Category: history

Georgia Virtual History Project


Lawton_GVHP.jpgKudos to the Georgia Magazine and writer Mary Jessica Hammes on her outstanding feature on history instructor Christopher Lawton and the Georgia Virtual History Project.

Read the article and the rest of the magazine here.


This week in UGA history


photo (60).jpg213 years ago, by just a few days (July 25, 1801), there appeared a classified ad in the Augusta Chronicle (alas, no link from that year) announcing that:

The Senaticus Academicus had chosen a site for the university, "an institution deeply interesting to the present age, and still more to an encreasing posterity."

[Re-]discovered in Nash Boney's excellent A Pictorial History of the University of Georgia. May we be today and always deeply interesting to the present age - and my personal hope that the Senatus Academicus (one of two major governing boards of UGA prior to the creation of the Board of Regents) is re-animated in its original latin.



Little-bighorn-memorial-sculptureEighteen hundred seventy-six was a tumultous year in American history, and on today's date in that year was the infamous Battle of Little Bighorn:

The sun was just cracking over the horizon that Sunday, June 25, 1876, as men and boys began taking the horses out to graze. First light was also the time for the women to poke up last night’s cooking fire. The Hunkpapa woman known as Good White Buffalo Woman said later she had often been in camps when war was in the air, but this day was not like that. “The Sioux that morning had no thought of fighting,” she said. “We expected no attack.”

Those who saw the assembled encampment said they had never seen one larger. It had come together in March or April, even before the plains started to green up, according to the Oglala warrior He Dog. Indians arriving from distant reservations on the Missouri River had reported that soldiers were coming out to fight, so the various camps made a point of keeping close together. There were at least six, perhaps seven, cheek by jowl, with the Cheyennes at the northern, or downriver, end near the broad ford where Medicine Tail Coulee and Muskrat Creek emptied into the Little Bighorn River. Among the Sioux, the Hunkpapas were at the southern end. Between them along the river’s bends and loops were the Sans Arc, Brulé, Minneconjou, Santee and Oglala. Some said the Oglala were the biggest group, the Hunkpapa next, with perhaps 700 lodges between them. The other circles might have totaled 500 to 600 lodges. That would suggest as many as 6,000 to 7,000 people in all, a third of them men or boys of fighting age. Confusing the question of numbers was the constant arrival and departure of people from the reservations. Those travelers—plus hunters from the camps, women out gathering roots and herbs and seekers of lost horses—were part of an informal early-warning system.

This anniversary is particularly poignant in light of the terrific new interactive research tool from Claudio Saunt in the department of history documenting the seizure of Indian lands, as a mixure of cultural lore and actual tragedy. An amazing story that continues to unfold.

Image: Iron sculpture by Native artist Colleen Cutschall honoring the Native Americans. Placed next to the old memorial for Custer, via Wikimedia Commons.

Uncommon History







The new book by Russell Professor of History and department head Claudio Saunt in gaining great interest right out of the gate, and for good reason:

This interactive map, produced by University of Georgia historian Claudio Saunt to accompany his new book West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, offers a time-lapse vision of the transfer of Indian land between 1776 and 1887. As blue “Indian homelands” disappear, small red areas appear, indicating the establishment of reservations.  (Above is a GIF of the map's time-lapse display; visit the map's page to play with its features.) 

The project’s source data is a set of maps produced in 1899 by the Bureau of American Ethnology. The B.A.E. was a research unit of the Smithsonian that published and collected anthropological, archaeological, and linguistic research on the culture of North American Indians, as the nineteenth century drew to a close.

Saunt is careful to point out that the westward-moving boundaries could sometimes be vague. Asked for an example, he pointed me to the 1791 treaty with the Cherokeethat ceded the land where present-day Knoxville, Tenn. stands. The treaty's language pointed to landmarks like "the mouth of Duck river," a broad approach that left a lot of room for creative implementation. When dealing with semi-nomadic tribes, Saunt added, negotiators sometimes designated a small reservation, "rather than spelling out the boundaries of the cession." 

This vagueness benefited the government’s purposes in crafting treaties and executive orders. “Greater legality and more precision,” Saunt argues, “would have made it impossible to seize so much land in so short a time.”

Amazing marriage of humanities research and technology to enlighten us about the past. Support pieces like this map present far-ranging opportunities to engage with history and information. Kudos to Saunt and his publishers for building new tools to enhance teaching and learning. This is certainly one to watch.

Franklin alumnus, former POW gives perspective on Bergdahl’s release


Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 3.36.43 PM.pngA Franklin College alumnus is at the forefront of national news this week, offering a unique perspective on the recent release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity.  Col. Lee Ellis, a UGA history graduate (A.B. ‘65) and retired Air Force Colonel, was a POW during the Vietnam War for five-and-a-half years. In interviews with CBS News and CNN, Ellis recounts his own experience and offers his take on what challenges may lie ahead for Bergdahl.

Ellis, who was held captive alongside others including Senator John McCain during his service in the military, offers sound advice for Bergdahl’s family and friends: 

What helped for Ellis was never giving up hope.

"I think you always survive everything one day at a time. You keep walking forward until you come out the other side. Hope is so important."

He said Bergdahl will also have to find people who understand and can relate to what he's been through.

"Life is not easy for any of us, and he's going to have to work through those experiences also. And that's where he's going to need help, and I would say he's probably going to need some counseling. That would be good for him and helping him because he's probably going to have some degree of PTSD also."

While Ellis was held captive in Vietnam with others, Bergdahl was a lone prisoner, and this could factor into his recovery, Ellis said.

"We had a couple of guys that were in China, held for more than five years and several were in solitary confinement for several years, but they did know there was some support around. I think for Bowe, it's going to be much more difficult because he was so alone, and knowing who to trust, who not to trust and just feeling safe and letting his hair down a little bit - I do think it will complicate it significantly."

Ellis is stepping forward to help the public understand and provide context at a critical moment in history. Another great example of a Franklin College graduate’s contribution to the world. Bravo! You can read more about Ellis here or visit his blog here.

May Day


EiffelMay 1 is a world holiday, commemorating the execution of four anarchists executed in 1887 for struggling for an 8-hour workday:

Originally a pagan holiday, the roots of the modern May Day bank holiday are in the fight for the eight-hour working day in Chicago in 1886, and the subsequent execution of innocent anarchist workers.

In 1887, four Chicago anarchists were executed; a fifth cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison. Three more were to spend 6 years in prison until pardoned by Governor Altgeld who said the trial that convicted them was characterised by "hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge". The state had, in the words of the prosecution put "Anarchy is on trial" and hoped their deaths would also be the death of the anarchist idea.

The anarchists were trade union organisers and May Day became an international workers day to remember their sacrifice. They were framed on false charges of throwing a bomb at police breaking up a demonstration in Chicago. This was part of a strike demanding an 8 hour day involving 400,000 workers in Chicago that started May 1st 1886.

Emphasis mine. Difficult to even imagine that many people demonstrating for anything today. But maybe that is the result of the many gains won in the time since those workers took matters in their hands. The tide has swung away from unions for the time being, but the gains and rights that were won by them - the 8-hour workday, child labor laws, health and safety regulations in the workplace - remain an important part of the everyday lives of millions of people. This aspect of our history is crucial - to see it as an ongoing story, one that will continue to be shaped by students, graduates and the faculty who acquaint them with the story of our ourselves and our society. You are part of it. Happy May Day.

Image: The Eiffel Tower under construction in 1887.

Keepers of Black Women's History


leeThe Root is an online publication originally developed by the Washington Post and edited by American literary critic, writer and scholar Henry Louis Gates. The Root recently published a list of the Keepers of Black Women's History, an elite list of scholars "using thier classrooms, their research and their writing to make sure we know the full story of black women in America." Among the distinguished list is our own Chana Kai Lee:

Lee, an associate professor of history (Lee holds a joint appointment between the department of history and the Institute for African American Studies) at the University of Georgia, is the author of For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer. The book won the Willie Lee Rose Prize, awarded by the Southern Association for Women Historians, and the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize, awarded by the Association of Black Women Historians.

A few others on the list include:

  • Paula Giddings, Smith College
  • Tera Hunter, Princeton University
  • Darlene Clark Hine, Northwestern University
  • Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Harvard University
  • Martha Jones, University of Michigan
  • Fransciose Hamlin, Brown University
  • Thavolia Glympth, Duke University
  • Heather Williams, University of North Carolina

That's great company to be in. We salute these great American scholars for their work in bringing us the stories (and the history) of who we are.

Image: Chane Kai Lee courtesy of the department of history.

Lampost post


lamppost2.jpg   lampost3_0.jpg  Maybe because it's Spring Break, but can you resist a lamppost post? Certainly, I cannot.

If you every wondered why North Campus has the look and feel of park, it is because UGA has some of the best grounds crew professionals you will find anywhere. They're at it again, this time, taking the time and care to replace the 100-year-old lampposts near the arch:

Installed in June 1914 by the Athens Rail and Light Company, the lampposts were the first row of electric lights at UGA and the first significant outdoor electric light installation in Athens. After 100 years of service, the lights have deteriorated and become unreliable, said Dexter Adams, director of the UGA Grounds Department.

The preservation project will comprehensively update the wiring, lamps and footings and replace missing cast iron parts. The Facilities Management Division will use the same metal preservation process on the lampposts as it used on the North Campus fence restoration project.

1914. And you wonder why campus just has that feel - there's one reason. One among many.

Images: beautiful Dot Paul photo from last summer (UGA Photo services) and one by the author during the most recent snow.

Understanding the Past, 1/10th of a second at a time


Nicolas_Poussin paintingAn interesting take from one of the Chronicle of Higher Ed blogs on the humans systems implications of our increasing ability to subdivide time into tinier and tinier increments:

Yet we are still some way off coming to terms with analyzing these developments. They require mathematical expertise that is still in short supply. One of the most exciting academic developments of recent years has been the way in which mathematics and statistics suited to these phenomena have begun to sprout. Just as mathematicians have developed who specialize in life sciences, it seems likely that the same will happen in the social sciences and that, before long, such mathematicians will no longer be a rare breed.

Equally, there is a conglomeration of activity that brings together the arts and humanities, design, and computational science based around what might be called the aesthetics of immediacy, a longstanding Western cultural tradition first found in the realm of timekeeping (as my book with Paul Glennie, Shaping the Day, on the genesis of clock time shows), which is changing yet again as technological improvements allow new kinds of temporal representation.

Happy Monday.

Image: Time defending Truth against the attacks of Envy and Discord, 1641, by Nicolas Poussin, oil on canvas. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Jordan is So Chilly


To mark the 70th anniversary of the publication of "Strange Fruit," Lillian Smith's best-selling novel about interracial love, the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries presents "Jordan is So Chilly: An Encounter with Lillian Smith," a solo performance drawn largely from unpublished autobiographical writings by the author.

The performance title "Jordan is So Chilly," comes from the name of an African-American spiritual and was Smith's original title for "Strange Fruit."

"The title calls up for me the image of the difficult times faced by anyone in crossing over to the ‘promised land'," [Atlanta actress Brenda] Bynum said. "Lillian Smith faced so many trials and tribulations in her life and her work it seemed quite appropriate to me."

Nancy Smith Fichter, the author's niece, approached Bynum about doing a reading, perhaps from Smith's published letters, as an event at the Lillian E. Smith Center for Creative Arts in connection with the 2013 Southern Literary Trail.


"No Southerner was more outspoken in expressing moral indignation about the region's injustices and inequities during the pre-civil rights era than Lillian Smith," said UGA history professor John Inscoe, an expert on the 19th century South and winner of the 2012 Lillian Smith Book Award, presented by the UGA Libraries and the Southern Regional Council.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is on Saturday Feb. 22 at 6 p.m.