservative icon Jimmy Stewart was hashing out leftist “politically correct” propaganda in 1965! Imagine that.

Americans are woefully ignorant about basic civics; 9/11 in the classroom and memory; presidential health issues; HMS Terror found; another icon from the WWII generation passes on


Want to get depressed? Check out this new report on how well the American people understand the three branches of our government and their respective functions. Get this: only 25% of Americans can even name all three branches, much less know their powers. As I have discussed before, I am convinced that these sorts of reports tell us that for whatever reason, students are not retaining information that we know darn well they are being taught (and probably passed a test on). The problem is that we teach and test in a way that allows students to get by on just cramming stuff into short term memory. We’ve got to change this, but how? (When I think about the fact that these ignorant people’s votes count as much as mine or yours does, it becomes imperative that we find the solution).

And speaking of teaching challenges: We’ve just seen the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, as we continue to vow to “never forget.” Yet our college students these days have little to no memory of the event, and most school kids now were not alive then. This fact brought forth many articles and essays pointing this out, and offering thoughts on how to teach the event as history, as well as the inevitability of it becoming similar to Pearl Harbor, or the Civil War, in our collective memories. For me, the most poignant to read was Civil War historian Kevin Levin’s essay for the Daily Beast, because he lost a family member that day. All of us that have taught the survey US history classes struggle with getting the course even up to Reagan before the semester ends, so the challenge to be able to include 9/11 is very real. Yet if the world was truly changed that day (as we know it was), how can we fail to cover the topic with our students? Time to revise my lectures . . . again.

Health issues have suddenly become the latest craziness in this crazy election campaign. Of course this is not the first time that such issues have been a concern for the American people in regards to their presidents. The New York Times has a  “short history of presidential health,” from pneumonia to gunshots.  So does CNBC, as does the Washington Post. (I like the Post one the best).

The second of two lost ships that were involved in an ill-fated 1845 expedition to find the fabled “Northwest Passage” has been discovered. It has long been considered “among the most sought-after prizes in marine archaeology,” and was involved in the British attack on Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. There are no plans to bring the ship to the surface, but it appears to be “a perfect time capsule.”

Every day we lose more and more members of the WWII generation, and this past week we lost one of the more iconic ones. The woman in the famous Times Square VJ-Day “the kiss” photograph passed away at 92. Sadly, we are rapidly approaching a day when we will have no more of the WWII generation left. (As I do every semester with my students, I encourage you to talk to them now and get their stories down before it is too late).

Star Trek turns 50 today, and whether you know it or not, it shaped YOUR life, and made history


Today is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek! Us history lovers tend to have a smidge of “trekker” in us. Why? Well, I read a quote somewhere in which a historian answered that question by saying “we are all nerds.” (Or something like that. I wish I could recall who said it. Anybody know?) Now, I know there are a lot of people out there that just don’t get it, but I want to try to make you aware of just how much all our lives today are shaped by the Star Trek universe. It has been well documented that a large amount of the technology that we rely on every single day (from the automatic doors at grocery stores, to our cell phones, to our laptops and computer pads) were created by people that acknowledge being directly inspired by the technology they saw on the show. Those of us that love all the various Trek shows and movies have long been aware of this fact, but others of you maybe not so much. So to educate yourself, take a look at this piece from the Washington Post, or better yet, this longer list from Quartz (one quibble, the list names tech that was “predicted” by Star Trek, when it truth most of it was actually inspired by the visions of Star Trek writers).  Now, if you are not already a Trek fan, I doubt any of this will turn you into one, but hopefully you’ll come away knowing that whether you like it or not, that nerdy show has had a major impact on your life.

But forget the tech stuff, the show made history in many ways. Here’s a good list of just eight ways the original Star Trek made history.