26 August 2005 - Friday

Bisy Backson

I anticipate light blogging over the next few days as I move back to campus and begin the new academic year.

My last year as an undergraduate, in fact.

Is that not grand?

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24 August 2005 - Wednesday

Eine kleine Dante

After recommendation from Dr. Watson and stumbling upon a copy at Sam's Club, I have begun reading Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club. So far, I find it uneven but diverting. Prominent historical characters are difficult to fictionalize properly, and this book feels far too self-conscious in other ways as well, but it has its moments.

More importantly, it reminded me that I still hadn't finished the Purgatorio (Ciardi's translation). I kept giving myself deadlines for finishing it last semester, and I missed all of them by a wide margin. I started back in on it, and I finished the last canto yesterday. Now I guess I can start on the Paradiso. I've been looking forward to that for a long time.

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23 August 2005 - Tuesday

In others' words: media edition

Brandon Watson has a list of 20 must-read science fiction novels. >>

Popcorn and Chain mail liveblogs the director's cut of King Arthur. >> (Via Sharon Howard)

Ralph the Sacred River notes that Osama bin Laden is keeping up a long tradition of Near East punsterism. >>

Oscar Chamberlain marks the death of Robert Moog, the man responsible for the synthesizer. >>

Copernicus Sashimi has a post recommending citation analysis as a tool for historians. >>

David Davisson has discovered a site called ResearchBuzz, which looks awfully handy. >>

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The Salisbury Project

The chapel

I ran across a link to the Salisbury Project at MeFi. In particular, the collection of images of the cathedral is worth a visit.

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22 August 2005 - Monday

The record of past actuality

At Spinning Clio, Marc has posted the first entry in a planned four five-part series: "Introduction to Historical Method: What is History?" Definitely worth a look for people like me.

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21 August 2005 - Sunday

In search of reform

So, why was I on on the LETU campus recently, before the end of summer? I drove up for a meeting with the vice president and the assistant VP for academic affairs. Why did we have a meeting? Wheeler, another history major, arranged it a couple of weeks ago. Our main discussion topic was staffing in the department of history/political science.

Right now, my department has just two full-time faculty members. One of these is leaving on sabbatical in the spring; we have been told that his courses are going to be picked up by adjuncts (soon to be hired). Wheeler and I are not happy about this.

I have been taught by one or two excellent adjuncts in other fields, but I have my doubts about adjuncts' ability to build up our department, which is already stunted. We need another full-time professor, not just to teach the current courses but also to develop new courses, be available for advising, and add to the areas covered by our department.

It would be nice to have someone on staff who could teach some premodern or non-Western history. It would also be nice to have someone to teach political science, given the fact that "political science" is on the name of the degree along with "history." At this point, our political science courses are just taught by our history professors, or by a particular adjunct about whom I have qualitative concerns.

We brought up some other quality-control questions in this meeting as well. The enactment and enforcement of prerequisites have been a major concern to us. Most of our upper-level courses have no prerequisite except junior/senior standing, if that. Therefore, we often get students from other majors in our highest courses -- even when those students have never taken any college-level history or composition courses before. Besides, what prereqs we have often go unenforced. We figured that the office of academic affairs might be able to do something about this.

Wheeler and I spoke with the vice president about these concerns. He seemed very receptive. Of course, he could not have made any commitments to us, and hiring is an elaborate process. We have no expectations of any progress before we graduate; we only hope that our agitation will stimulate discussion and thought. I could be wrong, but I don't think undergrads usually volunteer this sort of advice. It is rather hubristic of us, of course, even if our professors have also been asking for another faculty member for a long time.

We have some ideas beyond those we brought up in the meeting. Offering a foreign language besides Spanish and Greek would be a good idea if we want to graduate real liberal arts majors. Also, we need to require a course in historiography, and also a senior research class. (Right now, a historiography course is only open to members of the honors program, and a research seminar is being offered this fall at student request; neither is required.) It has also occurred to us that since the major is called history/political science, we should probably be requiring everybody to take Intro to Political Science; currently, it is optional.

Of course, I also have the extremely unpopular idea that all political science majors should have to take an economics course.

I don't expect any visible progress at all this year. But maybe someday.

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19 August 2005 - Friday

Dirt, grass, and rubber

My trip home from LETU today took a little longer than I anticipated.

About halfway through the trip, out in the middle of the country, I heard a sudden, loud sound. I had the impression (correct, as it turns out) that something had snapped. Whap- whap- whap- whap- whap went the car. I lost control of the steering; the car careened to the right into the ditch.

Judging by the lack of skid marks, I was off the pavement before I could even hit the brakes. When I hit the brakes, though, I hit them hard. I shouted a short, strident prayer and repeated it. I saw a highway sign and a barbed wire fence flash past; I missed them by a few feet. The car spun 180 degrees, cutting deep tracks in the soft soil. The whole thing must have taken about three seconds.

Among the things that came to mind afterward was the thought of signatures. (A running joke among my friends, since someone else's close call a few years ago, has it that no one is allowed to die without getting the others to sign off on the departure first.)

Aside from some scuffs and slight damage to the bumper, my little car seemed to be unharmed. I couldn't see the tires well; they were embedded in clay and tall grass, but seemed to be intact. Later, however, with the car out of the ditch, it became clear that one of the tires had lost part of its tread. Local automotive professionals diagnosed no other problem. With the tire replaced, the car worked perfectly for the rest of the drive. My mom followed me home in the family van, just to be safe.

As we arrived home, a pretty pink sunset was just dissolving into deep blue night.

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18 August 2005 - Thursday

One year left

As I expected, I have not been blogging, except for that cryptic link below, during this vacation from vacation. I am on the LETU campus temporarily. Even with most of the students still away from school, there are enough people around to keep me away from the sort of activity I consider most productive. Blogging, interestingly enough, can be a very productive activity.

Being around people is lovely, of course. I do wonder, though, how we shall make things work this fall. Most of my best friends are seniors now; we need to be jealous of our time. Then again, with so few months left to spend together, we will want to avoid being alone for long.

Let's spend the time in ways that matter.

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17 August 2005 - Wednesday

The saga continues

Here's an interesting possibility.

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15 August 2005 - Monday

A new responsibility

Since this morning, I have become responsible for my university's celebration of Constitution Day next month. Naturally, I am all in favor of constitutions, and of the American one in particular. I must admit, however, that I'm not sure how valuable this congressionally mandated observance will be. Will anyone really learn anything this way? On the other hand, perhaps it is wise to mark the birthday of this document, merely for the sake of the mention. Certainly, it could be worse. If we were celebrating this the same way we celebrate many other holidays, the Constitution might not come up at all.

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14 August 2005 - Sunday

History Carnival XIV

The fourteenth History Carnival is up at Philobiblon. Among the delicacies:

Nosemonkey takes a look at treason statutes in Britain. Let's just say that fixing your pets could be a matter of life and death, and it is inadvisable to kill any swans in the UK. >>

Sudha Shenoy notes the origin of the term jingoism. >>

Alun examines the possibility that Zoroaster’s Kaba is a calendrical and astronomical building. >>

Troels looks at archaeological evidence suggesting "fluid borders" between Christian and pagan observance in Corinth between the fourth and sixth centuries. >>

According to Mohraz, Cyrus' conquest of Babylon resulted in the first declaration of human rights. >>

As always, you can find more where these came from. If you look carefully, you may see something about hobbits.

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13 August 2005 - Saturday

And in that other reality

The newspaper Shargh (recently profiled in a story about Iranian press freedom on PBS' Wide Angle) reports that Iran Telecom has ordered that Blogrolling be blocked.

Via Stop Censoring Us.

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1. Red Skelton or Bob Hope
2. mornings: get up or go to bed
3. The Godfather: I or II
4. cavaliers or roundheads
5. Paris or Rome
6. Roosevelt: Franklin or Theodore
7. Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy
8. classical or jazz
9. Jerry Seinfeld or Ray Romano
10. orange juice: pulp or no pulp
11. bookstores: big or small
12. final exam or research paper
13. baked or fried
14. ancient near east or classical
15. cake or ice cream
16. radio or television
17. movies: candy or popcorn
18. on gals: long hair or short
19. on guys: hirsute or clean-shaven
20. Ann Coulter or Michael Moore
21. dirt road or freeway
22. Swift or Voltaire
23. flamingos or penguins
24. Jordan: boy or girl
25. autumn or spring

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12 August 2005 - Friday

Memory and mourning

There's something interesting afoot at Kesher Talk. Judith Weiss has organized a "blogburst" focusing to the Temple Mount in Jewish history and contemporary politics. It has been released to coincide with Tisha B'Av, the day of mourning for the destructions of the temple in Jerusalem and for other tribulations endured by the Jewish people.

The entries in this collection have a political as well as an historical purpose. They protest the destruction of archeological artifacts at the Temple Mount and document the Hebrew presence in ancient Israel. (There are entries from Ralph the Sacred River and Paleojudaica, which first alerted me to the collection.) The blogburst also includes contributions related to contemporary culture.

The main page of the collection is here.

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11 August 2005 - Thursday

A pleasant discovery

After a year of silence, The Religious Policeman is back.

He's now blogging from the United Kingdom, which obviously allows a little more freedom for that sort of thing than Saudi Arabia does.

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Hear me roar

Thanks to a recent surge in linkage, I'm now a large mammal in the TTLB ecosystem.

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An historical mystery

Henry Adams, The Education of (1907), chapter 23:

The study of history is useful to the historian by teaching him his ignorance of women; and the mass of this ignorance crushes one who is familiar enough with what are called historical sources to realize how few women have ever been known. The woman who is known only through a man is known wrong, and excepting one or two like Mme. de Sévingé, no woman has pictured herself. The American woman of the nineteenth century will live only as the man saw her; probably she will be less known than the woman of the eighteenth; none of the female descendants of Abigail Adams can ever be nearly so familiar as her letters have made her; and all this is pure loss to history, for the American woman of the nineteenth century was much better company than the American man; she was probably much better company than her grandmothers.

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10 August 2005 - Wednesday

© Zeus

Ever wondered how the intellectual property rights to religious texts are determined?

An English judge later felt the same way, see Cummins v. Bond , (1927) 1 Ch. 167, in which the plaintiff medium claimed rights in "automatic writing'' from a 1900-year-old spirit. The court held that ''authorship and copyright rest with some one already domiciled on the other side of the inevitable river,'' id. at 175.
Posts by William Patry here and here. Via the Conspiracy.

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The Great Raid

At DCAT, Tom Bruscino has posted a review of The Great Raid (opening in two days; trailer here). His assessment? Some artistic weakness, but historical grit. So far, Rotten Tomatoes is split; for Bruscino, the film succeeds because "they wanted to get it right. They wanted to do justice to the story" -- and the film avoids a common form of political correctness.

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9 August 2005 - Tuesday

Four representations of solitude



to be


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HNN: Now with slightly less ugly

Finally, HNN has a new look! I still think the commenting system needs a fundamental reworking, though.

The remodeling comes just in time for Cliopatria's symposium on Akira Iriye's "Beyond Imperialism: The New Internationalism." So far, Greg Robinson, Jonathan Dresner, and Manan Ahmed have posted their comments on Iriye's article. Brandon Watson has also posted some thoughts on empire at Siris.

Update: Aha! I've learned that HNN's makeover comes courtesy of ClioWeb's Jeremy Boggs. I am grateful for his work. Three cheers!

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8 August 2005 - Monday


Peter Jennings was the single most important reason I do not sound like a Texan.

And he never completed high school. I hadn't known that.

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7 August 2005 - Sunday

Tocqueville on religion

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, chapter two (trans. George Lawrence):

Thus, in the moral world everything is classified, coordinated, foreseen, and decided in advance. In the world of politics everything is in turmoil, contested, and uncertain. In the one case obedience is passive, though voluntary; in the other there is independence, contempt of experience, and jealousy of all authority.

Far from harming each other, these two apparently opposed tendencies work in harmony and seem to lend mutual support.

Religion regards civil liberty as a noble exercise of men's faculties, the world of politics being a sphere intended by the Creator for the free play of intelligence. Religion, being free and powerful within its own sphere and content with the position reserved for it, realizes that its sway is all the better established because it relies only on its own powers and rules men's hearts without external support.

Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights. Religion is considered as the guardian of mores, and mores are regarded as the guarantee of the laws and pledge for the maintenance of freedom itself.

It must be noted that Tocqueville, despite the universal language, is specifically describing American political development, contrasting it with the European experiences. The two elements described here, "the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom," represent "two perfectly distinct elements which elsewhere have often been at war with one other but which in America it was somehow possible to incorporate into each other, forming a marvelous combination," as an earlier paragraph explains. This is consistent with Tocqueville's moderate position in post-revolutionary France; he is affirming the compatibility of liberal ideals and traditional faith.

In an earlier paragraph still, Tocqueville tries to explain how religion was able to play a different role in America from Europe. How is it that the Puritans of New England, while promulgating draconian religious legislation, also gave root to modern constitutionalism and self-government?

If one turns from this rapid survey of the America of 1650 and considers European, especially Continental European, society at that same time, one finds the contrast profoundly astonishing. Everywhere on the Continent at the beginning of the seventeenth century absolute monarchies stood triumphantly on the ruins of the feudal or oligarchic freedom of the Middle Ages. Amid the brilliance and the literary achievements of Europe, then, the conception of rights was perhaps more completely misunderstood than at any other time; the peoples had never taken less part in political life; notions of true liberty had never been less in men's minds. And just at that time these very principles, unknown to or scorned by the nations of Europe, were proclaimed in the wilderness of the New World, where they were soon to become the watchwords of a great people. In this apparently lowly society the boldest speculations of humanity were put into practice, while no statesman, we may be sure, deigned to take notice of them. With free reign given to its natural originality, human imagination there improvised unprecedented legislation.
In other words, it was the frontier what done it. The American colonies, Puritans and all, were able to make a fresh start. They shared material circumstances, including the bourgeois background of the early settlements as well as the meritocratic influence of the American soil, that were unfavorable to the aristocratic institutions of the Old World. Thus, cleared of many non-spiritual impediments, even the established churches of America nurtured the growth of democratic society.

What this meant to a mid-nineteenth-century Frenchman was probably much different from what it means to a twenty-first-century American; the United States' experience with institutional religion and secularization movements has been much different from France's. I suspect that it would be very interesting to see Tocqueville's comparison of French religious history with Britain's, since he tended to favor both Britain and America as stable models for emerging democracies to follow; his material model would not explain British church history well at all.

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6 August 2005 - Saturday

Means to an end

Siris has an intriguing entry on Elizabeth Anscombe, who protested Oxford's decision to award an honorary degree to Harry Truman in 1956. She regarded the use of the atomic bomb on Japan as unconscionable because it was a targeted attack on innocents:

When I say that to choose to kill the innocent as a means to one's ends is murder, I am saying what would generally be accepted as correct. But I shall be asked for my definition of "the innocent". I will give it, but later. Here, it is not necessary; for with Hiroshima and Nagasaki we are not confronted with a borderline case. In the bombing of these cities it was certainly decided to kill the innocent as a means to an end.
Interestingly, however, she strongly rejected pacifism:
The correct answer to the statement that "war is evil" is that it is bad -- for example a misfortunte -- to be at war. And no doubt if two nations are at war at least one is unjust. But that does not show that it is wrong to fight or that if one does fight one can also commit murder.
I cannot say that I have come to a satisfying conclusion on the matter. It is entirely likely that -- on balance -- the bombing of Hiroshima (and maybe Nagasaki) saved lives, even the lives of innocent Japanese. On the other hand, the bombing was a terroristic tactic -- both in its intended psychological effects and in its targeting of civilians. In the early years of the twenty-first century, are we not claiming that no end ever justifies such means?

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60 years on

Most of the ruins have now burned down.
The darkness kindly hides the many forms that lie on the ground.
Only occasionally in our quick progress do we hear calls for help.
One of us remarks that the remarkable burned smell
reminds him of incinerated corpses.

The atomic bomb was used against Hiroshima at 0815 local time, 6 August 1945.

Three days later, Nagasaki was destroyed the same way.

Roman Catholic cathedral, Nagasaki. Courtesy NARA.

We have discussed among ourselves
the ethics of the use of the bomb.
Some consider it in the same category as poison gas
and were against its use on a civil population.
Others were of the view that
in total war, as carried on in Japan,
there was no difference between civilians and soldiers,
and that the bomb itself was an effective force
tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan
to surrender and thus to avoid total destruction.
It seems logical to me
that he who supports total war in principle
cannot complain of war against civilians.

Father John A. Siemes, eyewitness at Hiroshima

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5 August 2005 - Friday

Carnivalesque : ancient and medieval

Carnivalesque, the History Carnival's older and more specialized brother festival, is up in its first ancient/medieval edition at The Cranky Professor.

Interested in the ancient origins of mathematics? Alun looks at whether addition or multiplication came first. Want to know what the Jebusites, Amorites, Moabites, and Phoenicians have to do with modern Palestinian nationalism? A lot, apparently. Think the young people are getting awfully licentious these days? So did Bishop Cox in 1579. Happy surfing.

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4 August 2005 - Thursday

Estranged bedfellows

In 1862, the government and public of Great Britain were sympathetic with the Confederate States of America. Despite opposing the institution of slavery, the British were not convinced that the Union's cause was just.

Twenty-four-year-old Henry Adams was then in London, serving as private secretary to his father, who was the Lincoln administration's envoy. The American delegation had been given a chilly reception.

Adams describes the situation (paragraph breaks added for ease of reading):

... Young Adams neither hated nor wanted to kill his friends the rebels, while he wanted nothing so much as to wipe England off the earth. Never could any good come from that besotted race! ...

London was altogether beside itself on one point, in especial; it created a nightmare of its own, and gave it the shape of Abraham Lincoln. Behind this is placed another demon, if possible more devilish, and called it Mr. Seward [the American secretary of state].

In regard to these two men, English society seemed demented. Defence was useless; explanation was vain; one could only let the passion exhaust itself. One's best friends were as unreasonable as enemies, for the belief in poor Mr. Lincoln's brutality and Seward's ferocity became a dogma of popular faith.

The last time Henry Adams saw Thackeray, before his sudden death at Christmas in 1863, was in entering the house of Sir Henry Holland for an evening reception. Thackeray was pulling on his coat downstairs, laughing because, in his usual blind way, he had stumbled into the wrong house and not found it out till he shook hands with old Sir Henry, whom he knew very well, but who was not the host he expected.

Then his tone changed as he spoke of his -- and Adams's -- friend, Mrs. Frank Hampton, of South Carolina, whom he had loved as Sally Baxter and painted as Ethel Newcome. Though he had never quite forgiven her marriage, his warmth of feeling revived when he heard that she had died of consumption at Columbia while her parents and sister were refused permission to pass through the lines to see her.

In speaking of it, Thackeray's voice trembled and his eyes filled with tears. The coarse cruelty of Lincoln and his hirelings was notorious. He never doubted that the Federals made a business of harrowing the tenderest feelings of women -- particularly of women -- in order to punish their opponents. On quite insufficient evidence he burst into violent reproach.

Had Adams carried in his pocket the proofs that the reproach was unjust, he would have gained nothing by showing them. At that moment Thackeray, and all London society with him, needed the nervous relief of expressing emotion; for if Mr. Lincoln was not what they said he was -- what were they?

The Education of Henry Adams, chapter nine

Does that sound familiar?

The violent rhetoric, the conspiracy theories, the prejudice, the reckless accusations amounting even to calumny -- they are nothing new within or between free societies. We ascribe the worst motivations to those who, like us, are merely misguided and resolute. We forget who our friends are; we forget who our enemies are; we forget what our business is.

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3 August 2005 - Wednesday


Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1879

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I'll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

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2 August 2005 - Tuesday

Hobbits in Kentucky?

Cliopatria's Ralph Luker has noticed an old essay, "Hobbitry," written by Guy Davenport (published in 1981 in The Geography of the Imagination).

I found a little more of it here:

The closest I have ever gotten to the secret and inner Tolkien was in a casual conversation on a snowy day in Shelbyville, Kentucky. I forget how in the world we came to talk of Tolkien at all, but I began plying questions as soon as I knew that I was talking to a man who had been at Oxford as a classmate of Ronald Tolkien's. He was a history teacher, Allen Barnett. He had never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he was astonished and pleased to know that his friend of so many years ago had made a name for himself as a writer.

"Imagine that! You know, he used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins and good country names like that."

And out the window I could see tobacco barns. The charming anachronism of the hobbits' pipes suddenly made sense in a new way. The Shire and its settled manners and shy hobbits have many antecedents in folklore and in reality .... Kentucky, it seems, contributed its share.

Practically all the names of Tolkien's hobbits are listed in my Lexington phone book, and those that aren't can be found over in Shelbyville. Like as not, they grow and cure pipe-weed for a living. Talk with them, and their turns of phrase are pure hobbit: "I hear tell," "right agin," "so Mr. Frodo is his first and second cousin, once removed either way," "this very month as is." These are English locutions, of course, but ones that are heard oftener now in Kentucky than in England.

I despaired of trying to tell Barnett what his talk of Kentucky folk became in Tolkien's imagination. I urged him to read The Lord of the Rings but as our paths have never crossed again, I don't know that he did. Nor if he knew that he created by an Oxford fire and in walks along the Cherwell and Isis the Bagginses, Boffins, Tooks, Brandybucks, Grubbs, Burrowses, Goodbodies, and Proudfoots (or Proudfeet, as a branch of the family will have it) who were, we are told, the special study of Gandalf the Grey, the only wizard who was interested in their bashful and countrified ways.

It would be fun to test this, but it could be difficult. Perhaps we can show an unusual concentration of these names in Kentucky relative to other places, but if the names merely exist there, it's possible that Tolkien and Kentucky had mutual sources. The American backcountry settlements got a lot of people from northern Britain; it is entirely possible that Tolkien borrowed his Shire surnames and speech patterns from people closer to his own home. That would not at all preclude Allen Barnett's story from being true, of course. It could merely make the story slightly less impressive.

Luker says:

I've read and discounted some of the claims that English and Scots-Irish immigrants settled in remote pockets of mountainous eastern Kentucky and preserved 18th century folk culture and language largely unchanged into the 20th century. But Lexington and Shelbyville are in the lush bluegrass central part of the state. They've never been isolated in ways that the mountain communities have been.
What would a well-informed historian do when confronted with this kind of evidence? Did Davenport discover the hobbits, living unbeknownst in central Kentucky or was his own provenance over-reaching?

I don't know what a well-informed historian would do. But I know what I would do, especially if I were procrastinating right before an exam. (Pluperfect and past conditional in French, if it interests you.)

Continue reading "Hobbits in Kentucky?" below the fold . . .

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1 August 2005 - Monday

History Carnival XIII

The thirteenth History Carnival is up at WILLisms.

A sample of the entries, starting from the bottom of the list this time:

Alterior examines the life of that venerable ailment, tuberculosis >>

Lewis Hyde looks at early modern ideas about individual talent and intellectual property >>

Sharon Howard shares a collection of Stuart-era political poetry >>

Antti Leppänen questions some inflated accounts of the Japanese occupation of Korea >>

Dan Melson tries to compare the origins of Christianity and Islam >>

Nathanael Robinson contextualizes Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan >>

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Total war

This week, the History News Network is covering the sixtieth anniversary of the use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima.

Hiroshima: What People Think Now (a wide assortment of articles)

Hiroshima: Harry Truman on Trial (mock war crimes trial from 2001)

Why It's Time for Us to Confront Hiroshima (on reactions from conservatives at the time of the attack)

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