The Early Master Plans for National Parks Are Almost as Beautiful as the Parks Themselves

18 Nov

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

The 1939 Master Plan for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In the beginning, there was Yellowstone: more than 2,000,000 acres of mountains, fields, forests, geysers, and rivers, a place of such commanding beauty that, according to an early account describing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, “language is entirely inadequate to convey a just conception of the awful grandeur and sublimity of this masterpiece of nature’s handiwork.”

So begins Anika Burgess’s Atlas Obscura story on National Park planning documents. You may read her entire post here.

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The 1918 Parade That Spread Death in Philadelphia

14 Nov

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

A Red Cross nurse wearing a face mask, c. 1918

The influenza pandemic of 1918-19 killed between 50 and 100 million people around the world, more than died in the battles of World War I. In the United States, the hardest-hit city was Philadelphia, where the spread of the disease was spurred by what was meant to be a joyous event: a parade.

So begins Allison C. Meier’s JSTOR Daily post about Philadelphia’s influenza disaster in 1918. You may read the entire post, with links, here.

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Harriet Tubman, in movie and real life, guided by faith in fight for freedom

1 Nov

(RNS) — “God don’t mean people to own people.”

That simple statement, uttered by Cynthia Erivo in the title role of “Harriet,” a new movie about Harriet Tubman, reveals a truth long known by scholars of the woman dubbed “Moses.”

Tubman’s lived religion has been well recorded and used to explain how in 1849 a Maryland 20-something slave (her exact birthdate is not known) set out for the North to freedom, then over the next 10 years helped dozens of others gain liberty from enslavement. She embraced faith instead of fear, said Kate Clifford Larson, a historical consultant for the movie.

“It gave her confidence to do the things that she did,” said Larson.

So begins Adelle M. Banks’ report on Harriet Tubman and her faith, in life and in the new film. You may read the entire Religion News Service story here.

The World’s Most Famous Ghost Ship Is an Enduring Symbol of Empire

28 Oct
A painting from 1683 shows Dutch East India Company ships in South Africa's Table Bay, the northern end of the Cape of Good Hope.

A painting from 1683 shows Dutch East India Company ships in South Africa’s Table Bay, the northern end of the Cape of Good Hope. PUBLIC DOMAIN

IT’S SAID THAT NOT ALL who wander are lost, and that’s mostly true. Some are just damned for all eternity—like the crew of the Flying Dutchman, perhaps the most infamous ghost ship to haunt the seven seas.

But before it sailed all seven, serving as an omen of doom for any sailor who saw it, the Dutchman made its name off the coast of Africa—as an English creation dressed up in Dutch clothing, says Agnes Andeweg, a literature professor at University College Utrecht who specializes in Dutch literature and cultural memory.

So begins Isaac Schultz’s fascinating report on the backstory of the Flying Dutchman legend. You may read the entire piece at Atlas Obscura here.

New World Prophecy: Dvorak, Dawson, and the Whiteness of Classical Music in America.

17 Sep

Though best known for his choral arrangements, William Levi Dawson composed a large-scale work, the <em></dt><dd class=

In 1934, Leopold Stokowski and his incomparable Philadelphia Orchestra premiered a new work by a black composer : the Negro Folk Symphony of William Levi Dawson. Four days later, Stokowski conducted the symphony at Carnegie Hall, a performance that was nationally broadcast and widely reviewed. “Hope in the Night,” the second movement, ignited an ovation—the orchestra had to stand. At the close, Dawson was repeatedly called to the stage. Pitts Sanborn of The New York World-Telegram wrote that “the immediate success of the symphony [did not] give rise to doubts as to its enduring qualities. One is eager to hear it again and yet again.” Leonard Liebling of the New York American (like Sanborn, a critic of consequence) went the full distance; he called Dawson’s symphony “the most distinctive and promising American symphonic proclamation which has so far been achieved.” Yet the Negro Folk Symphony would soon be forgotten.

So begins Joseph Horowitz’s intriguing American Scholar article on Dawson, Dvorak, and the whiteness of classical music in the United States. You may read the entire article here.

Who Speaks for Crazy Horse?

16 Sep

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

Past Mt. Rushmore is another mountain, and another memorial. This one is much larger: the Presidents’ heads, if they were stacked one on top of the other, would reach a little more than halfway up it. After seventy-one years of work, it is far from finished. All that has emerged from Thunderhead Mountain is an enormous face—a man of stone, surveying the world before him with a slight frown and a furrowed brow.

So writes Brooke Jarvis in his astute report on the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills. You may read the entire New Yorker piece here.

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Presidential candidate and former pastor Mark Charles confronts American history

12 Sep

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Mark Charles may be the only 2020 presidential candidate who can list working as a Christian pastor on his résumé. But when you ask him how his faith informs his politics, he doesn’t exactly preach.

So begins Jack Jenkins’ Religion News Service report on my friend Mark Charles’ presidential campaign as an independent. You may read the entire story here.

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