December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012

This year has gone by so fast! So much has happened this past year that I feel like I have finally stepped off and my life is still spinning without me. I'm still trying to get back to a normal routine and waiting for everything to settle down. I can't believe student teaching and the holidays are over already.

I'm actually looking forward to the cold snowy days ahead where I'll be forced to stay in my house and slow down and catch up with everyone. 

So this New Year's I'm planning to do something fun that I've always meant to but never got around to doing. I love finding an old CD and remembering the year in which it was my favorite thing to listen to. Now that everything is digital, I hope to recreate that feeling by making a playlist of my top 25 most listened to songs of 2012.

Itunes already has a top 25 Most Played smart playlist. It's simple enough to make it a separate 2012 playlist before it adapts to the new year. I'll probably write a list of the songs and artists in my journal just for posterity. After I do that, I'm going to reset the play count on my songs back to 0 so as not to skew next year's counts. So here's this year's playlist, pleasure songs and all:

Top 25 Most Played


1. The Rocky Road to Dublin- The Dubliners
2. Across the Universe of Time- Hayley Westerna
3. Wuthering Heights- Hayley Westerna
4. Simple Day- Poe the Musical
5. Out Tonight- RENT
6. Straw Hat and Dirty Old Hank- Barenaked Ladies
7. Good- Better than Ezra
8. James Connolly - Black 47
9. Maiden Jane- Hesperus
10. Safe and Sound- Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars
11. Fire Marengo- Johnny Collins
12. Maui- Johnny Collins
13. If I Could be a Writer- Poe the Musical
14. Time to Say Goodbye- Andrea Bocelli & Sarah Brightman
15. Fortunate Son- Creedence Clearwater Revival 
16. Murder- Bheegey Hont
17.  Have You Seen Me Lately (live)- Counting Crows
18. Le Ballet D'or- Counting Crows
19. All That I've Got- The Used
20. Alejandro- Lady Gaga
21. Somebody That I Used to Know- Gotye
22. Some Nights- Fun
23. Too Close- Alex Clare
24. The Kiss- Last of the Mohicans
25. Erin Gra Mo Chroi

I would be extremely interested in seeing the top twenty-five lists of everyone. Leave a comment with your top 25 most played songs of 2012 or feel free to post on your blog and link to it. I know you probably don't want to include those guilty pleasure songs, but you really should (and if you don't, make sure you include it in your private playlist.) :)

Happy New Year everyone!  

December 24, 2012

A Kiss Under the Mistletoe: History of Mistletoe

"A memorial of customs departed:
For the maids they all try to seem bashful and shy," - Blackwood's Lady's Magazine 1841

 Mistletoe is a ubiquitous plant that has been used in holiday decorating since at least the 1400s. It is characterized by its dark green leaves and striking white berries. There are over 1,300 types of mistletoe and the plants themselves are partially parasitic. The plant gets its water and nutrients from a host tree while using its leaves to convert light into energy.

In the winter, it can be seen growing out of tree branches and tree trunks, lush and green when all of its surroundings are dead. It was precisely this reason that mistletoe was seen as a mystical plant to early peoples.Though it has been linked with romance for centuries, its name roughly translates as "excrement on a twig" which is an allusion to how people thought the seeds were spread. The Mistletoe that grows in the United States is different from the type that grows in Europe but both were used in decorating.
The magic of mistletoe certainly comes from the kissing traditions linked to it. Historically, on Christmas a gentleman could steal a kiss from a young lady caught under the mistletoe, then he had to pluck a white berry off of it. When all of the berries were gone, no more kissing could commence.It was said that couples that kissed under it at Christmas would be married within the year.
Image from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, many books proclaimed the practice vulgar, others insisted that it was only something done amongst country people and servants. It was said to be a test of feat for young men and a test of coyness for young ladies, who could refuse the attempt. Regardless of the views on the practice, mistletoe was a big part of household decorations along with pine boughs, holly and ivy.

You can almost see the celebrations where a young man, drumming up courage to propose to a lady caught a break at a Christmas dance, where his lady of choice was momentarily thrust under the mistletoe.  Caught off guard she accepted his kiss which heightened his spirits enough to ask her father soon after. How romantic! I'm sure there were equal numbers of heartbreaks that happened beneath the mistletoe as well.

The Mirror of Literature and Amusement, published in 1841, gives some hearty advice on holiday cheer, some of which involves mistletoe:

"On this day all must be friends, everybody must be goodhumoured, eat , drink, and be merry. To day we will have no fasting men, and no tee-totallers. Every belly must be well lined with the good roast beef of old England, turkey, sausage, plum-pudding, and mincepie ; and every lip shall sip the juice of the vine, "the merry cheerer of the heart," or shall pour down " potations pottle deep" of good home-brewed ale. He who can't sing shall pipe, and he who can't dance shall hop, stand on his head, or do something or other to please the company. Unmarried ladies, not forgetting our favourite old maids, shall be kissed under the mistletoe bough; and no supper for those that skulk from this excellent privilege of the season. There shall be hearty laughter and much frolic in the kitchen, where the "yule log" shall burn on the fire, and the largest bunch of mistletoe and holly shall hang from the beam, while the floor shakes with the Highland reel, the Irish jig, and the English hornpipe; and John, Thomas, Susan, and Ann, shall sing bravely to the fiddle and flute. Christmas comes but once a-year, so pray let us make the most of it. Let every home be cheered with mirth, plenty, and kindness.

"Bring more wood and set the glasses.
Join, my friends, our Christmas cheer,
Come, a catch !—and kiss the lasses,
Christmas comes but once a-year."
Enjoy the holidays and keep your eye out for mistletoe!

December 20, 2012

The End of the World

In my 24 years, the world has been scheduled to end at least 3 times. I remember the fear of Y2K, when the new century would not be compatible with the way computers had been programed and the whole technological world was going to be thrust into chaos. Bank accounts were going to be wiped clean, all business transactions were going to go haywire and the world as we knew it would end. So everyone celebrated New Year's with the fear of not knowing what would happen the morning of 1/1/2001. 

It was scary, especially for a kid who barely knew what any of it meant. For all we knew, it meant the end of the world and we closed our eyes on new year's eve waiting for the chaos to commence. At 11 years old, we were far too cool to admit we were scared. Then we woke up, we called our friends on the phones (which were in our rooms, that was a big deal back then) and realized that everything was the same. The only reported issues were some people who had rented movies were charged hundred year old late fees, which were easily corrected.

So by the time the next end of the world came in 2011, I was older and some might say, wiser. Millions of people did not rapture as anticipated. Nor did they on the extended deadline date. Thanks Harold Camping. Although we did get to read lots of funny articles and meme images with witty titles such as "Apocalypse not right now," so at least there was some entertainment value there.

Now, I normally wouldn't comment about something so silly as the end of the world. You weren't worried, were you? But recently I was teaching a bunch of 16 year olds who were more honest than I would have been at that age. "We're scared!" they told me. Everyone says it's going to be the end of the world." They told me that the Mayans foretold it. The end is coming.

Maybe it is coming. But the Mayans didn't predict that. This is one of those history myths that refuses to die but people keep telling because it makes a better story. The Mayans long-form calender will end but a new one will begin and bring a new era with it. Regardless, why are we trusting the Mayans now? After all, they didn't predict their own demise.

I'd like to wish everyone a happy end of the world. Maybe the lesson we should take away from this is one that Gandhi said many years ago: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Every day may be the end of the world, make the most of it.

Images taken at the University of Penn Museum of Archeology's Maya 2012 Exhibit.

December 10, 2012

Spinach and Mushroom Risotto Recipe

I have been wanting to make risotto for the longest time. Risotto seems to have been popular in the U.S. at the turn of the century and became all the rage again in the 1980s. My first encounter with it was in the only fancy restaurant I have ever been in. All I can say, is we weren't impressed and I was pretty sure it couldn't be that hard. This was perfect for the cold rainy days we've been having lately. 


- 5 1/2 cups Vegetable Broth
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3 cups Spinach, stems removed and sliced
- 8 ounces Shiitake or Baby Bella Mushrooms, chopped (If you use Shittake mushrooms, use the tops only.)
- 1 Onion, chopped 
- 2 cups Arborio Rice (Do not rinse rice.)
- 4 cloves of Garlic, minced 
- 1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, shredded 


Add oil to a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat. Add garlic and cook until lightly brown. Cook onion in oil until translucent (about 4 minutes). Add mushroom and spinach and cook until the liquid drains from the mushrooms (about 5 minutes.)

Drain juice into a large saucepan and set spinach mixture aside. Add rice to large saucepan and stir to coat the rice in the juice. On medium heat, add one ladle full of broth and stir the rice until the broth is absorbed. Keep adding broth a ladle full at a time. Stir often but be sure to keep the risotto covered when not stirring. The rice should take on a creamy texture in about 20 minutes. When soft, add spinach mixture and one final ladle full of broth. Mix well and add Parmesan cheese and mix again. Serve in bowls and top with shredded cheese.     

 Cooking the Mushrooms.

Adding the Spinach.

Enjoy! Hopefully I'll be back around soon! I can't wait to catch up with everyone.

November 19, 2012

Mid-1800s Servitude and Cooking This Week

This etching was taken from a story that illustrated the difficulty of keeping a good cook. It also inadvertently illustrated the Irish stereotypes of the time.

The first cook, Margaret, was perfect, except that she drank in excess and stumbled back to the house on her days off. The second cook, Biddy, had a violent temper. The third, I feel would probably be me.

She put the puddings in and prepared a turkey for 2PM supper at 11 o'clock and sat down and read a few pages of a book. When the mistress came in, the cat was eating the turkey and the puddings were charred. She thought she had only sat down for a minute but it ended up being 2 hours that passed by.

An interesting thing to note is that all food prepared by the cook was still considered the mistress' food. It was her pudding that was burning and her turkey on the floor, which is technically true: she paid for it. When a new cook was hired at a house, her mistress would teach her how to cook things her way and everything cooked at the house would be expected to cooked in the new way. Over time, a cook may add a little bit of her own flair, but she wouldn't want to outdo her employer.

Regardless, women were judged on how good of a housekeeper they were. Back then that meant, how well they kept their own house or how well they oversaw their servants. Most women of any means could typically afford at least one servant if not a few for housework and one for cooking. The constant supply of new immigrants, guaranteed that servants could be employed cheaply.

For a young immigrant girl, a job as a servant was a good prospect. She would have a place to stay and food and would not add cost to the living expenses of her family. Most servants got one or two days off a month when they could visit their families and friends. They also got certain hours off when they weren't needed. A girl would only work in this fashion until she got married. 

This week we will all be preparing that huge Thanksgiving meal, sans servants. I'm actually very excited. Thanksgiving is a pretty boring holiday for vegetarians. (I don't do the tofurkey thing.) But, I am really excited to get to cook. I haven't cooked in ages and the perfect Thanksgiving weekend would be a day of cooking and reading. I have a long list of books I want to read and haven't had a second to read anything not related to school. And while I don't plan on letting the turkey burn while I cozy up with Clarissa Dillon's Ph.D thesis on Colonial Era gardens of Chester County, I'm not making any promises.     

November 12, 2012

Just Checking In

I feel like we missed most of the Fall and Winter came on too suddenly. I already find myself securely fastened in heavy blankets, reluctantly exposing my hands to do work.The fog today and last night was pretty crazy. It was hard to see even a few feet in front of yourself.

My time student teaching will soon come to an end; which is both sad and exciting. I really like the school that I am at and the community there, so it will be sad to leave. However, I will really enjoy the break from the constant stress that I get, not from teaching, but all the extra work that school has been putting on us. Make no mistake: teaching is hard. I wish I could devote more time to preparation for my classes and less time typing up useless paperwork for college. There really is a limit to how many hours a day your brain can work before you go completely nuts.

This is a scary time too. Who knows what is next? A new job? Graduate school?  No idea. I'll keep everyone posted.

November 5, 2012

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

Explosives placed under a government building by  a group of religious extremists? Sounds like something we'd see on the news. 

On the night of October 25th,1605 an anonymous letter was sent to Baron William Parker during dinner alerting him of a plot to blow up the House of Lords in an attempt to assassinate King James I and his daughter Princess Elizabeth.

Nine year old, Princess Elizabeth was scheduled to become the Catholic head of state on November 5th which angered a group of English Catholic extremists who feared that there was little chance of increased religious toleration under the reign of King James I.
However, this wasn't the first attempt of English Catholics at harming King James I, in 1603, there was a plot called the "Bye Plot" in which Catholic priests and Puritans had planned to kidnap the king. The whole thing was fouled before it even began but nevertheless made the king take threats seriously which worked against the November 5th plotters.   

Guy Fawkes is now the poster child for the plot, although he was only one of many conspirators in "The Gunpowder Plot." He earned his notoriety because on the night of November 4th, 1605, he was found in the House of Lords guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder which was enough to level the building. He was wearing his now iconic, hat, cape and boots with spurs. Fawkes was arrested immediately, while the other conspirators fled.      

Punishments included  dragging behind a horse and having genitals removed and burned in front of their still living owner, the removal of bowels, dismemberment by quartering and leaving the pieces at the mercy of animals. The conspirators ended up suffering a variety of cruel deaths, many of which started at the gallows. Fawkes managed to break his neck at the gallows, which alluded many of the other conspirators, but was still quartered.

The plot inspired a poem:

"Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
the Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent to blow up King and Parliament.

Three score barrels were laid below to prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s mercy he was catch’d with a dark lantern and lighted match.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!"

King James I also immortalized the event by commissioning a sermon to be given on November 5th, 1606 to make sure everyone remembered the punishments. It became tradition to commemorate the day every year. 

October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween! A Short History of Jack O' Lanterns

We know Halloween is around the corner when we see cold nights, colored leaves and the scary faces of carved pumpkins staring at us from doorsteps.  But the Jack O' Lantern hasn't always been so ubiquitously linked to Halloween.

The tradition of jack o' lanterns was brought from Ireland and Britain in the early 1800s. Travelers through the moors and marshes had long seen flickering, wispy lights teasing them off of established paths and pulling them to get lost in the fog. The lights always receded when approached and followed during a retreat. They were sometimes called will-o'-the wisp, fairy lights or friar's lanterns.

One legend attributed these lights to a man named Stingy Jack who tricked the Devil and was not allowed into heaven or hell after he died. It was said that the when he asked the Devil where he should go, the Devil threw him an eternal ember that Jack stuck in a carved turnip which he used as a lantern as he roamed the Earth. On October 31st , during the festival of Samhain when fairies and ghosts were said to roam, turnip lanterns were carved to ward off evil.

When the tradition came to the United States, pumpkins were carved instead of turnips as their size made them easier to carve. They became associated with Halloween during the mid-1800s.

Civil War soldier, Sam Watkins of the 1st TN, Co. H recounted the first time he saw a jack o' lantern. He was stationed near Corinth, Mississippi and was engaged with the enemy that morning. Him and a comrade had both shot a sharpshooter out of a tree and macabre reported that the soldier tumbled out of a tree like a squirrel:           

This is where I first saw a jack o'lantern (ignis fatui). That night, while Tom and I were on our posts, we saw a number of very dim lights, which seemed to be in motion. At first we took them to be Yankees moving about with lights. Whenever we could get a shot we would blaze away. At last one got up very close, and passed right between Tom and I. I don't think I was ever more scared in my life. My hair stood on end like the quills of the fretful porcupine; I could not imagine what on earth it was. I took it to be some hellish machination of a Yankee trick. I did not know whether to run or stand, until I heard Tom laugh and say, "Well, well, that's a jack o'lantern.
Watkins, Sam. Co. Aytch, A Side Show of the Big Show. Nashville, TN: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House , 1882.

How scary it must have been to see that for the first time! Have a happy Halloween everyone! I'm glad everyone is safe after that storm. 

October 25, 2012

Cedar Creek 2012

Cedar Creek was a great, laid back event. I got more sleep over the weekend that I have had in at least 2 months. It was great!The landscape in Virginia is just beautiful at this time of year. I was afraid we weren't going to have much of a Fall because it got so cold so early this year.
Fortunately, the weather last weekend was nice, although the wind brought a sharp chill.

I took a lot of nice photos, but many of them came out rather dull due to the heavy cloud covering. 

I miss everyone so much. I have very little time to do anything other than plan for my classes. It's been tough. I really needed a weekend break for that. It was definitely worth the long drive. I'm also having a lot of issues with the new Blogger layout and the fact that I have to now host my photos somewhere else and link to them. I look forward to getting back in touch will all of you. I'm still reading, even I don't have time to comment on everything. Thanks so much for all of the support!

October 9, 2012

Helping History Survive: Resources for Teens Who Love History

Reenactments and living history museums tend to be full of families that love history. Mom and Dad show their kids how cool history is and a young age and their interest in history grows on its own. Recently I have noticed a trend in the older generation retiring. They are selling their historical clothing and promising that they will now spend their time relaxing and playing with the grandkids instead of playing in the field.  That may mean that the toddlers of today will be historians tomorrow. But as for right now, the current youth doesn’t seem to be replacing the veterans.

 I didn’t have a family into history. So I know how hard it is. I couldn’t participate in events until I was in college. I didn’t have the money or the means to get to events, but I did know what I was missing. In Middle School, a homeschool family was nice enough to take me to a living history museum with their daughter.  They knew that I liked history and it was such a kind offer. 

It’s hard to imagine, but families not into history don’t really know what’s out there. My family knew I liked history but they didn’t really know there was history stuff available. Unfortunately, once we found out stuff was available, most things were only open to children, if their parents participated and were there to watch them.  My parents both worked so history events went on the backburner until college. 

So what can be done to encourage the new generation? For starters, if you have the means to bring young people along with you, please do. That can mean a lot to a child or teen that loves history. If you can’t bring someone to far away events, try local events or town history days.   

One of my fondest memories from Middle School was that my friend invited me over to make costumes for a trip to the Renaissance fair.  We went to the fabric store and found a pattern that we liked and we bought broadcloth. We spent a whole day laughing and sewing and ended up with some badly sewn but wearable dresses. On the day of the trip, we felt like the belles of the ball. 

If you don’t have the means to take others with you, try to make your materials available to them.  Lend out the historical fiction that is probably collecting dust most of the year. See if your local library has good books you could suggest to a teen. Really any little thing could keep that passion going. 

If you are a young person into history but have no way of participating in any history events, spend this time feeding your interest. If you go to school, use the library to read books on the subjects you like. Listen to history related podcasts and watch videos.  Don’t let your passion die. When people find out that I am a reenactor they generally tell me that they used to love history but their interest waned in their teen years when many other things seemed more important. 

Utilize what you do have at your disposal. Ask the librarian for books on the subject you are interested in. Ask your teachers at school for information on a topic you find interesting. Use the internet to find information. The important thing is to keep feeding your interest.
Resources for teens who love history:



Historical Fiction:

- The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
-  Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (Free Online Ebook.)
-Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix


-To Be a Slave by Julius Lester
-The Civil War Chronicle by William C. Davis
-The Reenactor’s Handbook by
- Hardtack and Coffee by John D. Billings (Free Online Ebook.) This one was written by a Civil War veteran about army life. It has great images.
-Johnny Reb and Billy Yank by Alexander Hunter. This is a long but entertaining read written by a Civil War veteran. (Free Online Ebook.)

What are your suggestions? How can the history field do to make it more beginner friendly or what can be done to encourage people who can't participate? 

October 4, 2012

1850s Civil War Men's Shirt Pattern

This pattern is from 1852 and was published in a guide meant to teach sewing skills to ladies who might live "humble lives." It teaches the most economical ways to cut out multiple shirts so as not to waste any fabric.
 The book has basic instructions on how to assemble the shirt but only the basics. It does not include the front pleats which were a matter of personal taste.

Like many shirts of the period, this shirt is cut out of mostly rectangles and squares, using gussets instead of sloped shoulder holes to make the shirt comfortable in the underarm. The book suggests using linen fabric and the age-old technique of taking apart a shirt that the man likes and using it as a template for his new shirts.   

I've charted out the pattern but will assume that only seamstresses and tailors with some experience will be attempting it. For one, seam allowance is not included in my chart and you have to pay special attention to the seams that need a little bit of extra to sew without leaving an exposed edge.

Shirts aren't terribly hard once you make one. It is much easier to size when you do have a shirt from the person you'll be sewing for. 

There is a lovely tutorial for sewing a similar shirt (an earlier style but the basics are the same) at MY Mr. Knightley: Making a Shirt 

September 21, 2012

"A Civil War Soldier's Kit" --Advice from a Veteran Soldier

In early 1861, many men enlisted in both the Union and Confederate armies. Most had grown up hearing their grandfather's tales of the Mexican American war and couldn't wait to get their piece of action in what they thought would be a short war. Most new recruits had a lot in common, most had no clear idea of army life or any idea what was realistic to bring with them.

Many soldiers brought along things that they thought would be helpful. many soon realized that the things they thought would be indispensable turned out to be worthless extra baggage. As seen in many period photos, many soldiers brought a big hunting knife, or pistol. Many extra weapons were sent home or discarded soon after enlistment. Bulletproof vests made of heavy steel, were popular purchases at the beginning of the war, but were soon seen as extra weight.  Soldiers all over were asking "What should I bring?"

 Early in the war, newspapers printed advice to help answer the question. The article below was printed in a newspaper based in Atlanta, Georgia but it was also printed in the Milwaukee Sentinel in April of 1861.
A Soldier's Kit

            At this time, when so many are preparing for the wars, a memorandum of the things necessary to take along as baggage will not be unacceptable.  The desired catalogue is contributed, by an old soldier, as follows: 
 Two flannel shirts, red preferable; 2 stout hickory shirts; 2 fine shirts, if you can take them along; four pair of woolen socks; 2 pair drawers, white cotton or wool, indispensable; black silk neckerchief, very useful; pocket handkerchief, indispensable; 1 pair stout and easy boots, if you can, take a second pair; 2 towels, indispensable; 1 piece of soap; 1 fine and 1 coarse comb; 1 tooth brush; 1 butcher knife, (a good place for it is in the boot;) 1 quart tin cup; 1 button stick; 1 vial of sweet oil; 1 piece of rotten-stone; 1 button brush, (nail brush will do;) 1 flannel housewife, for and full of needles--throw in a few pins while you are about it; 1 pair small scissors; strong white and black threads in tidy skeins; 1 blacking brush, if you can take it; 1 box of blacking.  Learn to pack your knapsack tidily, closely and conveniently for use.  
To the above you may add all the grub you can stow away inside and out, and replenish when you can, without waiting for the stock on hand to be exhausted.  

SOUTHERN CONFEDERACY [ATLANTA, GA], June 1, 1861, p. 2, c. 3
 True advice, the veteran emphasizes extra clothes and cleaning supplies rather than extra weapons and bedding. Most of all, he advised as much "grub" as possible. The following suggestions were particularly good and possibly confusing to the new recruit who might not be familiar with real army duties:

Button Stick: A piece of metal that slid behind buttons and protected fabric during polishing. I bet many new recruits didn't consider the amount of time they would be polishing buttons. See one in action here: A Button Stick.
One Quart Tin Cup: The veteran knew something that new recruits probably didn't think about: they'd be using their cups to cook.  
Polish, brush, Housewife, Oil and Rotten-Stone: The veteran soldier knew how much the new guys would have to put into their uniform and appearance. "Rotten-stone" was another name for pumice and a "housewife" was a small sewing kit.   

Similarly to new recruits during the war, many new reenactors buy a ton of things that they think they will need before they can tell what will actually come in useful. My advice to new recruits is to only buy the basic necessities and forgo the trinkets and things that *might* come in useful. A good rule of thumb is that if an item is not absolutely necessary, make sure it has at least 4 uses in the field.  For example, many people eat out of the small skillet they cook in, instead of carrying a skillet and a plate. They also might use the skillet as a hammer and small shovel--really, some people do. :)
If you'd like to learn how to pack a knapsack, there is a great PDF article at 26 NC.ORG. 

 Source of article clipping: "A Soldier's Kit." Southern Confederacy, June 1, 1861. Newspaper Research, 1861-1865.  (accessed September 15, 2012.)

September 17, 2012

150th Anniversary of Antietam

Today is the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest single day in US history. It was the first major battle of the Civil War to take place in Northern territory. It is the day to remember the 23,000 casualties, many of them new recruits, never having seen action before.

The battle should have been a full Union victory as they had found a lost copy of Lee's battle plans wrapped around some cigars. Unfortunately for both sides, it was nothing but bloodshed. The rocky and hilly terrain made it almost impossible to see what was coming and the area was so small, it was impossible to move without encountering the enemy.  It was the first time many men lost loved ones.

Below is a letter written shortly after the battle: 

"My dear afflicted Sister

It gives me intensest pain to tell you of death of my dear brother, your devoted husband, Andrew. Oh: how desolate is my sad heart at the loss of that brother twice indeared by the hardships and perils we have passed togather. But if my heart is so sad, what must yours be my sister, deprived of a husband and a friend...Our dear one suffered no pain in death for he was shot through the temples. He was killed on yesterday morning at the fight at Sharpsburg. Of the conflict being undesided, his body has not yet been recovered, but Maj. George has promised to attend to his internment. I am too badly wounded to return to look after him...Your sorrowing brother, A. M. Erskine" 

--Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Johnny Reb. Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, 1943.  

Take a moment and remember all of the families affected by that day and how much the war really meant to our country. I've included some lesser known photos of the battlefield. 

Here's a link to another soldier's letter from Antietam. 

September 10, 2012

Copyrights in the Historical Arena

Abiding by copyright laws is as important as ever, especially in the age of the internet where I copyright violation is as easy as two clicks.  Much of what is posted on facebook and pinterest is actually a violation of copyright. (Read more on Pinterest and Facebook here at Why I Tearfully Deleted my Pinterest Inspiration Boards. While it is unlikely that posting on social media sites, the laws regarding copyrights are lagging behind the technology. Search engines using thumbnails has been ruled legal, but not sites.)

 I have noticed that the subject of copyrights is confusing to many, especially those in the history field.  Is it illegal to post scans out of a book, recreate a dress you saw in a museum quote from a diary or letter or post a photograph online? These questions are common and sometimes it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.

Copyrights exist to protect the current and future revenue of the copyright holder.  Once something is out of copyright, it typically enters the public domain, which means that anyone can use it. 

The magic date in US copyrights is 1923, originally copyrights were only supposed to last for a certain amount of years after the death of the holder; however in the late 90s, copyrights were put on hold and now, nothing new since 1923 will enter the public domain until 2018. 

Books: Published books have some of the simplest copyright laws. If the book was published before 1923, and you own a copy of it, you can reproduce and distribute copies or use it for derivative works. If a private collection gives you access and does not limit reproduction rights, you can use it. 

Diaries and Letters: The person who wrote them, owns the copyright. If the person is dead, their heirs own the copyright. Things written after January 1, 1978, automatically grant copyright to the author (and later heirs) for the duration of the author’s life + 70 years. Anything written before that is now subject to the same law, although that pretty much means it is in the public domain and you have permission to use it as long as you own the physical copy or have permission from those that do. 

If you find a letter, digitized by a private owner, you’ll need their permission to put it up on your own site, unless what you use falls under “fair use,” and you give the proper credit to the original source. Remember, fair use is dictated by percentage used. If you copy a poem in its entirety and post it on your website, you just copied 100% of the content. If you use one letter from a collection of letters, the percentage is much smaller. Fair use applies directly to scholars, which is why historians can quote in their own published works as long as they properly cite the passages.  

Artifacts in a Museum:

It is illegal to make a reproduction of an artifact found in a museum unless you have permission from the artifact owner. Museums make their money by having people come to see their unique items. Making a reproduction may affect their ability to make money. Always ask permission first and read each museum's policy. Some museums do not give you permission to publish photographs of items in their exhibits, even if they allow photos to be taken. The rules are different if the museum is a public museum and not private so do your research. 

If you own an artifact, it is yours to copy and distribute as you like, provided its copyright has ended. Clothing is typically exempt from holding a copyright because art is secondary to function unless the clothing contains a copyrightable logo or fabric pattern or isn't a functional garment. 
There are four rights that belong to the original photographer:

- The right to make copies of the photo.
- The right to make a derivative work of the photo. This includes altering a photo and using it in some way or creating a scan of an image.
- The right to distribute or share copies of the photo, which includes posting it online.
- The right to publicly display the work.

The photographer can sell the rights to one or all of the following rights to another person. This can make it complicated to track down the owners of certain photos.

- If you own an image published before 1923, you don’t need to get permission from anyone to use it. After 1923, you need to contact the rights holders for permission. Chances are, if it is a family photo, your family will give you permission.

- If you get access to an image created or published before 1923 in a private collection (museum) then it is up to the owners of the private collection themselves to dictate whether or not you have the right to allow patrons to use their property.

If you own a CDV and scan it and post it online, it is perfectly legal. If you copy a CDV that you find online, it is private property, unless the private owner notes if it is legal to use. If you need to show an image to a friend on a social media site, send a link and not a copy of the image. Remember there are other laws which dictate the legal use of modern photos. Some photos taken at certain reenactments are not legal to post online.

For more information on photo rights click here: COPYRIGHTS AND OTHER RIGHTS IN PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGES.  

This post was just some general guidelines for historians. It is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Be sure you check the individual laws pertaining to individual items before you use them. Remember, just because it’s old, doesn’t make it okay to use. Just because you don’t plan on making any money from the use, doesn’t make it okay to use. Adding a disclaimer, also does not make it okay to use. Make sure what you are using is legal and that you give proper credit each time. Remember, someday someone might want to use your work.

Further Reading:

-US Copyright Office
-American Dutchess: Historical Costuming
-Elizabeth Stewart Clark: Ethical Dressmaking 
-Between the Seams, A Fertile Commons:An Overview of the Relationship Between Fashion and Intellectual Property

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