Sunday, March 24, 2013

The End of Cosmic America

This will be my final post as a Cosmic American. The monicker has run its course and alas, it is time to change directions. This is not to say that I have given up on the blogosphere. Far from it. Indeed, I think still, as I have for some time, that this particular medium is a vital component to the intersection of academic and public history. But it is time for a change of focus. As I move more towards my scholarly work concerning American commemorative cultures and national identities, I feel a change in my Internet presence is necessary. So those of you who will undoubtedly be on pins and needles until I have written something new, you will be able to access the new site HERE.

So what will become of Cosmic America? For now...nothing. Many of the posts and exchanges here are well worth keeping online. I will also continue to maintain the CA Facebook page. In time, these posts will be stored for reference (yours and my own) elsewhere. But there will be no further Cosmic America Civil War blog posts. Ever.

I have greatly enjoyed being a part of the Civil War online community and will continue to make my contributions as a Civil War historian here and there. The new site - currently in development, will be much broader. In a sense, I am simply casting a wider net - and doing so under a different name.

Stay tuned...and as always,



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hattie McDaniel's Academy Award Acceptance Speech

Greetings All, this week, in my course on Reconstruction at UCR, we discussed a few scenes from Gone With the Wind. The discussion included Hattie McDaniel's portrayal of Mammy as well as a few notes on the actress herself. She was a fascinating woman off the screen - a outspoken supporter of civil rights, she once lobbied the city of Los Angeles to purchase a home in an exclusive all-white neighborhood. We watched her Academy Award acceptance speech for her role as Mammy as well.
What does this suggest to you about race, historical memory, and Hollywood in 1940?


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

John Steinbeck and the Nineteenth Century

I adore John Steinbeck. I really do. His words, his works, they capture so very much. The human experience. The American experience. I have recently been reading East of Eden for the who knows how manyth time and I was once again taken by his distillation of the nineteenth century. The step toward verse - near poetic, but yet not. So cold and matter of fact. And I think he got it right.  I offer...

History was secreted in the glands of a million historians. we must get out of this banged-up century, some said, out of this cheating murderous century of riot and secret death, of scrabbling for public lands and damn well getting them by any means at all.

Think back, recall our little nation fringing the oceans, torn with complexities, too big for its britches. Just got going when the British took us on again. We beat them, but it didn't do us much good. What we had was a burned White House and ten thousand widows on the public pension list.

Then the soldiers went to Mexico and it was a kind of painful picnic. Nobody knows why you go to a picnic to be uncomfortable when it is so easy and pleasant to eat at home. The Mexican War did two good things though. We got a lot of western land, damn near doubled our size, and besides that it was training for generals, so that when the sad self-murder settled on us the leaders knew the techniques for making it properly horrible.

And then the arguments:

Can you keep a slave?

Well if you bought him in good faith, why not?

Next they'll be saying a man can't have a horse. Who is it who wants to take my property?

And there we were, like a man scratching at his own face and bleeding into his own beard.

Well, that was over and we got slowly up off the bloody ground and started westward.

There came boom and bust, bankruptcy, depression.

Great public thieves came along and picked the pockets of everyone who had a pocket.

To hell with that rotten century!


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Civil War - in Living COLOR!

Color? Perhaps. But living? I am not quite certain. I recently had a conversation with my Twitter friend (tweep?) @Hungry4History regarding the merits of colorized Civil War photographs. We agreed that they offer an new look at a familiar subject. One on hand, the images let our imaginations take the helm. The color allows a modern observer to - perhaps - get a little closer to realism. But of course we do this with the full understanding that the colors chosen are left to the discretion of the artist. There is no way of knowing for certain the precise shade of blue a Union soldier's pants had faded to after a hard campaign. Still, as someone who has more than a passing interest in style - I think it is fun to imagine President Lincoln wearing a dark purple necktie as opposed to the customary black. Hello.

I am also troubled by these images for precisely that reason. We don't know. So in a sense, these are more like forgeries...or at best, cases of tampering with historical documents. And they never really look quite right - the eyes of the living resemble the eyes of the dead. Like the cold lifeless eyes of a fish staring back at you in the supermarket. These efforts to resurrect the Civil War to a vibrant new life of color are reminiscent of the Ted Turner campaign years ago to colorize classic black and white films. We all remember how that worked out. They were...and still are...quite horrible.

These people are all dead now, some killed in battle, others by disease, and still others of natural causes decades removed from the conflict. But they were quite alive when their images were captured - painstakingly so with the technology of the age. And the black and white stills do offer life. Look closely at their faces. The subtlety of shade and deep texture reveal so much more than you might at first think. The history of the war is written on their countenances in black, white, and every shade in living detail. Does the colorization enhance this notion, or distract us from it?