Second of July

 

BEP-GIRSCH-Declaration_of_Independence_(Trumbull)

By Frederick Girsch at the American Bank Note Company, for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (Restoration by Godot13) [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Pomp and parades

to celebrate this freedom day,

pomp and parades

for the declaration, brigades

will fight, fireworks can’t convey

the costs, the lives lost, yet I say

Pomp and parades

 

Celebrate it

with illuminations and shows

celebrate it,

to posterity, we’ll transmit

our hopes through this inspired prose,

this declaration we propose

celebrate it

 

This is a double rondelet. I used some of the words from a letter John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, about the events of July 2, 1776. Full text here.  On this day, the Second Continental Congress approved the motion for independence, which Richard Henry Lee of Virginia had brought forth in a resolution on June 7. The Continental Congress approved the actual Declaration of Independence document, written mostly by Thomas Jefferson, on July 4th. Most of the delegates signed the document on August 2. It is believed that Thomas McKean of Delaware signed at some point in 1777.

And if you’re interested, you can read more about the daily life during this period of American History in my World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia.

 

A Review of World of the American Revolution

The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia.

Merril D. Smith, Editor

IMG_2724

This set offers readers a comprehensive and well-documented study of the American Revolution and the people who experienced the conflict.  . . The well-written entries are organized alphabetically, and each entry on a specific subject contains a historical overview and concludes with a bibliography for further reading. . .A great deal of research, sensitivity to people and subject matter, and thought went into compiling this encyclopedia. It not only offers a broad understanding of daily life in the time period but it also discusses women and the diverse populations in North America, including Native Americans and African Americans. This set is a valuable addition to any library, and it offers readers an important historical understanding of the everyday lives of people who lived before, during, and after the American Revolution.

Harrison Wick, Booklist, December 15, 2015

Nice birthday present for me! I think your local library, school,  and historical society probably need a copy of this. Maybe two. 😉

 

3 Quotes 3 Days: Day 3

“For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

–George Washington to The Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island (August 1790)

Full text here.

Embed from Getty Images

I decided to focus on an entirely different type of quotation for my last day of the challenge. I was reminded of these words as I reviewed my page proofs for my forthcoming book, The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia.  I love this sentence for its elegant wording, as well as its sentiments. The words are a reminder of what the US and its citizens aspire to when we are at our very best. In the past few months, here in the US, words and actions have gathered, stormed, and swirled with tornado-like winds of change. We’ve had recrimination and remorse; clemency and compassion. We’ve seen race riots and murders, flags raised and lowered, the past reexamined, and love is love made legal. We’ve seen people gathering in anger and spouting hate, and strangers and friends coming together in love and support of one another.

The quotation is also a reminder that most people are complex, complicated, and contradictory creatures. George Washington was known more for his leadership qualities than for his way with words. Here, however, he makes a statement that is simple and eloquent. I am struck by the phrase, “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Yet, we know he was a slaveholder. His considerable wealth was built on the backs of men and women who served him and his family. (It also helps that he married a wealthy, slaveholding widow.) In this letter, George Washington discusses religious toleration, but he also refers to classes of people having the same rights. Most likely he did not stop to think at all of the irony of his sentiments or to consider the condition of the people who he held in bondage.

To those who venerate without question our “Founding Fathers,” it is wise to remember that they were not without flaws. No person or nation is entirely good or entirely evil. We are all fallible. Those who think heroes are perfect or invincible would be wise to remember Achilles. It is our flaws that make us human and not gods. At the same time, wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all aspired to do our best and saw the best in one another?

For a bit more on Washington and slavery, see these links:

Mt. Vernon: http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/digital-encyclopedia/subject/slavery-and-enslaved-community/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2015/07/10/george_washington_and_slavery_1761_newspaper_ad_seeking_four_fugitive_slaves.html

This is Day 3 of the 3 Quotes 3 Days Challenge. Jane Dougherty, prolific writer of stories and poems, nominated me for this challenge: to post a favorite quote for three successive days.

For the last day of my quotation challenge, I’m nominating Frank of A Frank Angle. He always has a lot to say on all sorts of subjects, and I’m sure he has many favorite quotations!

Disease, Mortality, and Lessons from History

Monday Morning Musings

“Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects.”

–Herodotus, The History of Herodotus

“The forms of diseases are many and the healing of them is manifold.”

— Hippocrates

I’ve been thinking about the intersection of disease and history. Stay with me here–both subjects have been much in the news. The word “history” comes from the ancient Greek word meaning inquiry or investigation. Historians investigate a variety of materials, and then we evaluate, interpret them using the available facts (which often change over time), and chronicle them. History is not a science, but science has its history.

The current outbreaks of measles here in the United States and elsewhere can be examined through a historical lens, as well as through scientific ones. For example, my own history: I had the measles, chicken pox, and many other childhood diseases because I was born before there were vaccines. According to one report, there were 102 reported cases of measles in the United States, in fourteen different states, that are linked to one outbreak in California. (See this.) As a child, I did receive the oral polio vaccine. Due to the effectiveness of that and subsequent vaccines, polio has nearly been eradicated.

As of January 2015, no new cases of polio have been seen in Nigeria or Syria, where there were cases found last year, but the disease still exists in the wild in Pakistan. This is a disease that can be eradicated. What many people do not realize is that one case of a disease such as polio can cause an epidemic. According to the World Health Organization:

“Despite the progress achieved since 1988, as long as a single child remains infected with polio virus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. The polio virus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst unimmunized populations. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200, 000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.”

World Health Organization. 2014

Polio cannot be cured, but it can be prevented through proper vaccination.

Measles can also be eradicated. Many young doctors have never seen actual cases of the disease because the vaccine is so effective. One could divide history in the United States into a before vaccination for childhood illnesses and a post vaccinations period. Look back at family histories—how many children were lost to not only diseases such as polio and measles, but also scarlet fever, whooping cough, and others? Measles can cause severe complications, and the disease can also be fatal. There is NO scientific link between measles vaccines and autism. There is no debate about the efficacy of vaccines. Some children cannot be vaccinated because they have cancer, allergies, or auto-immune problems, but parents who choose not to vaccinate healthy children put not only their children at risk of getting the disease, but also help to spread the disease to others.

Epidemics have changed the course of human life and events. Most people probably know of the plague, the “Black Death” that occurred throughout the world in waves in the mid-fourteenth century–and killed millions of people. Fleas carry the plague bacterium. Many have theorized that rats harbored the plague-ridden fleas over decades, which caused the epidemics to break out in waves of plague throughout the mid-to-later part of the fourteenth century.

Some scientists now believe that Asian gerbils brought the disease to Europe. By examining tree rings, the scientists determined that weather conditions in Europe during plague outbreaks were not particularly conducive to rats. However, whenever the weather was favorable to gerbils and fleas in central Asia, the plague bacteria appeared a few years later in European harbor towns, and then spread across Europe. Of course, anyone who has ever had to deal with fleas brought in my pets or people, knows that they easily hop to new warm bodies, so carrier fleas once introduced into new locations, could jump to mice, rats, cats, dogs, livestock, and people. Rats are not off the hook, but the black plague of the fourteenth century may not have originated with them. (See an article about the study here.)

After the fourteenth century, the plague periodically reappeared. In England, the Great Plague of 1665 is perhaps the next most famous plague period, but there were others. I came across this story about plague graffiti left in churches. The article features a bit of graffiti: the names Cateryn, Jane and Amee Maddyngley that were inscribed on the wall of a church in Cambridgeshire after the plague of 1515 broke out in London and spread to the south and east.

Although it is sad to think of the deaths and the survivor who wrote the names of these three sisters, I had immediate questions. First, an observation–how cool is it that there is church graffiti survey! Then I wondered who had left the graffiti. And why? Was it simply a memorial? Was there more? Did the survivor feel guilty? Was it a brother? Of course, the other obvious thought was that he or she (but probably more likely he) was literate, and I wondered about literacy in this 16th century English village. The article says the family was likely tenant farmers, which encompasses a great economic range. Perhaps the unknown graffiti artist attended one of the grammar schools that were established at this time. Because it’s unlikely that whoever left this graffiti left a record saying so, we will probably never know who inscribed these names, or most other church graffiti. But it is so interesting.

This is part of what makes the study of history fascinating and relevant. One can look at an event—the outbreak of plague in London in 1515–and from there follow all sorts of historical paths. It can lead to studies of epidemics, village life, family life, class, church history, agricultural history, and education, among others.

Recently in United States, some politicians have tried make the teaching of history in public schools fit their ideas of what should be taught, whether it is accurate or not. Some have attempted to rewrite or censor textbooks. Recently, Representative Daniel Fisher of Oklahoma introduced House Bill 1380 in the state to prohibit teaching the US History Advance Placement course there, unless it was changed to fit his ideas of what should be included in such a course. He and others who support him believe the AP US History course is not patriotic enough. Mr. Fisher lacks understanding of both the AP Course and US History. AP courses are designed to be similar to a first year college course. Students are expected to not merely memorize facts, but to investigate and analyze material, including a variety of primary texts. His version of required documents for US History included the Ten Commandments and the Magna Carta. The Ten Commandments should absolutely be studied—in a course on world culture or religions. The Magna Carta is important for a course in English history or government. Despite his desire to rewrite the past and influence the present, however, the United States is not and has never been a Christian nation, and “the Founding Fathers” were not all devout Christians. (See this.)

I agree that students—indeed all Americans—should be familiar with such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but how does it detract from the significance of these documents to know that many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveholders? Good and bad things have happened in the United States, and students should be aware of them. They should know that along with fighting for freedom during World War II, the United States also interred thousands of Japanese Americans. This is part of our history. Political documents, like works of art, are richer for knowing and understanding the context in which they were created. The Founding Fathers did not live in a bubble. They had wives, families, servants, and slaves. They suffered from chronic diseases and were often in pain. It is also important to know about the lives of the less famous, and to understand the context into which both famous and unknown people lived their lives.*

If we are to understand the past—or at least to make educated guesses–then we need to know about more than kings and presidents, the wealthy and educated. To understand the past, we need to examine its rats, fleas, and dirt, along with its shining surfaces, palaces, and plantations. We need to appreciate the devastation of an epidemic, as well as the glory of gaining independence. We need to look at the graffiti and scribbles, as well as the portraits and treatises.

*******

Next week, my new Monday Morning Musings history blog post will return to more familiar and delicious territory. But so I don’t leave you without mentioning food, here’s a report of an exhibit that used cake to depict disease. Look if you dare!

Also, two wonderful historical novels that focus on plague in England: Connie Willis, Doomsday Book, which also involves time travel. It’s one of my favorite books. Geraldine Brooks’s novel, Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, is based on a true story of a village in England that was struck by the plague in 1666. It is elegant and heartbreaking. I seem to remember reading it in one sitting, and crying.

*My World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO) should be out in September, at least that is what Amazon tells me!  It is full of information about things that Representative Fisher probably thinks are totally irrelevant.

5 Things I Learned While Writing World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia

I’ve been in hyper-writing mode for the past few months. My days—and nights—have been consumed with writing. I would begin writing early in the morning, take a break to go to the gym (a spin class or boot camp class—something to make my heart pound and my body drip with sweat), and then go back to my keyboard for the rest of the day. Sometimes I stopped to make dinner; sometimes I didn’t. I didn’t do much of anything else. I didn’t want to stop to make phone calls or do the grocery shopping, or pay bills (OK, no one wants to do that anyway). Books and papers piled up around me. I have felt like I couldn’t pause or relax or do anything except write. In a strange way though, it has been exhilarating and empowering. I have never written so much so quickly. I amazed myself.  My feelings may change once I’ve heard back from my editor, but in the meantime, here are some other things I learned while working on this book—my tenth!

1. I’ve admired—and envied—my daughters’ ability to write quickly and well. I’ve seen my younger daughter write brilliant school papers in an hour or two–while watching TV and answering texts. Both daughters have written school and professional papers, blog posts, plays, and of course, the annual Passover skit for our family Passover dinner. Well, the envy is gone because now I know I can do it, too.

2. I’ve learned there is actually some scientific research that supports the idea that the more you write, the better you become at writing. You can read about it here and here.

My brain has been practicing quite a bit. I’ve even been having writing/editing dreams. What’s interesting to me is that they did not seem like anxiety dreams. They were more like my subconscious giving me encouragement. I was seeing eighteenth-century texts in my head, and Dream Me was kind of saying—“Hey, look at this.” Or, “remember to look for this tomorrow.” A couple of nights ago Dream Me even saw and read from Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls. . . ” I read much more to myself in the dream, as I saw the words on a page. I definitely couldn’t quote it to you now, but somewhere in my brain, those words exist. How weird! How wonderful! (Hmmm. . .maybe I do really know Italian, I just can’t remember it when I’m awake.)

3.  Dealing with contributors. Has anyone written a book on that?  I’ve edited four encyclopedia projects now, and two collections of essays, so you would think I’d know that contributors can be horrible and wonderful, but with this project I seemed to hit extremes at both ends. World of the American Revolution a much bigger project than others I’ve worked on, a fact that my otherwise wise and creative brain (see above) failed to recognize at the outset. With this book I had more contributors simply vanish into thin air after agreeing to write (and of course, they were usually the ones who insisted they could write many, many entries). I had others who thought plagiarizing was no big deal. Uggghhhh! I had a few who simply did not know how to write an encyclopedia article. Seriously, you’re an adult, I shouldn’t have to send you multiple e-mails telling you that you’ve missed the deadline, or explaining to you that you can’t plagiarize. If you agree to write article, write them, do them correctly, and get them in on time. If something comes up, then send me an email so that I know.  Really, I’m not your mom, and I shouldn’t have to nag you. (Not that I nagged my kids. . .much).

SOOOO. . . I had to write many, many more articles than I thought I would have to write.

However, I also had wonderful contributors who took on writing additional articles. And if any of them are reading this—a thousand thanks!

4. The bright side of having to write so many more articles myself? I’ve gained all sorts of fascinating knowledge about subjects I knew nothing about before starting this book. (Yes, I am a cockeyed optimist. See, I can’t even maintain my rant!) I’ve learned from reading articles, of course, but there’s something about researching and writing about a topic that makes it stick more firmly in my head.

5.Finally, I’ve learned that despite my best intentions, I am not an organized writer. This is what my kitchen table looked like.

My assistant sits on Mt. Chaos

My assistant sits on Mt. Chaos

Anne Lamott says:

“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

My philosophy? I aim for perfection in my writing, but it takes an enormous mess to get there.

So if I announce I’m going to work on a new project, please remind me of some things. Remind me that if the next project involves contributors, I’m going to be frustrated. I’m also going to be disorganized, even though I start out with lists, perfectly organized files, and good intentions. By the time I finish, my house will be a complete mess, and most likely I will be, too, but I will also feel that I’ve accomplished something remarkable. It’s an awesome feeling.

And now, I’m going to get started on Thanksgiving cooking!

Love and Marriage, Part 4: Sisters

As some of you know, I’m in crazy writing mode. I have a deadline coming up, and my life right now is writing and more writing with breaks for the gym and food. By sunset, which comes early now, I can barely form comprehensible sentences, and it’s time for dinner, a TV show, and bed.

BUT—this past weekend, I took a break for my little sister’s wedding. Our newly married daughter and her wife flew in for the weekend, and we went to a wine festival on Saturday,

IMG_1803

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the annual Red Bank Battlefield (Fort Mercer) reenactment Sunday morning,

Red Bank Battlefield

Red Bank Battlefield American forces firing the cannon

IMG_1808

The charge by the British troops!

IMG_1809

A casualty of war

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and then my sister’s wedding on Sunday night. On Monday, my husband and I went out to lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant with my daughter and her wife before they flew back home.

My sister was my maid of honor when my husband and I married 36 years ago. I never thought I’d be at her wedding, standing at her side to witness her say her vow of love and commitment to her long-time partner in love and life. For over twenty years, she and her now wife have been together. They’ve built a life for themselves in their beautiful house with their two cats and a dog. My dad did not get to see this day, but he would have been thrilled and excited. My ninety-two-year-old mother was there, smiling—and dancing, too. I know this was an event she never thought she’d witness.

Some people would say I’ve been to two “gay weddings” in the last two months, but to me, they were simply weddings of two couples in love. One is a young couple just beginning their lives together, and one an established couple of many years, but they, too, are now newlyweds. My sister’s wedding was a joyous affair. As they gazed into each other’s eyes, my sister and my new sister-in-law said their vows. Family and friends surrounded them in a love cocoon from which they emerged transformed, married. We cried tears of joy, and laughed and cheered as they broke the glass.

Sunday morning had dawned blustery and cold. My daughter, her wife, and I walked to the battlefield. I’m writing an encyclopedia of daily life during the American Revolution—it was a weird and wonderful seeing people dressed in the clothing of the period I’ve been writing about. We took a tour of the Whitall House. I wondered what the strong Quaker woman who had lived there over two hundred years ago would have said about two women marrying. She was a woman who spoke her mind—I’ve no doubt that she would have had an opinion. Despite being morally opposed to war, she cared for wounded soldiers in her home. Perhaps she would have disapproved of a same sex marriage (a concept that she would not even have considered), but I like to think she’d recognize the love in the hearts of those committing to a life together. My daughter and her wife glow, and everyone around them feels their love. The beating of the drums that day on the battlefield marked the rhythm of soldiers and battles. The hearts that bled out that day—and stopped–had been hearts that loved and had been loved.

Sunday evening was filled with warmth. Hearts beat excitedly with anticipation and were filled with love. I got to see my sister married, something remarkable, simple, and profound.

IMG_1813

We’re excited and waiting for the wedding to begin!