Category Archives: History

150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

150 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that set in motion a series of laws, and a Constitutional Amendment, that ended slavery in the United States. I have attached high definition images from the National Archives.

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RIP Neil Armstrong

The first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, has passed away at the age of 82. Armstrong was a part of a generation of astronauts that were attempting feats that had not been thought possible only a decade before. When President John F. Kennedy proclaimed that America would send a man to the moon by the end of the 1960s, NASA was still in its infancy and had just begun sending humans into space. Although Kennedy would not live to see the challenge met, America did beat the Russians to the moon on July 20, 1969. With Apollo 11, Armstrong became the first human being to step foot on a surface that was not Earth. It was a truly historic moment. Millions watched around the world as Armstrong famously said, “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Those watching the broadcast on CBS, heard Walter Cronkite narrate the events as he too was in awe of the events he was witnessing. This broadcast has become one of the defining moments of the 20th century. It was on that night in 1969 when Armstrong’s immortality was assured.

Today, NASA no longer directs manned space missions, and it is not likely they will resume any time soon. A man has not walked on the surface of the Moon since 1972, but the images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 mission will remind us of what is possible when we try. When we work hard, we can accomplish anything, no matter how impossible it may seem. Neil Armstrong will always be a symbol for what the United States is capable of, and that is one hell of a legacy.

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Piece of Titanic found by PBS’s History Detectives

Did you watch last night’s episode of History Detectives on PBS? If not, you missed an incredible story.

As a historian, I have watched History Detectives for years. This season, its 10th, History Detectives has undergone a refresh, but the central theme remains: investigating history. For those not familiar with the show, the public is encouraged to submit stories and objects related to history that they are unsure about. The show sends an expert to research the story/object. Sometimes the story is confirmed and sometimes it is not, but either way, the public is educated about historical events through the show’s research.

History Detectives has found some incredible objects in the past including an original signature from Abraham Lincoln and a piece of Amelia Earhart’s airplane (the Electra she crashed in Hawaii on her first attempt to circumnavigate the globe). Last night, History Detectives may have found one of the most interesting pieces history.

The story began with as simple picture frame and competing family stories. The frame is carved from wood from a shipwreck, but two cousins could not agree on which shipwreck. They both knew grandfather was an engineer aboard a transatlantic cable laying vessel, but they agreed on little more. One believed that their grandfather was aboard a vessel that came to rescue of the Lusitania and the other believed he was a part of the recovery effort following the sinking of the Titanic. It was up to History Detectives to see who, if either, was correct.

Elyse Luray was sent to investigate. She began by having the wood examined by and dendrochronologist. Dendrochronology is the use of tree rings to date wooden objects. The tree rings in the frame were measured and compared to samples of wood from Ireland (where Titanic was built) and Scotland (where Lusitania was built). The piece matched the patterns of Ireland, and it appeared the Titanic was more likely.

History Detectives was able to prove that the cousins’ grandfather was aboard the Minia from January to June 1912 and would have taken part in the recovery effort after the Titanic disaster. They were also able to locate a relative of another member of the Minia‘s crew who had a similarly carved frame (although not nearly as large and likely from a different type of wood). A visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Canada sealed the deal. They had another frame on display and could prove that it was carver aboard the Minia that likely carved both frames from wood off the Titanic.


Grand Staircases highlighted in Red – CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE

So what part of the ship was the wood from? The incredible suggestion came from Titanic historian and artist Ken Marcshall. Marschall noticed the slight arc of the wood and the groves on its underside. He suggested that this piece of wood was likely from a bannister of the Grand Staircase. But the Titanic had two Grand Staircases. History Detectives did not explain this fact well enough, but was likely a piece of the bannister from the Aft Grand Staircase because it was near the section of the ship that split in two.

I was exciting by this episode and found myself staring at this piece of the Titanic and imaging what it would have been like for Titanic‘s passengers that night. This is an important find because no pictures of Titanic‘s Grand Staircases exist. All the images of the Grand Staircase that are available are of the Olympic’s Grand Staircase. Because of this find, we now know how the bannister was carved, the type of wood used (Oak), and the color of the wood. This is truly an incredible find, and the episode reminded me of why I became a Historian.

Please take the time to watch the episode and witness this find for yourself (it is the first story on the episode). I am unable to embed the episode into this post, but you can watch the full episode HERE.

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Space Shuttle Discovery at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

The Space Shuttle Discovery was moved to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near the Dulles Airport outside of Washington, DC. I had a chance to visit the Air & Space Museum in May and thought I would share my photos of the shuttle.

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The Search for Amelia Earhart’s Plane begins Today – UPDATED

Today, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) Niku VII expedition will depart from Honolulu, Hawaii for Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner) Island. The team will be using underwater sonar technology in an attempt to locate the missing Lockheed Electra of Amelia Earhart.

Amelia Earhart disappeared 75 years ago today, July 2, 1937. Earhart was making a flight around the globe and was nearing the end of her journey when she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. She was due to land at Howland Island, and despite minimal radio contact, she never made it. Despite a search by the United States Navy, Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and her plane were never found. It has been assumed that Earhart crashed into the Pacific Ocean, and it has been speculated that she may have survived the crash by ditching the plane near one of the thousands of islands in the Pacific.

Earhart rose to stardom in 1932 when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart hoped to become the first woman pilot to fly around the world and she began her first attempt in March 1937. This trip was cut short when her plane crashed on takeoff from Luke Field in Hawaii. She began her second attempt in June 1937, time flying from west to east. She was on the next to last flight of the journey when she disappeared.

The above photo, taken in 1937, was discovered earlier this year and appears to show a landing gear from a Loockheed aircraft. Many scientists, including famed explorer Robert Ballard, have examined the photograph and believe it is the best evidence to date. This evidence exciting the historical and aviation communities and the groundwork began to fund an expedition to explore the site. If Earhart’s plane is off the coast of Nikumaroro Island, it would prove that Earhart’s navigator was off course. There is also a chance that Earhart survived the crash and evidence of this may still be on the island. The hypothesis of the TIGHAR team is that Earhart landed the plane safely on the reef off the island and that the plane was washed off the reef and into deeper water. The appearance of the landing gear in the photograph would support this theory.

The expedition to locate the Lockeed Electra is using state-of-the-art technology and is being filmed by the Discovery Channel. TIGHAR is leading the expedition aboard the vessel R/V Ka’Imikai-o-Kanaloa. The research team is led by Richard Gillespie and has a total crew of nineteen. The expedition team left Hawaii today and should arrive at Nikumaroro Island on July 9. They will use the next ten days to comb the area using multi-beam sonar and side-scan sonar. The team also will be equipped with a ROV should the wreck be located. The expedition will leave Nikumaror Island on July 19 and arrive in Hawaii on July 27 where the team will demobilize. If the Electra is found, no plans have been made to recover the aircraft. The team will only document the crash site extensively using underwater camera technology.

TIGHAR is relying on corporate and private donations for the expedition and you can get involved and donate by visiting their donation webpage. Their corporate sponsors include Lookheed Martin, Discovery Channel, FedEx, GeoEye Foundation, Photek, White’s Metal Detectors, Fast Signs, and Bray & Scarff.

This could prove to be a historic expedition. I will keep a close eye on the expedition and post updates. You can follow the expedition by visiting the TIGHAR website, their expedition reports, or their Facebook page.

UPDATE: The expedition has been pushed back one day and will now leave Hawaii tomorrow, July 3. The delay is due to the fact the entire team could not be assembled today.

Source: TIGHAR

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Course Reviews: Spring 2012

I realized that I went this whole semester without writing about my courses from my final semester of grad school. As always I will describe each course, list the professor, and provide a book list with links to the book’s page. I will write a separate post in which I will discuss the past two years and my thoughts on grad school. For now, here are the courses from Spring 2012:

HIST 533

The United States, 1960 – 1980 met three times per week with a mix of grad students and undergrads.  As with all 500 level courses, we have a separate fourth hour meeting with the professor to discuss our addition work/readings.  For this course, we used fourth hour to watch various documentaries and for grad-only book reviews.  The course had 12 books, but they were optional. We took a midterm and a final, both of which could be easily taken as long as you attended the lectures. The course is taught by Dr. Steve Guerrier, who was recently named one of the 300 best professors in the country by The Princeton Review. His teaching style centers around lectures, a skill at which he is highly adept. His lectures are extraordinary detailed. A course that was supposed to cover events through 1980 only got through the 1968 election, but I learned more in his class than in most seminar style classes. I took this class because I had worked with him on History Day last year and had heard he is a great professor. I certainly recommend Dr. Guerrier to any JMU student with an interest in History.

Books: The Movement an the Sixties, ‘Takin’ it to the Streets:’ A Sixties Reader, Dispatches, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam, 1945-1995, The Struggle for Black Equality, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, The Presidency of John F. Kennedy, The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, The Presidency of Richard M. Nixon, The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford, and The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr.

HIST 605

The Seminar in Recent American History. HIST 605 changes from year-to-year depending on who teaches it.  This year the course was taught by Dr. Kevin Borg and focused on his area, industry, consumption, and the environment. The reading list for this course was pretty extensive with one book per week. A few weeks we had breakout books where the class was divided in half, or, for one week, into fourths. The course began with the Industrial Revolution and trace the development of American business, environmentalism, and Liberalism. The course was setup in a seminar style with each of us taking turns leading class discussion. I led the discussion for Nancy Cohen’s The Reconstruction of American Liberalism, 1865-1914. For this course we had to write a book and a synthetic book review in which we compared and reviewed two to three books. We also wrote two 7-10 page historiographical essays on a topic of our choosing. I really enjoyed the discussions in this course. The strength of this course was certainly its reading list.

Books: The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940, Mass Destruction the Men and Giant Mines That Wired America and Scarred the Planet, The Reconstruction of American Liberalism, 1865-1914, Labor’s Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912-1921, Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing, A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939, The War in American Culture: Society and Consciousness during World War II, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism, Environmental Inequalities: Class, Race, and Industrial Pollution in Gary, Indiana, 1945-1980, The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945-1968, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, and Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies.

HIST 700 

For my thesis, this semester was the most stressful. I wrote chapters 1, 2, and 3 before the beginning of the semester. In fact, I wrote chapter 2 while I was at home over Christmas break. The only things I had to finish after Christmas break was chapter 4, my introduction and conclusion, the abstract, table of contents, and I had to think of a title for the damn thing. My thesis adviser, Dr. Christopher Versen, was very helpful and very detailed in his feedback and was very helpful. I finished the rough draft of my a week before spring break. Dr. Versen read and commented on the draft, and I spent Spring Break rewriting, revising, and conducting some additional research. It was a nightmare! But I submitted the thesis to my committee before the deadline.

As with last semester, I meet weekly with Dr. Versen, and we discuss what I had read, what I had written, and where the project was going.  The members of my thesis committee, Dr. Chris Arndt and Dr. John Butt, provided excellent feedback, and I submitted my thesis to the graduate school a week before the due date.

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Titanic: 100 Years: Final Thoughts

Titanic’s Lifeboats in New York Harbor

After leaving the site of the sinking of the Titanic, the Carpathia carried the 705 survivors to New York. They arrived on April 18, 1912. Immediately following their return, an inquiry was held in the United States.  The US Inquiry lasted from April 19 – May 25.  At the same time, a British Inquiry into the sinking was held from May 2 – July 3.  It was determined that the ship was traveling too quickly, ignored several important ice warnings, and was not carrying enough lifeboats for the passengers and crew.  White Star Line owner, Bruce Ismay, was criticized for being among the survivors of the sinking.  It was also determined that the Californian was in the area of the sinking, but the wireless operator had gone to bed after being told to “Shut-up” by the wireless operators on the Titanic.

The loss of life was 1,517.  The fact that the ship did not carry an adequate number of lifeboats for all on board was to blame. There are a number of other contributing factors including: weak steel, calm sea, lack of moon light, the loss of the lookouts’ binoculars, the water-tight bulkheads only extending to E-Deck, and the lack of lifeboats. The important thing to understand, however, with all these weaknesses, the ship met every safety standard of the day. The sinking of the Titanic led to the creation of the Ice Patrol and changes in passenger liner regulations.  The Titanic disaster is the greatest ever recorded in peace time and could have been prevented had the regulations for passenger liners been tougher.

Today, the Titanic is resting on the ocean floor, slowly decomposing. The site is a grave site and should be left alone. Dr. Robert Ballard has repeatedly presented his arguments for leaving the Titanic alone, and I could not agree more. It is a sacred site and should be left alone. RMS Titanic, Inc. has opened the Titanic to salvagers and I refuse to visit any of their sponsored events or exhibits. Leave the wreck alone and allow those who parished on that April night rest in peace.

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