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“Ex-Slaves” Attend Confederate Veterans Reunion

Yesterday I gave a talk on the myth of the black Confederate solider at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was my…

Rijksmuseum acquires marksmen’s guild chain

The Rijksmuseum has fulfilled a long-denied wish of one its planners by acquiring a rare 16th century marksmen’s guild chain. The silver chain with gilding and enamel decoration has no maker’s mark, but it was made in Bergen op Zoom or Breda for the marksmen’s guild Saint George of Zevenbergen. The Schuttersgilde were voluntary militias [...]

Where ya been, and where ya goin’?

As the last two years have shown, it isn’t unusual for this blog to go silent for a while, but the most recent round of silence came rather unexpectedly in mid-August. For the past month and a half I’ve dealt with a serious health issue in the family, a major veterinary issue (ongoing), returned to […]

Alderman Wooldridge and an Unfortunate Young Woman

Last month I introduced the figure of Thomas Wooldridge, an alderman of London who started the war as spokesman for the London merchants doing business with America and ended going bankrupt for the second time before dying in distant Boston. Show More Summary

1000-year-old sarcophagus found in Odense

Odense, Denmark, land of wonderous barrels of poop, has produced another treasure from deep within its bowels: an 11th century stone sarcophagus. The coffin was found on the site of the small timber church of St. Alban’s Priory where King Canute IV of Denmark, later canonized a saint, was assassinated by rebels in 1086. A [...]

What Was Gay?

“You know,” observed a recent dinner guest, glancing around our living room between sips of his digestif, “there are a lot of strong women in this apartment.” I follow his gaze toward the massive tangerine-on-yellow She-Ra painting that anchors one end of the room—a tough lady if there ever was one. Show More Summary

The Unlikely Paths of Grant and Lee

One hundred fifty years ago, in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Ulysses S. Grant won the Civil War. His chief opponent, Gen. Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States, had surrendered, all but ending the rebellion that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives but freed millions more. But this was just the beginning of Grant’s career. Show More Summary

Killing Conspiracy

Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 59 percent of Americans still believe it was the work of a conspiracy. I was once among them. Back in the early 1970s, as a high school senior and college freshman, IShow More Summary

It’s Not About Your Cat Photos

Since last week’s revelations about the NSA, skeptics have questioned whether expansive intelligence powers might really lead to civil liberties abuses. From a historical perspective, there’s no need to ask: Such abuses have occurred...Show More Summary

Somewhere, J. Edgar Hoover Is Smiling

On March 8, 1971, a handful of activists broke into the FBI’s field office in Media, Penn., and made off with a stack of incriminating documents. Over the next several months, they began to publish what they had learned. In the pre-Internet...Show More Summary

The Director of the Theater of Horror

This is an excerpt from The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century, written by Joel F. Harrington and out now from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In the medieval era, public executions were meant to accomplish two goals: first, to shock spectators and, second, to reaffirm divine and temporal authority. Show More Summary

How Texas Could Mess With Us

By last Friday, three days after the re-election of President Obama but before the final tally of electoral votes had been confirmed, a curious phenomenon was already taking place on the "We the People" website, which the Obama White House set up in 2011 as an easy way for Americans to petition the executive branch for the redress of grievances. Show More Summary

The Lincoln Laws

In 1861, the Southern states seceded from the Union. Lincoln and other Northern leaders saw secession as treason and the South’s leaders and soldiers as criminals who should be caught, tried, and hanged. At the same time, to preventShow More Summary

Wiretaps and Weathermen

This article is excerpted from the book Enemies: A History of the FBI by Tim Weiner. Richard Nixon came to power with a soaring vision of world peace. If he succeeded, he thought he could reunite a nation at war with itself. If he failed, he feared the United States itself might fall. His hopes hinged on secret government in America. Show More Summary

Gorgeous Plates from an Early-20th-Century German Encyclopedia of Minerals 

The illustrations below come from German scientist Reinhard Brauns' 1903 book, Das Mineralreich (The Mineral Kingdom). Google Books offers the English translation of this two-volume work, which has 73 colored plates in total. A reviewer...Show More Summary

“Pewter Dish (?) with Handle”

Smithsonian Magazine’s website featured this object back in August, saying: An 18th-century bedpan isn’t all that different from one today. Then, it was round and made of pewter with a handle. In an era before plumbing and bathrooms, the bedpan could be gently heated and slipped under the covers of a sickbed. Show More Summary

Olmec relief looted 45 years ago found in France

An Olmec relief chiselled off a rock face in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas in the early 70s has surfaced in France and was officially returned to Mexico in a ceremony at the Mexican Embassy in Paris. The relief was discovered at the archaeological site of Xoc and dates to between 1,150 and 900 [...]

Time inevitably marches on….

Ten years ago today–September 24, 2005–I made the first post on this blog. 1395 posts later, I’m still here. I had been intrigued by the concept of blogging, which was still a relatively new phenomenon, and I saw a blog as an opportunity...Show More Summary

Early American History Schedules at the M.H.S.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has announced its schedule of seminars for the upcoming academic year. These come in four series: on early America, environmental history, urban history, and the history of women and gender.I’ve picked out those that relate to colonial and federal America. Show More Summary

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