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.