Friday, October 21, 2016

October 21: "Old Ironsides" Celebrates Another Birthday

On 21 October 1797, Boston witnessed the launching of the USS Constitution, which remains "the oldest commissioned warship in the world."

Here she is, depicted on the 150th anniversary commemorative stamp, which proved to be both very popular and unexpectedly controversial (naval aficionados did not think the depiction was sufficiently active and heroic).

As I noted in my recent post on the fiftieth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (October 1966-2016), it was an innovative decision on the part of the US Postal Service to depict historic resources other than buildings on the stamps issued for the fifth anniversary of the law: a San Francisco cable car, and the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan of Mystic Seaport.

The inclusion of ships raises intriguing question about, first, what should be preserved, and second, what "preservation" means in the case of resources such as ships, whose material is constantly being replaced. The "Constitution" has undergone a number of major restorations, but the latest (2007-10) was intended not only to preserve the ship, and also to bring it back to the state of 1812, when it achieved its greatest fame (context and overview; individual aspects of the project).

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from the vaults (2010): backgrounder and summary on the "Constitution" and challenges of maritime historic preservation:

21 October 1797: Launching of USS Constitution; the need for preservation and interpretation continues

Thursday, October 20, 2016

October 20, 1803: Ratification of Louisiana Purchase

The Library of Congress explains:

On October 20, 1803, the Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty by a vote of twenty-four to seven. The agreement, which provided for the purchase of the western half of the Mississippi River basin from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents per acre, doubled the size of the country and paved the way for westward expansion beyond the Mississippi.

Spain had controlled Louisiana and the strategic port of New Orleans with a relatively free hand since 1762. However, Spain signed the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800 under pressure from Napoleon Bonaparte, a secret agreement retroceding the territory of Louisiana to France.

News of the agreement eventually reached the U.S. government. President Thomas Jefferson feared that if Louisiana came under French control, American settlers living in the Mississippi River Valley would lose free access to the port of New Orleans. On April 18, 1802, Jefferson wrote a letter to Robert Livingston, the U.S. minister to France, warning that, “There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans…”

Napoleon, faced with a shortage of cash, a recent military defeat in Santo Domingo (present-day Haiti), and the threat of a war with Great Britain, decided to cut his losses and abandon his plans for an empire in the New World. In 1803, he offered to sell the entire territory of Louisiana to the United States for $15 million.

Robert Livingston and James Monroe, whom Jefferson had sent to Paris earlier that year, had only been authorized to spend up to $10 million to purchase New Orleans and West Florida. Although the proposal for the entire territory exceeded their official instructions, they agreed to the deal. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was dated April 30 and formally signed on May 2, 1803.

This souvenir card issued by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for the New Orleans Philatelic Exhibition (NOPEX) of 1972 shows, at top, the 150th anniversary commemorative stamp issued of 1953 (depicting negotiators Monroe, Livingston, and Barbe-Marbois), and in the background, the centennial stamps of 1904.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Happy Dictionary Day, 2016

"Dictionary Day" honors lexicographer Noah Webster, born October 16, 1758, and celebrated for his pioneering work in both documenting and defining the emergent American language.

Engraving of Noah Webster, John Tallis & Company, 1834 (based on
the portrait by S. F. B Morse [1823] in the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College)

Webster is most often associated with Connecticut--New Haven, because he studied at Yale and spent his later years in that city (though his 1823 house was moved to Henry Ford's Greenfield Village in Michigan, in order to prevent its impending demolition)--and West Hartford, where his birthplace is today a museum and educational center dedicated to his legacy. In addition, however, he spent a crucial phase of his life (1812-22) in Amherst where he was actively involved in civic affairs (including the founding of Amherst Academy and Amherst College) as well as work on his dictionary.

Webster owned a large farm in what is now the center of town.

1920s map of Webster's holdings (Jones Library Special Collections) [placeholder]
His house no longer survives, but was located where the late nineteenth-century "Lincoln Block" now stands, across from Town Hall.

From the vaults:

• 2008: New England Celebrates Noah Webster 250th

• 2010: Well, where are you? Celebrating Noah Webster's Birthday and Searching for Remains of His Property

15 October 1817: Death of Revolutionary Tadeusz Kościuszko

199 years ago, on 15 October 1817, Tadeusz Kościuszko, hero of the American and Polish Revolutions, died in exile in Switzerland.

This substantial piece from the newsletter of the Mickiewicz Institute nicely delineates the high points and significance of his career: he arrived in the new United States in 1776, and during the war, he designed the fortifications at West Point and was responsible for the American campaign at Saratoga, which was decisive for the success of the Revolution, not least because it moved the French to lend their full backing to the new nation's struggle. In Poland, he famously led his nation's forces in the revolutionary struggles of 1791 and 1794. Although Kościuszko is celebrated for his dedication to the rights of peasants and Jews, his equally passionate commitment to the rights of enslaved Africans and Native Americans in the new United States is less well known. (more on the latter topic here)

In Philadephia, the house where he resided has been preserved and turned into the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, operated by the National Park Service.
He is commemorated at West Point with a monument by John Latrobe (1828; incorrectly labeled a tomb in the engraving below), to which a statue was added in 1913.

"The Tomb of Kosciuszko," by William Henry Bartlett, engraved by Robert Wallis,
from American Scenery... (London: James B. Virtue, 1839)
Kościuszko became an international hero and a cult figure for Polish patriots, celebrated in images and on monuments, whenever political conditions permitted.

"Kościuszko," engraving by A. Fleischmann after the painting by Olescynski,
Hildburghausen and New York: Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts,
mid-nineteenth century

"Thadé Kosciuszko," engraving by James Hopwood after a painting by Joseph Grassi,
from Leonard Chodzko, La Pologne historique, litteraire, monumentale et illustrée...,
(Paris: Au Bureau Central, 1843), published to raise funds for the Polish
émigré community in France

Marker in the main square in Kraków, at the spot from which Kościuszko announced the revolution in 1794.

Kościuszko monument by Leonard Marconi and Antoni Popiel (1900) outside the Wawel royal castle, Kraków. The Austro-Hungarian monarchy forbade such commemorations, so it was erected only during the interwar years. The Nazi occupiers, who located their headquarters in the castle, destroyed the statue. The 1960 reproduction now on the site was a gift of reconciliation from Dresden, East Germany.

Kościuszko's tomb, in the crypt of the cathedral, Wawel royal castle, Kraków. His body was moved from Switzerland a year after his death.

15 October 1830: Helen Fiske (Helen Hunt Jackson) born in Amherst

On October 15, 1830, Helen Fiske was born in Amherst. The friend of Emily Dickinson, who was born two months later (the arrival of both children is entered on the same page in Dr. Isaac Cutler's "baby book," or record of deliveries) became an author in her own right. Unlike Dickinson, Helen Hunt (Helen Hunt Jackson after widowhood and remarriage) chose to make a career of her writing.

She also became devoted to the cause of Native American rights. Her best known works are
 A Century of Dishonor: A Sketch of the United States Government's Dealings with Some of the Indian Tribes (1881) and the novel, Ramona (1884), which she hoped would be a Native American pendant to Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Jackson is prominently depicted on the Amherst History Mural (2005) by David Fichter, in the 1730 West Cemetery. Although the wall on which the mural is painted will fall to the wrecking ball when the former motel building is replaced by a large new mixed-use development, the developers have contracted with the artist to repaint the mural in full scale on a more suitable surface as part of the new building.

• From the vaults: More background on Jackson, her home, and the Amherst Writers' Walk.
Biographical sketch from "Mass Moments," a this-day-in-history service of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities

Rosetta and Maria Mitchell: Pioneering Astronomer from Massachusetts

The timing of the end of the Rosetta mission--the first spacecraft sent to rendezvous with a comet--was fortuitous. On September 30, after two years' study of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the European Space Agency's orbiter joined the lander module Philae on the surface.

The following day, October 1, was the anniversary of an earlier astronomical milestone. On that date in 1847, 29-year-old Maria Mitchell became the first woman to make a telescopic sighting of a comet. She did so from the roof of the Pacific Nantucket Bank, where her family resided  while her father was chief cashier. Mitchell had learned astronomy from her father, a talented amateur scientist himself, and from the study that she had undertaken on her own, working as a librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum next door.

In 1840, William Mitchell laid out the town's meridian line, marked with stone posts on the sidewalk in front of the bank.

Maria Mitchell's discovery brought her fame and helped to launch a new career: she became the first female member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1848) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1850), as well as the first professor hired at the newly founded Vassar College (1862). A feminist, she became  president of the American Association for the Advancement of Women in 1875.

Today the family's 1790 house, operated by the Maria Mitchell Association, preserves many of her possessions and celebrates her legacy. In 2010, Heather Huyck, editor of  Women's History: Sites and Resources, listed the house among her ten favorites.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Happy Birthday, National Historic Preservation Act! What should we do for the next 50 years?

October 15 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), one of the most significant steps in the protection of our built environment and cultural landscapes.

What has preservation become?

Commemorations and celebrations abound. But this time, even more than on the fortieth anniversary, it is an occasion for reflection and speculation rather than just self-congratulation. When I teach my preservation course, I explain not only current preservation practice, but also the evolution of the field, beginning with the American idea of preservation in the nineteenth century. To say that the preservation movement has always reflected the concerns and biases of its era is a truism, but that does not make it any less important: we do not have to indulge in condescending dismissals of all our forebears in order to accept that simple historical fact. Today, the preservation movement faces new opportunities and challenges, as concepts and law struggle to keep pace with an ever more rapidly evolving society:
  • New questions about the definition of historicity: half a century later, is the notion that things become potentially "historical" after half a century outmoded? That fifty-year moving window failed to capture many modernist works, which are falling prey to the wrecking ball or other depredations. On the other hand, would narrowing that window lead to unintended consequences, e.g. encouraging indiscriminate restrictive policies on the part of amateur civic bodies, which block necessary change and development?
  • New values and ideas about what deserves to be preserved: not just the quotidian and the vernacular rather than the elite and unique, and not just the collectivity rather than the individual edifice, but also things other than buildings
  • New questions about the relation between preservation professionals and ordinary citizens, from would-be grass-roots activists to those who worry about negative effects of preservationist initiatives in their neighborhoods
  • New dilemmas in balancing competing agendas and priorities: many important works of the modernist or postmodernist era were not built for the ages and are not energy-efficient. At what price, preservation?
  • New opportunities for alliances between preservation and environmentalism in the age of smart growth and global warming, which, on the one hand, argue for keeping more old structures (e.g. through adaptive reuse) but in some cases, at the price of more aggressive interventions for the sake of energy efficiency or other extra-historical claims
  • New demands for including a "social justice" component in our thinking about both preservation and sustainability

What would you put on a historic preservation stamp today?

Two years ago, I wrote about a little exercise that I use at the start of my preservation class. In 1971, to mark the fifth anniversary of the NHPA, the US Postal Service issued a set of four postage stamps celebrating historic preservation. It depicts an eclectic mix of subjects: the Decatur House in Washington, DC; the whaling ship, "Charles W. Morgan," in Mystic, CT; a San Francisco cable car; and the San Xavier Del Bac Mission in Arizona.

I had had the first-day-of-issue cover and many mint copies of the stamp in my collection for years, but it wasn't until I became more formally involved in actual historic preservation work that I began to wonder: what possible logic lay behind such an odd combination? And then: what might one instead depict today, reflecting our contemporary values and concerns? I ask my students to work through those same two questions.

Here's the full article, from the vaults.

Now it's your turn

When I wrote that post two years ago, I asked friends and followers to tell me what they would put on a new set of stamps if we designed one today. In particular, what might reflect the way that the theory and practice of preservation have evolved in this half-century?

I got little formal response at the time (probably, I was jumping the gun), but maybe this time will be different. Please share your thoughts in a comment. It's our golden anniversary: if not now, when?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

28 June 1919: A French Bookseller Commemorates the Signing of the Versailles Treaty

The Paris Peace Conference, convened after the end of World War I, began on 18 January 1919. Although the deliberations, which ended in 1920, led to five major international treaties from 1919 to 1923, it is best known for having brought forth the Versailles Treaty, between Germany and the Allied Powers, signed on 28 June 1919: the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to the conflict.

This postcard, depicting the northern wing and parterre of the palace, is postmarked on the date the Treaty was signed.

The recipient, who presumably sent it to himself, is the Parisian bookseller and publisher (François) Louis Dorbon (1878-1956), who called himself Dorbon the elder, to distinguish himself from his brother, Lucien. As the finding aid to the holdings at the University of Texas-Austin explains, the firm of Dorbon-aîné, which flourished from 1900 to the beginning of World War II, “entered the bookselling trade with a remarkable initial stock of 400,000 volumes,” adding, “As both a publisher and a bookseller, Librairie Dorbon-aîné contributed numerous influential works to the early 20th century French literary scene.”

Here, the text of the Treaty, from Yale’s Avalon Project.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Flag Day 2016: Three Flags

On Flag Day, 2016, three flags:

The first thirteen-star "Stars and Stripes," from the American Revolution: postage stamp issued 4 July, 1968 (Scott # 1350)

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The small 48-star flag my father received when he became a citizen after World War II.

(Interesting to think about what immigration controversies were in the news when I wrote the post versus today.)

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The newest, large, ceremonial flag on the north end of the Common in front of Amherst Town Hall, at half-staff in tribute to the victims of the Orlando massacre.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Lidice Shall Live: Anniversary Postal Covers Commemorating the 1942 Massacre.

One of the most notorious of the many Nazi crimes of World War II was the liquidation of the (innocent) village of Lidice, on 9-10 1942, in retaliation for the assassination of the "Reichsprotektor" of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, by Czechoslovak paratroopers.

(Main post and background)

After the war, the Czechoslovak government decided to rebuild the village, which has also become a memorial and a center for peace and reconciliation. The massacre has been commemorated in the philatelic and numismatic realm. In particular, for example, the government issued special stamps on the major anniversaries of the tragedy. Here are commemorative covers from the fifth and fifteenth anniversaries.

Fifth anniversary, 1942-1947

The cachet at left combines local and national motifs: the miner's lamp, representing the occupation of many of the residents, illuminates both the village at left and the Czech patriotic symbol of the linden leaf, at right with the message, "Lidice Shall Live." The stamp is one of three, in different denominations, issued for the occasion. The first two, identical in design except for the denomination, represent a weeping mother. This one, the highest denomination, signifies hope and rebuilding. The special cancellation echoes one of the iconic memorials, with its wreath of barbed wire (like a crown of thorns) on a cross symbolizing both death and resurrection--but here with the addition of the national linden leaves.

Fifteenth anniversary, 1957

Since 1955, when British group, "Lidice Shall Live," realized the dream of creating a Garden of Peace and Friendship, the rose has been a special symbol for Lidice.

Older posts on the Heydrich assassination and reprisals, and Lidice.