“The arc of history”; Santa & secession; Queen Victoria & the Christmas Tree; history of Christmas lights


Before I turn to Christmas . . .

Does the “arc of history bend towards justice?” Two recent high profile essays have challenged that notion, and did so in such annoyingly dogmatic ways that I did not post them here. Indirectly, this question came up during my own PhD oral comprehensive exams years ago, and the contentious debate it stirred up still perturbs me. A response to the previously mentioned essays has gained some attention over the last day. It too makes some questionable assertions, and I think some of the logic is tortured, but count me on this side of the debate. 

Oh man, this may be one of Kevin Levin’s best post ever. Does it really do any good for professional historians to just talk to each other about the current community debates over Rebel iconography? We need to get involved in bringing “together historians, . . .  local activists, politicians, and other local leaders who are currently engaged in questions surrounding the place of Confederate iconography in their communities.” Preach it. Otherwise, we will keep seeing stuff like this.

Did you know that Santa was a secessionist and helped supply General Lee’s army during the Civil War? No? Then you MUST check out this blog post from Christian McWhirter about a strange 1867 book, General Lee and Santa Claus. “Two of the most famous white beards in history apparently ran into each other.”

And while we are back on Christmas: if you have a tree up in your house right now, you have British royalty to thank for it, particularly Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Yep.

So what about electric Christmas lights?  Not surprisingly, they started with Edison, but they were slow to catch on. Here’s a quick short history.

GElights.jpgThe first set of Christmas lights for public sale

2 thoughts on ““The arc of history”; Santa & secession; Queen Victoria & the Christmas Tree; history of Christmas lights

  1. Not to rekindle the arc of history discussion for too long, but I am glad to see that I’m not the only one who found questionable assertions and tortured logic in the USIH piece. While I disagree that the Coates essay that started this discussion was “dogmatic,” I can see where historians might use that essay to reassert the importance of showing how various political groups (like the antebellum abolitionist movement) tried to break the chains of history and remake the world with a new global vision. But the USIH essay made a mistake right off the bat by implying that Coates was trying to address historiographical debates about “hope” when he actually wasn’t doing anything of the sort. He was attempting to address specific complaints from readers of his book “Between the World and Me” and other writings of his that he offers no tangible solutions for solving racism in the future, and that he perpetuates a “victimization” mentality thanks to its supposedly “hopeless” political outlook and historical analysis. Coates is addressing these critiques–not the tone of academic history books–and simply asserting that if you’re always looking for a happy ending or a narrative of uncomplicated progress in history books or historically-minded literature, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Good literature, history, or whatever, strives for enlightenment rather than feeling good. If anything, there is beauty in struggle. I don’t think he’s overreacted “to a conservative and capitalist erasure of history by positing a too powerful history, one which ties us hopelessly like anchors to an oppressive past,” as the USIH peice asserts.

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