Typewriter of the moment, and cold: Antarctic explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard

September 25, 2016

Wikipedia caption: Polar explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard in front of his typewriter in the Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans (Ross Island, Antarctica). August 30, 1911. British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 (Ponting Collection)

Wikipedia caption: Polar explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard in front of his typewriter in the Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans (Ross Island, Antarctica). August 30, 1911. British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 (Ponting Collection)

Even in the Antarctic, scientists and explorers need to write their findings down. A typewriter was the state-of-the-art tool in 1911. Here we see Apsley Cherry-Garrard with his typewriter, on expedition.

Cherry-Garrard probably used that machine to write the notes, if not the actual text, for his account of the expeditionThe Worst Journey in the World:

The Worst Journey in the World is a memoir of the 1910–1913 British Antarctic Expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott. It was written and published in 1922 by a member of the expedition, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and has earned wide praise for its frank treatment of the difficulties of the expedition, the causes of its disastrous outcome, and the meaning (if any) of human suffering under extreme conditions.




25 most-viewed presidents’ documents at the American Presidency Project

December 4, 2015

Every U.S. history teacher is familiar with a great on-line resource assembled by John Woolley and Gerhard Peters at the University of California – Santa Barbara, The American Presidency Project.  Or, if by some oversight any teacher is not familiar with it, someone should do them a favor and let them know.

It’s an ambitious project of cataloging and making available in one place all the official papers of the presidents of the United States, speeches, press conferences, executive orders, and miscellaneous material including election speeches. The project started in 1999, and as of today contains more than 111,000 documents.

Masthead photo collage from the American Presidency Project at the University of California - Santa Barbara

Masthead photo collage from the American Presidency Project at the University of California – Santa Barbara

In 2008, the project started counting access to the documents, and can now give us seven years of data as to which documents of presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama, are the most popularly accessed.

Before you read further, ponder this question: Which presidential speeches, documents and miscellanea do you think should be in the top 25 documents people look in a decade? Surely students and scholars, and policy wonks, would be interested in Lincoln’s inspiring words at Gettysburg, perhaps his two inaugural addresses, or the Emancipation Proclamation. FDR’s first inaugural address, “nothing to fear but fear itself,” ought to be among the top. Wilson’s 14 Points, perhaps? Washington’s Farewell? John Kennedy’s inaugural? Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society speech? Eisenhower’s farewell, warning of the “military-industrial complex?”

Now look at the list. What does it tell us that these are the top 25 sought-after documents from the American Presidency Project? What does it tell us that what we might expect to be in the top 25, are not? Tell us in comments what you think.

Here’s the top 25 Most Viewed Documents since 2008 at the American History Project; hotlinks go to the document at AHP:

The 25 Most Viewed Documents Since 2008
#1 John F. Kennedy
Inaugural Address
#2 Republican Party Platforms
Republican Party Platform of 1956
#3 Democratic Party Platforms
2008 Democratic Party Platform
#4 Republican Party Platforms
2008 Republican Party Platform
#5 John F. Kennedy
Executive Order 10990 – Reestablishing the Federal Safety Council
#6 Democratic Party Platforms
2012 Democratic Party Platform
#7 Republican Party Platforms
2012 Republican Party Platform
#8 George W. Bush
Address to the Nation on the Terrorist Attacks
#9 Ronald Reagan
Inaugural Address
#10 John F. Kennedy
Executive Order 11110 – Amendment of Executive Order No. 10289 as Amended, Relating to the Performance of Certain Functions Affecting the Department of the Treasury
#11 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Fireside Chat on Banking
#12 Barack Obama
Inaugural Address
#13 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service
#14 John F. Kennedy
Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere
#15 Franklin D. Roosevelt
1944 State of the Union Message to Congress
#16 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Inaugural Address
#17 Barack Obama
Executive Order 13603 – National Defense Resources Preparedness
#18 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Executive Order 6102 – Requiring Gold Coin, Gold Bullion and Gold Certificates to Be Delivered to the Government
#19 Republican Party Platforms
Republican Party Platform of 1860
#20 George Bush
Executive Order 12803 – Infrastructure Privatization
#21 Abraham Lincoln
Inaugural Address
#22 George Washington
First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union
#23 William J. Clinton
Inaugural Address
#24 Democratic Party Platforms
Democratic Party Platform of 1960
#25 John F. Kennedy
Address of Senator John F. Kennedy Accepting the Democratic Party Nomination for the Presidency of the United States – Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles

One more time: Recognizing bogus history

May 14, 2012

2012 is an election year, a time when we make history together as a nation.  Potential turning points in history often get tarred with false interpretations of history to sway an election, or worse, a completely false recounting of history.  Especially in campaigns, we need to beware false claims of history, lest we be like the ignorants George Santayana warned about, doomed to repeat errors of history they do not know or understand.  How to tell that a purported piece of history is bogus?  This is mostly a repeat of a post that first appeared at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub six years ago.

Recognizing bogus history, 1

Robert Park provides a short e-mail newsletter every Friday, covering news in the world of physics. It’s called “What’s New.” Park makes an art of smoking out bogus science and frauds people try to perpetrate in the name of science, or for money. He wrote an opinion column for the Chronicle of Higher Education [now from Quack Watch; CHE put it behind a paywall] published January 31, 2003, in which he listed the “7 warning signs of bogus science.”

Please go read Park’s entire essay, it’s good.

And it got me thinking about whether there are similar warning signs for bogus history? Are there clues that a biography of Howard Hughes is false that should pop out at any disinterested observer? Are there clues that the claimed quote from James Madison saying the U.S. government is founded on the Ten Commandments is pure buncombe? Should Oliver Stone have been able to to more readily separate fact from fantasy about the Kennedy assassination (assuming he wasn’t just going for the dramatic elements)? Can we generalize for such hoaxes, to inoculate ourselves and our history texts against error?

Bogus science section of Thinkquest logo

Perhaps some of the detection methods Park suggests would work for history. He wrote his opinion piece after the Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in which the Court laid out some rules lower courts should use to smoke out and eliminate false science. As Park described it, “The case involved Bendectin, the only morning-sickness medication ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It had been used by millions of women, and more than 30 published studies had found no evidence that it caused birth defects. Yet eight so-called experts were willing to testify, in exchange for a fee from the Daubert family, that Bendectin might indeed cause birth defects.” The Court said lower courts must act as gatekeepers against science buncombe — a difficult task for some judges who, in their training as attorneys, often spent little time studying science.

Some of the Daubert reasoning surfaced in another case recently, the opinion in Pennsylvania district federal court in which Federal District Judge John Jones struck down a school board’s order that intelligent design be introduced to high school biology students, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Can we generalize to history, too? I’m going to try, below the fold.

Here are Park’s seven warning signs, boiled down:

Park wrote:

Justice Stephen G. Breyer encouraged trial judges to appoint independent experts to help them. He noted that courts can turn to scientific organizations, like the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to identify neutral experts who could preview questionable scientific testimony and advise a judge on whether a jury should be exposed to it. Judges are still concerned about meeting their responsibilities under the Daubert decision, and a group of them asked me how to recognize questionable scientific claims. What are the warning signs?

I have identified seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse. Of course, they are only warning signs — even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate. [I have cut out the explanations. — E.D.]

  1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
  2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
  3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
  4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
  5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
  6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
  7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

Voodoo history

Here, with thanks to Robert Park, is what I propose for the warning signs for bogus history, for voodoo history:

  1. The author pitches the claim directly to the media or to organizations of non-historians, sometimes for pay.
  2. The author says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.  Bogus history relies more on invective than investigation; anyone with an opposing view is an “idiot,” or evil.
  3. The sources that verify the new interpretation of history are obscure, or unavailable; if they involve a famous person, the sources are not those usually relied on by historians.
  4. Evidence for the history is anecdotal.
  5. The author says a belief is credible because it has endured for some time, or because many people believe it to be true.
  6. The author has worked in isolation, and fails to incorporate or explain other, mainstream versions of the history of the incident, and especially the author fails to explain why they are in error.
  7. The author must propose a new interpretation of history to explain an observation.

Any history account that shows one or more of those warning signs should be viewed skeptically.

In another post, I’ll flesh out the reasoning behind why they are warning signs.


Fake quotes in prize-winning essays

June 16, 2009

Rational Rant crashes into some use of faked and edited quotes in prize-winning essays and speeches.

Nothing new to careful observers.  Several of the Usual Suspects™ bad quotes turned up.

The trouble with these quotations, which are central to the theses of both pieces, is that all of them are fake. And by fake I don’t mean, please note, that they had a word off here and there, or that they were a popular misquoting of something Washington or Franklin actually said or wrote—I mean that they were out-and-out fakes, words put into their mouths by somebody else with an axe to grind. (And even worse—a number of them were actually misquotations of the original fake quotation.) Here are the seven, in all their glory:

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! (falsely attributed to Patrick Henry)

It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here. (falsely attributed to Patrick Henry)

He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world. (falsely attributed to Benjamin Franklin)

The reason that Christianity is the best friend of government is because Christianity is the only religion that changes the heart. (falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson)

The future and success of America is not in this Constitution but in the laws of God upon which this Constitution is founded. (falsely attributed to James Madison)

It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. (falsely attributed to George Washington)

It is impossible to rightly govern a country without God and the Bible. (falsely attributed to George Washington)

It’s difficult to get students to attribute quotes with proper citations.  Students are mightily confused by the notion of plagiarism.  We teachers need to work harder to get them to verify what they quote, and to offer appropriate citations.  Since these quotes can’t be cited, students should have discovered the errors as they wrote.

One of the offending pieces was written by a high school junior, the other by a 10-year-old.  There’s time to make them savvy (but will anyone do it?).

Do we need to give judges, of essay and speech competitions, sheets of the quotes that most frequently show up, though they are faked?

Typewriter and quote of the moment: David McCullough

December 17, 2007

I bought my Royal Standard typewriter in 1965. It was secondhand. I have written everything I’ve ever had published on it, and there is nothing wrong with it.

Giambarba photo of historian David McCullough and his typewriter

  • Pulitzer-winner David McCullough, defending his refusal to write on a computer during a Dallas book-signing.

(Found in Dallas Morning News, Alan Peppard, “Salutations, Year in Review, Local Celebrities,” December 17, 2007, page 1E, in graphic on page 4E)

More from McCullough on typing, and on writing, reading and understanding history, below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Baltimore Scout collects, makes history

September 7, 2007

How about having your students work with the Library of Congress on a history project?

The Veterans History Project encourages people to contribute oral histories of veterans, a project that I think has some wonderful possibilities. Below the fold, read about Tim Mantegna, a Baltimore teen who collected histories as part of his Eagle project. This fall he enters the University of Maryland – Baltimore County to study political science, as an Eagle Scout.  (Also see this story:  “Iraq Veterans Record Their Stories”)

Read the rest of this entry »

Encore post: Recognizing bogus history, 2

July 3, 2007

Editor’s Note:  I’m traveling this week, celebrating our independence 231 years on.  While mostly out of pocket, I’ll feature some encore posts, material that deserves another look to keep it from fading from memory.  This post, below, is the second of a two-part series from August 2006.

Recognizing bogus history, 2

Bogus history infects political discussions more than others, though there are some areas where bogus history strays into the realm of science (false claims that Darwin and Pasteur recanted, for example).

1. The author pitches the claim directly to the media or to organizations of non-historians, for pay.

Historians are detectives, and they like to share what they find. One historian working in the papers of one figure from history will find a letter from another figure, and pass that information on to the historian working on the second figure. Historians teach history, write it up for scholarly work, and often spin it in more fascinating tales for popular work. Most years there are several good works competing for the Pulitzer Prize in history. Academic historians, those tied to universities and other teaching institutions, join societies, attend meetings, and write their material in journals — all pitched to sharing what they have learned.

Bogus historians tend to show up at conferences of non-historians. Douglas Stringfellow’s tales of World War II derring do were pitched to civic clubs, places where other historians or anyone else likely to know better, generally would not appear (Stringfellow’s stories of action behind enemy lines in World War II won him several speaking awards, and based on his war record, he was nominated to a seat in Congress for Utah, in 1952, which he won; a soldier who knew Stringfellow during the war happened through Salt Lake City during the 1954 re-election campaign, and revealed that Stringfellow’s exploits were contrived; he was forced to resign the nomination). Case in point: David Barton speaks more often to gun collectors than to history groups.

2. The author says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy insisted that anyone who opposed his claims that communists dominated certain government agencies, or that any given person was a communist, was because those who challenged him were, themselves, part of the greater conspiracy, trying to silence him. Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, who chaired the committee that recommended censure for Sen. McCarthy, lost his own re-election campaign in 1958 in part to the belief by Utah voters that such a conspiracy existed and had succeeded in suppressing McCarthy.

But there was no organized campaign against McCarthy.  Individual Americans, spurred by patriotism, the Boy Scout Law, or just a sense that truth is valuable, spoke up against him, time and again in many different forums.  Sen. Watkins powerfully opposed communism.  Later historians found any truth in McCarthy’s claims against the State Department and other government agencies, and his critics, got there accidentally, below the usual levels of coincidence.

3. The sources that verify the new interpretation of history are obscure; if they involve a famous person, the sources are not those usually relied on by historians.

Most internet hoaxes simply don’t list sources. Bogus quotes circulating that have been attributed to Madison, Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, and others, often list a year, and nothing else. When I staffed the Senate, several times a year I’d get letters to work on with claims that the Supreme Court had ruled in 1892 that the U.S. is, officially, a “Christian nation.” Usually there there was no case name attached, but I came to understand that the case referred to was the Church of the Holy Trinity vs. U.S. 1892 was far enough back that it was a difficult case for people outside of a decent law library to get — and then, it is couched in 1892 legalese, which makes it difficult to understand. It is an obscure enough case that most of the time it won’t be checked out. If the case can be produced, rarely will it be among lawyers who can interpret what happened from the fog of the language of the decision. The case is not listed at the Cornell University Law School’s on-line Legal Information Institute, nor at Findlaw.com — the databases they rely on go back to 1893. There is a full text copy at the Justicia website. [This was written in 2007.]

The case involved a law that prohibited the importing of laborers, and the Court ruled that the law probably was not intended to apply to a white, white collar worker, a preacher from England (the law was probably aimed at Chinese workers, coming as it did in that time when immigration from China was prohibited). It appears from the case that the church had argued some First Amendment justification to be exempt, and the U.S. Solicitor General had argued in response that the First Amendment requires the courts to assume that the government is hostile to religion; Justice David Brewer wrote at length about how the nation had accommodated religion over the years, especially Christianity, in dismissing the Solicitor General’s argument (he did not accept the church’s argument, either). This sort of writing is called obiter dicta in legal studies — words of an opinion wholly unnecessary to the decision. The case is cited rarely, and never for its religious “ruling,” because that was not what was ruled, and the language was not applied as law then, nor has it been since.  The Supreme Court ruled that importing preachers from England was not covered by the law. The ruling makes no mention of religion.

A bit of reflection on what really happened in history should make this clear: Consider the effect of such a ruling by the Supreme Court on later cases involving textbooks, busing of parochial students, student prayer, Bible readings, etc. Had such a precedent existed, lawyers would have sniffed it out regardless its obscurity.

4. Evidence for the history is anecdotal.

America’s founders carefully wrote laws that assure religious freedom, largely by creating a separation of state and church. To those unhappy with such a separation, every utterance of a founder in which God is praised, or invoked in any way, becomes “proof” that the founders did not mean what they wrote in the laws. Anecdote trumps any other evidence, to these people.

Abraham Lincoln's letter to the president of the Republican National Convention of 1860, accepting the convention's nomination for the presidency.

Abraham Lincoln’s letter to the president of the Republican National Convention of 1860, accepting the convention’s nomination for the presidency. It was written, you will note, from Springfield, Illinois, 200 miles away from Chicago where the convention was held.

To prove to me the piety of Abraham Lincoln, a fellow showed me photograph of a plaque on a church in Chicago, said to be the church where Abraham Lincoln said his prayers every morning during the Republican Convention of 1860, at which Lincoln got the nomination for president. Other records — newspapers, Lincoln’s letters and other documents, show that, as was the fashion in 1860, Lincoln did not attend the convention in Chicago, but as a candidate for president, stayed at home in Springfield, nearly 200 miles away.

Most real history can be read in documents, and does not need to rely on folk retellings exclusively.

5. The author says a belief is credible because it has endured for some time, or because many people believe it to be true.

Faced with the evidence that a dozen quotes he had attributed to figures such as James Madison, George Washington and Patrick Henry were whole cloth inventions, Texas quote-purveyor David Barton issued a statement urging people not to rely on them because they were “questionable.

A great example of belief triumphing over fact presents itself as the Cardiff Giant, now on display at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York (go visit when you visit the Baseball Hall of Fame). After an argument with a cleric over whether the Bible’s claim that giants once existed, a tobacconist named George Hull hired stonecarvers to carve a giant; then he hired a farmer to bury the carving on his farm, and claim to have struck it when planting. Once discovered the “petrified man” was put on display, for a fee. Hull got lucky: Syracuse businessmen offered to buy it from him for an enormous sum.

Paleontologist Othniel Marsh inspected it on display, and pronounced it a hoax. For some odd reason, that increased the popularity of the attraction. Carnival and side show entrepreneur P. T. Barnum offered $60,000 for the carving, but was refused. Barnum then had a plaster replica made and put on display. The owners of the original hoaxed carving sued, but the suit was thrown out because they could not demonstrate the “genuineness” of their own hoax.  Barnum made more money than the original.  A hoaxed hoax is even more popular than the truth.

A photo (staged?) of the 1869 unearthing of the Cardiff Giant (Cardiff, New York). Photograph courtesy Farmers Museum via Associated Press, and via National Geographic.

A photo (staged?) of the 1869 unearthing of the Cardiff Giant (Cardiff, New York). Photograph courtesy Farmers Museum (where the carving now rests, on display to museum visitors)  via Associated Press, and via National Geographic.

6. The author has worked in isolation.

Historians often help each other. Good historians put out queries to many sources, the better to assure accuracy. So, conversely, if there are only a few people who know anything about an account, that fact alone may cause suspicion. Clifford Irving’s hoax biography of Howard Hughes, while remarkably accurate in some regards, was unraveled when enough people familiar with Hughes called the bluff — including, of course, Hughes himself. The book got as far as it did with extreme secrecy on Irving’s part. Working alone makes error easier, and is essential for intentional frauds.

7. The author must propose a new interpretation of history to explain an observation.

Various conspiracy claims require that key people act counter to their known character. If Franklin Roosevelt had “allowed” Pearl Harbor to occur in order to get the U.S. into war, his actions over the previous six years to support Britain start to make little sense. Had Lyndon Johnson been part of a conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy, his later carrying out the legislative plan of Kennedy runs contrary to all such motivations. If the founders of the U.S. actually intended to make Christianity the state religion, their efforts to disestablish the churches in all 13 colonies, efforts to write bills of rights for each state including freedom of religion, and efforts to create the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights seem like incredible, repeated errors.

Bogus history is much like the conjectured problems that result from time travel: Change one jot of history, and there is a cascading effect on later events. In many cases,were the bogus histories accurate, what follows could not be so, and we wouldn’t be here to discuss it.

Those are the seven warning signs of bogus history. Bogus, or voodoo history should be suspected if two or more of the signs are present — though it is quite possible for actual history to show more than two signs (perhaps actual history could show all seven signs — but I’d have to see an example before stating it’s so).


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