Category Archives: Books

Under the Tenfluence: Books

I finally tracked down my last missing Prehistoric Zoobooks, but have not had the time to put them in a proper post, it is still on the list though. I am working more on my dissertation at the moment and with a new routine at home due to the arrival of my son at the end of June things are a bit up in the air with anything that isn’t deadline/need-based driven. To that end though here is something that I am retrofitting for a full post that was done in a series on Facebook. It was one of those “10_____ that influenced (or some other verb) me” chain tags that go around from time to time. I usually ignore them, but this one came an a time of reflection on my own habits and what I was writing about early American readership so I decided to take something flippant and approach it in a way I could use it for a blog post. In fact, for people starting out blogging or online journaling these types of lists may provide a nice ease into the pool.

I was finally tagged in one of those throwaway things that inspire and thanks to my friend Blake, I have now had a long weekend full of existential crisis. He completely blew the rules (whatever they are) buy posted 9 in a square grid and saying “Ciao” for Guatemala. I have seen the last few run through the “no explanation, blah blah” and I wonder if that is to increase the chance of people doing it if they don’t have to do anything but pull an image off the internet and post it. This one is about books, I will think about the albums later. The 10 books that had an impact on you, or impacted you, or influences you, or inspire you, or whatever. I started listing mine out first ten without thinking, really, and ended up with a pretty interesting trend that had really shaped my current dissertational status, sometimes for content, sometimes for style, and sometimes as introductions to the person writing. 

#1: The Red Badge of Courage

The summer between my fifth and sixth grade year my grandfather gave me a Walmart 2/$1 copy of The Red Badge of Courage. I have never been a huge military history buff and he absolutely hates anything about the Civil War (he keeps chalking that up to having been killed in it, really). So it was an odd choice. Luckily though, the whole point about this book *isn’t* necessarily the war itself. It is more of the idea of war, and our place within it. The intro to my edition even says that “the plot itself is a somewhat rambling sequence of campfires, troop advancements, battles, and retreats, interspersed with gruesome scenes of death and human destruction.” It is all about the transformation of Henry’s life that make it interesting. Actually for me it is the whole cloud of irony that hangs over the entire book that really made it great. Crane’s whole approach to the romantic notion of warfare (bravery, chivalry, et al) and the military stereotype is brilliant, and this is in 1894. But that is the life of Crane who was a freelance author for newspapers fond of reading the monthly Century Magazine. The Red Badge of Courage was originally sent to McClure’s Magazine and they sat on it for 6 months before Crane asked for it back and sent it out again. Eventually it was cut down (55000 to 18000 words) for serialization, which ended up in a kind of syndication and made Crane famous. He was a war correspondant for the Greco-Turkis and Spanish-American War, and died at a health spa in Badenweiler in the turn of the century German Empire. So my relationship with monthly magazine serials, newspapers, and ironic stories filled with death (which I tend to find funny) really began before I entered Jr. High. 
Sometime in 2003 on one of my reset nights of staying up all night I happened to catch the miniseries Rough Riders presented in one long swoop on cable a run time of at least 4 hours (I think). But is had a great, if historically misaccurate version of Crane, which has tended to remain the avatar for the author in my mind:

There are many great parts in the film, and it should be good watching for high school classes  and even college. (I want to use it in my Real vs Real course one day) but this little sixty-seconds of so exchange at 2:57 or so sums up a lot about life’s philsophy between a career soldier and someone from the outside familiar with a larger picture:(This is worth the full 18 minute watch, but the part about Wes Hardin and Clay Allison really should give us all some food for thought.

#2 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Nothing about this is part of a regularly schedule program or a complete breakfast, but here is the second installment of I don’t remember all the details I was tagged in but I am making these up as I go and giving you explanations you won’t read about books with which you shall do likewise. Second in line is another Walmart 2/$1 books. The sticker isn’t a sticker. It started that way, but by this second wave it is actually printed on as part of the cover. 20,000 leagues under the Sea is sort of that you have to read adventure story, at least it was for me after my grandfather talked about how many times he had read it in school. I come from a long line of book escapists. I enjoyed the story, but I benefitted more from the opening of science fiction to my imagination. I was able to fully immerse in books like this, H.G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle as if every word were true and possible. Years later when I started following up on the authors I would see a lot of “man before his time” stuff to describe Verne. Turns out he wasn’t ahead, he was just in tune *with* his time. Attending public lectures, demonstrations, and exhibits throughout Paris. Good observational skills are essential to writing great science fiction. I like to think that I have them, and that living within these stories, and the rest of the 2/$1 club has given me part of the wealth of experience that I am putting into my dissertation talking about how Sci-fi provides a litmus test of sci-fact, from every major theory that goes the “right” way towards a cult of progress, sci-fi can go back and shoot off as if the opposite were true.

Some of my favorite books ever written were included in this reprint series, and I am not even sure how many they actually made. I also think it harkens back to a time at Walmart when Sam Walton was still alive that was going to provide an avenue to put “classic” literature into the hands of their customers for the price of a canned coke. Now I am imagining a book vending machine filled with these. You see, some times it really isn’t about the stories per se, as much as it might be the book as artifact with context as product as well as a source.

#3 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

20 years ago I was a subscriber in good standing of Entertainment Weekly. As part of their service we received a VHS tape with summer movie trailers on it. This film was one of them. The movie was released on May 19, and my Literary Journal for my English class was compiled and turned in on the 25th. You can see the influence.

The subtitle (inside the “O”) is “A mind-bending experience.” The story is insanity at its finest and a testament to Gonzo-journalism which in 1998 was exactly what I wanted to major in in college, only with less drugs. This was the longest work by HST that I had read, although I had been through a couple Rolling Stone articles before. Aside from the “I do what I want” and less than sharable in polite company attitude/musings there is much you can learn from Dr. Gonzo. Mainly that the truth, especially that truth that they refuse to tell you, is far more bizarre than fiction. Like others on this list, it introduced me to an author and a genre that became an underlying tenet to how I see and process the world. I will recommend a serial read of this, The Great Shark Hunt, The Rum Diary, and one most poignantly relevant today as when it was published “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.” Fun fact: I bought this copy of the book and the soundtrack (which is great by the way) on a driver’s ed class trip to Parkdale Mall which was like 40 miles from where I grew up. The Great Shark Hunt is also great.

The trailer, it just about as stunning quality as the VHS I watched it on the first time.

 

#4 The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House

This installment is a twofer. Easily justified by the George Carlin philosophy of presentation: My rules, I make them up. They are both quick reads and they both basically do the same thing: tell the truth. These works, and others by Tom Wolfe were less of an influence and more of vindication of my own internalization of what I was experience reading theory in college. I absolutely love thesebooks because they take to task the desire for theory over practicality or even enjoyability of art (The Painted Word) and Architecture (From Bauhaus to Our House). I have been thinking more about my relationship with Wolfe’s stuff since his death a couple weeks ago. While reading many of the obituaries and reminiscences it was interesting to see the all the introductions go something like this: “Tom Wolfe, author known for XXXX, passed away..” wherein XXXX was one of his works, which one seemed to change based on the publication. Some were similar, but there were outliers. They also addressed his lifelong trend of wearing white suits, which I usually religate to summer but have endeavored to do more in memory of Tom.

These books also tie back into Fear and Loathing because believe it or not Wolfe and Thompson knew each other, and sometimes worked the same beat. Hunter wrote a delightfully scathing letter to Tom over the coining of “New Journalism.” Later, according to an intervie with Wolfe Hunter had himself along with Tom and his wife thrown out of a restaurant after downing 8 banana daquiries and banana splits. Whether HST was okay with being boxed into New Journalism or not, over the years I began to see Tom and Hunter as two sides of the same coin. Tom in his white suit and Hunter in anything but they became the Spy vs Spy of journalism a la MAD magazine. Only instead of being at war with each other they were at war with “the establishment.” Even if it was a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend I was overjoyed when years after reading these for the first time I found out just how they were connected, that it was professional, and personal, and utterly needed in American literature. That these two books upset so many art and architecture critics is enough to tell you he was onto something. And now that I am working with some professional architects in order for them to help showcase a section of “American” Architecture in the 50s and 60s I think about Tom Wolfe more than once a day, and know that in the end I’m justified because Tom Wolfe was right:

“This is not what is so often described as the lag between ‘the artist’s discoveries’ and ‘public acceptance.’ Public? The public plays no part in the process whatsoever. The public is not invited (it gets a printed announcement later.)” –The Painted Word (I also have a proud Wolfe moment when I got a paper back in graduate school that said “you can’t just dismiss theory!” written on it.)

Here is a link to that letter. Know that it comes with an MPAA language warning, but if you know Hunter S. Thompson you know to expect that you “thieving pile of albino warts.”

Hunter S Thompson’s letter to Tom Wolfe- the ‘pig in the ‘filthy white suit’

#5 Bully for Brontosaurus

This is the book that introduced me to the genius and wit of Stephen Jay Gould. This is one of those collections of essays that you come for one and stay for the rest. What I have always loved about Gould is his ability to take complex ideas and break them out to meet a general reader where they live. His prolific output is only matched by his variety and ability to tell stories. Unlike some who merely rehash old books into knew when a new chapter’s worth of ungulate evolution has come to light, most of Gould’s work is different enough from itself to always learn something. I have often described him as the Dave Barry of popular science writing, but there are many people who required a backstory on Dave Barry, so that might not be the best way to go. This is a fantastic book to gift, not only for content but for stylistic study. We are sorely at a loss of essayists these days, and collections such as this are true treasures. This was one of the first books that I looked at and said “I want to do that” that actually had content I was familiar with. It is also partly to bless or to blame for my blogging and my penchant to write as if I were talking to you or producing something for verbal narration.

I will add here a bit more about the science in popular culture aspect of my work. Gould was one of many guest stars on The Simpsons who provided his own voice acting in the episode “Lisa the Skeptic.”

 

#6 The Bonehunter’s Revenge 

Paleontology is the gateway science drug. It can also be the gateway history of science drug. The great thing about it is that it can be applied in outreach across a wide variety of student interests. When I first learned about Cope v Marsh I set out to learn everything I could about the whole ordeal. Interestingly there isn’t as much as you’d expect. The Bonehunters’ Revenge is one of the ones I picked up. It is one of my favorites although not well reviewed as people compare it to other Wallace books. As it happens this books turned out to be more important for my dissertation than it would have been had I stayed writing about the history of paleontology in America. In particular it is the vehicle that brought this private feud to an adoring public that makes it significant: newspapers.

Specifically the tabloid newspapers, and exactly the New York Herald overseen by James Gordon Bennet, Jr. (We’ll see more of his family and this paper later). Once the public became engrossed in the dirty deeds done dirt cheap in this bizarro world Paleo Spy vs. Spy (two MAD references in one system, that could be a theme here as well), congress started paying attention too. Whether you are #TeamCope or #TeamMarsh it was their tantrums that led to government wondering why it was funding the hunt for “birds with teeth” and began to cut back on apporpriations for such expeditions. This feud was actually a continuation of a broader one that manifested early in the careers and goals of Ferdinand Hayden (Cope’s mentor) and J.W. Powell (Marsh’s mentor). While these reports come a half century after the emergence of the Penny Press and American tabloidism, it shows just how engrained the papers were in daily life and how they could grow to shape things beyond the profit of a newspaper. Fun fact, the first American animated film–incidentally starring a dinosaur named Gertie–was the brainchild of New York Herald editorial cartoonist Windsor McCay who may be best known for his comic strip Little Nemo.

#7 The Sun and the Moon

With a good editor this would have been a three book series. As it stands it is still one of my favorites and parts of it have popped up in my work and research ever since I discovered it. This book is the history of newspapers in America, it is the history of science fiction in America, it is the history of popular culture in America, it is the popular science communication in America, and it is the history of hoaxes in America. While the New York Sun penny paper is the main star here, it’s early rival The New York Herald, under the eye of James Gordon Bennet, grew influential enough to have rivals of its own. It covers the earliest printing of court reports and all other sorted things which before 1835 weren’t fit to print. Other players taking the stage to the background of moon man bats included, P.T. Barnum and his first humbugs, Edgar Allan Poe and his first forays into sciene fiction, including those that influenced Jules Verne, and an unassuming but brilliant writer and social commentarian Richard Adams Locke, whose parable in six parts took the newspaper reading world by storm and increased circulation of cheap newspapers beyond anyone’s imagination.

Once the roots of these papers had found suitable soil it would take a digital revolution 165 years later to budge it, and then it only changed formats. One of my favorite stories of all time comes from this book. It comes from Charles Dickens visit to the US (which he loathed unapologetically). Stepping down from his coach he was appalled to find a dirty working class mechanic with a newspaper under his arm. Apparently the very idea that newspapers could be for everyone offended Chuck’s sensibilities. This is a well-read audiobook too, with the narrator reading the newspaper articles in their author’s accent. This is particularly useful as Bennet was Scottish. Now I am guilty of reading everything that Bennet wrote in that same accent. If you are giving it a casual read I recommend the audiobook over the printed. Although it does say the same thing, it doesn’t seem to get as convoluted listening to it. 

#8 Annals of the Former World

Continuing the introspection of what books influenced me in some way or another is this collection of John McPhee stories. Most of McPhee’s work comes in at a couple hundred pages and range, no pun intended, from Alaska to Florida, and oranges to canoes. There really isn’t a bad one to get you started. Annals of the Former World takes you though the heart of the continent from east to west. If you ever find yourself getting your kicks on Route 66, or in that general direction, this book will take you through the past of the present that you are ignoring listening to your audiobook. This was one of the first books that really captured geology in a way that was readable and shareable with people who haven’t been baptized will all the smutty sounding vocabulary of the geologic trade. There is plenty of technical jargon in here that will keep the practicing rockhound satisfied, and probably bore your more Dan Brown summer readers.

Annals of the Former world won the Pulitzer Prize, and two of the books that are collected were finalists themselves. This was one that got me thinking about spinning my history studies more towards the history of science–I got out of science and into history so I could reclaim my use of adjectives and metaphor–thinking here is a nice model to work with. Well guess what McPhee is *not*, yes, a historian. You know what he *is*, (if you’ve been following along this should be easy) a journalist. This may have been the most useful pointless exercise that I have been tagged in on Facebook. I will end with a nice little paragraph from McPhee’s wikipedia page which juxtaposes him with the two New Journalist spies I wrote about earlier. Many of the topics in his New Yorker Pieces are bits of larger works. If you don’t have time for 700 pages of geology, I would recommend starting with Adventures with the Archdruid. That, in my opinion can give you the best summation of McPhee’s style.

“Unlike Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, who helped kick-start the “new journalism” in the 1960s, McPhee produced a gentler, more literary style of journalism that more thoroughly incorporated techniques from fiction. McPhee avoided the streams of consciousness of Wolfe and Thompson, but detailed description of characters and appetite for details make his writing lively and personal, even when it focuses on obscure or difficult topics. He is highly regarded by fellow writers for the quality, quantity, and diversity of his literary output.”

You can delve more into McPhee’s New Yorker work here.

For good measure (and a little tri-fold symmetry) I should also specifically include this piece about Lacrosse which was illustrated by Ralph Steadman who lent his talents to depicting the gonzo world of Hunter S Thompson.

#9 Sea of Glory

I bought Nathaniel Philbrick’s Sea of Glory on a whim the first or second year I worked for H.E.B. Grocery. Since it was a “Plus” store it had books and magazines among other non grocery things. It was on the red dot clearance rack for what I thought was $7 but in actuality turned out to be $7 off, so it cost me $5 more than I had figured. I was more interested in the time period than the fact it was a navel voyage since there are relatively few books written about the antebellum period.

My original intent in graduate school was to study scientific expeditions in Victorian England, mainly because that had proved to be an easier sell than wanting to write about Game Rangers in British East Africa. I was pretty well versed in expeditionary forces and camps and leaders in the US from Lewis and Clark onward, or so I thought. I had never heard of this expedition, and that annoyed me more than anything. Even looking more into it there was only a few things written in the “professional” journals, and a neat Smithsonian exhibition somewhere around its 150th anniversary. Reading this book snapped a few things into place to make it the initial cornerstone for my dissertation: Titain Peale was involved, and it started with a hole in the earth.

Hollow Earth Theory has always interested me more for the mythology that has been built around it than anything else. It also provides a great point to go back and look at Science Fiction writing as it continues on as though some theories are true and explore any wisdom (or commentary) that that particular reality may impart. It is also a great introduction to Jeremiah Reynolds who actually managed to get the thing organized and ultimately himself disinvited from the journey. A newspaper man by trade besides taking up the cause for a hole at the pole he ended up stranded during a mutiny where he was introduced to a dangerous whale off the coast of South America (where his post mutiny group landed) called Moche Dick. His article influenced Herman Melville’s book which ultimately explains most of everything in the 19th century. His essays on polar exploration influenced Edgar Allan Poe as well, who, in the story of Arthur Gordon Pym “borrowed” several (most) lines. Pym influences a French guy named Verne and we get him trying to finish the story in The Sphinx of the Ice Realm.

I have read this and listened to the audiobook while driving back down to Texas, and still laugh about how it ended up being such a large part of my professional life. It also reveals a huge oversight in American Scientific Biography as James Dana needs a good 700 page bio from his familial ties to what becomes Scientific American to his checking Darwin’s theories of islands once this voyage makes it to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii, or post-now, Hawai’i). He had read a newspaper article the explained Darwin’s island growing theory he had developed a few years before in the Galapagos. Let’s all just take a moment and put the hope out into the Universe that Dana isn’t shadowed in his own biography as “The American Darwin.” One of the only things that might save him from that is that there are only a handful of us that see Darwin as a geologist.

The book also explains that with the help of the material specimens collected by the Pacific Railroad Surveys and the U.S.-Mexican Boundary survey (both guest stars of my dissertation) the materials collected by the U.S. Ex. Ex. forced the hand of the early Smithsonian decision makers to abandon their initial plans for a research base only and not a collection of cabinets to an enormous collection of cabinets. With 400 tonnes of stuff coming in that was government property the only place to store it was the nation’s attic. So, in quite a few ways this little sea cruise was as big an influence on how some American cultural things played out and this book was a large part of my decision to write about it. 

Bonus points here, when I got to OU and met some of the other graduate students it turns out that one of them was going to use the U.S. Ex. Ex. for their research on the contributions of the US Navy on American Science. We actually share a birthday–further still in a graduate program of fifteen,  three of us shared a birthday; which is an interesting coincidence if I do say so myself.

#10 Watchmen

This one may be the odd one out, but it really made me see the whole medium of comics and graphic novels differently. Comics weren’t a big part of my life until late elementary and early jr. High School. I had several books of comic panels that had belonged to my mother, Heathcliff, Hi and Lois, Beetle Bailey, etc. and I would get Garfield books at/through the book fair, but superheroes weren’t really it at all. I think the first one I got was in like 5th grade from a flea market because it was 10/$1. The only one I can remember was the one where Hawkeye was shot in a drive by shooting and had to get a new costume. When I started reading them in earnest it was X-men and they came from the loneliest magazine rack you’ve ever seen in a Brookshire Brothers grocery store. I sent away for some catalog in the back of one and ended up with opportunities to buy back issues for pennies and issue so I tripled my collection then, getting important “collector” issues like The Death of Multiple Man in some X-factor I wasn’t familiar with. The fun thing was they put me on a mailing list and one or two flagged me as under 18 to it went to the only other James Burnes in Fred that they could send it to, my grandfather.

In fact, he got them first and my grandmother kept asking me if I was reading “playboy funnybooks.” I was always a bit confused with the whole superman thing, I knew it as cultural thing, and had seen some of the early animated shorts (when he could just leap buildings in a single bound and not fully fly) but I guess I projected his powers onto people I knew and they weren’t saving the city. I came to Watchmen later and it instantly drew me into the realness of living in a world with costumed vigilantes. The logic behind the mythos. A weird inverse morality in the face of the pure American mythos. By the time I picked it up I had been out of comics for a few years, I had to offload my collection–two boot boxes full– because “they were a fire hazard.” Seriously, it wasn’t like we didn’t have 3 bookshelves full of apparently less flammable paper. I had also settled into my sort of default philosophy of Romantic Nihilism in a way that I couldn’t explain it to others, that everything was beautiful and nothing mattered. There are aspects of the Comedian that I really identified with and there were others that I find repulsive, so I had to deal with that internal schizophrenia and its outcomes.

I had actually had practice living in two minds as I was spending recess doing imitations of Jim Carrey and then later getting to listen to my grandparents talk about how terrible he was, they couldn’t stand him, that was all just stupid, etc. Learning that you can share some of the more mundane, (useful?), personal traits from people/characters without subscribing to the bad is a great and powerful thing. I think a little of it goes back to the whole newspaper thing again too with The Frontiersman and Rorschach’s Journal, that is where the truth is. Men in Black taught us the same thing, right? I mean, that’s independent confirmation. The hard black and white truth is cut out of the full fabric of life too, and you can think that as long as they are *believing* something it is as good as if it were true. My second master’s thesis looked at that (it didn’t matter that the Piltdown skull was fake, it still had *real* repercussions on the science and practice of anthropology). Maybe that is a kind of blue pill in the end, and we all choose which lies we are comfortable living with, or maybe there is a varying degree of “reality” that we all experience. There was also a giant owl airship (owlship?) named after the cartoon owl in Disney’s The Sword and the Stone.

The few comics I did keep were some of the dark Marvel What-Ifs. Specifically, “Deadly Inheritance” which saw the Fantastic Four’s powers consuming them, and “The Mark of Cain” where Juggernaut finds himself the only being on earth after a plague. There are two honorable mentions here before I fall into talking about how comics are keeping me sane through my dissertation and they are somewhat tangentially related to Watchmen as they spin some thing cold war related. The first is Red Son, which follows Superman as he fell to earth in Russia and instead of becoming a good hard working American, he became a good hard working communist. The other is similar (and again Fantastic Four–What If really seemed to have it out for them) with the Fantastic Four being cosmonauts instead of astronauts.

I will add that it was also nice to start and end something this long written sequentially by a single author. I wasn’t *too* crushed getting out of comics in the mid 90s because by that point X-men was as full of *see issue XX notes as it was real dialogue. The last thing I remember was something on Asteroid M and Rogue and Iceman were on a road trip after she kissed Gambit.

Another bit of unpopular admittance is that I enjoyed the film. There are some major differences that would not translate to the screen from the page. It was a closer reading than Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which I think was easier to approach than that graphic novel, but where it died in the water was the insistence on including an American character to draw American audiences. The whole Tom Sawyer thing was bland as he wasn’t much of a mean mean warrior so to speak. I didn’t hate it, I just wanted more out of it, but I digress. Even if you didn’t enjoy the movie or hated the changes you almost have to admit that the opening Bob Dylan music video with all the references and stills is fantastic. And the many scenes that are direct copies of the comic panels were amazing.

Without getting into the philosophy or any of the mucky stuff above, the shortest reason to put this on my list of 10 it that it helped me get over the internalized belief that comics (or “graphic novels”) were some how lower forms of literature. That I wasn’t “reading” if I was reading comics. That was internalized because that was what I was told. By the same grandfather that gave me The Red Badge of Courage and was getting my catalogs for “playboy funnybooks.” I think that was finally shattered seeing the graphic novel From Hell on the English Honors reading list or purchase shelf at the Lamar Bookstore (Kampus Korner) when I returned as a sophomore and a half in my undergrad after being out for 4 years. From Hell incidentally, was written by the same guy.

 

 

 

Zoobooks

I was talking to a friend about paleoart a couple weeks ago. We were talking about how the first thing you absorb about something is generally what establishes your head canon and makes it hard to change. I realized that a good portion of mine came from two-page spreads in Zoobooks like this one:

This one credited to Michael Woods.

If you aren’t familiar with Zoobooks (most everyone is, right?) that really is a shame because they were, for the lack of a better word: awesome.  My original set was from 1988 or 89 and looked like these:

Being so far from a public library were the heaviest influences on wildlife information outside of my grandfather’s set of encyclopedias which still had Eisnhower as president. He often complained that he never received the yearly updated issued “yearbooks” that were to come with it, but it never bothered him enough to follow up on it. The Zoobooks were so great that my mother decided that it was worth another year’s subscription. What we got was the “new” first runs. So I had basically the same issues but with different title arrangements and colors, and it looks like they’ve changed a few more times since then:

Clockwise from top left: 1994, 1996, 2000, 2005

About six years ago they came up again and I started tracking them down online. There are several series now covering species from endangered animals to animal wonders. I wanted to get some good scans of the ones I remembered so vividly–Wild Horses, Elephants, and Rhinos, to hang in our nursery.

Wild Horses spread by Michael Hallet

When I started digging through the many ebay lots I had accumulated I realized I had several years of one issue, but was still missing the Wild Horses, which is currently shipped and due in the end of the week.

Elephant families by Barbara Hoopes

Doing what any historian would do, I pulled the 90s and 2000s copies of “Elephants” to see if anything had really changed besides the covers. Artwork remains the same, some text changes and is rearranged on the page, along with the inclusion of an “activity sheet” in the post-Zoobooks-I-had years. Oddly enough as the years progressed the tone of the text seemed to change from a more matter of fact to a more “can you find… in this” sort of thing. It is also interesting as layouts change that the 2005 edition more closely resembles the 1994 text on this particular spread.

Text changes through time. Moving from the top back: 1994, 1996, 2000, 2005.

Many of these wonderful pieces were painted by San Diego Barbara Hoopes. You can learn more about her at her website Barbaraambler.com. Outside, or, rather inside the special family spread the art also captured the skeletal and musculature of the animals as they moved, fought, or ran. That was probably what I remembered first, with the full herds being a close second.

The elephant one in particular stood out for me because I haver never forgotten the tie to the cyclops story and the images that were used in my issue of Zoobooks years before I would ever read Adrienne Mayor’s The First Fossil Hunters that idea that real things could have influenced mythology and stories was there, and I guess I never really grew out of that because all the #PaleoPopCulture I spew around on twitter and the Paleo Porch facebook page is basically a modern version of that. 

I imagine that there are similar subtle changes across the issues, but the only other one I have multiple copies of are the dinosaur issues.

clockwise from top left: 1985, 1992, 1999, 2004

Not only was this particular issue set on providing a foundation for all things dinosaur the issue I had, and luckily one of the ones here, include the “new” theory about the impact event leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Which I suppose will be my version of the “when I was in elementary school they taught continental drift as a theory” story that my mentor prof always tells.

1985 and 2004 text versions of a theory.

The Dinosaur editions had a huge four-page pull out, with two, three-page on the backsides:

The Dinosaur issues lead into a complete separate series called “Prehistoric Life.” it was a series of 10 books with a Family Activity Book inside a hard plastic slip case.

The Family Activity Book has issues 2-9 on the cover for a nice grid. “Book One” was “Life Begins”  and spans through to “Book 10” “Mammals Part 2.”

I don’t know who Bishop was, or what they taught, but I can tell you someone absconded with their class copy of “Book Ten” because I don’t have a complete set. I have also tracked one of those down to complete that set. The activity guide is a mixed bag, that utilizes a lot of metal coat hangers. There were some pipe cleaner dinosaurs, some quasi-potatoman-mammals, and a pterosaur kite.

I will eventually do an entire post dedicated solely to the Prehistoric Zoobooks but it was the originals that had the gorgeous wild horses, extinct elephants and rhinos that really sent me to digging out the box and going back through these.

Zoobooks is still around in this .com world, now part of Ranger Rick’s National Wildlife Federation, and branched into a couple age groups (Zoobies, Zootles, and Zoobooks) and a dinosaur specific run. Available in print and e-subscriptions.

They even have a regularly updated wildlife blog easily accessed through the site. If you want to get your kids, nephews, nieces, grandkids, friends’ kids, or anyone a gift they will really enjoy, a subscription here will keep on giving all year long.

There are some things coming I will come back and add to this later from the Wild Horses and the Prehistoric Book Ten, when I try to focus solely on the Prehistoric Zoobooks for a future post, until then I will close with a sampling of the 9 books that I have in hand and just clicked off at random with my phone while going through them at the kitchen table. The art is amazing, and the setups are clever, look for the scuba diver avoiding the dunkleosteus and the woman wearing (and crashing) the hang-glider with the pterosaurs. You know, I’ll probably end up getting myself a subscription to the ZooDinos now, just to see if it expands on the Dinosaurs issue or the Prehistoric Life series.

R.B. Shead: Art Director

If you have been following along, you will recognize the crescendo of  this Shead story has taken over my posts and summer research. It is hard to think of anything else I could add to what I’ve discovered so far save just adding to his already herculean numbers of completed pieces of art. Following the magazine covers that were part of his enormous portfolio and utilizing the interlibrary loan services at my library I secured a few copies of the Specialty Salesman Magazine. 

They aren’t readily available and is one of those magazines whose volume numbers roll over in the middle of the calendar year. Luckily I was able to get a copy of November 1925 as it explained the change in editorial and layout (in great detail), and the new direction that the magazine was headed. This is fortunate because one of the pages featured a set of portraits of the magazine staff including their titles.  Not only was Ralph Shead a contributing illustrator to the magazine he was the magazine’s art director. This explains the several covers that were part of the portfolio as well as the few pieces of art that weren’t his.

Specialty Salesman’s Staff November 1926
R.B. Shead, Art Director

So far the earliest I have seen is the November 1925 edition, but one of the portfolio covers shows  the change from 1924 to 1925. Perhaps he was working for the museum even earlier. I am still trying to track down as many copies of the magazines as I can to at least figure out when he started publishing illustrations there. This isn’t a particularly easy task as the magazines are large format (about 12×14 inches) and average 150 pages each. Some of the earliest ones I have seen swell to nearly 250. This means they take up a lot of space on library shelves and are likely not to be requested much. This is one of those instances where the physical copies of the magazines are essential to determining who produced the art. As great as microfilm is for text it is just as bad when it comes to images. We’ve preserved hard black and white letters for 500 years, but there was no apparent reason to care about that the images were. Simple pictures and visual aids are of no importance. (This is where we need a dedicated sarcasm font). For instance, in microfilm you would never be able to make out the works on the wall or on Shead’s easel in this image. Working with the physical copy you can clearly see one of the originals from the previous post hanging on the wall.

I am working on getting a clearer scan of that page to see if I can match any more of the extant pieces with the Art Department’s studio. I am hoping against hope that the one he is working on in this photo is one of the originals, but I fear I may have already used up my allotment of luck for this project.

Before I show the few matching pieces that I have found I want to share a little about the magazine itself. As its title suggests it is a magazine for men and women who sell. Sell what, exactly? And to whom? The mid twenties saw a rise in the traveling salesman and this magazine was a trade magazine of sorts to those enterprising enough to go door to door. Even if you’ve never been visited by a brush or vacuum cleaner salesman, you know there kind. This is exactly what Daffy Duck was doing representing the various head offices in Walla Walla, Washington. It wasn’t just a television trope.

Among the short stories illustrated by Shead and a handful of others there were scores of advertising pages providing dealer direct stock of men and women’s clothing, fountain pens, pocket watches, and even fire extinguishers. It is basically a magazine full of all the things that are relegated to the backs of most magazines today.

With nearly 9 more years to round out the 20s I do not know when or if I will be able to complete the decade an further to see when Shead’s final piece appeared, but there is more than enough here to attest to the profound productivity during his time in Indiana. In the 14 issues that I have catalogued Shead produced 84 illustrations and the all their covers.

For every one of the originals that are still in the portfolio there are several that exist as illustrations only. Some are part of the same stories, others are dispersed throughout countless other stories.

Shead’s illustration surrounding this poem “The Gallant Salesman” also shows that his animal scenes were just as good as any of those featuring people. It would be almost a decade before his subjects took him back to Norman to the campus museum and into prehistory.

As a final though on Shead’s work and to tie it all back around to his work at the Stovall museum and where I first encountered him, there is a marvelous collection of images that are all part of the same  project. Throughout this project besides breaking through some of the obscurity of the man and his work, I have been able to see his watercolor study, the plaster Marquette (which it turns out are not his), and a beautiful black and white photo of the finished diorama as it ran in The Oklahoman in 1952. 

Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum
Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum

 

Original Oklahoman Caption: “”big game hunter Frank buck has nothing on Dr. J. Willis Stovall, director of the museum at the University of Oklahoma, with the possible exception of Buck’s “Big’em back alive” slogan.” Photo Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society

THE ROAD TO COMPS PART 19: ART IN THE AMERICAN WEST IN THE 19TH CENTURY: Scientific Visualization

This will be my shortest post: I’m done.

The End.

To wrap this list up there are several books which were recalled that I read several weeks ago and am working from my notes on for this. That being said, there wasn’t anything new in any of these books that wasn’t in some of the earlier reads/posts. That doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting or useful, they just add more content to the footnotes when you defer you opinions to someone else work.  I will look specifically at a few of them, but will include the rest in the list/images just for completion’s sake.

Great Reconnaissance

It would probably be best to track through the ones least used here, but likely to make an appearance in my dissertation, or at very least my prospectus which I will get to working on soon. Edward Wallace’s The Great Reconnaissance: Soldiers, Artists, and Scientists on the Frontier 1848-1861 looks at a sliver of time when there was much traveling and reporting back from the American West. Interestingly enough this sliver doesn’t cover much in the way of the miles covered before 48 and after 61. It is a great book, but like many on the same topics, it needs updated and contextualized. It does provide an excellent paper trail for journals and reports to follow.

Picturing Nature

Ann Shelby Blum’s Picturing Nature: America Nineteenth-Century Zoological Illustration is a gorgeous book. Filled with color images from some of the most important works in Natural History. Blum focuses on scientific representation outside of the main thoroughfare of historical enquiry and anyone wanting to know more about people who aren’t Audubon. She also puts Audubon in a natural history (and thus science) perspective. Considering the history of natural history as the history of science should not be that revolutionary, but here we are.

art and science in america

The collected Art and Science in America: Issues of Representation, edited by Ann Meyers, is a collection of papers from a Symposium that was focused on the Huntington’s collection and how two-dimensional images can provide primary source material for understanding the early decades of the 19th century.  The book was published in 1998 and was reviewed as part of the “rebirth” of studies in historical natural history.

Citizen Spectator

Wendy Bellion’s Citizen Spectator: Art, Illustration and Visual Perception in Early America is a great collection of early American art styles and art cultures. It would be an excellent book if it was more readable. It reads like a dissertation (and it very well could be) but it will likely fall flat on more readers than those who appreciate it. The book distills down to the fact that spectators (active lookers–“participants” in art) were making decisions about and utilizing their own positions within the republican value system that was the early American experience. Participating in these exhibits, art illusions and allusions were what shaped the citizenry, hence “Citizen Spectator.”

Mapping the Nation

Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America  by Susan Shulten is a fascinating exploration into the history of cartography not from the technological side as much from the cultural side of how thinking with and about maps has changed. The changed was sculpted and molded through active history making. This is perhaps one of the best representations of how scientific visualization has changed and the power that such imagery possesses. Tying this back into Bellion’s theories on spectatorship as a means of reinforcing citizenry and you can start to see just how powerful images can be. Maps may fall under a different context than the  wildlife imagery in Blum’s Picturing Nature but they are all politicized in their own ways and are important to consider as products of scholarship and not merely visual aids.  Incidentally, you can look at all of Schulten’s maps (and visual aids) at MappingtheNation.com

Nature and Culture

That idea of visual aid as science comes into play well in Barbara Novak’s Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825-1875.  The idea of scientific representation within government reports might not seem revolutionary at first thought, but where Novak succeeds is providing the general context for the artists–specifically landscape artists– on the government expeditions.  There is much more to this book, and it should be paired with Rebecca Bedell’s   The Anatomy of Nature: Geology and American Landscape Painting , 1825-1875 for best results (including forgetting which one you read what in).

The Anatomy of Nature

The landscape was the “New” World’s answer to the Old World’s man made monuments. As technological advances brought photography into the government reports artists were still needed to provide the colors to go with the matching black and white photographs. Both in this sense were visualizations to accompany official reports. They were science, not art. Just like the charts or graphs, photographs and landscapes were supposed to present hard facts and data. Artists even complained that realism was science and not art.

Looking Close and Seeing Far

Kenneth Haltman’s Looking Close and Seeing Far: Samuel Seymour, Titian Ramsey Peale, and the Art of the Long Expedition follows the first American expedition with “trained civilians” that is artist on payroll. Lewis and Clark suffered from the lack of artists and the government was not going to repeat that mistake. Titian had watched his father sketch many of the Lewis and Clark specimens as they were deposited in Peale’s museum. While Seymour’s works are rare and Peale’s Long Expedition art is scattered to the four winds Haltman works to provide an account of the first American “artistic” enterprise. This also serves as a good introduction to my own work, with Lewis and Clark and Long setting the stage for the U.S. Exploring Expedition, on which Titian was artist and naturalist, just as with the long expedition, but was a naval expedition. Titian provides the best way to understand the differences in naval and army expeditions in the antebellum period. The one thing that Art historians like Haltman and Flores haven’t touched on, but provided an excellent template to work with is that natural history representations are science. Looking at this expeditions and representations as the history of American science in broad terms (more specifically geology and natural history) is sorely lacking from any of the books I have read on this mammoth list. The idea that Titian’s first sketch of the scissor-tail flycatcher is important for art is only half the story. The collections, sketches, and preserved specimens are history of science. You would think this would be low hanging fruit. Then again, maybe it means that my work will not be in vain, lost, or ignored. We will see. I will have to post my wrap up thoughts for this project and the whole year in a few days, exams will  be scheduled in the spring and I have some ideas on formulaic academic writing, writing for the academy, and the cost of such works that I will post after I pass exams. Thank you for coming along on this mad road trip and I hope that if you are preparing for your own exams you find some of this madness comforting towards your own work, if you are here for morbid curiosity I hope it was satiated.

The Road to Comps Part 18: Art in the American West in the 19th Century: Art and other Visual Arts

It’s Christmas Eve, so what better time to post my Road to Comps Eve post. One more set of readings and I will have completed the entire list AND 2016. I hope to make my final post next week too.

These last couple of sections are bits and pieces of larger works and many of the points have been made in previous posts (and previous books) but they serve as having another place to return to pull information in order to make the points in my dissertation (this isn’t entirely for tangential exams to prove I can stay on a task for an extended period of time).

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William Truettner’s (editor) The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920 was something I had seen in class before. It serves as a textbook for image use in promoting the west to settlers and to modern museum visitors. Interestingly enough the book was published in 1991 to accompany the contentious art exhibit.

Under an open sky

The following year William Cronon edited a volume entitled Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past (see a trend here?). Martha Sandweiss’s contribution predated her book Print the Legend by a decade, but many of the points she made about photoraphy are relevant to art as well, as I argued in the previous post. In short, art should be considered as primary source material within its cultural context and it should not be taken at face value.

Leutze Westward

Robert Cushing Aiken’s “Painting of Manifest Destiny: Mapping the Nation” appeared in American Art Vol 14 (Autumn, 2000 pp 78-89). and collects several of the key art pieces used to represent the American tenet of full continental settlement.

Pacific Arcadia

Claire Perry’s essay “Cornucopia of the World,” (Pacific Arcadia: Images of California, 1600-1915) highlights the trouble western promoters faced when the gold ran out of them thar’ hills. The focus shifted from mineral to agricultural wealth. This was not an easy 1:1 substitution as the arid areas of California couldn’t be farmed in any way remotely resembling farming practices in the east (or even the midwest).  Interestingly enough, this preambles the turn of the century tourist boosterism that came as Americans became more autonomously mobile.

american painting in the 19th century

Barbara Novak’s American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience  is in it’s third edition (1980, 1995, 2007) which shows that understanding American art in its own context isn’t a simple project. The strength of Novak’s work is intensified when you can look at it in tandem with the David Reynolds work on 19th century American Cultural History.  Novak provides the in depth artistic analysis and Reynolds provides the larger background to help frame it.

The Panorama

Stephan Oetterman published an enormous treatise on the art of the panorama. The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium is a fascinating look at a (literally) huge pieces of American art. To understanding the draw and experience of the moving panorama you can see this previous post. Oetterman’s research indicates that far from the generally accepted idea the the panorama was based on ancient ideas (or ideals) is erroneous and it was in fact patented in the late 18th century.  Part of the draw for this type of artwork, stage or no, was increased with the western landscapes and light plays that were highlighted in the few other gallery books included on this list. he even points out that movies in the mid 20th century were produced in cinescope which mean that it took three projectors and three screens to capture it grandeur of the west.

Beautiful books that provide extensive examples of their respected topics are

Hudson River School

Linda S. Ferber The Hudson River School: Nature and the American West

American Light

John Wilmerding (ed) American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875. 

American Sublime

Andrew Wilton, American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880 

This final piece repeated a lot of what I have already written about the expeditions west, but there was something extremely interesting in how this book had been used.

Representing the Republic

John Rennie Shorts’ Mapping the National Territory” chapter in Representing the Republic: Mapping the United States 1600-1900  was heavily annotated by someone who used it before I did, but only in some interesting places. Actually what was most interesting was where there weren’t any annotations.

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As long as the book was recapitulating the same stories on the expansion and expeditions by the government the previous patron filled the pages with notes. Once the book started talking about the geological surveys: nothing. Well, almost nothing, there were two sets of brackets. Even as the book stated that little attention was paid to scientific surveys–even though they made up 80% of all the surveys were scientific in nature (mostly geological).

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All this leads me to believe that my dissertation topic is not only interesting but might actually end up being useful to a couple of fields.  One more section and a few more books and I have completed this part of the journey, the next post will likely be short like this one since the remaining texts are larger works as well with only portions aimed at my topic and it is hard to review/synthesize a textbook outside of its content’s context which has most definitely been carried on  in previous posts. I think these last dozen books or so are just the mopping up portions in order to hammer home some of the larger points and make sure I have been paying attention all this time. If any of this stuff was new and revolutionary at this stage I would most likely be extremely worried about my progress and exams.

 

The Road to Comps Part 17: Art and the American West in the 19th Century: Photography

I have found it odd that the case has to be made to study photography and art as source material and not merely “visual aids.” The only think that is even more odd is that this case is relatively recent.

Print the Legend

The four books and one article in this little operating section tend to all say the same thing–photographs are important not because they are photographs, and not even because the subjects of the photographs, but because they represent a distinct moment in time of an ever-changing culture. The contextual culture of regional and temporal data are frozen in time just as the faces of early portraits. Each work provides its own examples of why this is an important shift in thinking about images.   As Martha Sandweiss points out in Print the Legend sometimes what isn’t photographed or what was photographed and then lost can reveal as much (if not more) about a certain moment in the past.  Sandweiss provides a solid foundation that scholars should use in reassessing their relationships with photographs. I believe this improved methodology will also easily cover other visual culture as well.  Print the Legend could easily be a history of technology work as it follows the exponential developments of photography across two generations (her investigation ends in the 1890s) which happens to parallel the development of America’s mythos regarding their newly acquired and explored territories. For my purposes, she provides the best answer for why, after a MA in American History I have shifted over to work with the Art Historians for my dissertation:

“A lingering bias in historical training teaches would-be historians to value the literary over the visual or material, and teaches them how to query, challenge, and interpret literary documents, while leaving them few analytical skills for the interpretation of visual records”

While looking back through some of the little work I have done with photography (only really starting in 2014) I did find a C-SPAN video of this very book, and it is worth the time you can devote to it:

A funny aside is that you can purchase this as a DVD or an MP3. The latter of which you can listen to Sandweiss describe the photographs, which leads one to believe they missed the point.

Print the Legend

Alan Trachtenberg’s Reading American Photographs: Images as History, Matthew Brady to Walker Evens is one of the earliest books (1990) to call for a shift in the understanding of photographs. It is one of those books that requires complete attention and an appropriate amount of pyschological working up to undertake. It is dense.

Reading American Photographs

Not in a bad way, but at times the theoretical asides (which I am certain Trachtenberg does not see as asides) get in the way of the point he wishes to drive home. My first run in with Trachtenberg was his first book about the Brooklyn Bridge. While reading this I went back and thumbed through some things in it on a hunch. Photographs does continue Trachtenberg’s thread of America as imagination. In fact in 1965 he called it “An America of the imagination.” In addition to starting the stone rolling on photography reassessment in history, Trachtenberg offers a short sentence that I am certain will come up for expansion in my future work:

“Thus O’Sullivan placed the survey camera among the instruments of practical science, allowing the history and meaning of the Western surveys (the conjunction of “pure” science and imperial economic enterprise) to reveal their contradictions” (289)

The remaining books in this section could be considered “popular” books each focusing on a single photographer as they managed to work their way through the new continental nation and new technologies in order to make names for themselves as photographers.

Meaningful Places

In Meaningful Places: Landscape Photographers in the Nineteenth Century American West, Rachel McLean Sailer highlights that print making and mythmaking went hand in hand. Few of the landscapes are void of human life or activity, to the contrary many settlers used photographs of themselves in their new spaces as vindication for the success and progress of American culture. Photographs provided constant reassurance that people were indeed where they belonged. A sense of place for people who had left their cities or even countries in the case of foreign born immigrants was something that most settlers struggled to maintain, but photography, according to Sailer was instrumental in calming some of those unspoken fears.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis is another notch on Timothy Egan’s literary gun. I have personally read two other of his works: The Worst Hard Time and The Big Burn. Egan doesn’t write books you can glean which is one of the reasons I enjoy assigning them. The book itself follows the drama of Curtis’ life as he moved across the West capturing moments that were fading away.  The story of forgotten  photographs rediscovered are as much the legend as Curtis’ “quixotic” quest to capture native life.  Which I think is captured better in this variant cover:

Shadow Catcher better cover

The renaissance of his work in the 1970s installed Curtis at the forefront of historical photography. Even as historians in the 80s attacked his work for being staged or “playing dress up.” Egan points out that Curtis heard these attacks during his life, and never denied it. His defense provides insight into his work and the importance of photography in the late 19th century: he wanted to represent the past, not document the present of the future.  His time in Oklahoma in the 1920s saw many of the natives already fully remodeled into Euro-American culture and his pace in his “race against time” hastened.  For Curtis himself, the 2001 documentary Coming to Light is an excellent way to start. I apologize for the ads in the linked video but it was the only site that had the full program to share. Here is a snippet. You can see the whole thing here.

 

Curtis was involved in the Harriman Expedition in 1899 which, at this planning stage, will be the final expedition in my dissertation. Curtis also employed the new technology of moving pictures after the turn of the century, which ties back into the final book of Eadward Muybridge.

River of Shadows

As with Sandweiss and others, the nature of photography in the American West also serves as a history of technology.  Nowhere in these readings (maybe even more broadly) is that more evident than in Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows: Eadward Muybridge and teh the Technological Wild West. In fact, Muybridge’s life can be seen as a parallel with both the arc of the West and the rise of photography. He “invented” himself in western culture, photographed through the landscapes as did his contemporaries, and then made studies with the movement displayed in still photographs. His moving pictures were the legacy his family life never produced. Solnit describes Muybridge as a man who “split the second,” which had “as dramatic and far reaching [effect] as splitting the atom” (7). One reviewer did not care for this phrasing, but given the circumstances and the tenor of the book (and Muybridge’s life) I think it fits.

The final piece was an article in the Art Bulletin in December 2003 highlighting Timothy O’Sullivan as a survey photographer. Trachtenberg mentioned O’Sullivan in the quote above as the person who brought photography into the came of scientific instruments. Robin E. Kelsey’s article “Viewing the Archive: Timothy O’Sullivan’s Photographs for the Wheeler Survey, 1871-74” look at the photographs as a new form of graphic representation. That is a more precise way of expressing the landscapes, forms, materials, etc that the survey encountered.  “Pictorial Rhetoric” became the tool for people like Ferdinand Hayden in order to increase (or sustain) federal appropriations for their continued surveys. One of the mor interesting portions of the articles many photographs is the  sort of “line of custody” we see in O’Sullivan’s (i.e. The Survey’s) photographs:

From Robin E. Kelsey, "Viewing the Archive: Timothy O'Sullivan's Photographs for the Wheeler Survey, 1871-74." Art Bulletin 65 (Dec 2003), pp. 702-723
From Robin E. Kelsey, “Viewing the Archive: Timothy O’Sullivan’s Photographs for the Wheeler Survey, 1871-74.” Art Bulletin 65 (Dec 2003), pp. 702-723

A final thought on this reframing of photography as primary sources is stirred by the author byline in Kelsey’s article. “He is preparing a book on Survey photography.” If the article is any indication it will be an excellent book. I wonder though, if the pendulum is swinging too far into the study of photographs as primary sources that they will become more detached from their created context as they become topics or study. Something like Survey photographs is an excellent topic to undertake, but at the time the photographs, as graphic representations, were another means of transferring information and raising interest in the surveys, government exploration, and the American West as construed by the myth-makers. I think it shows the power of photographs to evoke audience interest and emotion that no popular book has been written on the Survey graph or map making or their field reports as entities. Journals have been reprinted and photos as well, but I think it will a long time before the similarities and differences between visual and literary will ever be hammered out.

The Road to Comps part 16: Art and the American West in the 19th Century: Studies of Individual Artists

This will be one of the shortest posts made on this travelogue through everything in print (Every time I start this way I drone on for over 1000 words). This is not due to the end of the semester doldrums (I’ve been on 12 -month work contracts since moving up here) or the holidays (I’d rather not do them), but because the bulk of what I have read is review of review of things that I have already written about at great length. In fact, it was precisely such foci that started my posting in earnest as I collected and transcribed my notes for class. In addition to typing up the notes I was able to track down most of the images that we used in class and included them in with their appropriate author. There is no need to re-invent the wheel at this point, so I will link to them throughout the post. This is an excellent time to realize that my previous work is now back paying dividends.

Before moving on to the two main points I want to make in this post, I wish to take a moment to remark on the shifts of formulas in the books read about individual artists. I have moved on from the rubrics of “academic” writing and fallen into the interesting (and more visually appealing) gallery books that accompanied exhibits across the United States (and sometimes farther). These collections of essays group around the artists whose work is on display and offers just enough insight to be interesting but not so much as to be overly useful for comprehensive exams preparation. I have enjoyed them though.

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Early in my foray into the Art History department I made a remark about there being so few artist biographies. One of the other students (now a director at a museum in New Mexico) voiced disagreement, but offered no examples outside of these collected essays or a few pages of encyclopedia entries. I still stand by my complaint. I am not suggesting separating the artist from their work, but more bringing in as full a context as we can manage for the world their work was a part of.

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What can be done is something along the lines of what Benita Eisler does for George Catlin in The Red Man’s Bones. I have read this book once before (and never got around to reviewing it which was what this whole stupid spelunk into blogging was supposed to be), but reading it a second time after reading about the culture of the growing United States, showmanship, art, and European tours, it is an even better example of taking someone who is currently existing “out of time” and putting them back into the structure that shaped there careers. For my take on Catlin see this old post.

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Bierstadt and Bingham both have (excellent) posts of their own as well. I was actually able to visit the Bingham exhibit Navigating the West (which is the exhibit book that I just finished) and get a tour with the co-curator Nenette Luarca-Shoaf.

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One of the best books in this section that isn’t currently being held for ransom by some other library patron (the Winslow Homer book will have to be edited back in this post or added to another one when it finally gets returned to the library) is Robert Taft’s Artists and Illustrators of the Old West 1850-1900. Each chapter is an excellent overview of an artist or a set of artists working in the same genre or region. Each one of these chapters could easily be made into a book. In fact, taking Taft as a starting point and Eisler as an end template I think one could make a lasting furrow into that lack of useful biography thing I mentioned earlier. The kicker with Taft’s work is that is was published in 1953. On a hunch I emailed one of my professors and asked if there were any updated versions or had anyone added to it. He replied there were some updated materials but no one has done it better than Taft. After finishing the book, I have to agree. It is one of those that has been added to the “purchase own copy” list that is an outgrowth of this project.

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One of those included in Taft’s survey was William Jacob Hays. I bring this one up here because he might be lesser known than anyone mentioned here (or even in Taft’s book) but produced one of my favorite paintings that I have actually seen because it is at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa: Herd of Buffaloes on the Bed of the River Missouri. The sheer mass of the megafauna portrayed in the river bed give an idea of how many buffalo there were. I suppose thinking back to the environmental histories I have read here, it really is sort of the same thing as Burroughs’ poetry about nature and descriptions of the Passenger Pigeons. (this whole endeavor is turning into Dirk Gently’s Holistic detective agency). 

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Moving on from Taft and Buffalo I want to end with Alfred Jacob Miller and horses. Like the others I have reviewed Miller in previous posts but there are a few points to add here, less because they are new to the discussion and more because they are familiar to my life before the university: horses.

At the height of or equine days my family had 17 horses full under AQHA values, papers and all. Our number one stallion was born two weeks before I was and only recently died a year ago. Turns out he was 96 or 98% Foundation Quarter Horse which means that I could have completed all of my schooling and advanced degrees with the stud fees we never charged.

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I tell that story to set up the one about Miller’s horses. When we first started looking at Miller’s paintings in class I recognized his horses all looked like Arabians which where the stock the Spanish brought back to the United States (I saw “back” because paleontologically speaking horses first evolved in the “new” world before invading the old and going extinct here). I never thought more about it until reading more about the complaints people have about Miller’s horses. They were too Arabian to be authentic wild ponies that the Indians were riding. This is the keystone in this whole putting the artist back into their context lamentation I keep tearing my sackcloth over. Miller may best be remembered for his commissions for the Scottish nobleman William Drummond Stewart.

Source
Source

Miller only ventured west for a few months of his life. His real mark of success (by that I mean living comfortably off his art) was back in Baltimore where he set up his studio in the center of the trade offices of the merchants, bankers, and lawyers. Just like real estate art patronage is all about location, location, location. These were the wellest-to-do of New England and were part of the growing trend in thoroughbred horse breeding and racing of which Arabians was choice starting stock. These were the people purchasing Miller’s work and commissioning his time. They expected to see Arabain horses, so that is what Miller gave them. Miller clearly had a feel for his genre, but he also had a handle on the desires of his audience. In addition to the real estate location, he also  mastered another rule central to all forms of artistry–know your audience.

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Just so they are most included, here is the link to my Karl Bodmer and Thomas Moran posts too. I will come back and add anything pertinent on Frederich Church or Winslow Homer if I find anything in this book:

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The culmination of that course and all that blogging was a huge paper that was one of my favorites of writing since being at OU and, as it happens, may actually be a full third of my comprehensive exams: Artists on Expedition: Artifacts, Authenticity and Authority in Early 19th Century American Art of the American West. 

The Road to Comps part 15: Art and the American West in the 19th Century: General Background

Art and the American West is the most recent undertaking of my long and checkered career as an academic. Since finishing my MA in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine I have spent a great deal of time in our Art History department learning ways to tie in the  arts to the American cultural studies that I seem to have fallen into in recent years.

The greatest benefit to getting into a program at this late in the game is that you are still interested in the topic and it hasn’t been completely scraped from your soul by years of arguing theory. I have always said that the surest way to remove any of the joy in literature is to study it at university. The same can be applied to art.

Since I have been involved in the courses or the last two years, the three intro books on my list are excellent reviews for stuff we’ve talked about in class. In class we spent more time with articles and visual analysis and less with the broader portrayals and involvement of the artists, art (as object), and art (as culture) within their historical context. This is also the same field that led to the more structured development of this blog and eventually the webpage where it lives. Many of the individual artists that will come into play in the future posts will be linked back to my first art history works that used some of the books in the series as part of the courses I was taking.

From what I have been working on, I find it is completely impossible to understand the antebellum period in American history without understanding its art. All of these overview books are collections of essays that isolate major themes and then reapply them back to the larger American Cultural landscape.

Reading American Art

Reading American Art (Marianna Doezema and Elizabeth Milroy) offers a handy collection of American Art and their interpretations through the academy and through time. The survey runs from the colonial period through to Jackson Pollock. For my purposes the usefulness of this collection comes from the analysis of the early 19th century establishment of art as American. There is much lamentation over the fact that Americans had little pride in their own form of art. The hardest question to answer or explain is the schizophrenic nature of early art in American that needed to prove it was its own thing while striving to make it work on European terms. Political history sets up the development of this art form less in manner of than artists and more in the manner of the artists’ patrons. Whigs and Democrats in the early to mid 19th century were both striving to arrange the new Republic in a manner that benefitted their constituency. The lack of any actual aristocracy and the expansion os suffrage to those who did not own land drove the Whigs to seek control over American culture where it had lost control over American politics.  Instead of calling themselves Dukes or Lords, they opted for the title of patroon and shifted to constructing reflections of American culture through their patronage of early American artists.

American Icons

American Icons (Thomas W. Gaehtgens and Heinz Ickstadt) is a larger format and, frankly, easier to read version of Reading American Art. The essays are all arranged from a comparison perspective between American and European art. Many of them are comparing the differences in the American arc from those of their European counterparts. Save one. William Hauptman’s essay “Kindred Spirits: Notes on Swiss and American Painting of the Nineteenth Century” looks at the parallels with Swiss and American art, most notably the fact that national artists had to leave the nation (Switzerland or the US) in order to make their names and (however measly of) fortunes in the art world. The most interesting aspect beside the timing is the cultural arrangement of Switzerland that can be used to illuminate that of the American side. With a population less than that of New York of City, Switzerland was self divided into regional cultures that “shared more differences than similarities” and led to a multifaceted emergence of “Swiss” art. (Contrary to popular belief Swiss art is not art that is full of holes).

Nineteenth Century American Art

Finally, Barbara Groseclose’s Nineteenth-Century American Art is part of the Oxford History of Arts series and is filled not only with useful chapters and asides, but with further reading and sections on which museums to visit to see some of the famous collections of American art. As with the others, Groseclose starts American Art in Boston and follows it through the development of art unions as “culture” spreads through New York and Philadelphia. One of the strengths of this book is that was published with most of the art images in color. Even Reading American Art which sold itself on being a collection of essays intended to remove the need for bad photocopies of articles and aides for teaching class was published without colored images.

These intros all serve to orient oneself in the larger field of American Art History as it pertains to the Antebellum period which all have mentioned is a bit of a black hole of art history theory (which I think is one of its strong suit) even as it proves to be more important for the development of the culture of the young Republic than it at first seems. You can’t separate early American history from early American Art History and have either make any sense. Many of the artists that have works in this books were mentioned by name and covered in the books of the previous posts. Even those like John Haberle, and William Harnett who aren’t as famous as Bingham, Bodmer, or Bierstadt (who ironically, may not be that popular either given the number of times these authors talk about the obscurity of American artists in the 19th century.  These early collections and studies from the mid-late 1980s all remark that this period in Art History has fallen under that research of American Cultural History and American Studies departments which means I have been on the right track trying to put it all together to understand a more complete America during the long 19th century.

I will end this with the same thing I tweeted when I finished the last book: “It should be illegal to publish black and white images of colored art works in art books.”

THE ROAD TO COMPS PART 13: REPRESENTATIVE STUDIES OF AMERICAN CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN THE 19TH CENTURY PART 3

The final installment of these representative studies works means that I am onto the final third of this monstrosity. This far into the project has led to the interlibrary loan due dates shaping the reading order which, at first, looked like it would throw a couple odd books out from the main theme of the post.  Fortunately they all talk about the same thing in some form or another so they aren’t as disjointed as it looked on first arrangement.

American Artifacts

That isn’t to say they all fit together seamlessly. I will start with the full odd man out in this section because it is so narrowly focused on material culture in method and practice that it doesn’t flow with the broad antebellum cultural analysis that make up the rest of the books in this section. American Artifacts: Essays in Material Culture (edited by Jules Prown and Kenneth Haltman) contains a selection of essays written by Haltman’s graduate students while he was at Yale. (he is currently at the University of Oklahoma where he teaches a version of this same class. I have talked to him a couple times about his book on Titian Peale Looking Close and Seeing Far).  These are detailed analyses of seeming random objects. The swath of objects to pick from ranged from cigarette lighters and telephones to photograms and stoves.  The essays themselves serve as great examples of how object analysis can be effective on nearly any object. Prown would argue any object, but, for me sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. That is most likely due to my training in Archaeology. The way this collection is organized makes it perfect for teaching these concepts to graduate students or a group of really dedicated undergraduates. Haltman’s introductory essay outlines and summarizes Prown’s own articles about material cultural. Throughout Haltman breaks down and annotates the steps in Prowns syllabi. This collection is less about the objects and more about the training and ability to analyze these objects.  For me it was interesting to see the close study of objects that have known uses, since most of my work with Maya artifacts consist of trying to figure out the use first and then trying to work on the symbology of form.

Wilderness and the American Mind

Roderick Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind is about as broad an analysis as you can find in an academic text. Since it is in its 5th edition, it likely has a life as a textbook for conservation and environmental history, of which, according to one of the book’s cover blurbs, Nash is one of the inventors. It makes sense that it would be as there have been many movements and cultural pendulum swings since the first edition came off the press in 1967. The whole idea of the work is to look at wilderness as a concept, ideology, and new vocabulary. Nash starts with an anecdote about securing his advisor who suggested that he try biology or geology to study “wilderness.”  It is the “American Mind” part of the study that is important. Nash breaks down the idea of wilderness and how that shaped the formation of cities in the colonies as well as the expansion west. For Nash, wilderness mattered mostly to the early Americans who were developing ways to clear it. To make it less wild. Exploitation comes later, and throughout the subsequent editions the sort of guilt first seeps into members of Nash’s generation. The bottomest of bottom lines in Nash’s work is that wilderness needs to be understood as a mental concept and social construct as much as  (more than) a geographical space. The bulk of the book is a collection on literary, history, and cultural analysis revolving around how Americans described, constructed (and deconstructed) the wilderness and wild spaces that were part of the shared experience.  Nature itself is hardly “untouched” or “pristine.” The idea that Native Americans were less perceived as humans interacting with nature and more as part of the wildness of that space is a key point for Nash, an explains much about the relationship between “Americans” and “Native Americans” which were in fact “indians” in the sense that there weren’t “Americans.”

Nature's Metropolis

Interestingly enough Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and  the Great West by William Cronon does something similar with “the city.” The opening of the book describes his own mental constructs of Chicago in the very same manner that Nash observed with Americans and their wilderness. Taking on Chicago itself Cronon illuminates the cities importance in shaping the 19th century flow of trade of wheat, beef, and lumber. All roads may lead to Rome, but all railroads lead to Chicago. This has been studied before, but what Cronon does is follow the  railcars back out of Chicago and how they interacted and shaped the markets outside of Chicago, the state, and even the region (The Great West being more of an extended middled west by the modern geographic regionalities).

“First Nature” and “Second Nature” come into play to mark the changes in the landscapes around Chicago and its suburbs. Outside the larger analysis some ket points of interest for me was how railroads went from boon to bane for the city as its population grew.  Railcars carrying trade goods or people all traveled at the city’s grade level and the hundreds of pedestrian rail deaths became part of the ebb and flow of city life. To protect the citizens the city slowed the trains which slowed trade. Even as people began utilizing the rails to get out of town Chicago became a passing point and less a destination. Every passenger line came into Chicago on one side of the City and departed it on the other. The express was less so and as other lines were built to the South more people travelled alternate routes west. Chicagoans shaped the urban getaways of Michigan and Wisconsin as trains took them out of the city and out to the lakes regions for vacations and extended stays. Even Cronon’s grandparents lived on the lake. Reading the two together it was interesting to see how Nash’s wilderness was shaped into Cronon’s Metropolis, and that metropolis reconstructed the wilderness (As cultural concept that equals “not in the city”) again. That is not to address the fact that Chicago meatpacking industry (of The Jungle) fame led to the demise of the west as a buffalo market and firmly into a beef one.

The W.H. Stark House in Orange Texas
The W.H. Stark House in Orange Texas

The lumber trade was a interesting analysis for me since I grew up in lumber country in the Pineywoods of Texas. Many people made their wealth in Southeast Texas by lumber, without the existing market i a city the size of Chicago. There were rail systems to Galveston for transport to market until the 1900 hurricane. Which shifted industry north to developing Houston and later shipping canals and interwater ways make it similar to Cronon’s Chicago in the south. The dirt road I grew up on was an old logging tram that was abandoned after the lumber was harvested. After heavy rains it was common to find railroad spikes washed out of the sand. This is a perfect synthesis of Nash and Cronon’s work. My great-grandfather was a linemen for John Kirby enterprises that brought electricity to the “Kirby Camps” that popped up across the landscape where workers lived as they worked the timber. Many of which went on to become established communities (Woodville and Kirbyville, for example).  The Starks made their mark in lumber and their home is now a historic landmark and museum in Orange, Texas and their private art collection-containing an original double elephant folio Audubon- lead to the Stark Museum.

Sacred Places

John Sears’ Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century is one of my favorite books about this period. It covers a wide array of natural and manmade spaces that people travel to in order to visit. Niagara Falls, with its proximity to the east (and north) of the original “settled”areas of the continent was one of the first tourist attractions. The size of the falls and the geology of the area were evidence of “the sublime.” As travel became easier and  the falls were harnessed for hydroelectric power the space became a tribute of the advancement of technology and man’s power over nature. In a sense it became the avatar for the sacred and the profane–less so because of the hydroelectric turbines and more for the shopping malls. Mammoth Cave was a near antithesis of the falls since it was absent of the sights and sounds, smells, and other sensory experiences that made up the visit to Niagara.

he Bottomless Pit in Mammoth Cave, woodcut, 1887 (Nuno Carvalho de Sousa Collection, Lisbon)
he Bottomless Pit in Mammoth Cave, woodcut, 1887 (Nuno Carvalho de Sousa Collection, Lisbon)

The whole idea of “Sacred Places” is that Americans had to find natural phenomena as exemplars of cultural achievement. Without the vast cultural history of Europe, the stylings of wealthy aristocrats and their private collections Americans turned toward their (and Nash’s) “wilderness.” As the century progressed, man made areas such as cemeteries morphed from simple burial plots to quasi city parks to full on tourist spots. Dark tourism is nothing new as those of means in the 19th century visited asylums and other hospitals either to marvel as how culture was evolving to help those less fortunate or to gawk at those whose handicaps meant they were not welcomed (or able to function) in modern society. Sears doesn’t delve into the latter for obvious reasons besides it being out of the scope of the book.

A nation of Counterfeiters

Moving back to the cities, Stephen Mihm’s A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalist, Con Men, and the Making of the United States takes a deeper look at those confidence men that I wrote about last week as well as the development of the American way of making money. The federal government abstained from its right to print and control money after the revolution which led to hundreds of states’ (and other) banks printing and circulating bank notes which were exchanged thoughout with the confidence that eventually they could be taken back to the source and exchanged for hard currency specie (gold or silver). There was never enough specie to cover all the legitimate bank notes much less any that were forged and counterfeited. In this sense counterfeit didn’t just mean fake bank notes, it could mean fake banks. Either way, it was the confidence behind the notes’ abilities to be traded for goods and services that drove the market, both the legitimate market and the counterfeit market.

Homer Cash

The culture of counterfeiting emerged and evolved along with capitalism within the United States. Things were so bad in the 1830s and 40s that many people trusted (had more confidence in) bank notes from banks that didn’t exist or were illegal than they did in many notes from legal but insolvent states’ or municipal banks. It wasn’t just a matter of forging documents which needed handbooks to spot (many of which were in circulation in multiple editions), but catering to or on the confidence in the system. Interestingly Mihm ends the book looking at how the civil war solidified the federal government’s resolve to be in sole control of the nation’s currency through the development of the secret service to work to clear out the hard counterfeiters even as the nation’s confidence in their currency (and paper money) became an issue of national pride and confidence. In some respect the war and the post war economy made money a nationalistic issue. So much so that artist like William Harnett who was famous for illusionary paintings (trompe l’oeil) made to fool the eye, was arrested for his hyperrealistic paintings of money. Since his work was not created for the expressed purpose of passing them off as actual currency he was released and advised to stop.

Harnett's ultrarealistic paintings of money earned him a visit from the secret service
Harnett’s ultrarealistic paintings of money earned him a visit from the secret service

I have always liked Harnett’s work. The hyperrealism paired with careful curation could lead people to thinking that the images were real. John Haberle’s Grandma’s Hearthstone composed of  hunting gear and fireplace scene “even fooled the cat” who curled up next to the hearth to warm itself.

John Haberle's Grandma's Hearthstone
John Haberle’s Grandma’s Hearthstone

Harnett is also a great bridge into The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum by James Cook. There is an entire chapter on these tromp l’oeil paintings. In fact I don’t think I have ever seen the words trompe l’oeil in print as many times I have in this book.

Arts of Deception

These works are the hardest, realist evidence of the Barnum-esque deception that Cook describes in his book. The idea is that it was directed specifically at the emerging middle class who were in on the trick the whole time. Barnum mentions this himself in (one of) his autobiographies, that the public was aware of the deception even if they did not know how it was done, but the the entertainment was delivered at the full equivalency of the admission price. Two of the biggest themes in Cooks book is that this type of deceit is something that is part of all culture and returns from time to time without any real measurement cyclical regularity. The best 20th century trompe l’oiel painter is Wile. E. Coyote and his tunnels.

Wile E Coyote Tunnel painting

This ambiguity is part of the culture  itself and is actually a way to understand and illustrate the same ambiguity that was 19th century American culture. While Cook ends with the tie-in with modern entertainment of scripted “reality” TV which, at 2001 was The Jerry Springer Show without it being mentioned, but would grow to the sufferable genre of popular television that is now going from Survivor and Big Brother to The Voice and Dancing with the Stars. 

It isn’t all about paintings, slight of hand illusions are part of Cook’s analysis. One of the most interesting aspects is when a new magician takes he stage in New York  only to have an Englishman in the audience go to the newspaper to reveal that he had seen these tricks when he as a child in England. Which brings to mind another of those period pieces that seem disconnected from historical fact on the surface, but, when you look more closely more parts of it are relevant than you would like to believe.

Cook also highlights professional wrestling as the best example of modern Barnum deception with the suspension of disbelief and the possibility of realism is served in equal parts. The audience is as much invested in the ruse as the marketer, and that is Barnum’s work and world in a nutshell.

Buffalo Bill's America

Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show is similar in scope and arrangement as Reynolds Walt Whitman’s America that was part of an earlier set. Looking at it this way, you get the sense that they lived in different Americas. This might not be too far fetched given we are a nation of individuals as it is, and maybe there is historical precedent for that.  It is also more Cook’s Arts of Deception in that Louis Warren outlines just how much the development of William Cody into Buffalo Bill was the marrying of fact and fancy from the earliest times through to Bill’s death. On the stage Buffalo Bill might as well have been Barnum Bill as he recreated the daring-dos on the range behind the footlights. The myth-building was exacerbated by the dime novels that were exploding into the hands of an emerging class of Americans who could afford books and have time to read them.  Perhaps it was because of the inroads Barnum had made in culture that paved the way for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Those roads stretched from the western frontier across the Atlantic into the major cities of Europe (Cronon) who were just as detached from their own wilderness (Nash) as the Americans were from their cultural history (Sears). Throughout the interdisciplinary research one of the strongest statements in Warrens book is that the Wild West Show itself was more diverse than any city it ever visited. We also learn that Bill had an impact on Bram Stroker who was the agent for the most famous actor in England: Henry Irving. So much so that the Texas vampire hunter in Dracula is a remodeled character based on Buffalo Bill himself. The best way to sum up these books and lead into the problems addressed in the last one is Warren at length:

“Hailing from a West that was practically a borderland between real and fake, full of charlatans posing as heroes and of everyday people invited to assume heroic poses, [Buffalo Bill]…learned the allure of that tense space between authentic and copy, regeneration and degeneration” (543).

Sleuthing the Alamo

That copying, regenerating, and degenerating is nowhere stronger or more evident than the myths and stories that surround the battle of the Alamo. In Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett’s Last Stand and Many other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution James Crisps takes a long needed step back to figure out what we know about the Texas heroes and, more importantly, why we think we know it. I remember when the de la Peña’s journal came back to the front in the 1990s and revealed that Davy Crockett was executed after the battle. Growing up in Texas this was tantamount to high treason. Such is the devotion to the deception. How is it that Crockett is a Texas hero anyway, since he was only in San Antonio a few months before the battle? So much is his Buffalo Bill-esque celebrity that he overshadows all the Tejano involvement in shaping the Texas Republic. This is the large elephant in the room that Crisps little book points out. For years scholars have just been cleaning up after that elephant by rehashing old scholarship and not getting to the bottom of all the primary sources that don’t claim to be true, like some biographies. Crisps work with some of the most famous paintings of the battle reveal that in the 1870s early sketches varied greatly from the finished product after the turn of the century. These changed reflected changes in culture and racial tensions in Texas among other places in the nation. The book is written in a very personal manner which violates almost every tenant of academic writing, but is is important and useful as Crisp describes. His inclusion of a photograph of he, a cousin, and a black child was part of the impetus of the analysis. When a copy of the photo was finally found (a copy his cousin had) the third child, who was not family, but had lived as a tenant farming family under the cousin’s family, was cut out of the photo. This was very real evidence of what Crisp writes about in the text of Sleuthing. Two great things to take away from Crisp’s work are:

  1. The call to “Remember the Alamo” should be a scholarly charge
  2. “Even when it is ‘the other’ who is silenced, we lose a part of our history—a part of ourselves” (1980.

The Road To Comps Part 12: Representative Studies of American Culture and Society in the 19th Century Part 2

This section will be a three parter, so here is the middle child. I have been reading about the antebellum period for over 2 months straight now, only to have the present completely reassemble itself over the same template.

Confidence Men and Painted Women

I might as well start with the best book to read before any election, but it seemed exceptionally prescient when I finished it last weekend. Karen Halttunen’s Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America 1850-1870 captures the nation as it literally and figuratively moves from rural to urban. The main focus of her book is the untying of “Victorian Hypocrisy” and how the structure of sincerity and propriety lead to the development of middle class culture. Confidence Men and Painted Women (not always prostitutes) were those who we only acting sincere within the newly formed manners and customs that were to be the defining separating features between middle and working class. In case money wasn’t enough. In case you think this is a niche outlier of antebellum culture, the fact that there were handbooks for sincerity were printed into the double digit editions from a wide range of publishers throughout the period.

For me the greatest explanation Halttunen offers is the difference between Romanticism and Sentimentalism. I think, for me, I have settled into an odd sort of Romantic Nihilism in life where everything is beautiful and nothing matters. It was hard to explain before seeing Hallttunen’s comparison here. Romanticism is coming to terms with reality and the world as it is and choosing to embrace mythology instead (or in spite) of that reality. Sentimentalism on the other had embraces the myth but refuses (or is incapable) of embracing or coming to terms with reality. This sets up the rest of Halttunen’s book looking at those “rubes” who come into the city from their farms for a new life only to lose most of their money and more of their dignity at the hands of confidence men. They are the pinnacle of that victorian hypocrisy that the book is concerned with. If it seems like a foreign idea, you’ve met confidence men before: the wolf and the cat from Pinocchio and the whole idea of that Pleasure Island (utopia).

Disorderly Conduct

Carrol Smith-Rosenberg picks the gender portion of the Victorian hypocrisy (without calling it that) in Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America. The work is a collection of essays that span Smith-Rosenberg’s career to the point of publication. The book looks at the many antebellum instabilities, socioeconomic and cultural,  and the psychological anxieties about their respected positions in all were expressed (or at least revealed) within language.  Women used language to protect themselves from the growing repression that trended along with the revolutions with commerce, industry, and transportation that disrupted and confused the dominant male constructed ideologies regarding their attempts to legitimize their old power structure within the new emerging class/industry organizations. The threatening (or the perception of threatening) of their existing family structure from the unfamiliar  led to attempted control of sexual behavior.  The book goes well into the 20th century as well but any scholar of women’s studies (especially in an American context) would do well to add this collection of essays to their collection.

Egypt-Land

The “race” leg of this stool comes in the form of Scott Trafton’s Egypt-Land: Race and Nineteenth-Century American Egyptomania. The fun thing about this book is that it looks at a history of science topic (Egyptomania–archaeology, etc) from a hard literary perspective. The early emergence of archaeology and ethnology was a way to scientize what was already a cultural phenomena of racial hierarchy. For Trafton, “the scientific construction of race begins with the question of Ancient Egypt and vice versa” (49). The book is “irreducibly interdisciplinary” and will serve nearly anyone who picks it up. For me and the ties through the antebellum period and the earlier literature studies is the analysis of Poe’s short story “Some Words with a Mummy.” Trafton’s analysis looks at it as general satire on the situation of “melodramatic” spectacle (tomb openings and unwrapping).

One of the things missed however is the very real spectacle that the story was based on. More generally the story could be any one of instances, but, leading up to the publication an unwrapping party was advertised with growing excitement. The advertisements grew until the mummy was billed as a princess. Only to be revealed at the unwrapping as more than a woman. If royal, which it wasn’t, it would have to have been a prince. This was the last straw for Poe’s patience with Egyptomania  before penning “Some Words.”

Empires of the Imagination

Going back to the beginning of the 19th century the edited volume Empires of the Imagination: Transatlantic Histories of the Louisiana Purchase takes a long (time and distance) look at one of the hallmark stories of American history, and deconstructs why it is such a hallmark.  The whole idea of the Purchase (according to Richard White and others) is that is was more of a claim than a place. The fact that it only appears as a Purchase in the US reveals the relationship that the French government had with the holdings. Some of the contributors point out that the area, which is still quite diverse in culture, was more influenced by the Spanish when they held the real estate than it was from the French who eventually sold it to the young republic.

To show just how engrained the purchase is, this meme appeared after the 2016 election with comments asking about France's return policy.
To show just how engrained the purchase is, this meme appeared after the 2016 election with comments asking about France’s return policy.

The largest over-arching theme within the essays is that the ultimate deal to sale was not due to the American diplomatic maneuvering on the world stage, but was rather choices made in the European governments. If that is the case, and it is certainly argued well in this volume, then that might explain why the Lewis and Clark Expedition has eclipsed the actual purchase even in the last century.

Idle Threats

In the end, industry and Puritan Work ethic became (and in some places still are) the modern hallmarks of Americanism, that is, according to Andrew Lyndon Knighton, productivity. The entire notion of his book Idle Threats: Men and the Limits of Productivity in Nineteenth-Century America is that the lines determining what was productive and what was unproductive was not only blurry, but constantly shifting. Early on Knighton posits that the idea of un-productivity was a terrible characteristic of the working class, it was exactly what it meant to be part of the leisure class. It was, at once, a sign of laziness and productivity, poorness and wealth. This can be best understood going back to that idea of Victorian Hypocrisy in Confidence Men and Painted Women. Thank God it does too, because Idle Threats is one of the most impossible books I have ever tried to read. The book is filled with examples of the instances I described above, but instead of being written in a manner that would actually help in explaining the contradictions, they are lost in a series of jargon laden vocabulary tests. I am sure it is a quite useful book for those who can manage to break through the surface, but as it stands as part of a series America in the Long 19th Century by New York University Press, it was written for six people and I most certainly wasn’t number seven.