The Extreme Historian…

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 8.53.19 AM…brought to you by Red Bull Energy Drink. Any why not? This does not seem so far fetched to me. Sure, we all know that rally car drivers and snowboarders need that extra little blast of energy, but what about students? Midterm reviews? Final exam cramming marathons? Late night writing sessions? These people need my help.

I’ll be be watching the #extremehistorian hashtag on Twitter with great interest to see if anything comes of this. I’m only half kidding here. And check it out Red Bull public relations department – here’s your image on a popular history blog…naturally, the first one’s free 🙂

With compliments,

Keith

John Norton Pomeroy on Impeachment

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 10.10.19 AMAs I was writing something on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and thinking of those in favor of a broadly defined Constitutional approach to impeachment, I came across a succinct statement authored by legal scholar John Norton Pomeroy in 1868 (he published it in 1870). Pomeroy and others were not so terribly concerned that an executive or other officer might act illegally, but rather that they might abuse their powers. Well – these days it seems like a lot of people are thinking about executives overstepping their authority – nothing new I suppose… I welcome any and all comments.

The importance of the impeaching power consists, not in its effects upon subordinate ministerial officers, but in the check which it places upon the President and the judges. They must be clothed with ample discretion; the danger to be apprehended is from an abuse of this discretion. But at this very point where the danger exists, and where the protection should be certain, the President and the judiciary are beyond the reach of Congressional legislation. Congress cannot, by any laws penal or otherwise, interfere with the exercise of a discretion conferred by the Constitution…If the offense for which the proceeding may be instituted must be made indictable by statute, impeachment thus becomes absolutely nugatory against those officers in those cases where it is most needed as a restraint upon violations of public duty. 

With compliments,

Keith

Shelby Foote – Historian?

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 10.16.27 AMWell, not really.

Now friends, before you let me have it for saying such a thing about America’s favorite storyteller, let me just make my case.

I have read nearly everything that Mr. Foote ever wrote. His novels are delightful and well written, particularly Shiloh. And his so-called history, The Civil War: A Narrative is equally well executed. But that’s just itas the title suggests, The Civil War is a narrative – fine. But in terms of rigorous primary research and pointed analysis his magnum opus falls a little short.

If anything, The Civil War represents a synthesis of the secondary materials that Foote undoubtedly collected in his study over the years. What is really troubling about this work is his somewhat casual use of the contemporary (of the Civil War era) speaking voice. It seems that some of the primary evidence used to narrate the war existed only in the mind of Foote himself.

So, when he described the carnage of Cold Harbor, to use a very famous example, by quoting a young diarist who wrote his last words on the battlefield: “I am killed,” he simply duped his readers. I sure wish that that diary really existed – I could not imagine a more evocative entry in the diary of a mortally wounded soldier on the battlefield than this. But the diary has never surfaced.

Shelby Foote was a wonderful novelist. And his folksy wisdom added charm to Ken Burns’s 1990 documentary, The Civil War. You know, I would have loved to have met him on a battlefield to hear him speak in all his anecdotal glory. I am not sure I would have believed anything he said as he stood, telling tales, smoking his pipe and drawing a circle in the dirt with his foot. I would have had a good time though. I can’t think of a better storyteller.

Rest in peace, Shelby.

Keith

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The Americanist Independent: A Monthly Journal of United States History

The Americanist Independent – Volume One, Issue One

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Hello all – well, at long last, my on-line journal, The Americanist Independent: A Monthly Journal of United States History is go for launch. If I do say so myself I am extremely proud of the first issue. Naturally, I want you to subscribe – and become a charter member. Get in early, so to speak, and be one of the cool kids.

Since I am sure you want to know…the first issue includes an engaging study by Damian Shiels on the use of technology and visualizing Irish soldiers in the American Civil War.

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In addition, Keith McCall offers a fantastic look at the development of slavery databases using 20th century slave narratives.

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Samantha Upton boldly takes on Drew Gilpin Faust in her study of the elite white women of Boydton, Virginia during the Reconstruction Era.

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And finally, Damien Drago discusses his innovative approach to teaching history and engaging fourth and fifth graders by using music in the classroom.

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I think you will really enjoy this on-line experience. Please note that I will be adding new features (including a video series) all the time, so check back frequently. And keep in mind – The Americanist Independent is entirely interactive. There is a forum and a comments section where you can leave your two cents. Let me just say in advance: welcome and thank you for subscribing.

subscribe_buttonWith compliments,

Keith