Monday, April 9, 2007

Smaller Classes: An Improvement for History

As noted in my previous post the academic year is drawing to a close, and an institution is allowed the opportunity to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the year that has passed for its student body and how it can improve undergraduate programming. My home institution of the University of Southern California (pictured at the left), as a member of the Association of American Universities, takes full advantage of the chances that are provided with self-reflection at the end of another academic year. More specifically, the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences has what is known as the Dean’s Prize, an attempt to actualize both the core ideals of USC and its plan for the future.

According to its role and mission, USC holds that its task “is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit….through a broad array of academic, professional, extracurricular and athletic programs of the first rank.” The USC 2004 strategic plan provides a more detailed set of values as to how the institution is going to improve the educational experience by stating that it “will focus [their] educational programs on meeting the needs of qualified students worldwide…This commitment will guide our choices regarding pedagogy, instructional technology, curriculum, admissions, and support services.” The Dean’s Prize places some of the decision making as to the learning experience into the hands of the students by asking those who directly coming into contact with the curriculum, as to where they believe the programs are falling short and how improvements can be made, which is one avenue that the college is using in an attempt to enrich the educational process.

This week I had decided to take on the task of looking back on my familiarity with the history department as a junior in my educational career and how it could best be helped. Numerous ideas whirled through my head about grand improvements that could have been made to the department buildings, classes provided, locations of instruction, but I came to the realization that there is actually a very simple change: smaller class sizes. I know that this may appear to be an insignificant and simplistic solution but it is the solution that the degree of history has been searching for.

I am not talking about making classes that already contain fifteen people in them smaller, but those classes are upper division courses typical of any major. One of the most fundamental ways of achieving that goal is by starting out with smaller class sizes at the lower division course level. Instead of having 100 and 200 level course where there are well over 100 people per class (similar to the one pictured at the right), make those classes smaller. The advantages are as follows. First, more personal interaction with working professionals rather than Teachers Assistants, for TAs are sometimes lacking in knowledge of the subject matter, causing frustration and dissatisfaction with the class, quickly shifting to discontent with the major as a whole. Next, professors are able to provide students with a fuller range of employment possibilities from museum curator to archivist or author instead of the typical lawyer or teacher. Many people starting out in the field of history fail to see these various avenues available to them. Finally, with a smaller class size there would be a greater opportunity for professors to make history a more tangible thing rather then merely information in a book. All of these benefits exemplify the strategic plan of the improvement of undergraduate education in accordance with the beliefs of USC’s history department of the ability to “appreciate and evaluate the world beyond” our lives.

I had a personal experience with this more physical technique of teaching through a class that I took in the spring of 2006. The class was the Vietnam War class taught by Dr. Roger Dingman (pictured at left), in which he planned and implemented a field trip to Little Saigon where our class (of only 20 people) was able to come face to face with the religion, food, and history of Vietnam. We were able to see, touch, and taste what we had been learning about in the pages of our books. That experience would not have been possible with a class of 150 people, and I would not have felt the joy and excitement of living history that I did that day. However, this was an upper division class made up of mostly juniors and seniors. These experiences must be made available for freshmen and sophomores so that they may see the enjoyment that comes from being a history major. Though it may look to be trivial change on the surface, the prospects that become available with the change are countless. The financial expenditure of employing more quality professors will be far outweighed by the enrichment of the learning experience of countless students and the robust growth of quality of the history department as a whole on a national and international level.

Monday, April 2, 2007

A Man Who Distinguished Himself in History: Ted Widmer

This week I will be taking an additional departure from my blog entries with the final refinements being placed on Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 (and the all too familiar mortar board pictured at left) for the fast approaching commencement ceremonies and the achievement of scholastic excellence. Among the various degrees bestowed upon college graduation day there is one degree that has often caused much debate: the honorary degree. As president emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth University, James Freedman, describes what he believes the true attributes of the presentation of the honorary degree ought to be to “celebrate distinguished and sublime achievement” because when a university gives an individual such a degree “a university mak[ing] an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.” However, he goes on to provide the aspect of the honorary degree that causes debate among many individuals as to the legitimacy of the award. Freedman believes that over the years the North American higher education system has warped the original intention of the honorary degree into something used “to flatter generous donors and prospective benefactors” or “mere celebrities-who are often famous principally for being famous.” By taking Freedman’s perspective on the state of the honorary degree in American higher education one can see how they can be seen as “trivialized” piece of paper.

In spite of Freedman’s doubt as to the validity of the honorary degree I still believe that there are those individuals existing in the world in various fields of specialty who are deserving of a degree. A degree described by The University of Southern California as a designation to “honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities, whether or not they are widely known by the general public” and “recognize exceptional acts of philanthropy to the university and/or on the national or world scene.” Under the guidelines that have been specified by the university there is an exceptional individual in the field of history who is most deserving of an honorary degree from the University of Southern California named Edward L. “Ted” Widmer.

Ted Widmer (pictured at right) is currently the director of John Carter Brown Library at Brown University and a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. However, despite his two prestigious occupations what makes Mr. Widmer most deserving of one of USC’s honorary degrees (for there are seven different fields of honorary degree that USC gives out) is his dedication to the furthering people’s education of American history. He has performed this task through various avenue of involvement. He has taken on the task of educating America’s public on various topics of American history from his book on Martin Van Buren a part of the American President Series to collections of America speeches from the Revolution to Bill Clinton a two part book series aimed at providing primary sources demonstrating the important political, social, and moral ideologies that shaped America into what it is today. Widmer’s books are not simply additions to the already prolific array of non-fiction historical works existing in the world that makes important contributions to the field of history, but his first book, Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City (pictured at left) has been recognized for its merit by the Washington Irving Literary Medal given out by the St. Nicholas Society of New York City for excellence in the literary field at representations of New York’s history. To help further American knowledge of American history even farther Ted Widmer has helped establish a literary award of his own in 2001 for recognition in the field of America’s early era history. The award named the George Washington Book Prize awards a $50,000 prize to the author of the book which “contributes to a greater public understanding of the life and career of George Washington and/or America’s foundering era” as described by the awards description. The important aspect of the award is that the book selected must have provide the public with a better understanding of American history and not an esoteric group of scholars and experts in the field.

Perhaps Ted Widmer’s greatest accomplishment was his work through the C.V. StarrCenter for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College in which he helped develop programs to enrich the knowledge of American history to groups that were lacking in their comprehension of that history. Through his programs he brought a more stimulating learning experience to under-funded inner city schools in Maryland all the way to Muslim college students in Anti-American regions of the world. More specifically during his work in at the C.V. Starr Center he developed the prototype in conjunction with the Untied States State Department for the American Studies Institute which “invite[s] undergraduate college students (pictured at right) exclusively from Islamic backgrounds to study American culture and history up-close and in-depth. A grant of $250,000 from the State Department covers 90 percent of the cost of the program” as described by John Buettner of media relations in a 2004 article published by Washington College on

Ted Widmer’s unwavering dedication to the not only national, but international expansion of the understanding and knowledge of American history through his books and the programs that he has brought into existence qualifies him to receive the Doctorate of Human Letters. For Widmer has shown that he is an outstanding citizen of the United States of America. He has helped to educate the public in areas that they have been found wanting in and has even extended that branch of knowledge to diverse groups of individuals such as Muslim students living in anti-American locations shortly after a time in America’s history when such actions may not be the most popular in American society. Widmer’s courage and dedication to his field of history makes him an indispensable figure to modern American society in which he would have much knowledge to pass on a new generation of graduates through a commencement address for he is the living embodiment of his field, something that any individual who has labored for the past four to five years on a degree in their field.

Monday, March 26, 2007

History's Meaning to Me: Family

Inspired by the This I Believe project, “a national media project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives,” this week I have decided to take a departure from my typical blog post to bring a more personal perspective to the decisions that led to the selection of history as a concentration. Perhaps the strongest influence on my historical tendencies has been family. Throughout my childhood there was always a strong emphasis placed on the importance of family and the quality time spent with each other. To strengthen what my parents called our “family unit,” they planned two four-week vacations for us. The first vacation took place when I was only six years old and now as a junior in college it was far too young an age to be fully appreciated, or remembered, the things that I saw and experienced. The second trip was at a much more pivotal time in my life where I was receptive to the various national parks and monuments where we were stopping. Prior to this trip in the summer of 1995 I had never acknowledged much outside my world than school and the walls of our house. I was exposed to spectacular natural wonders such as Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (pictured at the left), Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Despite all of the wonderful qualities of America’s natural wonders there was one occasion when I knew that my life would never be the same. I had officially fallen in love with history. The infatuation day was the day we visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield (also known as the location of Custer’s Last Stand) as a family. It was a calm sunny day when we drove up to the battlefield. After listening to a short presentation in the location museum by one of the park rangers about what had taken place during that fateful encounter between the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer (pictured at right) and his men in 1876, we moved out to the battlefield. On the battlefield is where my life changed. The minute that we stepped on to that ground a silence fell upon the tourists. No one had to tell me, a child of nine, to hush up and be respectful. For it was not just another field that we were setting foot on, it was a resting place for many restless souls. We were hit with the overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by those taken before their time. With each progressive step the sensation grew stronger and stronger. My mother took my hand in hers and squeezed it softly as we made our way to a small enclosure in the distance with my father and older sister shuffling softly hand in hand ahead of us. As we approached the seemingly insignificant non-threatening black iron fence the reality of what it housed within its four sides hit. There marked, with what can only be described as miniature head stones (pictured at left), were the actual locations where Custer and others fell in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Among those numerous white markers, one has been seared into my memory forever. It was unlike the others: in the very center stood Custer’s marker staring at me with its plaque of startling blackness (pictured at right). Not until we reached the parking lot, opened our doors, sat in our seats, buckled our seatbelts did we actually speak.

After experiencing something so powerful as to see where history was actually made, where people had fallen, my life was never the same. I was not able to get enough of history from that point on. The decisions and actions of people is the main reason why I find history so interesting and have developed such a strong affinity for it. Without the determination of my family to take those trips it may have been years before I discovered the enormity of history, in fact I may never have come face to face with history as I did that one day in 1995. For this reason, history to me means family, without family there would be no history.

Monday, March 5, 2007

California’s African American Slavery: Where Has This Been Hiding?

Slavery of African Americans in California? No, California’s history is one of friars, missions, the Donner Party, miners, the Gold Rush, and the 1906 Earthquake. Correct? Many people believe California to have been a state exempt from the polarizing issue that tore a nation apart in a horrific war between friends and brothers. Despite the best intentions of the population at large to place California in an exempted and angelic position above the controversial issue of slavery there remains the fact that California was in fact a pivotal player in the debate over the institution. As University of Massachusetts professor and noted historical author, Leonard L. Richards, writes in his recently released book The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War (pictured at left), California’s past held much more then people give it credit for having sat as the corner stone for numerous senatorial debates over the admittance of states as either free or slave in the nation of the United States of America.

In a recent article by New York based freelance writer Claire Lui, appearing in the publication American Heritage Magazine published on Tuesday, February 27 she describes the economic, legal, and political approach of Richards’s book in which he focuses on, as Lui describes as, the “dehumanizing” Senate and House debates that took place on the status of admittance of California and other states in to the union. Continuing her review of Richards’s book Lui draws attention to the fact that he leaves out both the abolitionist and slave views by stating that Richards “captures the reasoning and thinking of prominent white Californians” excluding the “moral issue” of slavery. She states that by reading the book she began to view slavery as an economic, legal, and political issue not as an institution that was repressive and damaging to an entire race of people. She began to see the numbers not the faces that made up the labor system. Richards’s book and Lui’s article triggered intriguing questions as to the nature of slavery and California: when it is addressed and how do individuals address it.

Through a thorough and broad exploration of the sources available on the internet using numerous search engines to investigate the role of slavery in California’s history produce limited successful results. The main focus of much of the search results produced is a similar slant that Richards takes in The California Gold Rush of a governmental debate over an issue that does not address the moral aspects of the debate, but strongly concentrates on political and economic elements of California’s history. It is more concerned with the status of California as a free state upon admittance (as pictured on the right of an 1850 map where California is pictured as a free state in red) than the slavery that was taking place. For example, in an article written by Dr. Rockwell D. Hunt for The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco entitled How California Came to Be Admitted, Dr. Hunt stays far removed from the moral issue of slavery, but addresses it from the political perspective of history. There exists little to no information of the actual individuals who were a present part of California’s slave history. The source that is available that comes the closest to helping to satisfying the historical need to help to deal with the matter of slavery in California’s history is the website The California Underground Railroad presented by California State University, Sacramento’s Library on which they have several primary sources and images available concentrating on the topic of slavery in California.

The alarmingly low number of resources available on the internet to a digital population on the topic of African American slavery in California’s history speaks to what Claire Lui described in her article as the concept that Richards “has added” to California history which is how many people will view this book. However, California did not suddenly gain a new aspect of its history the slavery of African Americans was always there. A more appropriate description of what Richards has done, with the writing and publication of his book, is that he has brought to the surface a matter that has been overshadowed by the miners (pictured at left is the typical face of California's history) and missions in California’s history. Hopefully with that addition of Richard’s book and the realization that California’s history is not so very different from those states in the heart of the South and the North during the Civil War that there will become a wider array of sources on the topic of African American slavery in California. With the addition of those sources on African American slavery in California there will develop a perspective and a voice of both the slaves and abolitionists who were as much a part of the debates as the economic, legal, and political issues of the day. They were the moral opposition contingent and they need to be acknowledged to have complete history of the topic. The fact remains that yes, there was slavery in California.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Virginia’s Slavery: Which side of the Fence Post Do You Sit Virginia?

Throughout much of the 19th century Virginia (pictured at left with slave population concentrations) became a line of separation between the North and the South and the free and slave states. It also bordered Washington, D.C. in one of the most unsettled time in American history. Virginia once again stands at the edge of issues that appear as if they were plucked for the heads lines of those years of the War Between the States. In recent news Virginia has been on both sides of commemorating slavery and those involved in dismantlement of the institution. As stated in the February 21st posting What Goes Around..., on the blog A. Lincoln Blog presented by an Associate Professor of history at Anderson University, Virginia recently decided that it would not celebrate the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln coming in 2009. What makes this decision so shocking is because not only is the state refusing to acknowledge President Lincoln and wheat he helped to accomplish, but they made the decision only shortly before they decided to apologize for slavery in Virginia. Larry O’Dell attempts to relay, in his February 25th post Virgina Apologizes for Role in Slavery on the Capitol Hill Blue blog, how progressive Virginia believes itself to be by apologizing for its part in the history of slavery in the United States. These interesting legislative decisions made by Virginia that could be described as opposite decisions prompted me to explore other blogs within the internet and to leave my opinions with others.

A. Lincoln Blog Comment

I find the fact that you presented Virginia’s recent decision to not to celebrate “the Lincoln bicentennial” as you labeled it, due to the overwhelming influence of Sons of Confederate Veterans extremely an thought provoking event and it encouraged me to look into the topic for myself. Upon reading an article presented, on George Mason University’s History News Network cite about the issue; it further discussed the influence of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It quoted Robert Lamb saying that when Lincoln sent armies into Virginia they “laid waste to the land” (pictured at right is the "waste" when Lincoln entered Richmond, Virginia) it appeared as though Lamb was attempting to bring about the issue of states rights. The fact still remains, as you point out in your post, that it is President Lincoln’s bicentennial and he was an extremely influential President of the United States worthy of celebration. Virginia is once again a part of the United States and the Sons of Confederate Veterans need to acknowledge the fact, they do not have to accept it, but must at least recognize it. A very thought provoking post.

Capitol Hill Blue Comment

Though long over due, the fact that Virginia is now apologizing for its role in slavery is a strong step to overcoming strong racial stigmas of the South (to the right is pictured 80 year-old Republican representative Frank D. Hargrove addressing the measure). It appears that despite the fact that the measure is apologizing for the establishment and fostering of inhumane and degrading labor system and the resulting horrific segregated society, the document is nothing more then an apology note. Will this request for forgiveness truly help Virginia in “overcoming its segregationist past” or is it really just that: a document? What I find most intriguing, and would like to call attention to, is that fact that this apology comes on the heels of another decision that was made by the Virginia State legislature in which they decided not to celebrate the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln in 2009. There appears to be strides in reconciling the racial history of Virginia, but celebrating a man who was instrumental in laying the ground work for that shift in history look to be contradictory acts. The post was extremely informative and induced a deliberation of ideas.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What Is In a Vice President? Some of the Worst Presidents Were Vices

How important is the office of the Vice President of the United States of America (current Vice President Dick Cheney pictured at left)? The answer to that question is much more significant than the country has ever considered. In a recent U.S. News and World Report article by senior writer Jay Tolson posted this past Sunday, February 18 and appearing in the February 26 print edition of the magazine entitled “The 10 Worst Presidents,” Tolson numerically ranks the ten worst former presidents of the United States. However, the intriguing aspect of Tolson’s article is upon review it struck me as interesting that a number of the worst were in fact previously vice presidents. They were men who were thrust into the position of the most powerful office in the world without the adequate preparation for the responsibilities they were taking on.

After reading the article the significant question of the selection of an individual to be placed in office of Vice President presented itself. Many presidential races focus their campaign energies on the name at the top of the ticket, as they rightly should for that person will become the leader of the free world. And they use the second name, the person running for the office of Vice President, as a tool to gain more votes for the presidential candidate. When not utilized to bolster the polling numbers for an ultimate victory the individual is employed for their political clout to legitimize the primary candidate and the campaign positions. Placing the focus on number of votes and political connections rather than the governing ability of the individual to be found in that position can lead to problems of inadequacy.

Among the individuals on the list that support argument of more consideration with the selection of vice president (pictured from right to left) are as follows: Andrew Johnson (#3 pictured at right), Millard Fillmore (#5), and John Tyler (#6). Of the eleven (there was a tie between Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon for #9) men presented on the list three of them were Vice Presidents forced into the limelight after the sudden deaths of their presidents. That means that almost 30% of the most inept presidents in the history of the United States were men who were not expected to be president unless in the most dire of situations. One could argue that none of the presidents who made the list compiled by Tolson, served their presidency beyond the 19th century thus supporting the idea that America may have learned its lesson and started seeking more competent leaders for Vice Presidential candidates. However, as Tolson indicates there is not only one poll that has ranked the presidents. In fact his list was compiled by the “averaged results of five major and relatively recent presidential polls to make its [US News] own gallery of the 10 worst presidents,” basing the competence of the president on two fundamental characteristics: damage done and the Kuklick yardstick. The latter was established by Bruce Kuklick, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in his book The Good Ruler wherein he presents the argument that a ruler’s aptitude at their job is dependent on the approval of the people that they are ruling, hinging the president’s capability on the opinion of the people.

The combination of differing ranking polls and the malleability of the criteria for a “good” president allows for multiple combinations of presidents who are deemed the worst leaders of the United States. There are some individuals who did not make this list due to criterion. The determination of which president makes which ranking list depends on the political inclinations of the individual(s) conducting the poll allowing for varying presidents opening the field wide open to individuals such as Gerald Ford. Ford, the former Vice President of Richard Nixon was thrown into office for which he was not prepared but failed to make this list. However, U.S. News attempted to keep its poll as objective as possible. It will always remain a reality that at any one time the Vice President of the United States of America could become the President of the United States, due to stipulation in the Constitution Article II Section I. Therefore, a conscientious decision must be made in the selection of Vice Presidential candidates beyond the votes and political power that they provide for the Presidential nominee. The office of the Vice President has been overlooked in the history of the United States, but now must be reevaluated in an attempt to diminish the likelihood of future worst lists heavy with incompetent individuals. How will history judge George W. Bush? Only time and politics will tell.

Monday, February 12, 2007

History C.E.: The Digitalization of History in the Computer Era

One of the biggest challenges facing history as the world becomes more obsessed with the concept of instant gratification is whether or not it can survive in a world of technologically driven individuals. Many people lack the patience and interest in sifting through documents and dusty volumes of books in a library. The world wants everything at their finger tips just a mouse click away. History has come to the realization that it must embrace the changing world before it also becomes history and lost forever leaving a world without any concept of the events that shaped the world. The topic of digitalized historical resources and the reliability of information found on the internet has been a highly celebrated and disputed issue. For in one aspect history is being preserved for future generation through the efforts of numerous institutions, according to American Historical Association, so that the information they provide will not disappear, but on the other hand that information is competing with sites that have a question reputation for reliability just as Legal History demonstrates. That is why this week in my posts I have decided to explore two other academic blogs to address and understand the academic opinions of individuals in relation to the advancement of history in the technological age. I worry however, that both the digitalization and other internet sources will actually hinder the true meaning of history and how individuals understand it, my concern rests with the reliability of the information. The comments that I made for two blogs are provided below.

Digitalization: Two Comments

Comment 1: Preserving the Past: The Digital Way

The Library of Congress’s continued project to digitalize fragile book collections and United States history volumes gives all the semblance of being an important and revolutionary step in the preservation of historical documents. Despite the fact that the documents will be preserved for as long as the internet and other digital resources exist the originals may be lost forever. Can certain fundamental aspects of the originals be transferred to the digital preservations? To fully understand the importance of primary sources requires full examination of the originals for the texture, weight, coloration, and condition of the paper. Not only is there a question of whether or not the sources are accurately preserved or not there also remains whether or not they will be used as digital sources. For there exists a plethora of historical resources on the internet and many individuals do not spend the time to distinguish between the authentic resources of the Library’s project and other unreliable sources of information such as Wikipedia. I hope that the weight of the name of the Library of Congress can be enough to place reliability behind the project giving people incentive to use them over other internet sources. (Comment is pending moderation on blog post)

Comment 2: Study on Wikipedia accuracy in History

The historical accuracy of internet resources has been a contested topic in academic circles between both instructors and students in the historical field. When presented with a new assignment automatically students turn to the internet as their first source of research. An initial search of most topics typically provides Wikipedia as a top source without having the professional knowledge to know whether or not the information is accurate and the strong academic competition to find that one fact that sets one paper apart from another with a revolutionary idea many students find it difficult to question what they are reading on the screen. Being a student of history I have learned through my experience to question Wikipedia, but I find that many of my contemporaries find it difficult to know what to question and what not to question when using online resources. To know that the site holds a much substance as a Reader’s Digest makes the understanding of its reliability clear. However, there should exist a guide to know what sources to trust and what sources to be skeptical of for students when they are conducting research, for as this post points out in some aspects Wikipedia is more informative then Encarta.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Couch Cushions: The Resting Place of America's History

In a 2006 episode of the NBC late night talk show The Tonight Show in which comedian Jay Leno conducted a segment titled Americana, one of his recurrent comedic numbers called “Jay Walking” in which he received the following answers while conducting random interviews on American history in the Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park. Q: “What day was Independence Day? What year?” A: “July 4, 1864.” Q: “How many justices on the Supreme Court” A: “12.” Q: “What President was named ‘Tricky Dick’?” A: “Bill Clinton.” These question and answer segments have become not only humorous exchanges but also regular examples of the lack of basic knowledge that Americans have about their country and its beginnings. Americans’ historical apathy is what the United States Mint is hoping to combat beginning February 15, 2007 with the first distribution of the Presidential $1 Coin Program. Will the introduction of coins exalting past Presidents remedy the deficiency in public knowledge or will the former heads of state be regulated to jars, drawers, and couch cushions?

The Presidential $1 Coin Program is a result of the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005. The law stipulates that coins with a monetary value of one dollar will be issued honoring the deceased presidents of America in the order in which they served beginning with George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. The mint will release four coins a year through 2016. Following the year 2016 the release dates of the coins will vary. This is due to the requirement within the Act that the President must be deceased for two years before his (or her) likeness is to be placed on a coin. US-Coin-Values-Advior reports that by 2014 both President Jimmy Carter and President George H. W. Bush will turn 90 years old and President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush will be 68. For those presidents who are elected in 2008, 2012, and 2016 there will have to be further legislation passed to determine the proper dates of their immortalization.

The new coins will be strikingly different in appearance than other commemorative coins. The photograph on the right illustrates the larger images placed in the center of the coin regulating the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” or the more familiar “In God We Trust” to the edges of the coin, a technique that US-Coin reveals has not been used since 1933. An image of the Statue of Liberty will be placed on the back. In addition to the distinctive look of the coins and scheduled releases, the program act requires that there be a national outreach program to publicize the release of the coins. A mailer sent out by the United States Mint confirms that the purpose for the introduction of the Presidential $1 Coin Program is to promote collection of the coins and stimulate interest in American history. The decision to initiate the Presidential Coin program is based on the Mint’s previous success with the 50 State Quarters Program. The Mint claims this program increased circulation and collection of quarters.

Despite the best wishes of the United States Mint to inspire national pride of the people, there still remains the fact that many individuals are opposed to a dollar coin. According to an article provided to Discover by Alan Burdick titled “The Math of…Pocket Change,” many people have a hard time accepting more coinage as part of their monetary transactions. In the article Burdick states that $10.5 billion in change simply sits around people’s homes. “80 percent of adults say they save loose change rather than try to spend it.” Even though this article was published in 2003, I believe that the information still holds true today. The government’s main point of advocacy for the introduction of the Presidential Coin Program is the 50 State Quarters Program. The original 50 State Program had been in progress for over four years at the release of the article, demonstrating that despite the governmental claims of success, the Quarters Program was not making a significant difference in the population’s increased use of coins. In 2003, the Coinstar National Currency Poll cited in Burdick’s article that, people were not treasuring their quarters by using them for legal tender, but instead to scratch off lottery tickets, for magic tricks, steady table legs, or makeshift tools.

It is not only citizens of America that are resistant to the adoption of the new dollar coin. Businesses are also resistant. According to US-Coin, retail industries would be required to modify their cash registers. As the image on the left demonstrates, they are not equipped to handle a significant influx of dollar coins. This became evident with the introduction of the Sacagawea dollar in 2000 on the lower right. However, the cost to modify cash registers proved to be too great, resulting in retailers refusing to adapt the then, diminishing the use of the dollar coin. The government hopes that the new Presidential coins will not fall to the fate of the Sacagawea dollars, but if the expenditure remains the same, and it will, many venders will continue to stand their ground and decline to accept the money when they can keep the original registers already equipped to handle paper bills.

Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” pieces have emphasized that America’s education about its foundations is inadequate. The government has awoken to the disparity of knowledge. However, its strategy for raising America’s IQ is not the most effective method considering the cost that retailers would have to bear to make it work. The strongest argument against the Presidential Coin is Americans’ aversion to using coins. Presidents and history will end up between the cushions of couches across America despite the outreach program’s desire to increase the interest in usage presented in the Presidential $1 Coin Act.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

To Preserve or Not to Preserve: Will the Civil War Survive?

Wide breadths of lush green open fields, dotted with stately trees, winding roads, and sporadically marked with humble buildings; a developer’s dream where the possibilities for profit are only dependent on how many houses can be squeeze onto the location. However, above described scenery on the left is the typical view that numerous tourists appreciate every year in their visits to the Civil War battlefields spread throughout the United States. As the years pass and generations become farther removed from the nostalgia of the Civil War and its historical ramifications the struggle to protect the sites were America was forever changed intensifies. The debate that rages among developers and preservations is: which locations are to be saved and how much must be saved?

Developers rest on the appeal of economic advantage in the form of surplus of jobs for the community as their primary tool of negotiation to develop around the battlefields. However, in a 2003 economic impact report conducted by the independent consulting firm of Davidson Peterson Associates, commissioned by the Civil War Preservation Trust, found that of the 13 Civil War battlefields they surveyed all were economically advantageous. It found that the battlefields support on average 295 jobs, bring in about $1,178,923 in state revenue and finally $597,307 in local revenue. Although the battlefields may not produce the expansive wealth either a casino or multiple luxury homes would produce, the Davidson report supports that the historic sites are still economically supportive to the local communities.

In addition, to the economic support that the battlefields uphold they also provide the states, and nation as a whole, with transportation into a time when the nation was split against itself teetering on the verge of destroying the nation. The ground that the tourists walk on became graves for the numerous men that fell in the heat of battle. Just as Abraham Lincoln described in his address at the dedication of Gettysburg the fields became “consecrated” by the men who gave their lives in the battle, holding their remains ever interned in the lush fields of today. It is not only the enduring words of President Lincoln that holds the importance of the battlefields in history. Each one of the battlefields must fit within the guidelines of the National Park registrar to be considered of historical importance and worth preserving. The fields must meet the three basic criteria of identification, verification, and registration. The criteria requires that the land be placed in its historical importance, checked by several researchers, surveyed, and finally registered with the National Park Service determining the dimensions of presentation.

The culmination of the dispute over the quality and quantity of the preservation of American history came in the form of an argument over one, if not the, most famous and popular battlefields in American: Gettysburg. Crossroads Gaming Resort and Spa proposed a casino to be constructed adjacent to the battlefield claiming that they would bring with them economic benefit while respecting the historical integrity of the Gettysburg battlefield location. David LeVan the CEO of Crossroads Gaming informed USA Today in April 2006 that, “It’s not on the battlefield. It will not be visible from the highest point of the battlefield…We believe the two can coexist.” On the other end of the debate stood the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) which believed that the addition of the casino would bring urban sprawl to the battlefield lessoning the sacredness of the events that took place. The CWPT collected over 34,000 signatures in opposition to the establishment of the casino from the surrounding community helping to bring the December 2006 decision by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to deny Crossroads a gambling license, halting construction of the resort. Despite the fact that the resort company can appeal the decision to the state supreme court, to date the project is canceled.

In the debate between preservationists and developers there remains the question of whether or not the expanses of land that were once such dynamic locations of the fate of the United States is whether or not it is economically sound for the communities to preserve them and how much is sufficient to save to honor the memory of the events that took place on the site. The answers ultimately lie in the fact that though the fields do not amass the amount of money that casinos or housing developments, but they still sustain a stable amount of revenue. However, the amount of the land that is “worth” saving is that which should be enough to allow for the proper respect to be paid to the resting places of those fallen men. The evidence in support of preserving the battlefield falls heavily in favor of the economic and historical importance for the nation as a whole, instead of yet more uniform housing and greedy monetary gain.