Trump & basic US history; Uncovering slavery at Madison’s Montpelier; Hemingway the Russian spy? WGN’s Underground & John Brown

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I’ve been away from things for a bit again because of other projects (and grading tests!), but here are some quick hitters from over the last week:

As we all know, our last two presidents were well-read history buffs that infused much of their speeches with historical context and often let history guide them in policy decisions. That was not unique, as most presidents come to office with a strong base of historical knowledge. How about Trump? Um, not so much. Politico has a good review of all the times the so-called president has revealed his shortcomings in regards to basic US history (as when he asked if anyone knew that Lincoln was a Republican and yesterday asked the Women’s Empowerment Panel, “Have you heard of Susan B. Anthony?”—Though to be fair he was probably joking sarcastically). You’ll also get a good chuckle from this list of history lessons that Trump has offered up to the American people. Newsweek also provides “a brief tour through Trump’s questionable understanding of American history.” You know those videos that Fox News is prone to making of average Americans demonstrating a lack of basis US history knowledge? Hey Fox, I’m betting you could get some hilarious footage if you interviewed your president and asked him some of those questions. Do it, I dare you.

At James Madison’s estate in Virginia, Montpelier, (which is an awesome historical site, if you have not been there, put it on your list), they have been doing much work over the last couple of years to uncover and interpret the history of the plantation’s enslaved community (when I was last there two years ago a major archaeological dig was underway in the location of the slave dwellings). Now, we get this nice story from NPR about a researcher at the site who discovered while working on the project that she is descended from a man that was enslaved there. She’s now helping to build the recreated slave cabins. has a nice little piece on the 1867 purchase of Alaska by the United States. I have to admit, I do not give this as much attention in my US history classes as I should.

Was Hemingway a spy for the Russians? Getting a lot of attention this week is a new book that claims the famous author spied for both the US and Russia during the Cold War.

More accidental discoveries in Egypt: A life-sized statue that is believed to be of King Tut’s grandmother has turned up.

You guys been watching WGN’s Underground? I thought this week’s episode was pretty good, especially because events were put into the context of John Brown’s activities in Kansas and his brand of abolitionism. The episode featured a scene in which characters discussed the very real riff  that the fiery Brown caused within the abolitionist community over whether or not to embrace his violent tactics. I still hate the way the series is edited (they couldn’t even handle the basics of editing together a scene of people eating and talking around a table), and Cato’s storyline is very problematic (at best) and unrealistic, but this last episode starts to point this season in a better direction. Best of all was a bit of dialogue from an enslaved man in which he discusses how learning to read was a “curse.” It was a well written conversation that could have come direct from the mouth of Frederick Douglass. And speaking of Douglass, he will be making an appearance in next week’s episode. I guess Trump was right that the famed abolitionist ” is getting recognized more and more.”


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